Rogue One: A Star Wars Story introduced a bunch of new Rebel heroes that use the “Rogue” call sign to battle the burgeoning Empire. When the title of the film was first announced, it undoubtedly raised some eyebrows among fans of the original canon. Because that name, Rogue, has been an inescapable part of Star Wars lore for many decades.
Fans will remember that Luke Skywalker proudly used the Rogue call sign during the Battle of Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back, but he wasn’t the only Rebel hero to fly the Rogue flag. In fact, another Rebel pilot, Wedge Antilles, might be Rogue Squadron’s most celebrated leader, having led the squadron many years after the fall of the Empire.
Ever since the very first Star Wars film, Wedge has been one of the greatest heroes of the Rebellion. Wedge survived everything the Empire threw at him, and yet Wedge’s name is rarely mentioned alongside Luke, Han Solo, Princess Leia, and the other famous heroes that brought down the Empire. But the real Star Wars fans know Wedge Antilles, because in a way, Wedge is the glue that binds the Star Wars saga together. For many fans, it was through this blue collar fighter pilot’s eyes that they continued to experience the saga in the years after Return of the Jedi.
Wedge Antilles and the love fans have for this character is what separates the casual Star Wars fan from the hardcore. If you ever pretended that your Luke Skywalker X-Wing pilot action figure was a Wedge, then this article is for you. So get ready to pay tribute to one of the unsung heroes of the Rebellion and join us as we honor a true flying ace.
He Did Some Good Back There
Wedge Antilles first appeared in the third act of the original Star Wars. It was a curious inclusion, as the film already had a number of spotlight characters during the climactic attack of the first Death Star. There was, of course, the hero of the saga – Luke Skywalker – but while filmgoers watched with bated breath as Luke attacked swarms of TIE Fighters and took his famous flight down the Death Star trench, the action was also split up. Viewers also had to track the progress of the Rogue Leader, who was supposed to take the first shot at the Death Star exhaust port and Biggs Darklighter, Luke Skywalker’s childhood friend.
That was a great deal of action to keep straight during this unforgettable sequence, but inserted into the action was a young pilot named Wedge Antilles. Designated Red Two, Wedge saw his fair share of the action during the battle, even saving Luke’s life on one occasion. On the surface, it seemed that Wedge was cannon fodder. After all, Rogue Leader and Biggs both died, but something curious happened. As Luke took his last run at the exhaust port, Wedge’s ship was damaged and he broke off with an apology. Wedge had lived and it seemed curious at the time. Why had this pilot that was not mentioned in the film until that point survive while others pilots like Biggs did not? Why bother? The answer became clear in The Empire Strikes Back, but let’s get to that in a moment.
First, let us discuss the actors that played Wedge. That’s right, I said actors. Wedge first appeared during the Rebel briefing on Yavin. During this scene, the Rebel high brass explained to the gathered group of Rebel pilots (and to the audience), the plan to attack the Death Star. One pilot spoke up and questioned the possibility of hitting a target as small as the Death Star exhaust port. This pilot was Wedge Antilles as played by British actor Colin Higgins. Higgins was an experienced television actor who was not used to the breakneck pace of filming a motion picture.
After Higgins flubbed a number of lines, Wedge’s briefing scene dialogue was shortened to the single line that made it into the film. Higgins was fired and replaced by actor Denis Lawson. Both Higgins and Lawson were overdubbed by voice actor David Ankrum in the final cut of Star Wars, but it’s interesting that Lucas had given Wedge so much dialogue. Did the bearded one have greatness in mind for Wedge in the early days of Star Wars? It would seem so as each draft of the original Star Wars script had a Wedge-like character, a secondary pilot that received a healthy dose of lines and action.
In some earlier scripts, the Wedge character was named Chewie, but that was changed when characters started to use that moniker as a nickname for Chewbacca. Once Chewbacca was inserted into the saga, pilot Chewie became Wedge and the rest is history. Wedge served as Red Two in the attack on the Death Star and was the only pilot besides Luke that made the trench run and survived. Wedge’s survival was a minor thread in the narrative of Star Wars, but it was a thread that bound the rest of the original Star Wars films together in a very cool way.
The call sign Rogue was first used in The Empire Strikes Back during the Battle of Hoth. During this epic skirmish, Wedge flew side by side with Luke Skywalker. All of a sudden, the pilot that survived the Death Star battle was back, indicating to fans that the Star Wars universe was bigger than just Luke, Han, Leia, and Darth Vader. There was an entire galaxy of adventures going on behind the scenes and Wedge was evidence of those unseen escapades. This time, Denis Lawson was the sole actor to play Wedge.
Wedge not only survived the Battle of Hoth, he and his gunner Wes Janson were the first characters to find a way to take down the horrifying AT-ATs that were going through Rebel ships and troops like a walking deli slicer.
Wedge and Janson used tow-cables to bind the AT-AT’s legs and brought down the of the immense walker. The scene is unforgettable, as the Rebels finally scored a hit on the Empire, and it was Wedge’s flying skills that earned the Rebellion that fist pump moment. Wedge did not appear for the rest of The Empire Strikes Back, but he made a very memorable contribution to the action. It seemed that Lucas had Wedge survive the Death Star attack for a reason, to be the background glue that bound the saga together.
Wedge was a survivor and he would return – but this time, it would be not as Luke’s wingman, but as a squadron commander leading the charge against the Empire.
