Long before Rogue One was conceived, there was another Star Wars story that followed another band of rogues: Michael A. Stackpole’s X-Wing series. These entries in the Star Wars Expanded Universe (now Legends) were a different beast altogether compared to their counterparts, and proved that the franchise didn’t need to rely on characters named Skywalker or Solo.
When I watched one of the later trailers for Rogue One, I was struck by one of the scenes: a squadron of X-Wing fighters weaving in and out of an Imperial space station, and noted that it’s like something out of Michael A. Stackpole’s novels.
If you’ve never read them, don’t let their non-canon status stop you: they’re among the best tie-in novels out there, and they’re flat-out excellent military science fiction adventures to blast through.
Stackpole’s X-Wing series follows the Rogue Squadron, one of the Rebel Alliance’s best-known units. It began as Red Squadron in A New Hope, and appeared in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. In the old continuity, the unit was led by Wedge Antilles, and suffered horrific casualties before it was reformed with a new lineup of pilots.
This is where Stackpole’s series starts off: as the infant New Republic works to retake the galaxy from the Empire, the new Rogue Squadron is tasked with helping to capture Coruscant, the Imperial capital world. They were exciting novels that are loaded with starfighter battles.
The series has a curious history within the Star Wars universe: they’re a tie-in to another tie-in. In 1994, LucasArts released a space combat simulator called X-Wing, which allowed players to fight the Empire from the cockpit of one of the film’s iconic snubfighters. Fresh off of its own successes with the first couple of Star Wars novels, Bantam Books approached author Michael A. Stackpole to write some novels that connected to the game, while Dark Horse Comics had him do a related comic series. It was an early example of the sort of cross-medium collaboration that Star Wars has become famous for, and it helped to set the stage for similar partnerships down the road.
What’s unique about Rogue Squadron is that, unlike most of the other Expanded Universe novels, the X-Wing series exists largely away from the universe’s established characters. Han Solo, Leia Organa, and Luke Skywalker make the occasional appearance, but for the most part, the action is driven by a new cast of characters: Corran Horn, Ysanne Isard, Mirax Terrik, and a whole bunch of others to lay out an ancillary story that doesn’t rely on the larger Skywalker saga to make for a compelling entry in the Star Wars universe.
At the time, this was fairly unique in the franchise: novels such as Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy or the Dark Empire comic book series kept the adventures of Luke Skywalker front and center. The popularity of Stackpole’s novels showed that his approach was a viable one, and that Star Wars could exist without the franchise’s figurehead characters. After the first four installments, another author, the late Aaron Allston, wrote three additional novels following another unit, Wraith Squadron, and each author penned some follow-up novels that continued the story of each unit.
Rogue One reminded me of why I loved Stackpole’s X-Wing novels so much: they’re a reminder that Star Wars universe doesn’t need to be exclusively carried on the backs of the Skywalker family. Rogue Squadron introduced us to a rich cast of characters that felt right at home in the world, much as the latest film has done with the likes of Jyn Erso, Captain Cassian and K-2SO. Hopefully, this weekend’s success for the film will encourage more stories in the same vein.