X-Wing: Rogue Squadron, Chapter 4

will: Welcome back, readers, to chapter 4 of X-Wing: Rogue Squadron, where Stackpole shakes things up a bit by accelerating the “loner learns to open up” plotline that is a staple of this sort of story.

z: And we do appreciate the acceleration, even more than we would have back when we first read these.

will: By contrast, my own life is not accelerating, for once. We’ve made it to summer, and my summer is looking calm, quiet, and relaxed. At least, for most of it. Woo!

z: …uh, so that is a thing that is not happening over here, because album. And summer small ensemble concert repertoire. And fall full ensemble concert repertoire. And eeeee.

will: Because having Corran tune up a motorcycle is a bit too on the nose, he’s instead working on his X-Wing–and drops his hydrospanner. Then, he overbalances himself reaching for it, and misses grabbing for a handhold. He braces himself for splitting his skull, but instead, feels “pain blossoming at the other end of his body,” and he manages to grab his handhold and climb back onto his S-foil and collapse.

Whistler, continuing the theme of astromech droids who really don’t need translations, scolds him, and Corran says yes, he was lucky, but next time, maybe grab the flightsuit, not the ass?

(Not quite in those words. Stackpole keeps his language PG, as evidenced by the next line, where Whistler gives “a reply Corran chose to ignore.”)

z: Thing to note: Corran is in the kind of communication with his astromech droid that the Zahn Trilogy showed us Luke to be in, and it feels natural. That’s one universe-constant assumption, that the X-Wing pilots can talk to their astromechs like that, which was a good one to follow.

will: At any rate, Whistler reports that Corran didn’t manage to fix his ship, so he gripes about how he could have climbed up, the spanner couldn’t…and then realizes he didn’t hear the spanner clatter.

He looks over the edge and sees a woman standing there with the spanner. She hands it off and introduces herself as Lujayne Forge. Corran knows–he’s “seen her around.” Lujayne also says that Corran flew a bomber against her when she was running the Redemption, and he blew up the Rebel ships.

Corran tries to brush it off as luck, that Nawara had done most of the work, and Lujayne accepts that, but says that she has a question: was he targeting her?

“I was wondering if you singled me out because I was from Kessel?”

Corran blinks in surprise and asks why that would matter, and Forge taps the CorSec insignia on his X-Wing.

z: That would be where I blinked and thought back to the last chapter. Corran was sent out by Gil Bastra with an alternate identity? Or something? And his idea of staying undercover is to fly an X-Wing in an extremely high-profile “Rebel” Squadron while said X-Wing is still wearing the Corellian Security livery?

Um…

will: We’ll get more clarity on that later, but the sense I get is that Corran has stopped using the secret identities now.

Lujayne explains that Corran’s from CorSec, which means he sent people to Kessel, and to him, the planet is all prisoners, or smugglers who should be prisoners, and when the prisoners and smugglers threw the Empire out, it didn’t make a lot of difference to him.

Corran, and he’s got a point, says that’s a lot of conclusions being jumped to, and Lujayne pushed back, asking whether Corran knew she was from Kessel. He did, he says, but it didn’t matter. She doesn’t believe him, and she’s both angry and hurt.

And then, well, Corran thinks that he is used to anger, since he’s had plenty of smugglers and criminals angry at him. So–that’s a thing.

Anyway, Corran asks why Forge thinks this, and she calls out his isolation. He’s a loner.

(Of course he is.)

z: (Isn’t that like, in the contract of the Chisel-Jawed Hero Flyboy Archetype or something? Not that we’re going to have many of those around here…)

will: Yeah, exactly.

Corran has a couple of friends, mostly the pilots who are on his level, and he’s always watching and judging everybody else. He’s standoffish, he’s judgmental…

“I think you’re making meters out of microns here.”

Ow, my eyes. That one hurt.

z: ………………

You’re saying that.

You’re saying that.

(And possibly even more hilariously, when I hit that line, my reaction had been “oh, kept the alliteration, that’s actually a nice one.” So… I don’t know anymore.)

will: It’s just a little too…on the nose, I guess? Clunky.

Forge says she isn’t exaggerating, and more to the point, it’s frustrating to her that he’s judging her for something she had no control over: she’s the daughter of what amounts to a teacher in the Kessel vocational training program. Her mother was one of his students (which…um, at least she was an adult), and they’re still there, along with Forge’s siblings, continuing the work to stop recidivism.

Corran thinks that’s great, but it doesn’t address the issue of, that isn’t why he went after her.

Forge insists, so Kessel had nothing to do with it?

And Corran stops himself. He says, maybe. If she was a pilot that good, and she was from Kessel, she was obviously a smuggler…so his pride was on the line.

z: As in, he had to be better than a smuggler, not that he had to shoot down a smuggler. There’s a distinction.

will: Right. Forge keeps pushing, though. She says there’s more to it. Corran tries to brush her off, but Whistler is on her side, and she even points out, if Corran had been interrogating someone, he wouldn’t stop.

She asks him to explain himself, and he flashes back to his partner Iella in CorSec, who similarly demanded he do that sort of thing…and realizes that if Forge is asking, it’s because Corran has alienated the pilots.

z: Because Iella was, in Corran’s word, a “conciliator,” and he recognizes that Lujayne is taking on a similar sort of role in the current crop of pilots.

will: Corran’s first answer is that he wanted to know how good Forge was, as he hadn’t flown against her. She’s good.

