Author: Timothy Zahn
Let’s start at the beginning — the very beginning. You can’t help but love the cover of Scoundrels. A police lineup shows Chewie, Han, and Lando wonderfully rendered, bringing back the nostalgia of the original trilogy. But a simple heist with this trio would be much too simple and turning the cover to the back shows that Han has a much bigger plan in mind.
I will refrain from making an obvious movie connection with the premise of this novel. Yes, it is true that Han is leading the ultimate heist to steal “cash” out of a vault. And yes, his crew does consist of eleven people. And once again, yes — each of these “scoundrels” has a unique and special ability that is required by Han to pull off this elaborate plan so he can finally pay back Jabba.
When I first saw the title, Scoundrels, I expected a few things. First, I expected to see the shady side of Han — the smuggling rebel who would talk back to a princess in order to get his reward. I also expected to see some camaraderie with his faithful wookie. As for Lando, I wasn’t sure he fit correctly into the continuity as I had always assumed the stunt Han pulled against him was stealing the Millennium Falcon. This book tells us otherwise.
I won’t go into details of the plot, but let’s just say that Han comes across an opportunity to break into the Black Sun crime sindicate to steal back what amounts to a fortune of credits. He reluctantly accepts this challenge and enlists a host of smugglers to accomplish the task. Several obstacles and missteps threaten to foil Han’s plans and what seems to be a typical caper ends with a twist that I never expected.
What frustrated me from the beginning of the novel was the effort in making Han to be such a good guy. I absolutely loved A.C. Crispin’s Han Solo trilogy, which told of his hard upbringing, giving us insight into his reluctance to getting in relationships and his strong connection with Chewie. In Scoundrels, Zahn goes to extremes to make Han a benevolent hero. When a bounty hunter comes to collect, Han shoots him with his familiar gun-under-the-table, but it is immediately justified by saying that the bounty hunter shot first. As for the fortune they are stealing, once again we are given a long explanation about how this is stolen money and Han needs to help return it to its faithful owner with the promise of a hero’s portion.
I appreciate that Han has a good heart, but part of the appeal of Han is that he doesn’t fit the typical Star Wars archetype of being wholly good or wholly evil. He’s a smuggler who’s out for himself, but also has a soft side.
Zahn is a talented writer and perhaps I am being a little harsh in my review (but given the many good reviews, I give myself liberty in sharing my qualms). For the most part, the novel is light-hearted and fun, filled with dialog and twists and turns that keep the action going. There are no Jedi or Sith Lords, which I appreciated and thought would distract from the point of the novel. I would have liked for more interaction between Han and Chewie, but overall Zahn handled the interactions between the many characters well.
The plot of the novel was well thought-out and creative, but I wasn’t as inspired by the story as I had hoped. At times it got bogged down with excessive dialog between characters that were essentially just filling a role in the heist without being particularly interesting. This wasn’t due to a fault in the writing. That is far from the truth. It’s just that adding character depth to a team of eleven is difficult with the limited amount of space to work with within a novel.
For Star Wars fans, particularly those wanting to fill in some empty pieces of the original trilogy, I think you may find this read a delight. Expect some action, some humorous and sarcastic banter from Han, and a few plot twists. For me, it was a decent read that was worth my time, but it doesn’t rise to the level of A.C. Crispin’s Han Solo trilogy. Nonetheless, I appreciate Zahn’s approach and it does add a little depth to explain Han and Lando’s troubled relationship in The Empire Strikes Back.