Original publication date: February 1st – June 1st 1996
Story: Michael Stackpole
Script: Darko Macan
Penciller: Edvin Biukovic & John Nadeau & Gary Erskine
Inker: Edvin Biukovic & Gery Erskine & Jordi Ensign
Letterer: Edvin Biukovic & Annie Parkhouse
Colorist: Dave Nestelle
Editor: Suzanne Taylor
Designer: Scott Tice
Cover Artist: Edvin Biukovic
On their second adventure, we find Wedge Antilles and Rogue Squadron completing their supply run to Mrlsst, a planet of academics and scientists. There, they encounter political intrigue, a group of people who support the Emperor despite the fact that he is gone, and–because this is Star Wars–we have a new superweapon to deal with.
The Rogues are joined on their adventure by an old friend of Wedge, and this allows for a slight detour from the main story to get a look at his life before he joined the rebellion, and the events that put him on his path to a life of military service.
This book collects issues 5-8 of Star Wars: X-Wing: Rogue Squadron.
Right away–from the very first panel–it's apparent that this is going to be a rather different book than it's predecessor. The new pencil & ink team have presented the story in a very different visual style: much more contemporary compared to The Rebel Opposition, which looks much more like the original Marvel comics from the 1970s. The character designs make facial expressions easier to read–even amongst the non-humans–and the action sequences are dramatically more cinematic. The colors pop off the page and utterly absorb the reader's attention in ways that enrich the storytelling process.
As for the story, The Phantom Affair begins where most of the Rogues' adventures do: in combat. An Interdictor Cruiser has intercepted the supply convoy in orbit over Mrlsst, and Wedge and his pilots are forced to overcome tremendous odds to drive it off. The Captain–along with his newest pilot, Elscol Loro–vape a bunch of TIEs and then loose a salvo of torpedoes at the cruiser. The Imperials withdraw... for now.
On the ground, we see that Wes still hasn't quite recovered from the broken leg he sustained on Cilpar. The squadron are greeted at the spaceport by Noss Prist, a Mrlssi functionary. He has come to escort Wedge to meet with the President of the Mrlssi Academy–in addition to escorting the supply convoy, Captain Antilles has another important duty on this world: to act as a representative of the New Republic in a top-secret negotiation.
Gyr Keela is presented as a particularly fine example of Mrlssi physiology: like all Mrlssi he is of smaller stature than most humans, with blueish skin, large eyes, three-fingered hands, and "beautiful facial plumage." He seems happy enough to see the commander of Rogue Squadron, but has a bureaucrat's generic charm and that vague impression that maybe he's not listening to himself when he talks.
The Academy on Mrlsst is not merely an average institution of higher learning, but also a think tank of some galactic renown. The latest invention to come out of its laboratories: the Phantom Ship. As Keela describes it, it is a wonder: "A cloaking device that needs little energy, but can also resist the effects of gravity well projectors."
Wedge's response mirrors our own. "This sounds too good to be true."
The Mrlssi council will be deciding soon whether or not to hand the technology over to the Alliance–if this Phantom Ship performs as advertised, it could tip the balance of the war. There are many who consider the Empire to still be a force in the galaxy, as Tycho Celchu will soon discover first-hand...
But first, we are introduced to a character who will become a regular throughout the run of the series (and another prime example of how the Expanded Universe puts the theatrical installments to shame when it comes to presenting complex and compelling female characters) Mirax Terrik. She and Wedge grew up together, almost as brother and sister, and in the few years since they've seen each other she's become an antiquities & exotics dealer, entrepreneur, Captain of her own trading vessel (Pulsar Skate), with clients and contacts across the Rim.
Wedge and Mirax basically grew up together as brother & sister, and it's clearly evident from their easy rapport how close they were, given that it's been almost five years since they've seen each other. Wedge has perhaps done the lion's share of the growing up–what with the destructions of the Death Stars and all–but they both have that excitable early-twenties energy of remembering your previous, teenaged self as being "so long ago... before I became an a grown up." In wartime, even antiquities dealers have to grow up fast, and Mirax (no longer "li'l Myra") would never feel less than in the august company of Alliance heroes.
