So, now we’ve reached the end of the initial run of the X-Wing series. The Bacta War is the capstone to Mike Stackpole’s work on start of the series and it represents, to me, some of the highest points of all four books. The tone of these books is different than the books in the past have been and for very good reason.
After we were left with the end of The Krytos Trap, many of us were on edge, disbelieving what happened and completely ove awed by the possibilities. Please be aware, once you cross this jump, you are deep into spoiler territory.
Corran Horn has returned from the reaches of the monstrous Lusankya. The Republic was all but helpless as they watched what they’d thought was a far flung prison world reveal itself to be a Super Star Destroyer hidden on the capitol world itself. The damage is horrendous, the Krytos virus is still ravaging the world, and fears are still running high that it might spread. Soon, it’s even discovered that the one place that has the cure that they need, Thyferra, has broken their neutrality in the post-Emperor war and thrown their support behind the ever-scheming Isard.
When confronted with the idea that the Republic could not go to war with Thyferra for fear of losing what supply they might yet find, Corran, followed by the rest of Rogue Squadron (excepting Pash Cracken) resign their commissions and strike out on their own.
This is where The Bacta War begins, and it has some pretty big expectations to live up to. The book mostly lives up to them, and although I find a few flaws with it (that I will get to), I remembered this being my favorite of the series. While the Krytos Trap gives us character development of some of the side characters, such as Nawara Ven, this book supplies its readers with the payoffs that they’ve been waiting for since the start. There are just a few spots that I wish it did it—I don’t know, bigger or more.
As we start off, the Rogues are contemplating what they’re going to do without the support of the Republic military behind them. They know that they have several quite valuable resources that could bring them freighters full of credits, but when starfighters are at a premium even that kind of revenue can dry up quickly. Luckily for them, even without the direct support of the Republic, they can still get some under-the-table support.
We’re quickly told that a former station that had been utilized by Warlord Zsinj has been cleared out and ordered and reported destroyed by the fleet. This still intact resource gives the Rogues everything that they need in order to carry out their private war on Isard except the fighters. On that front, they have Corran’s X-Wing and that’s about it, really. With the credits that they have, they’ve purchased enough spare parts to throw together maybe another pair of fighters, but three fighters does not a war machine make.
Once again, luckily, the Republic has sold the group most of squadron worth of X-Wings that have been reported as missing some key components. Also luckily, those components are pilots. The Rogues have just gotten back their own fighters at a real steal. Now with the squadron assembled and a base established, they can get started.
The first half of the book is almost entirely about the Rogues putting the squad together and gaining support from various groups. Among the support they received was that of a full squadron of fighters and pilots made up of the Twi’lek warrior caste that we were introduced to in the last book. On another supply front, Gavin, Corran and Mirax head to Tatooine buy up some supplies from Gavin’s uncle Huff who may or may not have found some older Imperial military equipment that fell off the space truck.
Corran and Mirax hit up one of the more memorable set-pieces from the films, Mos Eisley Cantina. It’s here that Corran begins to understand how Mirax’ reputation might have been bigger than he realized. Just by being Booster Terrik’s daughter, people tend to steer clear of her or at least treat her with quite a bit more respect than they would otherwise. When Gavin takes them out to Huff’s home, Corran tries to use this to his advantage when another buyer is already present for the same gear that they came after. Of course, when it turns out that the buyer is Booster Terrik, it doesn’t really help.
Booster comes back to the station at Yag Dhul with the trio and quickly finds ways to make himself useful to the small war band. Supplies start coming in at lower rates, things they never thought they’d be able to get start appearing: fuel, spare parts, torpedoes. Anything that they can’t afford, they’re trading the bacta that they’re hijacking from Isard’s convoys for it.
It’s around here that we’re reintroduced to one of everyone’s favorite EU characters, the ultimate smuggler, information broker and all around scoundrel, Talon Karrde. Karrde is trading the group anything that they need, and in huge numbers. When Booster puts in an order for an enormous number of torpedoes, sensor packages and launch systems, we get our first hints of how this book is likely to end. When the order for the gravity projector is made, we’re given some added depth.
