by: Joseph Tavano
Wedge Antilles is a beloved ancillary character in the Star Wars universe. He appears in all three movies in the original trilogy and in numerous Legends works. He is honored in cosplay, fandom, and pop culture.
Everyone loves Wedge. I love Wedge, too! He’s the everyman of Star Wars. The rebel soldier you wanted to be. The pilot in Red squadron you could see as yourself. The ultimate wingman, literally. He rolled deep with Luke Skywalker. He may not be able to use the Force, but he could whip the Empire with the best of him. He’s the friend you’d want with you in the trenches.
But, it wasn’t always that way.
Stay with me through this. There’s a happy ending. I promise.
If you think about the events of A New Hope from Wedge’s perspective, he wasn’t exactly the greatest hero the Rebel Alliance could have. There’s a reason he didn’t get a medal, even though he was one of only three rebel fighters that came home that day (excluding Han and Chewie).
Part I: The Battle of Yavin
Let’s walk through that fateful day and get into the head of Wedge Antilles.
You wake up early. The atmosphere at Yavin Base is tense. The top brass is talking confident, but you can tell they’re worried. The Alliance just won their very first victory just a few days ago, and just barely escaped. It was a tough battle, but you made it through, even when others did not.
You’ve been training for this for a long time, and even though you’ve seen action, it’s all been in vain until now. The Rebels finally won one—a big one, for that matter. The Empire’s plans for their secret weapon were stolen! There may be a chance for victory yet. But in a stroke of terrible luck, Princess Leia’s ship was captured!
You didn’t know Leia personally, but you knew she was one of the leaders of the rebellion. As a member of congress, her top-secret missions for the rebels were important to the success of the entire effort. But now she is captured, and just yesterday Alderaan was destroyed. Things are NOT looking good. Leia is presumed dead, and the plans never made it back to Yavin. Your future and the future of the Rebel Alliance is in serious jeopardy.
Then, like a prayer answered, Leia returns to Yavin later that day, accompanied by a naive Outer Rim farmboy, two droids that look older than your parents, a wookiee with a crazy look in his eye, and a dirtbag who owns one of the ugliest ships you’ve ever seen.
She has the secret plans, but what happened to her?! This is getting weirder by the second. Oh, and the Empire is on their way to kill us all, so hopefully those plans will give us something we can use to fight back!
In the briefing, you sit next to that dopey farmboy. Why was he in here with the pilots? There’s no way he’s ever flown an X-Wing before. If that kid’s going into battle, the situation must be serious. But, he did help rescue the princess, so maybe he’s got something up his sleeve.
Then you hear the plan. It’s insane. You’re supposed to attack a huge battle station and hit an insanely small target with proton torpedoes? Only two meters wide?! In the middle of the entire room, you exclaim, “That’s impossible, even for a computer!”
The farmboy quips that he can hit womprats back home. You bite your tongue at the ridiculous comparison. Space battles and womprats don’t have much in common. It’s time to focus on the mission, not argue with a know-nothing kid who just showed up on base. You’re a soldier, and you’ve got a job to do.
A little while afterwards, Red Squadron is assembled. It’s funny; once you’re in your X-Wing, you feel like an entirely different person. An entirely different person. You’re Red Two now, and you’re flying to victory, because defeat is not an option this time. The entire rebellion rests upon the edge of a knife, and if you fail, you and all your friends will be destroyed.
Unfortunately, things don’t go well. Rebel fighters are getting picked off like flies. Death is all around you. The rebellion is getting crushed at an alarming rate. Even Red Leader, the best pilot you know, couldn’t make the shot. There’s no way you’re going to make it through.
That farmboy is a liability. You’ve bailed him out already, taking out a TIE fighter for him because he couldn’t even shake it. And now he’s attempting a trench run with Darth Vader at his tail! He has to be nuts.
And, what’s he doing giving you orders?
This kid has been in an X-Wing cockpit for literally only a few minutes—you’ve been training for years! You had better help him out. This is crazy, crazy, crazy. You call him boss with hopes of giving him a confidence boost. If he doesn’t get blown up, it will be up to you and Biggs to finish the job.
Skeptical to the end, you still can’t pick up the exhaust port on your scanners. There’s no way a computer is going to hit this. Plus there’s that tower firing on us! This whole plan is shot! It will never work.
The kid’s fighter is busted up. He’s got a broken stabilizer. He’s a goner.
Now Vader’s on my tail. Screw this. If I’m gonna die, it’s not going to be on a fool’s errand like this.
Whoops! I got a little hit! Ship’s flying just fine, but it’s a great excuse to bail. The kid will never know otherwise. He’s even telling me there’s nothing more I can do.