They part company and agree to meet up later with the rest of the squadron at a local club.
On his way to his quarters, Wedge runs across Elscol and Groznik. They are still in the throes of grief over their lost Throm. Even though it's only a single page, this minimalist retelling of their loss feels more potent than the version in the previous volume. Elscol especially is simply despondent; she insists that Wedge give them their space to grieve.
As he leaves, we see a panel of a mysterious figure floating in front of a wall of viewscreens–one of which shows Elscol and Groznik... he has been watching them.
"Friends, students, Intellectuals! It's time we all put an end to the fable of Endor! Come here and listen to the truth!" Mirax, Tycho, Hobbie, Plour and Dllr are on their way across the city when they overhear a gathering of pro-Empire demonstrators. Though Mrlsst is unaligned, they pride themselves on freedom of speech, so the government doesn't interfere with the demonstration. Tycho has other ideas.
He leaves the others and storms over to the podium. As the AEA spokesman lays out the Imperial propaganda about the Death Stars, Tycho shouts back at him from the crowd. His blood is up, and as an Alderaanian, this is a subject that couldn't be more personal. (Continuing readers will remember that in our last installment The Rebel Opposition, we learned that Tycho was taking with his family remotely when Alderaan was destroyed.)
The Imp belittles & patronizes Tycho, and the pilot withdraws to the laughter of the crowd.
Moments later he's attacked in an alley by a handful of AEA stooges. The Rogues have a pretty good reputation for being brawlers–as well as hot pilots–so it comes as no surprise that he's just about able to hold his own against them, though he's unarmed and his attackers are sporting what appear to be wooden batons. He's go three of them on their backs, but loses track of the fourth. Just as the man is preparing to knock Tycho out, he is saved by mysterious ghostly figure. A figure who appears to be wilding a lightsaber, and vanishes just as quickly as it appeared. Tycho tries to express his gratitude, but the apparition is gone, so he heads off to the Soundmound to meet the others.
Appearing live* (*in holo) it's "Ghost Jedi"–the band so popular they don't even show up to their own gigs, but perform remotely from orbit.
As Mirax and Dllr are appreciating the mathematical nature of the music, their Twi'lek server informs them that the composer actually is a mathematician–Rorax Falken. The performers are his students, moonlighting as musicians.
Their conversation is interrupted when Tycho arrives, still smarting from emotional and physical wounds inflicted by the AEA. He tells them about the ghostly figure he encountered, and their server, whose name is Koyi Nomad, has an extra layer to add to the story.
Turns out there was a Jedi Knight named Taj Junk who was murdered by the Empire some years before, and is rumored to haunt the Academy. The Twi'lek's woman, who is only working part-time at the bar to supplement her academic stipend, agrees to show the Rogues around Mrlsst.
The next day, Koyi shows them the spot where he surrendered to the Imperials, and was burnt alive–nothing has grown there ever since. Their tour is interrupted by the arrival of Gade Yedan, who whisks Wedge away to meet with President Keela again.
As the speeder takes the captain off to his negotiation, away spots Professor Falken. The old composer, confined to a hover-chair, resists Dllr's attempt to fan out on him about his music. Grozznik attempts to intervene over the perceived slight, trying to ground the repulsor-pod, but the professor gets away. Dllr consoles himself with a bunch of sour grapes.
As usual, Wedge wastes no time on formalities when he is brought before Gyr Keela–he immediately wants to know why he wasn't inform that the Alliance was in competition with the Empire for the Phantom Ship. The diminutive administrator shrugs off his concerns, and presents him to the Imperial representative: Loka Hask.
Loka Hask is someone Wedge knows very well already. This is the man that killed his parents. The man who–though he could have no way of knowing it at the time–created one of the greatest starfighter commanders of the entire Civil War with one simple act of criminal vandalism.
It was in the Gus Treta System, about ten years earlier.
