The films of the original Star Wars trilogy are regarded as modern classics by many and offer their audience much in the way of action and adventure. Some may say that the battles between the Jedi Knights of the light side of the Force and the Sith Lords of the dark is what compels them to watch. Others may say the exotic creatures and locations that form the colour for much of the series are the strongest point. Others still may mention a certain metallic bikini sported by the character of Princess Leia as worthy of mention.
Still, another important aspect of the first three Star Wars films is, without doubt, the exciting scenes of combat between the spacecraft of the Empire and the Rebel Alliance. Revolutionary when they first appeared, these sequences harked back to the days of the dog-fighting pilots of WW2 and brought this concept to the Sci-Fi genre for the first time. Rather than simply use this as a pretty light-show, the Star Wars series also made the struggle between the rival spacecraft vital to the plot of the films.
What follows is a brief overview of the starfighters employed by the Rebel Alliance in their struggle against the Imperial fleet and their seemingly endless waves of TIE-Fighters. Most of these craft are familiar sights in the Star Wars films subtitled A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi (Episodes IV, V and VI respectively), but some also feature in the expanded Star Wars universe that followed these films in the various comics, books and video games that were created within the franchise. The fighters are listed in alphabetical order. Just because Luke Skywalker sat in one particular model doesn't mean said model gets to jump the queue.
Dodonna/Blissex A-Wing Starfighter
Measuring only 9.6 metres in length, the smallest and fastest starfighter available to the Rebel Alliance, the A-wing was developed collaboratively by Rebel general Jan Dodonna and engineer Walex Blissex after the battle of Yavin, which saw the destruction of the first Imperial Death Star (Episode IV). The evaluation of the role that the speed of their fighters had played in the battle and the application of this to the development of a new model starfighter resulted in the creation of the sleek and almost triangular A-wing.
Capable of incredible sub-light speeds, the A-wing was well-designed, but still demanded a great deal from its pilot in order to fully harness its potential. Armed with twin laser cannons, concussion missiles and a jamming system, the A-wing functions best when intercepting enemy fighters. When faced with larger ships, the frequency of its jamming system is usually clearly visible to their sensors and thus renders the tiny fighter's weapons vulnerable.
Slayn & Korpil B-Wing Starfighter
During the course of the Galactic Civil War (ie the period of time in which episodes IV, V and VI are set), the Rebel Alliance was forced to gather many of its resources from raids on Imperial supply convoys. The Imperial Fleet responded to this by supplying their convoys with an escort of heavily-armed starships that proved too much for the standard Alliance X-wing and Y-wing fighters which had been assigned to these missions in the past.
The solution to this problem came in the shape of the unusual B-wing fighter. Designed and created by the Verpine, an insectiod species native to the Roche asteroid field, the B-wing was more a mobile weapon platform than a starfighter. As a result, the gyroscopically-balanced ship carried an arsenal consisting of auto-blasters, twin torpedo launchers, a trio of laser cannons and another of ion cannons. While this made the fighter perfectly able to stand toe-to-toe with any Imperial artillery, it also meant that it lacked the speed and manoeuvrability of its lighter armed counterparts.
Freitek Inc. E-Wing Starfighter
After the fall of the Empire and the founding of the New Republic, the fleet of the new establishment commissioned the E-wing fighter to replace the reliable but ageing X-wing. Designed by Freitek Inc., the company founded by the technicians responsible for the earlier X-wing, the new fighter first saw action against the forces of Grand Admiral Thrawn during his attempt to retake the Galactic Core.
Cheaper and simpler to maintain than the X-wing and carrying a total of three heavy laser cannons, the E-wing also carried superior armour and a fully-concealed astromech port to protect its R2 unit from enemy fire. All in all, the E-wing was the logical successor to the older model X-wing as the mainstay of the Republic fleet.
The sole dedicated bomber in the New Republic fleet, the K-wing was a heavily-shielded craft which carried no permanent weapons systems and lacks even a hyperdrive engine of its own. Crewed by a pilot and bombardier, the K-wing had two straight wings extending from its fuselage and another two angled from below (so that when viewed head on it resembles a letter K on its side). These wings carried a total of eighteen points at which the K-wing's payload could be attached.
The fact that the K-wing lacked both weapons and a hyperdrive stemmed from the fact that these systems were dropped in favour of its heavy payload and powerful shielding. As a result the bomber had to be delivered to its target in a carrier craft and accompanied by an escort of fighters. This said, the K-wing was unwieldy rather than slow, as the ship was capable of outlasting even the fabled X-wing fighter in the long run.
