(2006) various, Titan Books, £19.99, trdpbk, 320pp, ISBN 1-84576-360-2
The new Star Wars trilogy made Jedis cool, but before that it was the shot of a fighter squadron making its bombing run down the trench of the Death Star in "A New Hope" that amazed audiences. There was plenty of demand for computer games and toys of the plucky little X-Wing, but more recently came the bright idea to base a series of novels and comics around them. Wisely, Rogue Squadron focuses on the thrills and pulp action of Star Wars, generally steering clear of any attempt to add to the overblown backstory. So we have plenty of X-Wing dogfighting, modest character development with heroic rebel derring-do and square-jawed Empire-thwarting. But most newcomers to the Expanded Universe of Star Wars will find themselves a little out of the depth - Wedge Antilles is probably the most recognisable character here. Wes Janson? Tycho Celchu? These names sound familiar, but you'd be hard=pressed to spot them in the films.
Luke Skywalker drops by to show off his lightsabre skills in "Rogue Leader", but for the most part this is setting the scene for the series. We are introduced to the members of Rogue Squadron in a story that is what you would expect from the first of many adventures to come. It's an excuse to see the Rogues battle Imperials, whether it be exchanging laser bolts on the streets of Corellia or dog-fighting TIE fighters in orbit, all vibrantly illustrated and ready to burst from the panels. There is more of a pulp feel to "The Rebel Opposition", with a plot that involves the Rogues sneaking around a jungle world to help a local revolutionary cell. Regular twists embellish this pretty thin story and only seem to confuse the proceedings more than necessary. The practical no-frills artwork is ideal for the action-orientated writing, but it fails to make this story any more exciting. Best of this selection is "The Phantom Affair" in which Wedge attempts to buy a coveted new technology before Imperial agents do. There are a few astute observations on the politics of neutrality, and a sub-plot involving supporters of the Empire that has echoes of Neo-Nazism. The story is fast-paced and by far the best written of the lot, with a fair mix of plot twists and action.
Rogue Squadron's strength is that it is brave enough to tell a Star Wars story without any of the characters we know and love (apart from the one exception above). Its flaw is that the characters it focuses on aren't especially interesting, and are pretty much all hotshot pilots. While those interested in this collection are probably more concerned with finding pages filled with illustrated X-Wing thrills, it is difficult to see where this series will develop with one-dimensional good guys that will always save the day.
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