The convoy raids are what make this private conflict work. While they can’t directly take on Isard’s fleet of four capital ships directly, they can work to overtax her personnel and materiel. Lusankya will remain at Thyferra, the Rogues are sure of that much. It’s the two Imperial and single Victory Star Destroyers that they know they’ll have to deal with. If they can attack enough of the convoys, they can force the enemy to try to cover them all. Even if they come up against the enemy ships on a convoy run, the Rogues wait for the enemy fighters to launch, kill a few and then flee. While this would not normally be a crippling tactic, it does tax Isard’s resources further since she doesn’t have the facilities to produce more and buying more is expensive.
Things start going somewhat awry when, during a raid, the Victory Star Destroyer from Isard’s fleet shows up and blasts one of the hijacked freighters and Riv Shiel and a pair of the Twi’leks. Gavin is also apparently killed, but in a bit of quick thinking, he manages to make a jump to a planet that the group had delivered bacta to earlier. In a further reprisal, Isard attacks the planet to make an example out of places that received the hijacked bacta. Gavin narrowly makes an escape.
In an attempt to repeat the same kind of massacre, Isard borrows an Interdictor cruiser and sends the Victory once again to ambush the Rogues at a supply pickup from Karrde at Alderaan. With the fighters caught in the gravity well of the cruiser, they know they can’t escape. The best they can do is to try to disable the projector so they can escape. A volley of torpedoes against the Victory makes the Star Destroyer drop its shields for a moment, but when it rolls and presents a fresh facing and begins repairing the first side, Wedge realizes that they will lose in a waiting game.
Only the intervention of an automated war cruiser that has answered the IFF beacon on Tycho’s fighter saves the group. This cruiser was an automated escort for an Alderaanian ship, Another Chance, that was carrying the armory of the planet from when it had disarmed after the Clone Wars. Tycho set his IFF to the same ID that had been broadcasted by Another Chance, which prompted the cruiser to come to the rescue.
The Rogues remove the next Imperial Star Destroyer (ISD) through bribery. Its captain was already considering leaving Isard’s service since she had lost Coruscant and had apparently been slipping out of her own mind. It only took a few gentle nudges for he and his crew to mutiny.
By now, the heroes have discovered where their enemies had gotten their information for the ambush. A member of Karrde’s organization had leaked it. Instead of dealing with her directly, they used her to help set a trap. The Rogues led the convoy directly to the station for the first time, which brought both the remaining ISD and the Lusankya knocking.
Booster, now in control of the station, brings the gravity well projector online and traps the Super Star Destroyer and paints it with the targets of over three hundred torpedo launchers. Acting to sacrifice itself, the ISD interposes itself between the ship and the station, allowing Lusankya to escape to Thyferra, following a perceived last ditch attack from the Rogues who would have little fuel or time left to make the attack. In the rush to escape, Lusankya was forced to abandon its fighter compliment: ten squadrons, about 120 fighters.
On its return, Lusankya is met with empty space for a moment before the mutinous ISD the Rogues had bribed into their service appears and launches the X-Wings, Twi’leks and a few Gands who are there to observe Ooryl. The small fleet is made up of the ISD, the Alderaanian Cruiser and a fleet of freighters. The X-wings target the SSD and launch torpedoes and act as the eyes for the freighters to do the same. So, Booster’s station was a bluff. The three hundred target locks were without launch systems.
The shields drop and the torpedoes do some damage, but Lusankya recognizes the real threat and begins to target the freighters and quickly disabling its opposing Star Destroyer. It’s at this point that the ISD that had been at Yag Dhul arrives. It had surrendered to Booster, who was now using it to carry Pash Cracken’s A-Wing squadron, which had shown up by complete happenstance. This turns the battle back into the Rogues’ favor.
Isard has taken this opportunity to flee the planet with an escort made up of the elite squadron of the Thyferran Home Defense Corps led by the traitorous Erisi Dlarit. Erisi attempts to match skills with Corran, which ends quickly for her. Following this, Corran attempts to attack Isard’s shuttle, but lacks the firepower since he is out of torpedoes. Instead, he paints the target long enough for Tycho to shoot her down using Corran’s telemetry.
