The Star Wars Expanded Universe, or simply EU to its fans, is like the galaxy in which it is set. Narratives weave together and fan out across the literary landscape like the complex web of star lanes that makes up space. Star Wars fans, like pilots, have multiple options for “jumping-on points.” Del Rey’s library of titles set in the galaxy far, far away isn’t quite as large as that galaxy’s constellation of hyperspace routes, but it’s pretty massive nonetheless. Between the nine-book series, the even-longer New Jedi Order series, the trilogies, the duologies, and the standalones, it can get pretty complicated for an EU newbie to pick his or her entry point.
That’s where we at Unbound Worlds come in with a series of posts about Expanded Universe “gateway” novels. Various aspects of the Star Wars films, from romance to political intrigue, have become the subject of entire books or series. From reflections on the path toward Jedi Knighthood to Sith machinations described by the plotters themselves, there’s something for just about every type of Star Wars fan in the EU. If you want to set a course for the EU but you’re not sure where to start, let Unbound Worlds be your navicomputer. It’s time to punch in our first set of coordinates!
Aaron Allston’s upcoming new novel X-Wing: Mercy Kill is generating a lot of buzz in the fan community, so we thought we’d kick off our gateway series by looking at another X-Wing novel that does a great job of setting the stage for both the series and the broader EU. X-Wing: Wraith Squadron, also written by Aaron Allston, was released in 1998 as the fifth book in the X-Wing series. Its immediate appeal and status as a great gateway novel into the EU comes from the fact that it unites familiar characters with all-new personalities in a classic setting and retains the combination of camaraderie, humor, and grittiness that made the original Star Wars trilogy so iconic.
First, here are the key details about the book:
X-Wing: Wraith Squadron by Aaron Allston
Released in paperback on February 2, 1998, with cover art by Paul Youll
Set in the New Republic era, 7 years ABY (After the Battle of Yavin, the destruction of the Death Star as seen in the original film)
- Commander Wedge Antilles (human male from Corellia)
- Lieutenant Wes Janson (human male from Taanab)
- Lieutenant Myn Donos (human male from Corellia)
- Jesmin Ackbar (Mon Calamari female from Mon Calamari)
- Hohass “Runt” Ekwesh (Thakwaash male from Thakwaa)
- Garik “Face” Loran (human male from Pantolomin)
- Ton Phanan (human male from Rudrig)
- Falynn Sandskimmer (human female from Tatooine)
- Voort “Piggy” saBinring (Gamorrean male from Gamorr)
- Tyria Sarkin (human female from Toprawa)
- Kell Tainer (human male from Sluis Van)
- Eurrsk “Grinder” Thri’ag (Bothan male from Bothuwai)
Rogue Squadron Support Personnel
- Cubber Daine (human male from Corellia, squad mechanic)
- Chunky (Tyria’s R5 unit)
- Gadget (Phanan’s R2 unit)
- Gate (Wedge’s R5 unit)
- Shiner (Donos’s R2 unit)
- Squeaky (3PO unit, squadron quartermaster)
- Thirteen (Kell’s R2 unit)
- Vape (Face’s R2 unit)
New Republic Military
- General Edor Crespin (human male from Corulag)
- Captain Choday Hrakness (human male from Agamar)
- Lieutenant Atril Tabanne (human female from Coruscant)
- Dorset Konnair (human female from Coruscant)
- Tetengo Noor (human male from Churba)
- Warlord Zsinj (human male from Fondor)
- Admiral Apwar Trigit (human male from Coruscant)
- Captain Zurel Darillian (human male from Coruscant)
- Lieutenant Gara Petothel (human female from Coruscant)
They are the galaxy’s most elite fighting force. And as the battle against the Empire rages, the X-wing fighters risk life and machine to protect the Rebel Alliance. Now they must go on a daring undercover mission–as the crew of an Imperial warship.
