I’ll just get this out of the way right off: I am a huge Star Wars geek. As of about six months ago I had read every single Star Wars novel to be published and was working my way through the backlog of short stories and comics as I was able to get access to them. Unfortunately, I’ve been too broke to buy all the books to have come out since then and my library apparently finds Star Wars novels to be a low priority on their buy list. I know, #firstworldproblems, I’ll deal. Anyway, all that to establish my credentials as an amateur-expert on the Star Wars Expanded Universe and to explain why I’m only now posting this review when Scoundrels came out months ago.
If you know anything about the Star Wars Expanded Universe, you know that it owes a lot to Timothy Zahn. Star Wars was a dead property until Heir To The Empire was released in the early 90s, but now it has become a multi-headed hydra that can be very difficult to keep track of. I personally very much dread the damage to the fabric of the Star Wars EU that will result from the upcoming Star Wars Episode VII: Whatever They Decide To Call It, but that’s a post for another day. Zahn is hands-down my absolute favorite Star Wars author, rivalled (but not surpassed) only by Karen Traviss while she was still writing for the property.* The characters Zahn created consistently lead the pack in terms of fan popularity, and Mara Jade is the only non-film character to break the top twenty.** Zahn brings to the table a genius for convoluted plots, fascinating characters, and the sense of fun that made Star Wars so appealing in the first place. For instance, the whole book is a tribute to the movie Ocean’s Eleven, and there is a sequence in this book that pays homage to the classic scene in Indiana Jones And The Raiders Of The Lost Ark where Indy is running from the giant boulder rolling through the temple. You remember the scene? Keep that in mind as you near the climax of the story, and I dare you not to laugh out loud….
This story is set in the first couple of months after the destruction of the Death Star, while Han and Chewie are out trying to find the credits to pay off their debt to Jabba the Hutt. Given that fact, you don’t need to have read the whole field of Star Wars literature to quickly grasp the situation. Han is in debt to Jabba, which we know from the films. He got the money to pay him at the end of A New Hope, but lost it when he was taken by pirates.*** Han and Lando were friends for years, but about a year before the Death Star incident Han got Lando and a bunch of other smugglers involved in a job that went south. They were double crossed, left empty-handed, and Lando blamed Han.**** Now Han has a job that should get them all out of debt and set them up for life….if they can pull it off. The resulting tale is a brilliant display of interlocking characters and motivations as everything builds to its explosive climax. This is Star Wars the way it’s supposed to be, and you should definitely read this book regardless of your level of Star Wars geekdom. Newcomers can get right into the action, while veteran readers of the EU will recognize younger versions of a number of familiar characters–Winter, for one, and Kell Tainer from the X-Wing novels. While this is fun for us veterans, knowledge of their later exploits is far from essential to this story. If you enjoy this one, you should check out a prior adventure with Bink & Tavia, Zerba and Lando in Winner Lose All. Also, Bink & Tavia got a solo short story (Heist) that’s worth checking out if you enjoyed this one.
CONTENT: Mild language, mild violence, some flirting.
*In the interest of clarity, Karen Traviss is still an excellent writer and I continue to follow a lot of her work. Also, she was totally shafted in that whole fiasco. Again, that’s another post….
**Rumor has it that George Lucas resents this, but I have no idea whether that’s true.
***That reward the Rebellion scraped together at the end of A New Hope? It got stolen by pirates in the old Marvel Comics’ Star Wars series. And then he proceeded to gain and lose the credits again four or five times. The EU loves to play with throwaway lines from the films, and I’ll discuss that fact again later in the review.
****The problem with writing EU stories set in this crowded bit of the Star Wars timeline is that you bump into other explanations for throwaway lines in the films. Example: Lando is mad at Han for something that happened a long time ago when Han and the Falcon arrive on Cloud City in The Empire Strikes Back. So, in the novel Rebel Dawn Han gets them all double-crossed and Lando says he never wants to see him again. But now Timothy Zahn wants to include Lando in his story, so they pull him in and explain it away. But you know that in the end Lando will be leaving once more angry with Han. You also know that there is no way Han gets the money to pay off Jabba, given the events of the later films. The book still manages to be suspensefull, and the last-paragraph twist/revelation is a superb touch, but some elements of the outcome are dictated by later events.