Red Leader, Standing By
How far he came. From an overdubbed character played by two actors to the X-Wing pilot leading the charge at the Battle of Endor. By the time Return of the Jedi hit theatres, fans were more than familiar with the name Wedge. When the now familiar X-Wing (this time with a few A-Wings, B-Wings, and Y-Wings thrown in for good measure) roll call sounded off before the Rebel fleet engaged the second Death Star, no one was really surprised that Wedge Antilles was now Red Leader. After all, other than Luke, Wedge was the only survivor of the Battle of Yavin and the Battle of Hoth. Who else would the Rebels turn to take out the space station and the Emperor himself?
Once again Wedge flew and survived an attack on a Death Star. Wedge was the wingman to the Millennium Falcon. Aboard the most famous ship in all the galaxy, Lando Calrissian and his Sullustan co-pilot Nein Numb relied on Wedge’s skill and bravery. This time, Wedge took one of the shots that took out the Death Star and the Empire. That afterthought pilot that for some reason survived the original Star Wars had dealt the final blow to the Empire’s galactic tyranny.
During the celebration on Endor, fans finally got to see Denis Lawson out of the cockpit. Remember now, at the time Return of the Jedi was made, most people believed that it would be the last Star Wars film ever. So the celebration on Endor was to be the last moments fans got to spend with the heroes. There were a scant few minutes to say goodbye to all the beloved heroes of the Rebellion, and a few precious moments of that chronal real estate was spent with Wedge. Fans got to see Wedge spend a few seconds reunited with Luke Skywalker, and as the two embraced, it was clear that Luke and Wedge had shared many adventures that fans were not privy to. Because that’s what Wedge represents, tales not told, adventures not yet shared. Wedge Antilles is a constant reminder that in Star Wars, the action never truly ends, whether fans see it or not.
The Wedge Awakens – Sort Of
When it was announced that Disney had purchased Star Wars and was going to produce sequels starring the original cast, the possibilities were endless. Now that we live in a post Force Awakens world, we know that Han Solo, Chewbacca, Luke Skywalker, Leia Organa, R2-D2, C-3P0, and even side characters like Nein Numb and Admiral Ackbar all returned for another fight. But the high-flying ace whose presence bound the original saga together was conspicuous by his absence. Wedge Antilles was always ready to hop into his cockpit for another mission, but sadly, the man behind Wedge, Denis Lawson was not.
During a 2014 Q&A for the film The Machine, Lawson was asked if he would be interested in slipping back into an X-Wing for the new Star Wars films. “I’m not going to do that…” Lawson answered. “They asked me but it just would’ve bored me.” Well, that’s too bad, huh? One wonders what role Wedge might have played during The Force Awakens. Would he have replaced the Snap Wexley character as Poe Dameron’s wingman or did J.J. Abrams have something else in mind for the character that survived attacking two Death Stars?
We may never know, but, despite Lawson’s cosmic ennui, Wedge lives on in the new Star Wars era. Wedge appeared in the first post-RotJ novel, Star Wars: Aftermath, and its sequel Aftermath: Life Debt, both written by Chuck Wendig. In Aftermath, Wedge once again serves as the background glue that binds the diverse parts of the saga together. In this novel, Wedge is captured by the remnants of the Imperial forces and forced to undergo torture at the hands of Imperial loyalists. Of course, Wedge does not break and the rescue of this great Rebel hero is a central plot point in the novel. Because of course it is. It’s Wedge. He may not have been present as the Force awakened, but if Wendig’s novels are any indication, the ace pilot of the Rebellion will continue to play a major role in future Star Wars adventures.
A Look Back
While Wedge’s future seems to be in novels and comics (and mayhap a video game or three), the past of this great pilot was recently revealed on an episode of Star Wars Rebels. Whenever Rebels features an Original Trilogy character, the cartoon makes that hero’s (or villain’s) arrival seem very special. Rebels did it with Lando, it did it with Darth Maul, it did it with Leia, and you can bet your S-foils that it did it with Wedge.
After years of being part of the Star Wars mythos, Wedge finally had his origin revealed in a second season episode of Rebels entitled “The Antilles Extraction.” In this unforgettable installment of Disney XD’s popular animated series, Mandalorian Rebel Sabine Wren goes undercover in an Imperial flight school. There, she meets some hopeful TIE cadets that she builds a strong bond with. One of the cadets expresses his desire to escape the Empire’s brutality, and you guessed it, that young TIE jockey was none other than Wedge Antilles.
Along with Wedge, Rebels introduced the youthful version of Wedge’s Hoth wingman Hobbie, as the entire episode acts as a prelude to the legend of Wedge. For fans, it was just beyond awesome to witness the origin of Wedge Antilles, a pilot that they shared so many heart-stopping moments with in the Original Trilogy. You can rest assured that there will be more Wedge to come on Rebels as the episode ends with the future Rogue leader firmly entrenched in the Rebellion.
Rebels and the Wendig novels are now the only major continuations of the legend of Wedge Antilles that are part of the current canon. But in the old school Star Wars novels and comics, there are countless Wedge adventures to be enjoyed. If you love Wedge, (and really, who the heck doesn’t), then you owe it to yourself to check out the X-Wing: Rogue Squadron series of novels by Michael A. Stackpole and the X-Wing: Wrath Squadron series of novels by Aaron Allston. Published between 1996- 2012, these novels track Wedge’s adventures as leader of both the famous Rogue Squadron and the black ops Wrath Squadron. In these books, Wedge becomes the Star Wars version of Phil Coulson, as the legendary Rebel pilot puts together two different bands of aces to continue the fight against the Empire. The whole thing is like a version of DC’s Blackhawks in space, as the legend of Wedge is explored by two talented writers from every angle.
And that’s it. As the legend of Star Wars continues to grow, let us never forget one of the first Rogues, a pilot that separates the Star Wars hardcores from the casual fans – the man, the myth, the survivor – Wedge Antilles!