In Brief: Set right after Episode IV, Timothy Zahn’s Scoundrels finds Han Solo and Chewbecca looking to score some bank from a heist of a local crime lord. Of course it’s more complicated then that, especially when Lando shows up…
Pros: Zahn’s done his homework on plotting – anything from The Sting to Sneakers to Oceans 11. He also knows the Star Wars universe well enough to add some easter eggs for the hardcore fans and has a good sense of dialogue for the established characters.
Cons: Any good heist story involves a lengthy setup and establishment of the rules of the target. While Zahn does a solid job here, especially with incorporating the tech of the SW universe, this may cause the book to drag for some readers.
Review: Your devoted Star Wars geek knows of Timothy Zahn, long considered one of the best novelization authors out there. His Heir to the Empire series, which takes place soon after Episode VI, was good enough to draw me in to several more of Zahn’s books. With that history, the Scoundrels premise (and cover) grabbed me as soon as I saw it in the store.
Scoundrels has Han and Chewie looking for work in the months after the destruction of the first Death Star. Han has already lost his reward from the Rebel’s victory at Yavin, and Jabba’s bounty hunters are moving on him again. An encounter with a young man called Eanjer opens up an opportunity.
Eanjer’s dad owned a profitable trading company but fell afoul of the local gangsters and got himself killed over protection debts. However, the trader was smart enough to have a fail-safe encrypted data-key to lock down his bank account. The gangsters have the key but not the encryption, and Eanjer needs someone to re-acquire said key. The reward: half the value of the account – tens of millions of credits. Enough for Han to settle debts with Jabba and disappear. Or maybe lookup those Rebels again and see if Leia could use more help…
Han runs the situation through some smuggler contacts and it checks out. And even though he protests he’s just a good pilot and not a professional thief, he’s soon assembled a team of underworld specialists and begun gathering intel on the targets.
Of course it’s not that simple. Turns out, the local gangsters are really Black Sun (the SW universes’ answer to the mafia or yakuza). Their leader, Prince Xizor has been targeted by none other than Darth Vadar, which brings Imperial Intelligence into the mix.
By the time Han and Chewie begin to suspect Black Sun, they’re too far into their plan to break it off. Then Lando Calrissian shows up, summoned to the group by one of Han’s other contacts, and despite their differences, the scoundrels agree to move forward with the plan.
Zahn does very well with the plot-and-reveal balance so vital to a caper story like this one. He spends time setting up the bad guys and their fortress so we know why and how this will be a tough run. He details the abilities, quirks, and weaknesses of Han’s assembled team, so we can start to understand the plan better. He sets in motion a number of subplots to confuse and add layers to the story. All this he does with a firm grasp of the technology and gadgets of the SW universe, his explanations timely and clear. We also get a few easter egg-type narrative nuggets alluding back to the overarching Episode IV-VI storyline.
Now this kind of writing and narrative isn’t for everyone. The plotting structure doesn’t leave a lot of room for deep character development and soul-wrenching denouement. Although if you’re picking up a Star Wars tie-in novel, you’re probably not in the market for this anyway. Zahn keeps it moving. The established characters seem like themselves, and several of the new characters he introduces are interesting and effective as well.
And it wouldn’t be a good caper without some jarring twists and surprises at the end.
Bottom Line: For Star Wars fans, especially those with a fondness for Han, Chewie, and Lando, Scoundrels is a real treat. Well written, fun, and worth a look.