As a diehard fan of the Star Wars Expanded Universe — the books, comics, and videogames that tell stories far beyond the events of George Lucas’ cinematic saga — there was a line of novels published by Del Rey Books in the 1990s that was my absolute favorite: the X-Wing series. This magnificent nine-volume yarn set in the years immediately after Return of the Jedi focused on a quirky lineup of starfighter pilots fighting the good fight for the New Republic (formerly the Rebel Alliance) against the remnants of the Empire. It appealed to the deepest level of my Star Wars fandom. Why? Other than hotshot ace Wedge Antilles, these books didn’t feature any of the characters or plotlines from the movies. The X-Wing books are Exhibit A for how that galaxy far, far away is such a rich repository of storytelling beyond what’s on the big screen. Focusing just on the pilots, authors Michael A. Stackpole and Aaron Allston imagined Star Wars as a razor-sharp military procedural: think Horatio Hornblower meets Top Gun.

Since the ninth and last X-Wing novel, Allston’s Starfighters of Adumar, was published in 1999, the series’ stature has only continued to grow. Finally, after a 13-year wait, Allston’s tenth installment, X-Wing: Mercy Kill, is due in stores tomorrow. Check out an exclusive excerpt of Mercy Kill, which jumps ahead 30 years after the events of the last X-Wing novel, after the break.

I’ve read a lot of Star Wars novels over the years. I mean, a lot. But, to me, the X-Wing novels set the standard. The first four in the series, written by Stackpole, were flinty actioners focusing on Rogue Squadron, the elite fighter pilot squad Luke Skywalker founded in his early days with the Rebel Alliance. Stackpole’s novels are tight, gripping, and above all economical reads — there’s not a bit of narrative flab in his work — and Star Wars fans have been all the poorer ever since he decided to stop contributing to the franchise in 2000.*

The rest of the X-Wing novels were penned by Allston, who for my money is the funniest writer in the EU. Making a clean break from Stackpole, Allston jettisoned the Rogues and instead focused on Wraith Squadron, a black ops intelligence team of oddball misfits — including even a pig-nosed Gamorrean — who moonlight as starfighter pilots. And it’s Wraith Squadron that makes its return in Mercy Kill. In the Star Wars chronology, it’s been 30 years after their last mission together, but in light of a conspiracy by a renowned general to tip the galaxy back into the hands of the Empire, the motley Wraiths reassemble.

EU fans, are you as thrilled as I am by the revival of the X-Wing franchise?

*Stackpole, don’t make us beg. We need another Star Wars novel from you, stat.

More on the Star Wars Expanded Universe: