The RZ-1 A-wing interceptor, also known as the RZ-1 A-wing starfighter, was a wedge-shaped starfighter manufactured by Kuat Systems Engineering, which took design inspiration from the Republic starfighters of the Clone Wars. Based on the original R-22 prototype, the early rebel movement adopted the fighter against the Galactic Empire, letting these so-called RZ-1s see action during the Age of the Empire and the Galactic Civil War. The updated RZ-2 variant would replace the RZ-1 after the Battle of Endor, and would see use thirty years later during the conflict between the Resistance and the First Order.
The RZ-1 A-wing starfighter was a quick, powerful strike fighter manufactured by Kuat Systems Engineering. Influenced by the designs of the Republic starfighters flown during the Clone Wars, and based off the R-22 prototype, the RZ-1 A-wing was the result of Rebel engineers seeking to improve upon the original design's speed, weaponry and defenses.
In modifying the A-wing, the Rebels first sought to equip it with a hyperdrive. They then realized they could swap out the original sublight engines mounted on the stern for two massive, more-powerful "Event Horizon" models that made it faster than even the TIE/IN interceptor. The original hull armor, weapons and deflector system were also swapped out for lightweight material and components. Essentially a cockpit with two engines, the RZ-1 was so fast and maneuverable it was a challenge to pilot even for someone with Jedi-like reflexes.
This challenge was due to the fact that there was no room left to fit an astromech droid within the limited space of the A-wing's hull. Flying the RZ-1 not only required precision manipulation of the dorsal and ventral stabilizers, but also the thrust-vector controls built into the engines and the thruster-control jets located between the engines, all without assistance from an astromech. As such, only the best pilots could fly an A-wing without losing control. Also, while renowned for its speed, the ship was bemoaned for frequent breakdowns, being prone to thruster decalibrations and componentized power losses. Beyond requiring more post-flight maintenance checks than any other Rebel fighter, A-wings were also notorious for their unusually cramped cockpit.
The A-wing was equipped with two laser cannons and could carry up to twelve concussion missiles. While standard Borstel Galactic Defense models, the laser cannons were carried on a special vectored cannon system allowing a greater firing arc during flight. Some A-wings' mounts were modified to provide full 360° rotation but this made them more prone to jamming, especially when used to fire rearward. Each cannon was also mated to a low-powered targeting laser.
A Sirplex deflector shield generator was carried by the A-wing, with the projector located on the small blister behind the transparisteel canopy, and it used lightweight durasteel armor to protect its titanium alloy frame. While chosen for their weight, these defenses could keep the pilot surprisingly safe from harm: in one instance, a smart mine detonated less than twelve meters from an A-Wing with enough destructive force to devastate a city block. While the starfighter itself was wrecked and would require several days of extensive repairs, the pilot was recovered with no injuries. The gap in the reinforced front wedge of the A-wing served as a towing slot when necessary.
The original R-22's transparisteel canopy was mounted on a hinge that allowed it to lift and tilt back for the pilot. While this feature was kept on some RZ-1s, others were modified so that the canopy slid forward and back on special tracks. Many pilots preferred this system, which nevertheless was more prone to malfunctioning than the simple hinge and required additional maintenance.
The A-wing was also notable for carrying a 4X-Phantom short-range sensor jammer A-wing sensor jammers were powerful units which drew energy directly from their engines. Though larger ships' sensors would be able to burn through the interference, they were capable of completely jamming other starfighters' sensors and communications.
The A-wing was ideal for missions that required speed: hit-and-run raids, surgical strikes on capital ships, and intelligence gathering missions. A capable pilot could emerge from hyperspace, engage the fighter's powerful suite of imagers and sensors, streak around the objective at top speed, and vanish back into hyperspace all while enemy ground crews scrambled to get fighters airborne.
During the early rebellion against the Galactic Empire, a trainer variant of the A-wing, called the RZ-1T, was developed and used to train aspiring rebel pilots. In addition to the pilot seat, the model also featured a seat for an instructor.
Pre–Galactic Civil War
The RZ-1 was based off the original R-22 prototype developed as a replacement for the Republic's Aethersprite starfighter. Rejected by the Empire, Rebel cells acquired several R-22s and stripped them down to boost the fighter's speed and acceleration to counter the Empire's new TIE/IN interceptor. These RZ-1's would come to play a key role in the Alliance's victory at Endor.
Some of the earliest uses of the RZ-1 included use in forces secretly allied with Bail Organa one year after Order 66. Years later, a group of A-wing fighters were part of Commander Jun Sato's Phoenix Cell, which was part of a larger rebellion.
During the time of early rebellion approximately two years before the Battle of Yavin, an RZ-1T trainer was used by Jedi Padawan Ezra Bridger and Jedi Knight Kanan Jarrus to save their friends from former Sith Lord Maul, delivering him a Sith holocron at Vizsla Keep 09.
Galactic Civil War
During the Galactic Civil War, RZ-1 A-wings were used by the Alliance in early battles against Imperial forces and soon proved themselves to be capable fighters. Thanks to this track record, the Alliance obtained a number of A-wings and modified them, removing their heavy weapons and shields, in order to make them fast enough to combat the newer generations of Imperial TIE fighters. The resulting modified A-wings used by the rebels were faster than even the TIE/IN interceptor. These modified A-wings were deployed by the Alliance Fleet at the Battle of Endor. There, under Lando Calrissian's command, Green Squadron flew against the Second Death Star. Once Han Solo's strike team brought down the Death Star's shield generator, two A-wing pilots flew into the Death Star, but broke off to draw TIE fighters away from Calrissian. Green Leader Arvel Crynyd was hit by fire and crashed into the bridge of the Super Star Destroyer Executor, resulting in its destruction. A-wings were also employed in the Battle of Jakku.
After the RZ-1s decisive role in the Battle of Endor, Kuat resurrected its forgotten prototype to create the RZ-2, standardizing years of field modifications and making the chassis slimmer and longer to yield even more speed. These RZ-2s came to be used by the Resistance during their war with the First Order.
Behind the scenes
The A-wing appears in Star Wars: Episode VI Return of the Jedi. Designed by Ralph McQuarrie, they were originally colored blue but had to be changed due to the limited bluescreen technology at the time. The original coloration of the A-wings makes its first appearance on the A-wings of Phoenix Group in the second season of Star Wars Rebels.
The original Star Wars Legends backstory for the craft has them being designed and fielded after the Battle of Yavin, but their appearance in Ahsoka places them in service eighteen years before the Battle of Yavin. The Legends backstory served partly as an in-universe explanation as to why the A-wing fighters created for Return of the Jedi did not participate in the attack on the first Death Star. However, in the new Star Wars canon, A-wings are featured in material taking place well before the Battle of Yavin and have been given earlier origins. The production team for the Star Wars Rebels television series explained that the intention is to depict different rebel cells using different fighters in different parts of the galaxy. The A-wings appear as the primary star fighters of the Phoenix Squadron in Rebels, while the rebel cell led by Jan Dodonna and portrayed in Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope used primarily X-wings and Y-wings. The Battle of Endor, intended to show the first time the entire Rebel Alliance comes together, therefore includes both sets of ships. This allowed the Rebels producers to do more with the A-wings, which were not shown in action very much in Return of the Jedi.
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