Thursday, October 25, 2012

Star Wars: X-Wing: Mercy Kill review

    Wraith Squadron.

    Let me put you in the mood for the books. Wraith Squadron Theme

    Aaron Allston's arguable greatest creation and certainly so in the Star Wars universe, Wraith Squadron is a rag-tag collection of misfits in the already rag-tag collection of misfits we call the Rebellion/New Republic/Galactic Alliance.

    Wraith Squadron and its sequels were a breath of fresh air in an Expanded Universe that took itself far too seriously. They were silly, irreverent, and occasionally poignant. Wraith Squadron managed to routinely move between gut-bustingly hilarious and tragic without missing a step.

    Part of what made the Wraith Squadron books so entertaining was the idea they were practical jokers in their off-time but facing deadly serious stakes. They were professionals who often took refuge in audacity under the pretense no one would be so crazy as to lie about the things they did. It worked, too, because Star Wars is filled with strange stuff.

    A typical example of the fun personified of Wraith Squadron was Lieutenant Kettch. He was a genetically modified Ewok starship pilot who flew with the aid of a harness. That's insane and stupid, which is why he was just made up to mess with General Wedge Antilles' head. It made the actual genetically enhanced pilot, Vroot the Gamorrean, much more plausible.

    Well the original Wraith Squadron books ended before the New Jedi Order, where Star Wars as a whole became Darker and Edgier. There was no place for the fun but serious Wraiths in a world where pain-worshiping aliens wielded lightsaber-resistant snake-staves. Yeah, I wish I was making that up.

    Mercy Kill takes the Wraiths a number of decades into the future where the Star Wars galaxy has once more softened to the point silliness can exist alongside seriousness. Some of the old cast is dead, some of them have chips on their shoulders, others are entirely new members with chips on their shoulders.

     Yeah, that is the big problem with Mercy Kill. As much as the original Wraiths were a collection of dysfunctional individuals, the current squadron is even more so. Vroot, the Gamorrean Mathematics Professor (yes, you read that right), has even developed an appalling case of racism. Even when he learns his expected lesson, Vroot makes no apologies for it despite the fact the person he's racist to was born to slaves of his derision's object. It makes it difficult to care what happens to the guy.

    I applaud Aaron Allston avoiding the usual pitfalls of renegade Imperials, Dark Jedi, and alien invaders but another flaw of the book is its villain. The Wraiths are going after a corrupt member of the Galactic Alliance's Joint Chiefs of Staff. This would be impressive if not for the fact the guy is solely interested in lining his pockets. I'm not saying it's not a refreshing change but it's not exactly Darth Vader-level excitement.

    Finally, I regret the change done to the character of Garrik "Face" Loran. This book goes out of its way to portray him as a Thrawn-level manipulator and it undermines the excitement a bit. I never believed a twist the book pulled regarding him and I think the story would have benefited from him making a few mistakes as the story went along.

    Still, I enjoyed the book a great deal. The fact the book didn't focus on Jedi or Sith was an excellent change and it's wrong for me to complain too much about villains with comprehensible motivations. I'm also a fan of spy fiction and seeing the various plots they hatch is entertaining beyond belief.

    I'm especially fond of the characters of Bhindi and Myri Antilles. Both are intelligent, interesting, capable female characters in a franchise that occasionally lacks for them. Star Wars gave us Princess Leia but most of the authors are male and the recent loss of Mara Jade is something that has severely hurt the franchise as a whole. Bhindi as leader of Wrath Squadron is my favorite part of the book and Myri's growth as a soldier never stopped entertaining.

    In conclusion, I love Aaron Allston's writing and am eagerly awaiting his next addition to the Star Wars EU. If this book is the start of a new Wraith Squadron series, I can only say I'll be third or fourth in line to pick it up.


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