It is Wedge Antilles’ boldest creation: a covert-action unit of X-wing fighters, its pilots drawn from the dregs of other units, castoffs and rejects given one last chance. But before the new pilots can complete their training, the squadron’s base is attacked by former Imperial admiral Trigit, and Wraith Squadron is forced to swing into action–taking over an Imperial warship and impersonating its crew. The mission: to gain vital intelligence about Trigit’s secret weapons, to sabotage the admiral’s plans, and to lure him into an Alliance trap. But the high-stakes gamble pits Wraith Squadron’s ragtag renegades against the Empire’s most brilliant master of guile and deception.
Are they up to the challenge?
If not, the penalty is instant death.
Why is this a good gateway book? Why does it “matter” to Star Wars?
One of keys to Wraith Squadron’s appeal is that it takes one beloved aspect of the Star Wars films –– the starfighter combat –– and expands upon that group dynamic, the ship-based challenges, and the space-related perils to provide readers with a more nuanced and detailed story of risky dogfights and flashy maneuvers. While movie audiences got a glimpse of cockpit banter between Luke, Biggs, Wedge, and a handful of other pilots, X-Wing: Wraith Squadron takes that teamwork to a whole new level. All of the X-Wing books include banter, practical jokes, and camaraderie, but in Wraith Squadron, Wedge Antilles’ unit consists of pilots with an unprecedented level of diversity in their personal histories. From Admiral Ackbar’s niece Jesmin to the Gamorrean Voort “Piggy” daBinring to former child actor Garik “Face” Loran, Wraith Squadron is the definition of a motley crew.
The theme of underdogs fighting against The Man is certainly not new in the Star Wars universe. But the fact that the Rebel Alliance was all about a rogues’ gallery of heroes does nothing to diminish the unique ways in which Aaron Allston plays the Wraiths, with their sharply contrasting personalities, off of each other. It’s a testament to how much he makes you care about these characters that you even start to look forward to dialog from their astromech units. (Between Chunky, Gadget, Shiner, and Vape, there’s no shortage of droid-related humor when these dedicated robots converse with their headstrong and mischievous pilots.)
What’s more, Wraith Squadron’s villains –– like Warlord Zsinj and Admiral Trigit of the Imperial Navy –– fit into the saga so well that they could have been ripped from the deleted scenes of the Original Trilogy. To be sure, their personalities –– defined by arrogance, traditionalism, and disdain for the New Republic –– extend the films’ good-versus-evil dynamic onto the page. But these villains also mix in an element that was fleeting in the movies: Imperial officers’ reactions to what the good guys are doing. Remember the Imperial captain in The Empire Strikes Back who responded to the Rebels launching their transports by saying, “Good, our first catch of the day”? Aaron Allston seized on that hard-to-define vibe and transplanted it into Wraith Squadron. Because this book in particular takes the series’ space combat dynamic to a new level with its decidedly less disciplined cast of characters, Zsinj and Trigit’s reactions to their opponents’ strategies are particularly rewarding to read.
This book also fits nicely into the growing post-Return of the Jedi era by depicting the fledgling New Republic’s campaign against Imperial warlords and admirals who survived the Battle of Endor and chose not to surrender. While most of the Grand Admirals have been defeated by the time the book begins, Zsinj and Trigit’s continuing threats underscore that the publishing segment known as the New Republic era is a period of turmoil and transition. The patchwork nature of Wedge and his squadron –– a veritable rogue’s gallery of pilots –– is a perfect metaphor for the ways in which “the good guys” are changing.
If you’re looking for an easy gateway into the Star Wars Expanded Universe, you might want to start with Aaron Allston’s X-Wing: Wraith Squadron. Within its pages, established characters and fresh faces join forces in a fun and exciting story that helps chronicle the New Republic’s transition from dark-horse freedom-fighting group to galactic government.
Eric Geller is a sophomore political science major from Washington, D.C., whose interests include technology, journalism, and of course Star Wars. He reviews The Clone Wars TV series and manages social media for Star Wars fan site TheForce.Net.