With its familiar S-foils and needle-nose cockpit design, the X-Wing’s influence is so vast, its existence defines our relationship with time. With a fleet of Rebel Alliance X-Wings attacking the Empire’s (first) Death Star, their heroic effort and sacrifice reset our calendar to 0 BBY.
Of course, everyone knows that the galaxy’s greatest hero—Luke Skywalker—sat in his red-striped X-Wing during that battle, donning the callsign Red 5. But other pilots, some even more impressive than the Jedi Master himself, have graced the X-Wing’s cockpit, like Wedge Antilles, Tycho Celchu, Corran Horn, Gavin Darklighter, and even later pilots like Poe Dameron.
The X-Wing served as the backbone of the Rebel Alliance and the subsequent Resistance against the tyranny of the First Order. But strangely, the X-Wing wasn’t necessarily destined to be the small snubfighter that would slowly pick away at the sickly corpse of the Empire, like womp rats feasting on carrion.
In fact, the X-Wing could have easily become the Empire’s pre-eminent space weapon, exceeding even the Death Star itself.
Building on a Legacy
Genius engineering rarely sparks in a vacuum, and in the case of galaxy-altering starfighters—it usually takes a war.
When the Galactic Republic and the Separatists, led by ex-Jedi Count Dooku, flared into open war after the Battle of Geonosis, the Republic needed a new fighter, and it needed it quickly. The Senate of the Galactic Republic turned to Incom Corporation and Subpro Corporation to create a new snubfighter that could prove capable against the Confederacy of Independent Systems' formidable army and prove adaptable against its fearsome Variable Geometry Self-Propelled Battle Droid, Mark I, also known as the Vulture-class droid starfighter.
The result was the legendary Z-95 Headhunter, and it doesn’t take much imagination to see the early DNA of the venerable X-Wing. Unlike its famous ancestor, the Z-95 doesn’t split its S-foils into an ‘X’ attack configuration. Instead, the Headhunters sport only two stationary wings that cut vacuum and atmosphere equally with two pairs of Incom’s 2a fission engines. The Z-95 also lacks an astromech socket, forcing pilots to rely on data chips for hyperspace jumps. That is if the snubfighter even had a hyperspace drive to begin with. Off the assembly line, most Z-95s couldn’t make the lightspeed jumps, but could be retrofitted with one from parts from aftermarket specialists and junkyards.
But what the Galactic Republic’s starring space fighter lacked in planet-hopping capabilities, it more than made up for when it came to firepower. For only a one-pilot cockpit, the Headhunter still packed in blaster cannons, concussion missile launchers, ion cannons, and deflector shields if the Headhunter got in a scrap. Incom/Subpro developed a clone variant for the Republic with a slightly altered design.
The Headhunter would be one of the greatest nuisances of the Separatists, participating in battles across the galaxy during the Clone Wars. Z-95s were the preferred starfighters of the Reaper Squadron, and even after the rise of the Galactic Empire, numerous Z-95s could be found throughout the galaxy, whether in the hands of the Alliance to Restore the Republic or various pirate bands throughout the galaxy (especially once the T-65 X-Wing made the Z-95 obsolete).
But the Z-95 greatest gift to the galaxy was not found within its cockpit, but in the designs that it inspired, including the Galactic Republic starfighter that would finish the Confederacy for good.
The Lovable Middle Child
In the X-Wing’s evolutionary line, the Aggressive ReConnaissance-170 starfighter is the missing link. Without Incom/Subpro’s sophomore effort for the Galactic Republic, the Z-95 Headhunter would have been a good—maybe even great—snubfighter. With the ARC-170, its lineage would become legendary.
The ARC-170 is different from its predecessor in some serious ways. One the second go around, Incom and Subpro decided to pack in a hyperdrive off the assembly line with an astromech socket included. It also had more room with space for a pilot, co-pilot, and tail gunner.
But its biggest departure from the Z-95 was its transforming wing structuring, forming an "X" profile that exposed heat sinks to help cool down its two engine units in atmospheric flight. This attack formation would become the most recognizable symbol of resistance for nearly three-quarters of a century.
