The Michael A. Stackpole series of novels – formerly X-wing series; now the Thieves Squadron books – are some of the best Star Wars Legends novels. And thanks to revamped covers and full, comprehensive audiobooks, these expanded universe novels are attracting a whole new generation of fans.
From this review, the first two books in the series – Thieves Squadron and Wedge’s bet – received new Essential Legends formats and complete audiobooks via Penguin Random House Audio. They are both narrated by Marc Thompson, one of the key voices in the Star Wars audiobooks.
The third book, The Trap of Krytosgets the Essential Legends treatment on August 2 and the fourth book, The Bacta Warre-released on November 1 with Doaly again doing the new cover art.
Ask any longtime Star Wars reader and they’ll quickly recommend the X-Wing series as essential Legends reading 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’ Wraith Squadron.
This review covers volumes 1 and 2, Thieves Squadron and Wedge’s bet. These books came out over 20 years ago, but their content holds up remarkably well. And newly released audiobooks make these stories as fresh and relevant as they were in the mid-1990s.
Thieves Squadron Primarily focuses on Wedge Antilles’ mission to reform the Rogue Squadron – the legendary group of X-Wing fighters that brought down the Death Stars. But it’s no longer the Rebel Alliance but the New Republic, and political battles have become just as important as starfighter dogfights when it comes to eradicating the Empire completely.
Then there’s young hotshot pilot Corran Horn, formerly of the Corellian Security Force. He is the other main point of view in which we enter Thieves Squadron and in Wedge’s bet. Like everyone else, Corran is eager to prove himself as a pilot but hesitant to form attachments.
Since these books were billed as “Star Wars meets Superior gun“, all of the pilots – Wedge included – have enough trauma and baggage to rival their own egos. Rogue Squadron’s crew are the best of the best, and they know it.
The first book follows the newly formed squadron as they rack up victories (and devastating losses) against the Empire. All the while, they reluctantly form strong bonds on the galactic battlefield.
It’s set roughly two years after the Battle of Endor and the death of Emperor Palpatine, so the New Republic is still a young one continuing the fight for free systems still under the control of Imperial remnants and the Lords of war. Coruscant, known in these books as the Imperial Center, is controlled by Ysanne Isard – a cruel and ruthless director who is an empress in all but name.
The first book positions Rogue Squadron as a rallying symbol of the New Republic, made up 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 dogfight of X-Wing vs. TIE fighters, the frequent space battles in Thieves Squadron may turn some readers away due to technical aspects of aerospace. However, those same scenes are perfectly exciting in the new audiobooks.
The second book, Wedge’s bettrade frequent space battles for space heists as the squadron cooks up a daring mission to infiltrate Coruscant and bring down its Imperials from within 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 fast-paced and full of action and tension, it still leaves plenty of room for solid character development, even beyond Wedge and Corran. We’re finally getting more fleshed out supporting characters, especially the females and the main Imperial cast.
The greatest Imperial villain, Ysanne Isard – nicknamed IceHeart – secretly keeps one step ahead of the cunning thieves. As they unleash some of the galaxy’s worst criminals on Coruscant to distract the Empire, IceHeart remains phaseless and unsurprised as she pursues her own plan to release a very crude virus onto the planet to thwart the New Republic.
And, there’s an Imperial spy among the Rogues who throws a wrench at nearly every step of their plan. We still don’t know who it is Wedge’s betbut there are plenty of clues, and the revelation will be devastating.
One thing that makes the X-Wing series so compelling is that it shifts the focus from Star Wars “stars” – Luke, Leia, Han Solo, Lando, etc. – towards pilots, soldiers and leaders. The post-Endor, post-Return of the Jedi era is endlessly fascinating as it shows the New Republic literally building a new form of government from the embers and ashes of the one they just defeated.
All the while, the fire of the Fascist Empire isn’t completely extinguished everywhere, so the hopeful Rebel Alliance continues to fight for their lives and the lives of billions across the galaxy.
Of the dozens of Legends books available, the Thieves Squadron series stands out for its Superior gun energy and for its focus on characters who don’t (yet) wield a lightsaber or catch the attention of the New Republic Senate. The X-wing The series is one of the first proofs that Star Wars doesn’t always have to be Skywalker stories. The franchise is all the richer thanks to the stories of these fighter pilots.
The content has been there for decades, but new packaging and a new voice immersing listeners make the Thieves Squadron some of the most essential books in the Essential Legends collection.