X-wing: Rogue Squadron, Chapter 5

z: Hello, gentlebeings, and welcome to Chapter 5 of Rogue Squadron, wherein oh hi, Rogue Squadron.

On the personal side, within the next ten days I’m supposed to come up with full instrumentation lists of all our album repertoire, review and advise about the recording order, finish helping with launching the repertoire for the Small Ensemble Showcase in August, start practicing for said Showcase and small ensemble piece recordings also in August, and arrange a repertoire selection meeting with all the attendant preparations for the Fall 2018 season. And, um, arrange a piece for the SES.

will: Still all quiet on the northern front, though work has been filled with some weird and interesting projects lately.

z: I did have a sane workload, once. I vaguely remember that being a thing. I’m sure you’ll tell me if I’m misremembering.

will: Ahem.

z: As the chapter opens, Corran is walking into a briefing room, trying not to smile–he received a call for a Rogue Squadron briefing just that morning, which apparently included the implied “Oh hey by the way yeah, you’re in Rogue Squadron now.” But it’s an unnecessary effort, since he sees that everyone who is physically capable of smiling is smiling. It’s a nice reminder for us that there’s some serious physiological diversity going on there.

will: Corran also thinks that this is a contrast from the “nervous expressions” everyone had at the DownTime, reinforcing that he actually did have fun.

z: We get told that he doesn’t have Dunning-Kruger syndrome: “He’d had a pretty good idea he’d make it, but despite assurances from the other candidates, he’d never allowed himself to assume he would make it.” Such assumptions, it seems, have burned him before. But he also mentally reviews his personal history, and in the process we learn that he has set records in the Corellian Security training programs, breaking those set by his father Hal, just like Hal had broken records set by his own father, Corran’s grandfather.

Rogue Squadron ain’t exactly family tradition, in other words:

And now I’m a Rebel, an outlaw. What would my father and grandfather have thought? A cold sensation raised goose bumps on his skin. Whatever, they would have thought much worse things if I’d become an Imp.

Well, now. One day we might have to handle this “rebellion against established authority and ruling body not sitting well with the rebelling person’s conscience” thing, but I’m not sure if Corran is the right test case, even if he used to be an officer of the law. As Stackpole himself lampshades, the alternative wasn’t exactly going to be fighting for justice and peace.

will: Maybe not the typical test case, but we’ll see him as an interesting one.

z: This chapter still has a bit of the introductions to everyone in the squad thing going on. Rhysati Ynr (“human female from Bespin,” says the Dramatis Personae at the beginning of the book–oh, we didn’t mention it has one, right? It has one) calls Corran over, Ooryl Qrygg (“Gand male from Gand”) is sitting nearby too, and they exchange “yay we made it”s. Corran is told that he scored the highest in the Redemption run, but surprisingly, Bror Jace (“human male from Thyferra”) wasn’t the second. Gavin Darklighter (…okay I’ll stop now, anyway we know that he’s from Tatooine) beat Jace. Corran considers Gavin, correctly noting that he’s young, even though apparently very very full-grown, but remarks to himself that the boy must be very talented too.

will: Corran also comments that Gavin’s age is visible in his eyes; he’s, in some ways, innocent. (I also admit that I like the line, “it was nice of Commander Antilles to agree with our group consensus” about how they all deserved to make it.)

z: Nawara Ven, the Twi’lek pilot we’d met in the first chapter, joins the little group and imparts the utterly unsurprising intelligence that Jace is unhappy about this. Bror Jace is described right then in poster-boy terms: Blonde, blue-eyed, potentially might have been likeable but has the ego the size of a Star Destroyer (“and likely to be just as deadly.”) Corran’s CorSec experience has nothing good to say about ego cases, unsurprising in such a deeply-team-based enterprise.

will: Yeah; CorSec training is described much like police training, which (in its ideal) emphasizes backup, teamwork, and support. Corran will have some interesting comments about the CorSec Academy down the line.

z: Jace is talking to a black-haired woman, whom Corran names as Erisi Dlarit, and asks about her scores. Ooryl says that she was “middle of the hunt,” just between Nawara and Ooryl himself, and adds that Lujayne was at the end of the list. But “competition is stiff here.”

In other words, there’s barely 0.02 sigma between the best and the worst of these twelve, and trying to grade them in a curve or rank them actually makes very little sense. I do have some personal experience with that kind of a setup from college days, and I empathize. I will also point out that it doesn’t in fact stop anyone from trying the ranking or the curve, and it’s a very good path to misery for the participants, especially if they themselves buy into it.

will: We will later see that there are elements to which this does matter; there isn’t an explicit seniority among equally-ranked servicemembers, but piloting skill has a degree of ranking to it.

z: I guess we’ll see who in this group buys into it and who doesn’t.

Wedge comes in, followed by “a black 3PO droid with a nonstandard head. It looked more like the clamshell design seen on flight controller droid,” in other words, like this. There’s one throwaway line about how Wedge has green eyes, which created such tempests in such tiny teapots as the likes of which can be found here. Because, of course, Dennis Lawson has brown eyes, and it’s correct later on in the series, and all the copyeditors and such missed that the first time through. My paperback is the 7th printing, but my Kindle edition still has the error too, so oh well I guess no one cared that much. I definitely don’t; I’m only mentioning it in memory of said tiny-teapot-tempests.

will: That was, I think, before my time. Oh, and also, “that mystery pilot” from the sims is there too.

z: Wedge starts his briefing with congratulations and a welcome. Corran is shaken when, at one point, Wedge meets his eyes, since in Corran’s words, Wedge’s seen “the years–seen more than they should have.”

will: This is in contrast to Gavin’s eyes’ innocence.

z: We get a bit of Wedge’s personal history through Corran’s reminiscing: Wedge’s parents were killed by pirates in “Gus Treta,” which we know from elsewhere is a space station they ran; Corran’s father Hal trailed them, and also kept an eye on Wedge, but declared him a lost cause when the then-boy joined the Rebellion.

Okay, so maybe Corran might not be that bad a test case, if Hal did have that rigid a viewpoint.

will: Right. And like I said, even if Corran’s alternative wasn’t law and justice, he still is a rebel now; maybe it’s a shift from Lawful Neutral to Chaotic Good, and the question is, is the chaos outweighed by the goodness?

(As to Wedge’s history, we’ll see that again when–if?–we do the Rogue Squadron comics.)

z: Wedge next gives a history lesson prefaced with a literal “As you know, (Bobs).” Linking the Rogues to the Red Squadron, Yavin, Endor, Bakura. There aren’t many things that are in canon at this point, and Stackpole is either being wary or is being told to be wary about creation of many Ord Mantells. There’s one “Gall” mentioned that we haven’t seen in the movies or in Force Visions yet. So why was there such a complete reboot, with twelve new pilots? Wedge explains that while there were a few survivors (whom we’ll all meet in due course), most of the time the elite reputation of the unit means that the usual flux of newcomers brought by the churn and rapid turnover rate simply… didn’t survive. So let’s start over, keep the name, but bring in an entirely new team of twelve and train them to be Rogues together.

This, I admit, makes sense to me.

will: Agreed. Again, this is probably related in some degree to the comics, which had been running a little while, and represented a slightly more ragtag group of Rogues.

Also, Wedge again says that the Rogues are a symbol, the Alliance’s legend of impossible-doers.

Oh, and I’m pretty sure Gall shows up in Shadows of the Empire.

z: And in the process they interviewed and eliminated hundreds of pilots, which again speaks to the 0.02 sigma thing I mentioned above. Wedge wants to cut down on head-inflation immediately though, or at least I think that’s the point of his coming right out and saying that “you’re all elite but you’ll never be considered as good as a Biggs Darklighter or a Jek Porkins, those guys are legends.”

Corran immediately thinks to himself, and so are you, and I can become one too, right?

…not the point, Corran.

will: No, but Wedge is an idiot if he doesn’t know people will take that away. It’s a challenge: “you can’t live up to the legend. But I dare you to try.”

z: Wedge also points out that this is an unusual group of pilots in some senses. Two of them, he says off-handedly, already have death marks against them, and the rest of them will join the club as soon as it’s known that they have been assigned to Rogue Squadron. The Empire also takes that Symbol thing seriously. But more than that, in particular in Admiral Ackbar’s conception, Rogue Squadron needed to be a team of pilots that can operate independently and do more than just dogfights and killing Death Stars. (Is twice a habit?)

will: Two for two?

z: So that also played into their selection process. Rhysati mentions to Corran that something like that was in “Baron” Calrissian’s security structure for Bespin; he had a Commando Pilot squadron. So we can already see Corran’s security background allowing him to play more roles than just the ace pilot, and we’re beginning to wonder, hopefully, what the rest of them bring to the table than just the hot hands on the sticks. Corran specifically wonders that about Gavin, which is a fair thing to wonder given that the boy’s just 16 and… probably not a second Ghent, given how much obsession it takes to be a Ghent.

will: In some ways, I’d suggest malleability. Youth also.

And yeah, the Rogues here are comparable to Army Rangers, Green Berets, SEAL Teams, or the like. Elite commandos.

z: I agree. But it also makes sense that Corran doesn’t make that connection and instead wonders about already-trained skills; he’d see it that way and he doesn’t have nearly enough leadership experience himself yet.

will: Well yeah.

z: Wedge continues that they are about to embark into a very intensive training program, led by Captain Celchu, whom he introduces at this point, and gives the new pilots a brief of his XOs resume. Notably missing: Any mention of Imperial captivity and potential programming as a sleeper agent, heh.

will: Yeah, save that for later. (I’m only half kidding.)

z: Emtrey, as the 3PO droid is called, is the quartermaster and will hand room assignments, etc. in the new training complex they’ll move to. Then comes the cold water part of the speech:

So now you’re all part of Rogue Squadron. What you can expect of the future is this: endless amounts of boredom and routine punctuated by moments of sheer terror. As good as you are, statistical studies of fighter pilots indicate most of you will die in your first five missions. While survivability goes up after that, the odds are still not good that you will live to see the complete destruction of the Empire. The reason for that is that you will be there to see bits and pieces of it being lopped off. Rogue Squadron will be given tough assignments and will be expected to complete them, specifically because we are the best there is.

Any questions?

, no, at the last he doesn’t say “Any questions?” that blandly, but it would have been funny and that’s what it comes down to.

will: No, he just says “that’s all, unless you have questions.” Which, someone does.

z: I have multiple remarks about that speech before we go on to the questions, though:

  1. In my Kindle edition, the line about boredom and routine punctuated by moments of sheer terror is underlined by enough people to show up underlined in my copy also. I find this amusing, given that it is in fact so basic a military cliche that I am aware of it, and I don’t read military fiction as a rule.
  2. MIT entrance classes, please take note of the somewhat different stakes here and stop crowing about how a 66% retention rate makes you speshul.

will: Oh, is that like the old line from law school about “look to your left, look to your right, one of the three of you will be gone in a semester”?

z: Yes, except the first time I heard that line described to me, it was in… I think in Stephen Levy’s Hackers, actually, and specifically about MIT engineering classes?

will: Same BS, different entitled faculty (and students).

z: Heh. Yes.

Anyway, 3. I do like the explicit reasoning that Wedge gives for why their survivor rate may be low even when they are so good: They’ll be expected to do the really rough and tough ones. Over the years and books, we’ll see that evolve into a slogan, which I won’t spoil now.

The question Will mentioned comes from Jace, who asks if the training will be solely in simulators or if they’ll get to fly actual ships. Wedge answers that at the moment, the squadron has ten ships, and they’ll get two more within a week, and will do training in those, but they’ll be supplementing a lot in simulators. Then there’s another amusing bit, which even Wedge smiles at while commenting: Yes, we could have been given A-wings or B-wings or Y-wings or what have you, but… nah; as much as the new pilots can fanwank about debate the merits of the different ships, “Rogue Squadron has always been a primarily X-wing Squadron and will remain so.” There isn’t any reasoning he gives, and while we can fanwank come up with theories why they’ll be most effective in X-wings, the in-story reason is of course it’s Wedge and X-wings are his thing and the fourth-wall-breaking reason is that the games weren’t called Star Wars: B-wing.

will: Also the symbolism. X-wings are the Rebellion, X-wings killed Death Stars. So the Rogues will fly X-wings.