Not as good as Corran or Bror Jace, Forge replies, and Corran lets his ego fly for a second before reining it in. That may be true, he says, but still, Lujayne is sharp, and he wanted to know. He’d love to be up against “that Gimbel kid” in his Redemption run, but Bror beat him to volunteering, and he doesn’t want to follow Bror’s lead.

Forge corrects him on Gavin Darklighter’s name, and says that Bror is pretty standoffish, too. Almost as much as Corran.

Corran feels hurt by that, saying he isn’t that bad, but Forge says, at least Bror goes out drinking with the others. Corran doesn’t.

Corran tells Whistler to shut up preemptively. Heh. Apparently Whistler’s been saying the same thing.

z: I giggled.

will: Corran finally admits the real truth: he had to learn habits of distrust. Since he left CorSec, he’s been bouncing between identities–for example, he spent a year as a confidential aide to “a succession of incompetent Imp officials.” Basically, he’s been undercover for so long that he can’t relax.

z: Oh, so his idea of coming out of undercover as having covered up his trail and doing a fresh start openly was to fly an X-Wing in an extremely high-profile “Rebel” Squadron while said X-Wing is still wearing the Corellian Security livery?

Um, redux…

will: See above, there are more pieces there.

Anyway, I feel like this point doesn’t get as much attention as it deserves. That’s a big deal! And yet, Corran brushes it off.

z: And there’s that, too. “Hi! Sorry I’m not friendly, I’ve just been doing secret identities for too long.” Oh, and also, doing secret identities over on the Imp side.

Is there some kind of weird anti-parallel to Tycho here?

will: Probably, yeah. Hell, the fact that Corran can’t even admit that he had that going on for a while is also part of it–it’s a sort of circular problem, if you get me.

Plus, Corran admits, it’s weird to be here in training, with new slang, new flying, and new species.

Forge sympathizes. Her roommate is a Rodian. But Corran says his roommate takes the cake–and in he comes now.

Ooryl walks up, asking if Ooryl may assist, and Corran says he’s been meaning to ask something, as long as it wouldn’t offend or embarrass: why doesn’t Ooryl use “I”? And why does he bounce between names?

Ooryl explains it’s a Gand (Ooryl’s species, recall) cultural thing: a mark of significance. Before one has significance, one is just “Gand.” Then one gets a last name, then a personal name, as one makes a mark on the world. And “I” is considered so presumptuous, that to use it, a Gand needs to have made such a mark on the world that everybody already knows the speaker’s name.

The use of names is also related to status, offense, shame, and/or social level. If Ooryl drops to “Qyrgg,” it’s a mark of contrition or apology.

(It’s a bit infodumpy, yeah, but at least it’s something Corran is himself clueless about.)

Whistler snarks at Corran over the system (whether anyone would know Corran’s name), and Corran rolls his eyes and asks Whistler to report whether the X-Wing is fixed.

z: I giggled.

I like Whistler.

will: Forge knows about this too, and provides some insight into the debris extraction system that Corran had been trying to tune, including describing a better option that will avoid having to constantly check up. She offers to help, but suggests Corran might not want help–he’d have to owe her a favor, and trust her.

He agrees, since after all he needs to break his habits, and Ooryl heads off for the tools that she needs, while Forge says what her favor is: come with her to the bar, and get to know the rest of what’s likely to be the new Rogues.

Corran says he’ll do it, but that isn’t the favor. After all, he should have been doing that anyway, so he’ll still owe her one. One thing, though: does he have to get along with Bror?

“Why should you be the first?”

And with a last note about repairs, we’re out. (That last paragraph was unnecessary, in my view. Should have ended on Forge’s line.)

As I said, this chapter provides a nice contrast with the previous one. We see how a heroic/good guy character, when called on his limitations, admits them and works to improve, and not alone. We also see the difference between when and how a good guy learns of his failures, and how a bad guy does. The contrast between Corran and Kirtan is almost certainly deliberate, after all.

This is still a classic Top Gun-esque scene, as I said at the start, just with an X-Wing instead of a motorcycle. The only surprise is how early it shows up; normally I would expect this sort of acceptance of one’s limitations to be at the end of Act II of the story, but here, we’re barely into Act I. I guess that’s a difference in medium, book versus movie.

Z?

z: I’d also say that it’s a difference in priorities. We’re likely to have a lot of meat in this story, as illustrated by these intro chapters: Corran’s past potentially catching up to him, Tycho’s can’t-prove-a-negative problem, and those before we even get to, you know, whatever a very high-profile, high-skill fighting squadron is going to have to do or be. I think that if “…and thus he learned the power of friendship importance of not being a standoffish jerk” had been a significant plot thread, only to be resolved mid-tale, I could get impatient about it. This was the right place to handle it, and mostly the right way too, I think. Corran’s gotten into the habit of being a loner in his undercover days, but he’s not a loner by temperament; the little thought he has about his partner Iella Wessiri in their CorSec days implies that. So it is fitting that a conversation nudges him back out of the loner-mode, and that early on.

Structure-wise, it’s another chapter consisting entirely of dialogue, if you don’t count the initial falling-flyboy gag. But we’re still meeting the full cast, so that works.

I also liked that the whole Ooryl Qrygg/Gand thing got explained by, like, asking the person in question, instead of Corran thinking about it and observing it and coming to a bright! shiny! realization, or it being made a big deal of. Lujayne and Corran’s entire reactions are essentially “huh, that’s different, makes sense, fine” and moving on; which is exactly what they should be, of course.

will: Oh, sure. That’s what you do when you learn a new cultural thing.

z: Next week, Rogue Squadron. Until then, may the Force be with you.

 

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