- "Yeah! Transport Away!"
- ―Derek "Hobbie" Klivian exclaims Thon's Orchard's escape from Hoth
Thon's Orchard was a GR-75 medium transport of the Rebel Alliance Fleet. Originally a product of ill-fated starship manufacturer Gallofree Yards, which went bankrupt several years before the height of the Galactic Civil War, Thon's Orchard and other outdated Gallofree transports like it were sold to the Rebel Alliance at bargain prices. As one of thirty GR-75 medium transports stationed at Echo Base, the Alliance High Command headquarters on the Outer Rim Territories ice planet Hoth, Thon's Orchard later helped facilitate the Rebellion's successful evacuation of its compromised outpost during the Battle of Hoth in 3 ABY.
The Rebels' defensive strategy against the Imperial invasion force during the battle relied heavily on the Echo Base transport fleet to evacuate command personnel and supplies from the besieged planet. While the Rebel pilots of Rogue Group fought to buy time for the evacuation, the transports faced a dangerous run through the Imperial Star Destroyer blockade in Hoth's orbit, with only minimal starfighter escort and covering fire from Echo Base's planetary ion cannon to protect them. Thon's Orchard, piloted by Rogue Group member Tarrin Datch, departed Echo Base with the final evacuation group late in the battle. Despite the loss of the ion cannon, Thon's Orchard safely passed through the Imperial blockade with assistance from escort pilots Luke Skywalker, Wedge Antilles, and Derek "Hobbie" Klivian and regrouped with the Alliance at its rendezvous point.
Thon's Orchard was a GR-75 medium transport manufactured by Gallofree Yards, Inc. that served in the Rebel Alliance Fleet. The transport measured ninety meters in length, was equipped with sublight and hyperdrive engines, and its bridge contained a comlink for ship-to-ship communications.
Battle of Hoth
- Antilles: "This is the last evacuation group."
- Skywalker: "Hey, you should be gone already. How come you're still hanging around?"
- Antilles: "Well, we sort of got delayed—a little bit of this."
- Datch: "Little of that."
- Antilles: "Yeah, while we were, uh—"
- Skywalker: "While you were waiting for me. Thanks, guys."
- ―Wedge Antilles, Luke Skywalker, and Tarrin Datch[src]
Following starship manufacturer Gallofree Yards' bankruptcy several years before the Battle of Yavin, many of the company's remaining transports ended up in the service of the Rebel Alliance in its struggle against the Galactic Empire. The Rebellion purchased these outdated transports at bargain prices, but they nevertheless required plenty of regular upkeep. By the year 3 ABY, the secret Alliance High Command headquarters of Echo Base, located on the remote Outer Rim Territories ice planet Hoth, housed a fleet of thirty GR-75 medium transports, including Thon's Orchard.
The Empire's discovery of Echo Base in 3 ABY forced the Rebellion into a hasty evacuation of its compromised facility. As Imperial forces descended on the base in the Battle of Hoth, Thon's Orchard and the rest of the transport fleet had the critical responsibility of evacuating command personnel and important supplies from the ice planet—a difficult task that required each transport to pass through the Imperial blockade waiting in low Hoth orbit under minimal starfighter escort and surface-to-space covering fire from the base's v-150 Planet Defender ion cannon. The Echo Base defenses, meanwhile, had to delay the Imperial invasion force as long as possible to give the transports time to escape.
Echo Base's transport fleet and its starfighter escorts began assembling at the Rebels' South Ridge evacuation launch site and lifted off one by one while the battle raged. However, as the situation grew dire for the Rebels, base command ordered the transports to begin running the Imperial blockade in pairs, a risky prospect, as the Rebels could not guarantee that the base's ion cannon could protect multiple transports at once. Thon's Orchard assembled at the staging area as part of the final evacuation group, with Rogue Group member Tarrin Datch set to pilot the transport on its blockade run, though Datch and fellow Rogue Wedge Antilles delayed Thon's Orchard's departure to wait for Rogue Leader Luke Skywalker, one of the last surviving pilots to reach the South Ridge.