Jagged and Zena Antilles ran a small fueling station. A group of Bonestar Pirates took off from the station without disconnecting the lines, and caused an explosion. The resulting fire threatened to consume the entire station, but Wedge's parents fought their way into the maelstrom and decoupled their compartment. Hundreds were saved, but their brave sacrifice cost them their lives–and orphaned their only son.
Teenaged Wedge could only watch, helpless, from the Pulsar Skate as his family was destroyed. Later, Booster Terrik, Mirax's father and Wedge's surrogate guardian, tells him that the Bonestar ship destroyed the station to distract CorSec. Wedge borrows a Z-95 Headhunter from Booster and exacts his revenge. He blows the ship to smithereens, but Captain Hask leaves his crew to die and escapes.
And now Loka Hosk is here. On Mrlsst In an Imperial uniform. To his credit, Wedge keeps his composure completely–he manages to spar verbally with his opposition, and score points with the Academy's negotiator. But they're just getting started.
Elsewhere, the plans to the Phantom ship have been stolen, and Gade Yedan is framing Tycho for the murder of the guard using doctored security footage. Gyr Keela orders Wedge arrested on the weight of the circumstantial evidence, as Hask crows.
Tycho, Hobbie, Plourr and Dllr are visiting Janson at the Central Academic Hospital, joking around and dealing with an errant academic who worked on components for the Death Star program. There's an intriguing seed of an idea in this brief interaction between the Rogues and the Mrlssi engineer: the average citizens of the galaxy are way out of the loop compared to us, the viewing audience. First-hand accounts carry far more weight than the HoloNet broadcasts, and the scientist's complicity in the destruction of Alderaan sends him running from the room in tears.
He's only gone a moment when another figure bursts through the doorway. Koyi Komad has come to warn them that Wedge has been arrested, and Stormtroopers are on their way to take the rest of them into custody. The first white-armored figure gets tossed out a window by Grozznik, as Tycho yells, "battle stations!" They hijack Wes's hospital bed and make a break for it.
In the midst of a running firefight through the streets the Koyi tells them about the trumped-up evidence against their commander. She then leads them to the Mrlssi "underground" high in the canopy outside of the city, which they reach by overriding the controls on the stolen hospital repulsorsled. Surprisingly, it manages to carry all nine of them out of harm's way, before they send it crashing back to the ground–taking out a few stormtroopers on the way down.
Stuck in confinement, Wedge has been forced to sit and listen to his nemesis preen; he tells the Corellian that he did him a favor, getting rid of his parents, making him a man. Wedge is justifiably furious, but the electrified bars make striking at Hask untenable. But he does learn something critical in this scene: Gade Yedan and the AEA are in league with Hask.
After they have gone, Wedge has another visitor: the "Ghost Jedi," who unlocks his cell for him. The holographic apparition also claims credit for destroying the datacards–a claim made even more likely by a scene a few panels later in the AEA quarters, where Loka Hask is yelling at the local talent for using said cards. They were attacked by some "wardroids" which Koyi and her friend in the underground Nasta recognize as belonging to the Ghost Jedi band.
Tycho synthesizes all of these developments in a handful of heartbeats, and passes out new orders to his team. Mira and Dllr will take the Skate up to the asteroid that the band broadcasts from, with Elscol and Grozznik for cover, while he, Plourr, Hobbie and Wes will stage a rescue on the security complex.
When they arrive there, however, they see that their efforts were largely superfluous: Wedge meets them on the steps, having walked right out through the front door, unopposed. He also seems to have figured things out, but has to give us the classic, "I'll explain later–c'mon" to keep the action going.
At the landing pad, Elscol and Grozznik are confronted with a familiar figure. The Ghost has taken on the form of Throm. Addressing the Wookiee only, he instructs him to knock Elscol out ("gently") and come along... Professor Falken's hover-pod can be seen in the background, conspicuously close to the hologram's course across the spaceport.
