Legends Lookback is a series of articles dedicated to looking back on the history of the old Star Wars canon, what it did right, what it did wrong, and how we can see how it shaped the current canon as we know today.
So, does Star Wars: Squardrons look great or what? While the new era of Star Wars game was off to a bumpy start, if Jedi: Fallen Order and now this are any indication then we have a bright future ahead of us when it comes to the future of games within the new canon.
So this brings to mind the fact that Squadrons is not the first game of it's kind. In fact, Squadrons is clearly a successor to the old school X-Wing games of the 90s.
But, we aren't talking about those today - we'll get to those some other time. Instead, today we are gonna be taking a look at the old Star Wars: X-Wing novels from the 90s, which have informed much of the starfighter material we have gotten since then.
Spoilers ahead for the entire X-Wing series.
PART 1 - The Story
Released in the form of nine novels from 1996-1999, with a tenth one written much later in 2012, the X-Wing books are interesting among Star Wars Legends in that are much smaller in scope then you would think. The books mainly follow Wedge Antilles, the popular side character from the original trilogy, in the lead role and his squadron of pilots called Rogue Squadron, and then Wraith Squadron in later books.
Most people are probably familiar with the first four books written by Michael A. Stackpole. Stackpole is best known to science fiction fans as a long time writer for the Battletech books, particularly in that his novels were large scale and moved the in-universe story ahead quite a bit. As such, the X-Wing are something of a departure for him, instead mostly telling small scale, character based stories about Rogue Squadron and their possibly suicidal missions. They are the best of the best, after all.
The first four books take place sometime after the formation of the New Republic, and cover a loose story arc that follows Rogue Squadron trying to take down the de-facto leader of the Empire at the time, Ysanne Isard. The books are mostly each self contained, but they are gradually culminate in a final book that wraps up all of the major conflicts. While Wedge is the de-facto lead, the main character of these books are arguably Corran Horn, a Force sensitive pilot who would later join Luke Skywalker's later New Jedi Order.
His arc makes up a large chunk of the books, especially a love triangle that develops in the process. Much of the success of these books are due to Stackpole's clever writing style, which is dedicated to simple sentence structure and a hardline, no-BS, to the point clarity. It's very military in that regard, which fits the novels well.
When the Rogue Squadron arc completed after 4 books in 1997, late writer Aaron Allston took over, who would later become known as the writer of several of the Legacy of the Force novels. His books removed Corran Horn from the equation and brought in a new group of pilots named Wraith Squadron.
The next three books followed these characters, and were a much different affair, though not necessarily worse. Allston was far more concerned with melodrama and the interpersonal lives of the pilots that Stackpole ever was, meaning the Wraith Squadron books were far funnier but also more character focused. This also meant the battle scenes were tenser due to the well developed, if large, cast, although they weren't as punchy as Stackpole's.
The end of that arc meant the next three books were stand alone. Isard's Revenge saw the return of Stackpole to the series and thus his book felt like a "return to form" in a lot of ways - Corran is the lead again, the battles are punchier, Rogue Squadron is back, among other things. It's mostly fine though, and after Wraith Squadron it felt like a step back for the series.
Allston return again for the ninth, and at the time final book, Starfighters of Adumar, which is the only book in the series that focuses entirely on Wedge, specifically his interpersonal life. It's actually one of the best books in the entire series, despite being mostly a side story, and showcases Allston's strong character work at the forefront.
The series then went on hiatus for over a decade until Mercy Kill in 2012, where Allston returned and wrote a distant sequel about the next generation of pilots. The book is mostly alright, though it's mostly for fanservice and a passing of the torch novel. Sadly Allston passed away two years later, and Legends have decanonized around the same time and thus the story couldn't be continued.
PART 2 - The Legacy
The influence of the X-Wing books is most felt in canon by the work of Alexander Freed, specifically the ongoing Alphabet Squadron trilogy, which is consistent in tone with these books albeit far longer in terms of length. The small scale, character drama focused tone of the books are not the only thing similar - the military tactics, the space battles, they all bring to mind these original X-Wing books, especially Wraith Squadron.
The legacy goes beyond canon. Several of the characters, especially Corran, would go to be major players in future Star Wars tales, including the controversial The New Jedi Order saga of books. Corran himself is a popular character, and so is Tycho, whose appearance here made him a fan favourite among much of the readers.
And of course, there is Wedge himself, who was initially a minor side character in the original trilogy, only to become a popular Legends character from this point onward. The book series does wonders for him, and much of his current canon characterization owes a lot to his appearances here, even if these books no longer fit canonically into the timeline.
As for the overall quality? The X-Wing books are strong contenders for some of the best pieces of Legends content, and while clearly do not fit into the new canon, it's clear they are great examples of how to write good Star Wars media.
My personal ranking, from best to worst:
Solo Command (Book #7)
The Bacta War (Book #4)
Starfighters of Adumar (Book #9)
Iron Fist (Book #6)
The Kytos Trap (Book #3)
Rogue Squadron (Book #1)
Wedge's Gamble (Book #2)
Wraith Squadron (Book #4)
Isard's Revenge (Book #8)
Mercy Kill (Book #10)
Check them out when you have a chance! See you next time.