Along with Thon's Orchard, the final evacuation group included the GR-75 medium transports Dutyfree and Bright Hope, escorted collectively by six X-wing starfighters, including pilots Skywalker, Antilles, and Tarn Mison, as well as pilots Derek "Hobbie" Klivian and Wes Janson flying together in a BTL-S3 Y-wing starfighter. Rebel historian Lieutenant Voren Na'al also rode aboard Thon's Orchard. Knowing that Imperial snowtroopers had already seized control of the base and were bearing down on their position, the group lifted off with no time to spare. However, complicating the group's blockade run, the Empire had also captured the ion cannon, eliminating any hope that the transports would have protective fire as they braved the waiting Imperial warships.
Running the gauntlet
- "Transport Commander, this is Leader One. Adjust to course 2-7-5."
"What's the idea, boss? Why do you want him hangin' back like that?"
- ―Derek Klivian questions Wedge Antilles' order to Thon's Orchard
Thon's Orchard, Dutyfree, and the Bright Hope departed Echo Base as the last three transports to evacuate, but the group soon encountered large squads of incoming TIE fighters, TIE interceptors, and TIE bombers in Hoth's atmosphere. The bombers harried each of the three transports, requiring Skywalker to dispatch many of the attacking Imperial fighters before they could destroy the fleeing Rebel cargo ships. Yet Thon's Orchard's path still was not clear—an Imperial Star Destroyer sat directly in its escape lane as the transport entered Hoth's orbit.
With the Star Destroyer spitting heavy laser fire, Antilles ordered Thon's Orchard to drop back while he prepared to execute a radical maneuver, called the Tallon split, designed to fool the computer-controlled Imperial guns. By pulling his fighter close together with Derek Klivian's Y-wing, Antilles effectively tricked the Star Destroyer into reading their ships as a single target. Once they were close enough, they split their fighters apart, too quickly for the Star Destroyer to track them both at once, allowing Antilles a clear shot that destroyed one of the Star Destroyer's sensor globes. Their maneuver, combined with a hidden attack by Skywalker from underneath the transport, cleared the way for Datch and Thon's Orchard to escape into hyperspace.
Skywalker, Antilles, Klivian, Mison, and the Dutyfree similarly survived the blockade run, although the Bright Hope was destroyed. Thon's Orchard safely rejoined the Alliance Fleet at the Rebels' predetermined rendezvous point above the galactic plane, but it was among just thirteen of Echo Base's thirty transports to avoid destruction in the Battle of Hoth, which proved to be a devastating Rebel defeat. Afterward, Antilles recorded Thon's Orchard's blockade run in his personal memoirs, which he shared with Voren Na'al for the latter's ongoing documentation work of the Rebel Alliance's history.
Commanders and crew
During the Battle of Hoth, the Human male Tarrin Datch successfully piloted Thon's Orchard past the Imperial Star Destroyer blockade and regrouped with the rest of the Alliance Fleet at the rendezvous point. A member of Rogue Group as Rogue Ten, Datch served dual piloting duty during the battle, also flying one of Echo Base's snowspeeders against the Imperial invasion force before leading Thon's Orchard to safety. Datch knew Wedge Antilles well enough not to question his unorthodox order to adjust Thon's Orchard's course in preparation for Antilles' Tallon split maneuver, which helped the transport to evade the blockading Star Destroyer.
Behind the scenes
Continuity development and inconsistencies
Thon's Orchard traces its origins to author Brian Daley's 1983 National Public Radio dramatization of The Empire Strikes Back, which includes a scene in which Luke Skywalker and Wedge Antilles escort a Rebel transport, piloted by a character named Tarrin, away from Hoth. For the 1989 West End Games roleplaying sourcebook Galaxy Guide 3: The Empire Strikes Back, author Michael Stern created a short narrative titled Running the Gauntlet, which similarly tells of Antilles and Y-wing pilot Hobbie escorting a transport, piloted by an unnamed captain, past a blockading Star Destroyer using a diversionary tactic called the Tallon split.
