Retro review: Revamped Rogue Squadron novels and audiobooks breathe new life into EU’s X-Wing series

Star Wars Essential Legends third wave. Photo courtesy of Del Rey books.
Star Wars Essential Legends third wave. Photo courtesy of Del Rey books. /

Michael A. Stackpole’s series of novels – formerly the X-Wing series; now the Rogue Squadron books – are some of the best novels in Star Wars Legends. And thanks to revamped covers and unabridged, full-production audiobooks, these Expanded Universe novels are reeling in a whole new generation of fans.

As of this review, the first two books in the series – Rogue Squadron and Wedge’s Gamble – have received new Essential Legends formats and unabridged audiobooks via Penguin Random House Audio. They’re both narrated by Marc Thompson, one of the key voices of Star Wars audiobooks.

The third book, The Krytos Trap, gets the Essential Legends treatment on Aug. 2, and the fourth book, The Bacta War, rereleases on Nov. 1 with Doaly again doing the new cover art.

Ask any longtime Star Wars book reader, and they’ll quickly recommend the X-Wing series as essential Legends reading set in the New Republic era. There are 10 books in total with Stackpole writing the first four and book 8, Isard’s Revenge. Aaron Allston wrote books 5-7 and 9-10 focusing on Wedge Antilles’s Wraith Squadron.

This review focuses on books 1 and 2, Rogue Squadron and Wedge’s Gamble. These books were released more than 20 years ago, but their content holds up remarkably well. And the newly-released audiobooks make these stories feel as fresh and relevant as they did in the mid-1990s.

Rogue Squadron chiefly focuses on Wedge Antilles’s mission to reform Rogue Squadron – the legendary group of X-Wing fighters who took down the Death Stars. But this is no longer the Rebel Alliance but the New Republic, and political battles have become just as important as starfighter dogfights when it comes to fully eradicate the Empire.

Then there’s the young hotshot pilot Corran Horn, formerly of the Corellian Security Force. He’s the other main POV we get in Rogue Squadron and in Wedge’s Gamble. Like everyone else, Corran is eager to prove himself as a pilot but is uneasy about forming attachments.

Since these books have been billed as “Star Wars meets Top Gun,” all of the pilots – Wedge included – have enough trauma and baggage to rival their own egos. The crew of Rogue Squadron is the best of the best, and they know it.

The first book follows the newly-formed squadron as they rack up wins (and devastating losses) against the Empire. All the while, they’re reluctantly forming strong bonds on the galactic battlefield.

It’s set about two years after the Battle of Endor and the death of Emperor Palpatine, so the New Republic is still a fledgling continuing the fight for and free systems still under the control of the Imperial Remnants and warlords. Coruscant, known in these books as Imperial Centre, is controlled by Ysanne Isard – a cruel, merciless director who is an empress in all but name.

The first book positions Rogue Squadron as a rallying symbol of the New Republic, composed of the best and most experienced pilots, as the new government begins a long, multifaceted, and dangerous mission to retake Coruscant.

While Stackpole clearly loves a good X-Wing vs. TIE fighter dogfight, the frequent space battles in Rogue Squadron can turn some readers away because of the aerospace technicalities. However, those same scenes are perfectly thrilling in the new audiobooks.

The second book, Wedge’s Gamble, trades frequent space battles for space heists as the squadron concocts a daring mission to infiltrate Coruscant and take down its Imperials from inside the city-planet.

The stakes in this book are at an all-time high, and everyone in the squadron knows it. And while the book is still incredibly paced and full of action and tension, it still gives plenty of room for solid character development even beyond Wedge and Corran. We finally get more fleshed-out supporting characters, especially the female ones and the major Imperial players.

The biggest Imperial baddie, Ysanne Isard – nicknamed IceHeart – secretly remains one step ahead of the cunning Rogues. While they unleash some of the galaxy’s worst criminals on Coruscant to distract the Empire, IceHeart remains unphased and unsurprised as she continues her own plan to release a seriously gross virus on the planet to thwart the New Republic.

And, there’s an Imperial spy among the Rogues who throws a wrench in nearly every step of their plan. We still don’t know who it is in Wedge’s Gamble, but there are many hints, and the reveal will be devastating.

One thing that makes the X-Wing series so compelling is that it shifts the focus from the “stars” of Star Wars – Luke, Leia, Han Solo, Lando, and the like – to the pilots, the soldiers, and the leaders. The post-Endor, post-Return of the Jedi era is endlessly fascinating because it shows the New Republic literally building a new form of government from the embers and ashes of the one it just defeated.

All the while, the fire of the fascistic Empire isn’t fully out everywhere, so the hope-filled Rebel Alliance continues to fight for its life and the lives of billions around the galaxy.

Among the dozens of Legends books out there, the Rogue Squadron series stands out for its Top Gun energy and for its focus on characters who don’t wield a lightsaber (yet) or command attention in the New Republic Senate. The X-Wing series is one of the earliest pieces of evidence that Star Wars doesn’t always have to be Skywalker stories. The franchise is that much richer because of these fighter pilots’ tales.

The content has been there for decades, but new packaging and a new voice immersing listeners make the Rogue Squadron books among the most essential of the Essential Legends Collection.

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Star Wars: Rogue Squadron and Wedge’s Gamble are now available in Essential Legends Collection formats from Del Rey/Penguin Random House. Their audiobooks are available through Audible.