Another Rogue has an equally classic move: once Mirax and Dllr board Falken's station, he pulls the old he there's something up with your gun" trick, and disarms the professor's students standing guard. A couple of blasters turns out to be the least of their problems though: the students reveal what Wedge already knows and is currently sharing with the rest of the squadron...
Turns out the Phantom Ship was faked to funnel cash from the Empire, which wouldn't have really been a problem if the project had stayed in the R&D phase. After the destruction of the second Death Star, however, the Imperials needed all hand on deck: they wanted to cash out their investment.
Falken arrives back on the asteroid with Grozznik just before the Imperial boarding party witnesses the entire rock explodes. Captain Hask responds by ordering his TIE Bombers to drop their ordinance on the city in an act of unrestrained revenge and frustration.
At this point the narration from the opening kicks back in a little, describing the bombing & the resulting fires. The Mrlssi population bands together: students, faculty, smugglers, Imperial malcontents, all committed to saving what they could. (We also find out who has been doing the narrating: Gyr Keela's assistant, Noss Prist.)
And, finally, we get our pilots back in their fighters. The bombers are escorted by the rest of the cruiser's wing, and there are plenty of TIEs to go around... except the Imperials don't stand and fight once the Rogues arrive. They head off, up into the belt, where Falken's asteroid was... or still is–Tycho has noticed that it still has the same mass as before the explosion.
And it's true: Mirax, Dllr, Grozznik, the professor, and his students are all unharmed in the bowels of the station. Unharmed, at least, until the Stormtroopers arrive. Fallen orders his holographic "Jedi" to attack the Imperials, and Grozznik (of course) wades into the fracas as well. The others take the opportunity to escape. Hask orders his troopers to fire on the professor, and with his chair disabled, the Wookiee sees "Throm" vanish. He is overcome by grief once more, and reduces the stormtroopers to a pile of white armor.
Mirax leads the others to the Pulsar Skate, where they are momentarily waylaid by Gade Yedan. The interruption is only momentary, as the three students use Dllr's blaster-distraction technique to knock him out. They pile aboard the freighter and escape the asteroid.
Once safely away, the students reveal that there is actually another top-secret project that they were working on: a "portable planet slicer." After a moment's consideration, Wedge authorizes its use against the Interdictor cruiser.
The ship & the asteroid are completely de-molecularized; Loka Hask is gone for good.
After saying goodbye, the Rogues are gone as well, outbound from Mrlsst to their next adventure...
The move in the opening pages against the Interdictor definitely constitutes the most badass moment for the Rogues (in space) in this volume. A handful of torpedoes, fired at just the right angle, with flawless timing, drives off the massive dreadnaught like a scalded kitten.
This moment is vaguely reminiscent of Hobbie's protest to Princess Leia during the evacuation of Hoth: "two fighters against a Star Destroyer?" Granted a Imperial-class Star Destroyer is far more formidable than an interdictor, so Hobbie and the others evacuating the icy planet were right to worry, but clearly the last year and a half of the war have emboldened the Rebel pilots.
Also, teenaged "Veggies" taking down the Bonestar pirate ship on his own, in an antiquated second-hand snubfighter, is another demonstration of general badassery. Clearly the Corellian has some natural aptitude for flying. This story is essentially Wedge's origin story–how he became who he is. In a lot of the EU stories, there are some moments of philosophizing about the fact that, although they have political rhetoric that identifies them as "revolutionaries" and "freedom-fighters," the Alliance soldiers are basically just criminals in the eyes of what most people accept as a legally constituted government.
Without the death of Jagged and Zena Antilles, their son would likely have led an ordinary life. He wouldn't have strayed across the line very far; Corellians are frequently portrayed as having their own unique interpretation of ethics, but joining the Rebellion was probably not in the cards for young Wedge. Once his parents died, he was taken in by the Terrik family, and raised up right on the raggedy edge of ethics, dealing in the grey areas of life.
In this collection we have one of few high-level imperial officers without an impeccable aristocratic background. Loka Hask, as a former pirate, is a bit of a deviation from the mean (he's clearly no Grand Moff Tarkin.) One has to wonder if the troopers under his command know about Hask's criminal history.