Stern's story draws heavily upon the radio drama's original script, first published in 1995 as The Empire Strikes Back: The National Public Radio Dramatization. Contrary to the radio drama's final version, in which Tarrin's transport escapes Hoth without incident, the script originally had Skywalker, Antilles, and the transport encounter a Star Destroyer during their blockade run. In this version, Skywalker orders Antilles to pull their starfighters close together underneath the transport so that they will appear as a single blip on the Star Destroyer's radar. At the right moment, Skywalker orders Antilles to fire a proton torpedo at the Star Destroyer, a surprise attack that causes enough damage to the Imperial ship and allows the transport to escape into hyperspace. Running the Gauntlet alternatively shows Antilles devising a diversionary tactic in tandem with Hobbie, while Skywalker is not present. Stern's version of events, inconsistent with the radio drama, began a long history of various continuity inconsistencies and revisions regarding Thon's Orchard.
The 1995 reference book The Essential Guide to Characters, authored by Andy Mangels, makes an effort to reconcile these inconsistent sources. Mangels explains how Skywalker, Antilles, and Y-wing pilot Janson escort one of the last transports, piloted by Tarrin, from Echo Base: Antilles and Janson employ the Tallon split maneuver, in conjunction with Skywalker's surprise attack from below the transport, to allow all parties to escape the Star Destroyer. Mangels' version favors the radio drama script over the radio drama itself and effectively identifies Tarrin as the unnamed transport pilot from Running the Gauntlet. However, The Essential Guide to Characters created a new inconsistency by identifying the Y-wing pilot as Janson rather than Hobbie.
In revising and expanding Stern's original Galaxy Guide 3 text for the sourcebook's 1996 updated second edition, author Pablo Hidalgo altered Running the Gauntlet's text to identify the transport captain as Tarrin, which matched Mangels' The Essential Guide to Characters. Hidalgo also first named the transport Thon's Orchard and identified it as the ship that was to be Princess Leia Organa's escape transport from The Empire Strikes Back. However, following in Hidalgo's wake, author M. Shayne Bell's subsequent 1996 short story Of Possible Futures: The Tale of Zuckuss and 4-LOM from the anthology book Tales of the Bounty Hunters changed Organa's transport to the Bright Hope. To date, the Bright Hope has remained Organa's intended transport.
Author Michael Stackpole's 1999 novel, X-Wing: Isard's Revenge, created a new line of continuity that disregarded Thon's Orchard and persisted for nearly fifteen years. In story dialogue between Antilles and New Republic Admiral Areta Bell, Isard's Revenge establishes that Tarrin piloted the transport Dutyfree during the Hoth evacuation, with Bell as the transport's navigator, while Skywalker and Antilles flew escort.
The 2004 reference book Inside the Worlds of Star Wars Trilogy, written by James Luceno, makes major strides in reconciling the previous sources. Luceno's book definitively identifies Thon's Orchard, Dutyfree, and the Bright Hope as separate transports stationed at Echo Base during the Battle of Hoth. Inside the Worlds also designates the Dutyfree as being escorted by Skywalker and Antilles, and the Bright Hope as being escorted by Antilles, Hobbie, and Janson. However, the text does not mention Tarrin or provide any additional details for Thon's Orchard.
The Complete Star Wars Encyclopedia of 2008, compiled primarily by author Stephen J. Sansweet, reinforced the Isard's Revenge version of events by stating that Tarrin piloted the Dutyfree and that Areta Bell commanded the transport as its captain during the Hoth evacuation. The text makes no mention of Thon's Orchard. However, the 2013 Rogues Gallery department from Star Wars Insider 146 effectively returned the line of continuity to its original version, stating that Tarrin piloted Thon's Orchard past the Imperial blockade. To date, Star Wars Insider 146 remains the most recent source to address the matter.