Combine all this with some uncommonly impressive firepower (seriously, this thing could punch a whole in a capital ship), the ARC-170 was well-adept for the fierce battles that defined the Clone Wars as well as deep-space missions, thanks to its planet-hopping hyperdrive.
If the Z-95 took up the fight at the start of the war, the ARC-170 was the starfighter that finished it. It played a vital role in many major battles including the Battle of Sullust, Malastare, and the famous Battle of Coruscant, where clone troopers—strapped into the cockpits of ARC-170s—help rescue then Chancellor Palpatine from Separatist forces.
But the ARC-170 wasn’t without flaws and a big one was hidden within its very name. The ARC-170 was certainly aggressive, having been adequately armed to the teeth, but it wasn’t very good at reconnaissance. For one, the thing was enormously huge, not exactly something that screams secretive. Also, the spacecraft’s enormous guns produced a huge amount of heat, not a great trait for special forces trying to stay quiet on any prying infrared defense systems.
It also didn’t help that Vulture and Droid Tri-Fighters were faster and more maneuverable, best seen in the carnage that filled the upper atmosphere of Coruscant. One downside to the ARC-170’s crowded cockpit was that every lost starfighter also meant losing the lives of three Republic pilots. Simply put, the ARC-170 was always happiest in a support role and not in the thick of things, guns blazing like a Jedi interceptor.
But there is a huge irony that lies at the heart of the ARC-170’s story. The very ship that should have brought the Republic lasting peace in the final year of the war also became an instrument of its destruction—and the end of the Jedi Order. Many ARC-170s participated in the assassination of Jedi after Palpatine’s now infamous Order 66.
The ARC-170 would find a spot in the ensuing Imperial Navy for a number of years, but it’s bulky size and costly hyperdrive—something you don’t need when you’re flush with Star Destroyers—spelled the end for the ARC-170 as a major galactic player. Within five years, the ARC-170 had nearly disappeared from the galaxy entirely.
But the lessons learned from the Z-95 Headhunter and ARC-170 would help form the ultimate starfighter that would change the galaxy—the T-65 X-Wing. But there was only one problem: It was being built for the Empire.
A Hero’s Journey
The Clone Wars were over. The remaining leadership of the Confederacy of Independent Systems were massacred at Mustafar, and a new Galactic Empire had supplanted its democracy-loving forebear. To keep the galaxy's systems in line, Emperor Shreev Palpatine needed a new starfighter.
Two fighters aimed to claim the crown: Sienar Fleet Systems’ Twin-Ion Engine line and Incom’s X-Wing. The two fighters were radically different. The single-seat X-Wing, equipped with an astromech and hyperdrive, was a true snubfighter, able to jump to star systems for a quick attack and retreat in a similar faster-than-light fashion. While the TIE fighter lacked this planet-traipsing ability, it was cheap to make. Designed by Raith Sienar, the TIE fighter could be produced on a massive scale, and since the Empire had enough hyperdrive-equipped capital ships to go around, a large fleet would be needed to keep order in the nascent Empire. (It also helped that Raith was a good friend of Moff Wilhuff Tarkin and Palpatine, who’s pleasure craft Imperalis was likely designed by Sienar himself.)
Of course the Empire didn’t want the powerful X-Wing falling into the wrong hands and tried to nationalize the company in service of the Empire. But a small group of Incom engineers defected, and flew the plans straight into the hands of the Rebellion.
Turns out Incom’s past experience building civilian aircraft, like the T-16 Skyhopper airspeeder, would be a perfect fit for the growing band of rebels. That’s because the T-65 could be easily adapted into a fighting force composed of mostly civilian pilots and personnel who would feel at home in the cockpit. Several pilots who would lead the final assault against the Death Star came from various corners of the galaxy, including smugglers, ex-TIE pilots, and one very important moisture farmer from Tatooine.
The X-wing was the best of the Z-95 and ARC-170 packed into a single snubfighter. Incom created a heavily armored, maneuverable, and speedy starfighter that could hang tough with TIEs and get out quick when needed, which played perfectly with the Rebellion hit-and-run style of combat.