z: Any other questions, as Wedge also asks? There aren’t, so the Rogues–now officially Rogues–are officially dismissed until start of training next morning. Corran stands up to walk down to the Commander and thank him, sees that Jace is doing the exact same thing ahead of him, and decides that he doesn’t want to do anything that can be perceived as imitating Jace, we can’t have that oh my stars oh no, and I’m both very amused and rather irritated at that.

will: Back to Top Gun territory.

z: It’s another indicator that our protagonist has some growing-up to do, which is a nice thing this early in the series, of course. So Corran turns back to talking to his friends, and the conversation drifts to who the two already-death-marked pilots may be. Everyone assumes that one of them is the Shistavanen (“Wolfman,”) Shiel.

will: There’s also a line that Nawara has clients he didn’t keep out of Kessel who probably want to kill him, which…ah, cheap lawyer jokes.

z: Wherein we also learn that Nawara was a lawyer, which is the hint about what extra skills he might have brought in.

will: Didn’t we get told that a chapter or two ago? Something about how he gave up seeking justice that way?

z: True. Reminder, then. Rhysati wonders if the second death mark may be on the Rodian female pilot, Andoorni Hui, but Ooryl says no; Rodians put great stock in reputation and that’s why Andoorni wanted to join the Rogues, because it’s good for her reputation to be in such a pack of hunters… which, um… but at any rate, she wouldn’t have done something that would have merited a death mark. Rhysati then asks Corran what he thinks. Corran reasons that Shiel probably does have a death mark, but he hasn’t heard of Andoorni before, so maybe not. M-3PO approaches them at that point and confirms that Shiel has the first one; he apparently slaughtered a bunch of stormtroopers who thought he was Lak Sivrak. Yes, that Sivrak.

will: There are a few points at which Mike Stackpole will demonstrate that he read the previous books in the SWEU, and perhaps, was a bit too happy to cross-reference.

z: …on the other hand, given how many times I typed “who edited this thing” within the same book for the previous anthology, I’m not going to complain about too much continuity just yet. Even though it may fairly feel a bit awkward.

Anyway, Emtrey came over to formally introduce himself, and some other stereotypes are also maintained: “I am Emtrey, human-cyborg relations and regulations with a military specialty. I am fluent in over six million languages and familiar with an equivalent number of current and historical military doctrines, regulations, honor codes, and protocols.”

No one’s eyes cross and no one falls into an impressed puddle, so we don’t have any Ky Tung equivalents in the crowd. Nawara, however, points out that Emtrey likely has everyone’s full personnel files, too, so come on, give, who’s got the second death mark? Emtrey says that Shiel never hid his death mark so it’s okay to reveal that, but the second individual has never said anything about theirs, so would it be wise to reveal the name, Mr. Horn, to whom Emtrey specifically addresses this question for no reason whatsoever?

Oh, come on.

will: In fairness, Corran thinks this is just asking the cop, and defers to Nawara (who says that a death mark is public, and “hardly a disgrace” in this crowd).

z: Yeah, but that only makes me giggle more. Anyway, we all saw it coming so I’m not going to stretch it: Emtrey first describes the death mark as being issued for the brutal murder and vivisection of half a dozen people, and then does a “it’s you, Sir.” Corran has the death mark on Drall, in the Corellian sector, for the murder of six smugglers.

And scene.

Oh, yes, the Stackpole Cliffhanger Chapter Endings are here. He does more than his fair share of that, I think, and does it intentionally too; I’ve heard him talk about them. It does work to make the book a pageturner and more entertaining, so not much to complain about, except… well, once you’ve seen them you can’t unsee them, either, so I’ve got a bit of that effect going on.

I could go on to the next chapter, which starts immediately with Corran’s explanation (of course there’s an explanation), but… I’m enjoying this book; we’re enjoying this book, as should be obvious from the suddenly-longer commentaries that feel much easier to write, but on the other hand, let me refer you back to that to-do list at the beginning of the entry. I’ve got to vamoose and write instrumentation lists now. Will?

will: We’re still in typical territory, as I said above talking about the Top Gun scenes. The whole “dare to be great” sequence is pretty standard as well. In a lot of ways I think the fact that it is Star Wars makes it work; it’s an interesting mix and match that’s more down to earth than the epic scale of Jedi and the Force.

And the rest of what I said, I said inline. It’s about time to wrap this up, so come back next week for Corran’s explanation, and until then, may the Force be with you.


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