Biggs gets killed seconds after Wedge leaves the fight and Han Solo, a smuggler who has no business fighting this fight, bails out Luke, leaving him clear to make the deciding shot in the battle.
Let’s get a few things clear:
- All of Red Squadron gave their lives to give Luke his opportunity to make that shot. All except Wedge.
- Biggs acted as a decoy and a shield, sacrificing himself to buy Luke the time needed to get to the exhaust port.
- Luke almost gets killed himself from a shot that takes out Artoo, but he doesn’t give up.
- The only thing that bought Luke the time he needed was the Millennium Falcon saving the day.
- Wedge’s ship shows absolutely no sign of damage or malfunction at all. In fact, Luke’s ship clearly takes more damage.
- Wedge was a pessimist from the very start. Nearly every line he says in A New Hope is negative.
Wedge should not have left the trench run. Biggs didn’t fire another single shot, but he didn’t abandon the mission. Wedge could have bought Luke much more time than he had. He could have provided much needed interference between Vader and Luke. Artoo wouldn’t have been fried. Perhaps if Wedge didn’t bail, both he and Biggs would have made it out.
What kind of wingman bails at the last minute?!
This was a win-or-die battle. All the cards were on the table. And Wedge bailed because of a minor hit, and because a teenage boy told him to?! He could have at least doubled back. He was a seasoned pilot and a veteran rebel fighter. Wedge Antilles should have known better.
Part II: The Battle of Hoth
I mentioned it at the beginning of the article: I like Wedge Antilles. And here’s why.
The Wedge Antilles that we meet three years after the Battle of Yavin is not the same soldier. He is confident, strong, and positive, almost to a fault. He’s right there leading the charge with Luke as the Rogue Squadron snowspeeders take on those AT-ATs. You see and hear a pilot ready for action.
Ready to prove himself.
The energy is palpable in his every line.
“Cables out; LET HER GO!”
“Nice shot, Jansen!”
Wedge Antilles is not only one of the most heroic fighters in the Battle of Hoth, he is also one of the great morale boosters for the Rebel Alliance. It is here that we see Wedge at his best; the true wingman we know and love.
Something clearly happened to the character between the films. Wedge must have deeply regretted how little he did at the Yavin. He must have doubted his decision to leave Luke in the trench. I can envision a scenario where Wedge Antilles realizes he has a lot to learn about being a hero, and over the course of the Star Wars saga, we see him grow and change into a true leader.
Wedge Antilles is on his own hero’s journey.
Wedge is anything but a static character. He grows and develops in the background and off-screen. He is always changing, always developing, and always rising to the challenge. The films may not be chronicling Wedge’s story, but his is no less a classic tale of heroism than Luke’s.
Not convinced yet? There’s more.
Part III: The Battle of Endor
By the time of Return of the Jedi, Wedge has fought alongside Luke Skywalker for four years. He is a true believer and a leader of Rogue Squadron. As a veteran freedom fighter, he is looked upon as a hero of the Rebel Alliance. They’ve never stopped talking about his bravery and ingenuity at Hoth.
But, there is a lingering doubt still with Wedge. His personal failure all those years ago at the first Death Star is still in the back of his mind. But, there is one thing that he feels can redeem him, and it looms in the distance half completed but fully operational.
And there is Wedge Antilles, barreling through the superstructure with the Millennium Falcon literally flying into the belly of the beast, the heart of darkness, the most dangerous of missions. He was there when it exploded. He was right there racing out against the firestorm. Wedge would be right there till the end with Lando and Nien Numb, and this time, he saw it all the way through.
As the party raged on Endor all through the night, Wedge was finally able to greet his compatriots as equals—finally, a fearless and heroic wingman. He’s the perfect example of a dynamic character that has his own trajectory through the films: a complex, flawed man that goes on his own hero’s journey to achieve a status far greater than where he started.
And it’s done almost entirely in the background. Wedge’s story is told through his actions. His very little dialogue is only the cherry on top, so to speak. It only adds extra flavor to his character. If you were to watch all of Wedge’s scenes on mute, you’d see the same story. That is Lucas storytelling done right.
There’s a reason Wedge’s character was a pessimist at the beginning. Lucas saw an opportunity to develop one Rebel pilot to represent the entire rebellion. He started flawed and, by the end, came out of the fires of battle to be immortalized as a hero. Why else would it be Wedge who emerged as a hero of Hoth? Why else would he be right there in the middle of the second Death Star? The story doesn’t necessitate his fighter be there—Wedge was there to fulfill his own destiny, as laid out by the story.
But, don’t take my word for it. Watch the original trilogy again, and pay attention to Wedge’s trajectory through the films, from chump to hero. It’s all there, and it is truly amazing.
Nice shot, indeed.
See, I told you it would be a happy ending!