The single-seat T-65 came armed with two Krupx MG7 proton torpedo launchers, a Bertriak sensor jammer, four 4L4 fusial thrust engines, and an astromech socket—all wrapped in a titanium armor alloy. But its most distinctive feature was its four Taim & Bak KX9 laser cannons mounted on its strike foils, also known as S-foils. These foils would fly in a two-wing formation when in transit, mimicking the look of the Z-95, but in battle, these wings would separate, creating the iconic "X" attack position. This weapons arrangement gave the X-Wings a deadlier rate of fire, which helped the red-stripped rebels hang tough with Sienar’s latest creations.
The T-65 X-Wing would be tested for the first time in 1 BBY. With rebels reportedly massing above Turkana, a planet located in the Outer Rim, Imperial-class Star Destroyers went to investigate and quickly a battle ensued. The Rebel Alliance and Admiral Gial Ackbar soon unleashed its newest weapon—the T-65 X-Wing.
It’s reported that Imperial Captain Firmus Piett tried to warn Captain Xaumel Lennox of the X-Wings’ possible lethality, but Lennox, relying on the TIE’s strength in numbers, dismissed the warning—it would be a costly mistake. Because Lennox’s TIE fighters were busy fending off this new fearsome foe, other Alliance starfighters, like the formidable Y-Wing, were able to pick apart the remaining TIE bombers. Legendary pilot Wedge Antilles, who flew in the battle as part of the newly formed Red Squadron, accounts just how deadly these new X-Wings could be.
“Red Squadron was piloting twelve of those X-Wings, stationed aboard Ackbar’s ship Independence,” Antilles said after the battle. “I notched three kills before I had to eject.”
Without its starfighter defense obliterated, the Imperial capital ships were incredibly vulnerable to enemy fire and soon Lennox conducted a hyperspace retreat, notching one of the Alliance’s earliest victories. But more importantly, the X-Wing had more that proved its merit and would quickly become adapted across the entire war effort, figuring prominently in almost every major battle during the Galactic Civil War. The T-65 X-Wing would eventually supply the killing blow to both orbital Death Stars, resulting in the death of Grand Moff Tarkin and the Emperor himself.
Much like Lennox in that first battle above Turkana, Tarkin and Palpatine underestimated the power of the Rebellion and their new T-65 X-Wings.
The Story Continues
The X-Wing played a vital role in restoring the Republic, but it wouldn’t enter an early retirement once the Empire finally admitted defeat with the Galactic Concordance in 5 ABY.
The X-Wing would again be called to serve against the rising First Order, this time as the new and improved T-70. Now named Incom-Freitek, the company improved upon its X-Wing design, creating a slightly smaller starfighter and packing in improved 5L5 fusial thrust engines, more laser cannons (including an aft-mounted cannon), and more proton torpedoes with the ability to to swap in other payloads. The T-70 also had an “X” attack position but it operated differently, opening in a scissor-like mechanism and splitting into four half-moon engines.
The result was an X-Wing faster, more durable, and more powerful than anything that had come before it, but that doesn’t mean love was lost for the venerable T-65.
“Compared to the Resistance’s current T-70 X-Wing squadrons, these stats still hold up pretty well,” said ace Resistance pilot Poe Dameron. “I’m always happy to fly a T-65.”
But the improved T-70 would have its work cut out for it because the First Order pulled a trick out of the Empire’s strategy book, constructing a planet-sized space weapon known as Starkiller Base. After using this massive weapon against Hosnian Prime, the capital of the New Republic, the X-Wing were asked once again to do what X-Wings do best. Starkiller Base never lived to fire its massive weapon again.
Even with Starkiller Base destroyed, the war was far from over, and the Resistance, torn asunder by the badly beaten New Republic, would see its forces dwindle to only a few dozen ships, with many X-Wings among them. In 35 ABY, more than a year after Hosnian’s destruction, the X-Wing would prove vital to the decisive Resistance victory at the mysterious planet of Exegol.
Despite this incredible legacy, the X-Wing story doesn’t end there. In fact, rumors suggest that Incom-Freitek are hard at work on another X-Wing model called the T-85. It’s anyone’s guess what this new fearsome weapon might look like. But whatever its particular weapon systems, engine layouts, or S-foil configurations, the X-Wing will continue to defend peace and freedom throughout the galaxy.
You Might Also Like