Star Wars: Scoundrels

Having read Winner Lose All by Timothy Zahn, I felt like I was in great shape going into Scoundrels. Sure, the only similarities are four characters and a single reference to the heist in the short story (which Zahn or the publisher tactlessly refer to on a separate page after the very end of the book — way to go, guys), but the tone of the short story is a great primer.

Here’s what’s up: Han Solo‘s been offered a job. A businessman has been killed and a ridiculous number of credit tabs stolen and his son, horribly disfigured in the accident, will split the credits with him and whoever he assembles for a team — evenly — to get them back. The man — Eanjer — is the only one who can legitimately access the credits. Without him, the credits are only worth a paltry sum, but if he can access them, the credits mean that Solo and whoever he assembles will never have to work again.

The catch is that they’ve been stolen by a paranoid Black Sun Syndicate crime lord on a small planet with a notoriously impregnable safe. That’s OK, though, because with a local festival in town, they have the perfect distraction. What’s not so-OK is that the crime lord’s boss is in town with a contingent of Faleen — known for being able to affect people’s thoughts with pheromones — and hired goons. Han assembles a team of roughly a dozen, each perfectly suited to the mission. With so many credits on the line and a perfect plan, what can go wrong?

Timothy Zahn is truly in perfect form here. While I found Spectre of the Past and especially Vision of the Future to be stumbling and meandering reads of endless and unneccessary prose, he really nails down here what he did so well in the Thrawn trilogy, even working in the middle of the movies (this taking place after A New Hope and before The Empire Strikes Back). A few of the EU legends make the cut and are handled very well, and I especially felt that Zahn’s handling of the Black Sun Crime Syndicate, Prince Xizor, and the Faleen in general is impeccable: having only heard of Black Sun and having never read a book with Xizor in it, I didn’t feel terribly lost (though I do vaguely recall Xizor in Shadows of the Empire). Zahn does resort to a few cheap tricks here and there, such as telling one of his teammates (and an friend of Leia and the Rebellion) to “never mention this again,” which, while fair enough, is kind of a heavy-handed way of explaining why word of this caper never comes up ever again in any work ever. Zahn is of course in a difficult position, trying to wedge this book between 6 movies and dozens and dozens of books, but it still felt out of place.

Zahn’s handling of the “caper” genre is pretty solid; you kind of get the feeling he watched Oceans 11 a couple of times before settling down to write anything. Almost everyone has a role in the mission, which is just great writing — all the characters are essential to the plot, so no one feels at all out of place. What did feel odd however was that none of the characters were particularly suited to violence. No one really carries weapons, and there isn’t too much action. There is a lot of split-second timing and so on, but the kill count is surprisingly low, perhaps suiting Han Solo. It’s a small complaint, but it feels like Zahn keeps the characters relatively harmless so that it’s easier to put them in harm’s way, that’s all.

While the book doesn’t deal with any huge issues, the theme of trust is one that runs throughout the book, if only due to the amount of deception involved. Han has to work with Lando, this just after a caper that left Lando burned and hating Solo. At the same time, a team of Imperial Agents are working against the same crime lord the team is, making things way more complicated than they should be. Not only that, but the Black Sun bosses who have moved in are even working separately from the one they’re targeting, making things confusing. No one knows who they can trust and you do get the feeling that Han Solo is left to trusting his team only because he has to if he wants the job to succeed, not because he honestly does, which kind of nods towards relationships in general and the notion of trusting someone only because it’s inconvenient not to. It’s interesting, but really isn’t explored as deeply as it can be… but that’s not what Star Wars books are really about, anyway.

Scoundrels is a really good read. It isn’t overburdened with unnecessary and unrealistic gadgets and isn’t overwrought with lurid or purple prose. You get the feeling that Zahn is really embracing the role of a good architect and is keeping his writing as simple as necessary — that isn’t to say he is lacking in the imagination department, but rather that every word, sentence, paragraph, page, and chapter serves a purpose. While it is nearly 400 pages, it is a pretty quick, fairly breezy read, which is great. There’s an incredible twist, too, which I hate to mention but you really don’t see it coming. I should mention that I really liked the cover design — I felt it was really distinct and really fit in to the genre that Zahn was writing. All in all, I highly and heartily recommend.


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