Book Review: Star Wars: Scoundrels

(It’s been a bit since I’ve done one of these, not for lack of reading, so hopefully this will get me back in the spirit, and in control of the backlog.)

The Star Wars theme is one of the most iconic musical pieces of the 20th century. Among science fiction novelists, Timothy Zahn’s works are the written equivalent of that music set against the opening crawl of gold words set against the backdrop of space. In the early 1990s, at the bequest of George Lucas, Zahn boldly launched Star Wars in a direction that no author had been allowed to go before: continuing the saga of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia, Chewbacca (and more) after the events in Return of the Jedi with his trilogy: Heir to the EmpireDark Force Rising, and The Last Command. 

Darth Vader was dead, but the Empire was not yet finished. A new villain, Grand Admiral Thrawn, a tactical genius, replaced the imposing figure of the dark lord with cunning and military prowess. Thrawn’s signature ability was his knack for analyzing a culture based on their art. By understanding of art, he argued, one could better size up his or her enemy. Learn their psyche and defeat them in battle. Anticipate their moves. It was enough to convince me to take a politics and culture class in college and try to understand of the election cycles through the music of NOFX. I didn’t gain the same understanding as Thrawn, but it was an exercise worth pursuing anyway.

Since those first books in the 90s, Zahn has continued to flesh out his corner of the Star Wars universe. In the latest, Star Wars: Scoundrels, readers get to learn a bit more about their favorite smuggler, Han Solo. Set in-between the events of A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, Han and Chewie have lost the reward money from their Death Star heroics and need to make some quick cash to once again try and pay off Jabba the Hutt.

It’s like when that perfect hand comes along,” Lando murmured. “You have to see it, recognize it, and bet big.

Sure enough, an opportunity presented itself. A stranger needed help recovering his family fortune and decided that Han fits the bill. Of course, the money is being held by a somewhat to possibly very corrupt well-to-do gentleman with connections (and bribes) in the local and planetary governments and police. And wouldn’t you know, the money was protected by guards, droids, and the most complicated safe ever conceived by man. So, of course Han needed a team of trustworthy thieves to pull off the heist. It just so happened that the window for the robbery was during a big fight, so all the money from the Mirage, the Villagio, and the MGM Grand….wait…wrong story.

But there are actually a lot of nice parallels and references between Scoundrels and classic heist movies, including Ocean’s 11. Because it’s a Timothy Zahn book, a few familiar faces show up who will already be familiar to the reader but not to the other characters. Like a good prequel, Scoundrels combines elements that are old and familiar with those that are new unknown to give the book a flavor of excitement even though (spoiler alert) the reader knows Han Solo can’t die.

If you like Star Wars and have read the other Zahn books (though this can stand on its own and you’ll appreciate the nods to his other books if you decide to read those later), this is a good train to ride. If anything, it’ll get you thinking about 2015, J.J. Abrams and the possibilities for Episode VII. May the force be with you!

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