As Jason Fry’s authorial sidekick in Star Wars: The Essential Guide to Warfare, I got the chance to write about the development of fighter tactics in a galaxy far, far, away and how the advantages and limitations of combat planes translate into the vast arena of space. Between us, we produced “biographies” for almost every major warplane type from the movies, novels and comics.
But last week was the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Midway, a decisive air battle with more than a passing resemblance to some stories in the Star Wars universe — and reading about the real-world fighter combat reminded me of another key component of any war: the people.
So, to mark that anniversary, and to do something a little different for this online piece, I’ve teamed up with artist Frank-Joseph Frelier, who has produced a series of portraits of the iconic combat pilots from the Star Wars novels – some of them seen here for the very first time.
The Clone Wars are characterized primarily as a series of planetary campaigns, and thus, the pilots of the Prequel era are often deployed low-down in the atmosphere to help out the army — pilots who include militia veterans and raw recruits, as well as clones. Lieutenant Erk H’Arman flies ground-support missions in a fighter called a T-19 Torpil, while Corporal Odie Subu is a speeder bike pilot, skimming her high-performance flying machine at fence-top level as a forward scout for the surface troops. They both appear in the novel Star Wars: Jedi Trial by David Sherman and Dan Cragg – a generous nod to the benefits of air support by a pair of authors who served in the U.S. Army and Marine Corps in Vietnam.
The X-wing pilots of the Rebellion who flew and fought against the Empire need no introduction, but one thing that text and illustration can really celebrate is the diversity of the personnel in Alliance Starfighter Command. The many Bothans who died to capture the vital information about the second Death Star did so in an aerial battle. Canon lore tells us that the battered Y-wing seen in a hangar bay in one of the scenes in Return of the Jedi was the only survivor of that battle. For that reason, it seems appropriate to show a Bothan fighter pilot here: Asyr Sei’lar from the X-wing novels Star Wars: X-Wing: Wedge’s Gamble, Star Wars: X-Wing: The Krytos Trap and Star Wars: X-Wing: The Bacta War.
Alongside her is Corran Horn of the Corellian Security Force. CorSec are the equivalent of state troopers on Han Solo’s home planet, and they use X-wings to give a whole new meaning to the phrase “police interceptor”. Corran has appeared in more novels than it’s sensible to list, and was most recently depicted as a lightsaber-wielding Jedi Master in the climactic novel Star War: Fate of the Jedi: Apocalypse, but he’s shown here as a cocky young pilot in Corellian flight gear alongside Asyr. They both join Rogue Squadron after the Battle of Endor, and they’re symbols of the liberating diversity of the Rebellion and the New Republic it gave rise to: “taking back the Galaxy, one planet at a time”.
Of course, as the New Jedi Order series reminded us, some beings seem too darkly alien even for the tolerant embrace of the Galaxy’s great heroes. The Yuuzhan Vong are a pain-worshiping, warfaring civilization whose kamikaze starfighters are ebony arrowheads of living space rock, and whose warriors exist in weird symbiosis with their planes and their own organic armor. Thankfully, they’re not going to enslave the Galaxy without a fight.
Kyp Durron stands for the Jedi opposition. Distrusted by both Luke Skywalker and the Defense Force high command, and leading a force of privateers and volunteers, his lightsaber and his stylishly dark Jedi Master robes are the nearest thing he has to an official warrant to go around blowing up bad guys. None of us here at the blog are sure whether his robes are actually a disguised flight-suit, or whether he’s just being ridiculously cavalier about cockpit safety. Knowing Kyp, it could be either, depending on the mood he’s in that day. But while he might look like a Jedi flying straight into the Dark Side, he’s actually somewhere on the long journey back from being a Sith Apprentice.
We’re not quite sure why Kyp and a high-ranking Yuuzhan Vong commander aren’t trying to kill each other in this image, but maybe there’s a story there that hasn’t been told yet…?
And finally, we come to the most recent generation of Star Wars fighter pilots: the Legacy era.
Jaina Solo, Han and Leia’s daughter, flies a stealth variant of the X-wing these days, and she’s shown here in the combat flight gear of the Jedi Order’s fighter wing, an heir to every great tradition of warrior skill and dogfighting agility in the Galaxy. But there are other pilots in this new generation too, notably Syal Antilles, the daughter of Luke’s wingman Wedge from the movies, now grown up to be a fighter pilot in her own right. Like her father in the movies, Syal provides an efficient combat-pilot presence in the background of a lot of recent novels, but she has a particularly strong role in Star Wars: Legacy of the Force: Betrayal, the book that really kicks off the latest generation of adventures; and there are rumors that she’ll feature strongly in Aaron Allston’s upcoming X-wing novel Star Wars: X-Wing: Mercy Kill, on sale August 7. We’re looking forward to it!
Paul Urquhart is a pseudonym. He was born in Scotland between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back and has been a Star Wars fan since he bought his first toy X-wing at the age of three. Although occasionally mistaken for a larger-than-life Ewok, he is a historian by training, specializing in medieval society.
Frank-Joseph “Mazzic” Frelier is an illustrator and animator living in San Francisco. In addition to Star Wars and Mara Jade, his other interests include dinosaurs, Mogwai, and shiny objects.