Everything comes to a head for the Wraiths in Solo Command, the final entry in the three-book Wraith Squadron arc by Aaron Allston. Do the Wraiths survive? Will Lara be unmasked? What will be the fate of the illustrious Lieutenant Kettch the Stuffed Ewok?
Most importantly, can a book succeed when the reader knows going into it that the villain will live to fight another day?
Our X-Wing retrospective continues with a look back at Solo Command below the jump. Beware of spoilers!
I’ve said this before and gotten a ton of virtual eye-rolls, but I maintain this book features the single most underrated use of Han Solo in the entire Expanded Universe. Allston puts the Corellian’s Roguish charm on display throughout, as you’d expect from a Bantam era Star Wars novel. Then he blindsides you with a dose of humility and insecurity. Yes, I know, that sounds strange. Han Solo feeling insecure? But it all makes sense and when Han quietly admits what’s troubling him, you don’t question the characterization for a moment. For all of his confidence, he can’t escape the fact that he’s in love with a woman that is so far above his social class, a woman that inexplicably loves him in return. At some point, this dream has to end, doesn’t it?
I think in recent years, Han’s almost become a caricature of himself in the Expanded Universe. He’s little more now than the token wiseass gunslinger that’s ready to dispense a callback line to the movies. Here in Solo Command, we see a startling glimpse into his mind, into his fears and insecurities. It’s a refreshing take on Han, one that nearly was spun off into a book of its own. At Origins a few months ago, Allston said that when he was approached to write one last book for Bantam Spectra. He pitched two ideas. One became Starfighters of Adumar. The other was a book that followed Han as he came to terms with falling in love and ultimately marrying a woman that he believed to be so far above him. I’m glad we got Adumar, but that Han book continuing the glimpses we saw here would have been a fascinating read.
But back to Solo Command and the Wraiths.
It seems that Allston (wisely) chose to divide which Wraiths got the bulk of the page time in each book. Wraith Squadron featured Kell Tainer, Tyria Sarkin, and Runt as the spotlight members. In Iron Fist it was Ton Phanan, Face Loran, and Dia Passik. This time around, it’s Piggy, Lara Notsil, and Myn Donos. For Piggy, we see him coming to terms with his lab-experiment birth, managing to find some closure there.
Myn and Lara are keystones of this book, however. For Myn it’s been a long road to recovery. Survivor’s guilt has gotten him sidelined and nearly discharged from service. Finally we can see him making strides, thanks perhaps to a budding relationship between himself and Lara. It all seems to be going well until the fateful moment when Lara’s identity is accidentally revealed by Face Loran. The woman Myn loves is the one responsible for the destruction of his squadron. Relapse triggered, things go to hell in a hand basket.
Left with no option, Lara flees to the (relative) safety of Warlord Zsinj. All the while, we can see the continued cracks in her façade. The years of assuming identities have gotten to her. She can no longer be Lara, but she can’t bring herself to become Gara Petothel again either. What’s left to do? The only thing she can. She fully becomes Kirney Slane and decides to fully throw her weight behind the New Republic and help take Zsinj down from within his own ship.
Ah, yes, Zsinj. Perhaps the definitive Allston villain. Smart, somewhat psychotic, possesses a good deal of humor, and utterly devious. A few years ago Maggie pointed out to me that he was a brilliant match for Han. Just as capable of working outside of the box, matching Han blow for blow leading to one stalemate after another. In Courtship of Princess Leia, it was said that Zsinj was a highly capable warlord, but it was difficult to see why he was regarded as such in that book. In Solo Command? Yeah, it’s more than clear why he was so feared.
We even got a look at Wedge’s character that we hadn’t quite seen in the six books leading up to this point. Throughout we see the drive to reclaim what was taken from him years before. His personal quest to hunt down who he believes to be Baron Fel in an attempt to find his estranged sister is powerful and heartbreaking, but for my credits, the best Wedge moment in this entire series to date occurred right at the very end. It’s a single scene that beautifully illustrates that while Wedge is someone who places a tremendous value on the duty to his commission and rank, he places ultimate value on being morally just. It’s in this scene that you see why Allston has described Wedge as being the moral filter of the Galaxy Far, Far Away.
This book is filled with so many trademark Allston touches. You can see his humor on display as the great escalating Kettch-the-Ewok prank war reaches a climax featuring a stark-naked Wes Janson. There’s the appropriately and hilariously titled Mutiny of Anonymity. The snappy zingers. The deep introspective moments. Looking back, I miss this kind of levity and tone in the Expanded Universe. Things have gotten dark and gritty in the EU over the last several years. Many fans enjoy that, but a large part of me misses the things Solo Command brought to the table. This was a fun book, one that combined grand adventure with the right amount of humor and tragedy. I suppose you could say that it felt like a Star Wars tale through and through.
Admittedly, the first time I read this book I was wary. How was it going to manage to be a solid conclusion to this arc when we know that Zsinj is still alive and kicking in Courtship of Princess Leia, a book that follows Solo Command in the timeline? How can you deliver a conclusion when we know that, somehow, the villain gets away to fight another day? That’s the brilliance of this book. It wraps up so much of what it started two books earlier that it doesn’t matter Zsinj is still at large. We watch as the Wraiths finally come into their own and beat the overwhelming odds that the Galaxy has stacked against them. We watch as Wedge returns to Rogue Squadron, content that his crazy stunt building this squadron succeeded.
Then there’s the final scene with Wedge and Han sitting in a replica of the Millennium Falcon. In the span of only a few brief pages, the reader is given a great sense of finality for the Wraith arc and a bittersweet hope for the future of Myn and Kirney. I’ve complained about the lack of closure in the Expanded Universe of late, and writing this review, I’m reminded that it hasn’t always been this way. In a sense, Solo Command’s ending is the antithesis of how recent series have ended.
Quiet, understated, but profoundly satisfying.