This past week, Star Wars Rebels brought out of the shadows one of the coolest and most unique of Rebel starfighters, the B-wing. The craft, a longstanding part of the veritable “alphabet soup” that is the Alliance Starfighter Corps, hasn’t received much love compared to its far more common & iconic cousins over the years, but that has begun to change in the new canon that has cropped up in the leadup to The Force Awakens. While nearly anyone can recognize an X-wing, the B-wing fighter has been overlooked and in the shadows since its appearance back in 1983’s Return of the Jedi. In honor of this awesome craft and it’s newfound glory, let’s look back at the history of the B-wing over the past thirty-plus years.
The B-wing began its life as concept art for Return of the Jedi. Designed by artist Joe Johnson & ILM modelmaker Bill George, it began it’s life as a series of sketches, referred to as “B fighter” or “Rebel Alien Fighter”. The second name is rather telling, as the very nature and design of the fighter varies significantly from the more traditional rebel fighters like the X-wing and Y-wing. When Return of the Jedi was being developed, George Lucas instructed his ILM team to create new designs for the rebel fleet, showing that the entire Alliance was assembled to take on the Empire’s second Death Star. This team created numerous new craft that ultimately made it on screen, including Admiral Ackbar’s iconic flagship Home One, two other variants of the Mon Calamari star cruiser (winged & wingless), a smaller vessel now christened the Dornean Gunship, the speedy A-wing, and the B-wing.
In early storyboards and concept art, the B-wing was featured prominently. Ralph McQuarrie, the visionary who helped bring many of George Lucas’s ideas to life visually, painted a production painting showing a trio of B-wings zooming away from an exploding Star Destroyer. This image was so iconic that ILM commissioned a composite photo of the scene, put together by the talented effects photographers Terry Costner, Roberto McGrath, and Kerry Nordquist. Alas, for all this attention, the models created by ILM for the film proved too difficult to capture on blue screen given the ships’ slender profile. As a result, other than a few scenes zipping through the rebel fleet and the opening scene of the Battle of Endor, the fighter disappeared from the remainder of film.
The B-wing got a little love in 1985’s Droids cartoon series, but this short-lived exposure didn’t make up for the ship’s obscurity. The vessel wasn’t overlooked by West End Games, the company who won the license to create roleplaying materials based on the movies in the late 1980s. Despite its lack of screen time, over the years they developed an impressive backstory for the fighter. As featured in the WEG supplement Strike Force: Shantipole, the B-wing was described as a heavy assault starfighter, developed by the insectoid Verpine species of the Roche Asteroid Belt. Under the supervision of then Commander Ackbar, they developed a craft capable of inflicting heavy damage on Imperial warships. Armed with auto-blasters, laser cannons, ion cannons, and proton torpedoes, the B-wing was a tough, well-armed opponent. The vessel was said to be notoriously difficult to fly, thanks to the main body that rotated around the cockpit. Thanks to WEG, the B-wing got additional attention and information, but still lagged considerably behind its fellow rebel craft in terms of popularity, notoriety, and familiarity.
It ultimately fell to Dave Filoni and the team behind Star Wars Rebels to give the B-wing the spotlight it had lacked for over three decades. The show had already given greater attention to other craft, including the B-wing’s cousin from RotJ, the A-wing interceptor. In the episode “Wings of the Master”, the Phoenix rebel cell is struggling to break the blockade of a sympathetic Outer Rim world whose inhabitants are starving. After a disasterous first attempt, which costs the rebels a blockade runner and results in the death of Phoenix Leader, the rebels realize they need a tougher craft to bust the blockade. Captain Rex, now part of the rebel cell, provides the Spectres with intel of a master shipbuilder named Quarrie, who is in hiding on the planet Shantipole (both nice nods to artist Ralph McQuarrie and the WEG’s stories) with an advanced fighter. Quarrie, a Mon Calamarian, has developed a fighter called the Blade Wing, which is the prototype of the eventual B-wing we see years later in Return of the Jedi.
Ultimately, Hera Syndulla pilots the B-wing against the Imperial blockade, destroying an Arquitens-class light cruiser and paving the way for the Ghost to deliver the badly needed food & supplies. The episode ends with Quarrie joining the Rebellion and Senator Bail Organa providing the rebels with a shipbuilder who can start to produce the B-wing in greater numbers. With Hera’s promotion to Phoenix Leader, I think it is safe to say that the B-wing’s time on Rebels is far from over.
This isn’t the only place the B-wing is getting some love. In Star Wars Insider magazine we have already seen three short stories following Blade Squadron, a B-wing unit that served during the Battle of Endor. In these stories we learn that the brave men and women of Blade Squadron destroyed Vader’s old flagship, the Star Destroyer Devastator, during the battle. In addition, the squadron is active after the formation of the New Republic, leading a raid on the planet Malastare. B-wings have appeared in Marvel’s Shattered Empire comic miniseries as well, escorting the main fleet and as part of a task force led by Lando Calrissian that came to the aid of Naboo. As we enter the era of the sequel trilogy and the new canon provides us with stories set during the rebellion and the post-Endor era of the New Republic, the stage has already been set for more exciting adventures with the B-wing. It waited over thirty years, but its time is at hand!