While not strictly a starfighter by designation, the T-47 Snowspeeder nevertheless relied upon the same technology and pilots as its stellar counterparts. The product of Rebel technicians, rather than an engineering corporation, the snowspeeder was cobbled together from the original civilian T-47 speeder. Fitted with the cockpit module of the Y-wing fighter and borrowing also from its control systems, the Snowspeeder allowed experienced Rebel pilots to use the craft with little prior training.
Used primarily for the defence of Rebel bases within a planetary atmosphere, the Snowspeeder first appeared on the frozen planet of Hoth. Opposing an Imperial ground force whilst the base was evacuated, the Snowspeeders heavy laser cannons and harpoon and cable proved effective against large opponents such as the AT-AT (All Terrain Attack Transport).
Hoersh-Kessel Drive T-Wing Starfighter
While comparable in size and speed to the A-wing, the T-wing fighter lacked the advanced engineering that made the former the cutting-edge as far as small attack craft of the Rebel Fleet are concerned. While on the one hand this may mean that the T-wing had a less glamorous reputation, on the other it also meant that the craft demanded less of its pilot to fully harness its potential.
As might be expected, the T-wing lacked the powerful shielding and heavy hull plating that would be standard for a larger fighter. But this was compensated for by the trio of engines, mounted one atop the fuselage and one at the tip of each of the fighter's angled wings, which afforded the craft a great deal of manoeuvrability in a dogfighting situation. The T-wing was armed with a pair of laser cannons and two multi-purpose warhead launchers.
Slayn & Corpil V-Wing Airspeeder
As with the T-47 Snowspeeder, the V-wing was not a starfighter by designation, but is worthy of mention due to the critical role it has played in combat. Developed by the same Verpine engineers responsible for the advanced B-wing starfighter, the V-wing was envisioned as an interceptor craft capable of defending Rebel installations and bases much as the Snowspeeder had in the past. Small, fast and manoeuvrable, the V-wing proved critical in the Rebel victory at the battle of Calamari.
Incom Corporation T-65 X-Wing Starfighter
Easily the most famous and recognisable fighter of the Star Wars series, the X-wing was the mainstay of the Rebel Fleet and served as a versatile craft capable of performing well in both intercepting enemy fighters and pulling off precision bombing missions (as evinced by the finale of episode IV). A product of the Incom Corporation, the prototype of the X-wing was delivered into the hands of the Rebel Alliance by a group of technicians who defected from the Empire after the company had been nationalised in Emperor Palpatine's efforts to secure his absolute authority over what was left of the Old Republic.
Able to take a significant amount of punishment and dish more out in return with its own four laser cannons and twin proton torpedo launchers, the fighter was immediately recognisable thanks to the fact its wings locked into an 'X' formation when engaged in combat. Another much-noted feature of the X-wing was the astromech port which sat behind the cockpit and housed the droid responsible for managing the craft's complex computer systems (yes, this is the place where R2-D2 sits and babbles away to Luke Skywalker in each of the original episodes).
Koensayr Y-Wing Starfighter
The oldest and most common fighter in service with the Rebel fleet, the Y-wing fighter was a durable and reliable craft. Though it predated the more glamorous X-wing and could not boast the cutting edge design of the A-wing and B-wing fighters, it was still very hard to find a flaw in the make-up of the Y-wing.
Able to perform admirably in one-on-one confrontations, the Y-wing was also perhaps the toughest fighter type in the Rebel fleet. Aside from its shield generators, the Y-wing also possessed a titanium hull specially reinforced with the alloy Alusteel. This meant that even if the fighter was hit in combat, there was a good chance that the hull might hold up to the shot.
Eventually phased out by the newer B-wing fighter, the Y-wing became a more specialised craft used often for the protection of Rebel bases and bombing missions rather than in the front lines of combat.
Incom/Subpro Z-95 'Headhunter' Starfighter
The forerunner of the X-wing fighter, the Z-95 was the premier starfighter of its day and paved the way forward for its more famous successor. Beginning life as a design based on upper-atmosphere attack craft rather than a true starfighter, the Z-95 nevertheless evolved over time and a great number of design overhauls, into the basic shape recognisable as that of the modern X-wing. Though it lacked the distinctive wing formation, the Z-95 was a craft capable of a far greater diversity when it came to the role it served, having been modified to serve as a bomber, missile platform, long-range fighter and even a two-seater training craft.
Despite the fact that newer fighters appeared to take the place of the Z-95, its reliability and reputation for taking a harsh pounding and remaining operable still endeared the fighter to some. Even after the fall of the Old Republic and beyond, it was not uncommon to find well-maintained examples of the Z-95 still in service as planetary defence craft or in the ownership of private companies serving as protection for their interests.
The official Star Wars website which has extensive information on all things be they Rebel, Imperial or even Jedi related, can be found at StarWars.com.