In the first half of X-Wing: The Krytos Trap, Wedge Antilles, the commander of Rogue Squadron, hails a cab, goes to a hanger bay, and gets his faced touched by an insect-man. If there is anything better to be reading right now, I’d like you to really think about the case you’re making. For all you aspiring writers out there, the next time you’re in a workshop talking about someone’s story or poem or essay, you might want to ask them if they’ve considered putting a scene in there where an insect-man delicately touches someone’s face. It’s just a suggestion.
The Krytos Trap is my favorite of these books so far. I originally read these when they were new and I was between 13 and 14-years-old. Rereading them as an adult (non-insect) person and professional writer, I’ve got to say, wow, these books sure knew how to have fun.
The last X-Wing book saw our hero Corran Horn kidnapped by the torture-happy and brain-washy Ysanne Isard, but there’s a solid six chapters or so before we finally figure out what’s going on with him. The book opens with a fairly close third-person point of view on Wedge who, despite being congratulated on liberating Coruscant, is totally bummed out. He and the rest of Rogue Squadron think Corran is dead and they’re all dealing with the fact that their comrade-in-arms Tycho has been accused of murder and treason. Wedge and everyone else totally believe Tycho is innocent, but there’s going to be a trail anyway.
Compounding the problem is the fact that most all of the “alien” species in the galaxy are super-sick with the engineered Kyrtos virus. It can be treated, yes, but only with large amounts of Bacta—the stuff that Luke Skywalker swims in for like three-seconds in The Empire Strikes Back and which totally heals him from getting monster-slapped by a snowman. Leave it to the Star Wars Expanded Universe to take something that literally was just like a weird three-second aquarium into a major, galaxy-spanning plot point.
I’m not complaining here, it’s just that Bacta seems pretty awesome, and when Wedge meets with one of its producers—the aforementioned insect man, Qlaren Hirf—they talk a lot about the history of the substance and how much it’s changed everyone’s lives. The Clone Wars is mentioned here, and how much the miracle-healing substance helped during those years, which of course, is sort of embarrassing now since Bacta only shows up in like four episodes of the Clone Wars TV show, and then only in the first and second season, and very briefly. Rereading these Star Wars books with the phantom of the prequels and the prequel-era spin-offs hanging over everything is straight-up bizarre. When Stackpole wrote this, we didn’t have totally consistent images of what all these temples and great halls looked like. Now, it’s fairly easy to see Mon Mothma, Leia, Ackbar, and all these other senators lounging around as Wedge addresses them about all sorts of issues. And yet, there are some inconsistencies. In war, it seems Bacta is a big deal, and even during the Clone Wars, it would have been handier than growing new Clones, but oops, I guess we should forget about that.
A similar thing happens towards the end of the novel, when gasp—Luke Skywalker shows up, affectionately described as “tow-headed” by the author. Luke gabs with Wedge and Corran a bit about how screwed up all the Jedi stuff is on Coruscant, and implies heavily that Palpatine “defaced” an bunch of Jedi stuff, but that there aren’t very many records of any cool training stuff. This is weird for a lot of reasons, but the easiest one is: how does Luke know Palpatine defaced a bunch of stuff, like specifically Palps, but doesn’t have information on anything else? Are we supposed to picture Palpatine walking around with a can of spray paint after Anakin killed everyone in Revenge of the Sith? Did author Michael A. Stackpole predict the totally immature version of Palpatine from Robot Chicken? (Will all of these X-Wing rereads have a Robot Chicken thing in them?)
Speaking of the Skywalkers, Leia shows up more in this book than previous adventures of Rogue Squadron, here secretly confiding in Wedge that she’s off to Hapes to do some negations there which will desperately help out the New Republic. This, of course, is a reference to The Courtship of Princess Leia, written two years earlier. As mentioned last time, Stackpole is also weaving in references to Black Sun and everyone’s favorite sexy reptile: Prince Xizor, all of which originated in Shadows of the Empire, published the same year as this book. You’ve really got to hand it to these ’90s Star Wars writers; they’re working their asses off to try to make sure everything makes sense! Too bad in only three years Qui-Gon Jinn is going to roll in all drunk and stuff and start upturning continuity tables like a lunatic.
Anyway, in terms of the Rogue Squadron continuity, The Krytos Trap slowly reveals the attempted brainwashing of Corran Horn and the eventual exoneration of Tycho. By the end of everything, the reader truly feels like they’ve gone through a lot with all of these folks. Oh, by the way, if you hadn’t figured it out already, the mole in Rogue Squadron was Esiri Dlarit! Though, as an adult reader, I found the clues surrounding this to be fairly obvious, I do remember being floored as a teenager. But, truthfully, you’re not reading these tales of Rogue Squadron for those kinds of mysteries. Instead, you’re onboard for the totally impressively brisk and knowledgeable style which zips along here just like a T-16 Skyhopper buzzing some big-freaking womp rats.
With multiple character perspectives, complicated Star Wars-themed analogies (seriously, Ackbar’s ocean metaphors are hilarious) and difficult continuity juggling, I think it’s hard to write-off this book and the others in the series a cynical media-tie-in junk. Rogue Squadron has heart, and in this one, feels like the series is graduating to a higher level of seriousness. To prove it, the book concludes with Luke Skwyalker asking Corran Horn a serious question.
Hey Corran, want to become a Jedi?
Up Next: The Bacta War heats up!
Ryan Britt is a longtime contributor to Tor.com.