Ultimately, Isard dies, Erisi dies, the Lusankya surrenders, Mirrax and Corran get married, Booster takes command of the ISD that becomes the Errant Venture and the Rogues are reinstated into the Republic.
I would like to go ahead and make a preface for the complaints that I will get to eventually. This book is wonderful. It gives us everything that we needed and most of what we wanted and it did it all well. I already know that my complaints are that I feel like the book could have been twice as long as it ended up and perhaps still felt short to me. That’s me, that’s my background in reading and my education in international security because I know that there is a lot more that could go into the intricacies involved. I know it’s unrealistic to expect more than what we got because of the practical limitations of publishing and publishing dates.
My biggest issue is that Isard’s character in this book seems to be very different than what we’ve been shown before. Up to this point, we really had not seen anything from her perspective; she instead passed off authority to Fliry Vorru or Kirtan Loor. Now, commanding things herself, we might have expected a calm and calculated leader in the vein of Thrawn. Instead, she’s become an emotional and easily fooled commander who is defeated by a well thought out plan and baiting. It’s a lackluster reveal for a character that we’ve been given an impression of dread for all three previous books.
In a sense, I understand why this happened. Stackpole must have wanted to distance Isard from Thrawn, trying to create a more impulsive and still interesting and threatening enemy. Also, I understand that it had to be a situation that it would be believable that the Rogues could overcome.
Which I know also plays into my next point. I know that the Empire is fractured, but Isard was the leader of the Imperial proper. Why does she only have control over four ships? Yes, one of them is Lusankya, but she only has four? She can’t rally together more than that? It’s distracting to me to see that she only managed that much. Again, yes, the Rogues can conceivably divide and conquer this kind of force, but it seems unrealistic for the leader of the Empire with literally tens of thousands of front line ships, she can only put together four.
There are also a few too many conveniences in the story. I count three major points in this book that are total chance that decide the progression of the book: Booster showing up on Tatooine, the war cruiser at Alderaan and the A-wings arriving at Yag Dhul. If you trim any one of these, the story starts to fray at the edges.
Additionally, this creates a nightmarish situation for the New Republic politically. The leadership of the young government is faced with a situation in which they can’t afford to go to war with Thyferra because of the bacta situation. At the same time, it seems obvious that they aren’t getting the supplies that they need from the planet anyway, so why does it matter? Additionally, many high-profile members of the Alliance military decide that they know how to best fight the battles, break off and wage a private war.
This may not seem like much of a problem, but as a planet perhaps considering joining the Republic, this must be awful too. Apparently the Republic is perfectly happy to turn a blind eye to piracy and its own citizens waging a war against a sovereign planet that the Republic seems to have recognized as being legitimate. Yet, at the end, being reinstated would make this even worse, because it either says that the Republic is willing to lie and claim the action as its own or they were supporting a private war and piracy against a sovereign power.
My last issue is that the book seems to lack a feeling of the passage of time. I know that the text tells us that months are passing through the course of the story, but I never really felt it. It also adds a few too many questions for me to comfortably live with. The Rogues have been building a fleet of freighters and getting them somewhere. That’s fine, I can live with that, but where are they finding the crews for them? Do they know that they’re planning on using these crafts as weapons platforms? How many raids have the Rogues carried out? Are they starting to feel some fatigue over it, maybe hope dimming over it? We’re never told that they do, so it has to be assumed that they’re as chipper about things at the end as they are in the beginning.
In the end, these problems are really just nitpicks. I know that I’m being overly critical of the text, and like I said, I know that it was due to practical limitations and page count. This book is still excellent. I remembered this being my favorite of the books and on re-reading it, I think that it still is. We get the kinds of action in this novel that helps us remember what Star Wars felt like in the films. It’s a small group fighting a huge enemy. It’s true that it’s on a much smaller scale, a squadron against a single planet instead of an alliance against an Empire, but it still helps me remember why I love Star Wars and what it’s like at its best. It’s the struggle between an underdog and a tyrannical overlord.
And that’s what Star Wars should be like.
Ed. note: Nanci and Brian will handle the next part of the retrospective, looking back at Aaron Allston’s Wraith Squadron arc.