The other Imperials we see in this story are the membership of the Ante-Endor Association. While not technically agents of the Empire, they are clearly henchmen of Hask in his attempt to loot Mrlsst of its scientific wealth. It seems likely that they really had no idea what they were getting themselves into–that they're not true believers in the New Order. More likely they were lied to by a handful of charismatic-enough organizers.
1–Cilpar: Imperial Governor Norquist and Moff Tascl arrested by the citizens of Cilpar.
2–Mrlsst: Professor Falken's secret reign of holographic terror is ended.
*honorable mention: former pirate turned Imperial Captain Loka Hask is consigned to the void.
The Rogues are still not using the numerical designations that will be crucial to unit cohesion nd organization later when the squadron is at full strength. They are also still down a fighter, so they still have the captured Lambda Shuttle with them to ferry Janson.
Lead: Wedge Antilles
Veterans: Derek "Hobbie" Klivian, Wes Janson, Tycho Celchu, Plourr, Dllr Nepr
Recent Additions: Elscol Loro
Mirax Terrik continues the tradition of including strong, talented, interesting female characters in the Expanded Universe in general, and the X-wing series in particular. Mirax has her business interests, but is more than just her job; she is present in the story first and foremost as a skilled and complex person, and not as anyone's love interest.
Mirax has a lot in common with another Corellian smuggler: Han Solo. They both make their livings by transporting goods, avoiding Imperial entanglements, and are devoted to their ships and the independent lifestyle that having it affords them. They're both deeply moral but not always ethical, bending the rules that don't suit the greater good when the situation calls for it.
The main difference with Mirax is that she had a relatively intact family of origin, having been raised in by a devoted and protective father. Both Mirax and Booster–along with Wedge, and several other characters who we will meet later when we get to the X-wing novels–form the core of an extended family of Corellians that will feature prominently throughout Stackpole's Star Wars novels and short stories.
We also have Koyi Komad, the Twi'lek student/cocktail waitress turned rebel sympathizer. She is instrumental in helping the Rogues evade arrest by Imperial Stormtroopers, and subsequently helps get them the data they need to prove Tycho's innocence and unveil Professor Falken as the architect of Mrlsst's woes. She has kind of a bit part in the particular volume, but we may run into her again in the future...
Someone we sadly will not be seeing again is Elscol's Wookiee companion. Groznik's blind loyalty to Throm (or Falken's hologram masquerading as Throm) seems a bit overdone here. Groznik seems to be presented as a bit more instinctual and less intellectual than the main Wookiee that Star Wars fans are familiar with. Maybe this should just make us think more highly of Chewbacca–he may be under a life debt, like Groznik, but beyond that he may simply be a more impressive character. Chewie is technically trained (he can repair both the Falcon and C-3PO, which has got to require a lot of experience or schooling), a crack shot with a blaster or his bowcaster, he learns to drive a AT-ST walker in about a minute and a half. Maybe Groznik is just a kinda ordinary dude of a Wookiee. Then again, "the Mighty Chewbacca" does get himself and his friends captured by Ewoks, of all things, by thinking with his stomach.
In addition to all the named characters, there are a copious amount of background and supporting characters that are non-human. Even members of the AEA are non-humans–surprising given the Empire's institutional bias against "aliens." Also Gade Yedan may not be human, judging by the shape of his chin & jaw. There's also one of Falken's students/musicians, who is a member of an unspecified species.
The feathered Mrlssi–whose planet this is that our adventure takes place upon–are a very distinctive species in the EU pantheon, which doesn't feature very many avian species, in favor of mammalian and reptilian ones.
Lastly, a quick note on the "crowd shots" throughout the story: the artists clearly took every opportunity to make Mrlsst seem like a multicultural center, and the Soundmound, for instance, a far more upscale version of the Mos Eisley Cantina. One of the bedrock elements of the Star Wars fictional universe is all the exotic creatures that the audience can bump into, and the X-wing comics are a great example of that exotic flavor.