Despite the aforementioned history of inconsistent sources and competing revisions, this article considers Thon's Orchard's continuity resolved on the basis of the Star Wars Insider 146 Rogues Gallery department. Its information was directly approved by Leland Chee, Keeper of the Holocron for the Lucasfilm Story Group, which determines all Star Wars canon. Given Chee's authority, this article concludes that Tarrin Datch piloted Thon's Orchard and that contrary claims from Isard's Revenge and The Complete Star Wars Encyclopedia are in error. Moreover, this article considers The Essential Guide to Characters and Galaxy Guide 3, Second Edition to be the canon version of events for Thon's Orchard's blockade run, and considers any contradicting elements from The Empire Strikes Back radio drama to be overridden.
This article also attempts to reconcile the multitude of sources with varying versions of Rebel pilots escorting transports, and considers the following pieces of information to be canon: Skywalker, Antilles, and Janson escort Thon's Orchard, according to The Essential Guide to Characters; Antilles and Hobbie escort Thon's Orchard, with Janson riding in Hobbie's Y-wing, according to Galaxy Guide 3, Second Edition; Skywalker and Antilles escort the Dutyfree, according to Isard's Revenge and Inside the Worlds of Star Wars Trilogy; and Antilles, Hobbie, and Janson escort the Bright Hope, according to Inside the Worlds of Star Wars Trilogy. This article treats these escort roles as overlapping pieces between transports. In addition, this article considers Hobbie and Janson flying in a single Y-wing from Galaxy Guide 3 to be the canon version of events, given that Galaxy Guide 3 is the most recent source to specify a starfighter type for either character's blockade run.
Regarding the transports, The Empire Strikes Back radio drama establishes that Skywalker, Antilles, and Thon's Orchard are part of the final evacuation group; Galaxy Guide 3 confirms that Thon's Orchard is one of the last transports to evacuate; and Inside the Worlds of Star Wars Trilogy confirms both that the Dutyfree is one of the last transports to evacuate and that the Bright Hope is the final transport to evacuate. In addition, the Inside the Worlds of Star Wars Trilogy Echo Base map depicts Thon's Orchard, Dutyfree, and the Bright Hope positioned adjacently in the Echo Base hangar prior to evacuation during the Battle of Hoth, clearly suggesting that they are, indeed, the last three transports to evacuate. Therefore, given the aforementioned overlapping escort roles, this article concludes that the final evacuation group must consist of the transports Thon's Orchard, Dutyfree, and Bright Hope, escorted collectively by Skywalker, Antilles, Hobbie, Janson, and Tarn Mison, the latter according to the Star Wars Customizable Card Game.
This conclusion is supported by several pieces of indirect source material, the most significant of which is the 2003 Nintendo video game Star Wars: Rogue Squadron III: Rebel Strike. In this game's "Battlefield Hoth" level, the player, as Luke Skywalker, and assisted by other NPC X-wing pilots, must escort the last three transports to leave Echo Base, and these three transports leave at the same time. Although the transports are not named in the game, they correspond explicitly to Thon's Orchard, Dutyfree, and the Bright Hope, according to The Empire Strikes Back radio drama, Inside the Worlds of Star Wars Trilogy, and the aforementioned escort combinations, and this article therefore treats them as such. Secondly, The Empire Strikes Back establishes that the Rebel evacuation transports initially lifted off individually but were forced to begin departing in pairs as the battle progressed. Thirdly, the "Bright Hope" card from the 2013 Escape from Hoth expansion pack of Star Wars: The Card Game depicts the Bright Hope departing Echo Base with other transports as a group. Finally, Tales of the Bounty Hunters establishes that the Bright Hope was escorted by six X-wing fighters, which this article treats as applying to all three transports of the final evacuation group.
- The Empire Strikes Back: The National Public Radio Dramatization (Indirect mention only)
- The Essential Guide to Characters (Indirect mention only)
- Galaxy Guide 3: The Empire Strikes Back, Second Edition (First identified as Thon's Orchard)
- Star Wars: Behind the Magic (Indirect mention only)
- Star Wars: Rogue Squadron III: Rebel Strike: The Official Nintendo Player's Guide (Indirect mention only) (Retcon)
- Inside the Worlds of Star Wars Trilogy (First pictured)
- Star Wars: Complete Locations
- "Rogues Gallery: Clearance for Immediate Launch"—Star Wars Insider 146