Mar 18, 2014

[Books] Star Wars: Scoundrels

I'm a pretty big fan of the Star Wars Expanded Universe. The books have made for entertaining reading over the years and have mapped out interesting avenues for the various characters to go after the movie credits rolled. And while they're not always the most intellectually rewarding books, they certainly make the fanboy in me really happy.

And while the larger fate of the Expanded Universe is somewhat uncertain after the Disney acqusition of the Star Wars franchise, there are still a fair number of books out there to be enjoyed. Case in point, I only recently got a Kindle copy of Star Wars: Scoundrels as a gift from a friend. And there's nothing quite like a good Star Wars novel to help pass the time.

And in addition, this book was written by Timothy Zahn, who pretty much kicked off the entire Expanded Universe with his Heir to the Empire trilogy. And the decision to focus on the smugglers and con artists of the Star Wars universe was certainly an interesting angle to explore. And I can certainly enjoy a good caper story every now and then. And this one wasn't too shabby.

Synopsis: Star Wars: Scoundels is science fiction novel set in the Star Wars universe. It was written by Timothy Zahn and is set sometime between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. This places it around the time as another popular Star Wars book, Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire.

After his time with the Rebels, Han Solo finds himself still in need of credits to pay back Jabba the Hutt given he had manged to lose the reward given to him by the Rebel Alliance. So when he's approached by a man who claims to have been wronged, Han feels desperate enough to try to help him out. Unfortunately, at the core of all this is a heist - something that's a little beyond this particular smuggler.

But the payout is big enough to settle his debt and then some, and so he takes the job and recruits a wide variety of criminal associates to execute the job. And thus he ends up with a motley crew of con artists, thieves and other needed players - and with the surprise addition of Lando Calrissian. But there's more to this job than just retrieving a bunch of stolen credits - and things get really complicated when the criminal organization Black Sun turns out to be somehow involved in all this.

And note that this book also includes the Lando-centric novella, Winner Lose All, also written by Timothy Zahn.

At first you might expect Zahn to play up to his strengths - which are practically tropes in themselves. But interestingly enough this story focuses on a number of new characters brought into this story instead of figures that we've seen in other Zahn-penned Star Wars books. So yes, no Mara Jade and no Talon Karrde being involved despite the fact that we do have smugglers and other petty thieves involved here. And that actually was a nice turn of events since this certainly ended up feeling like a unique Zahn novel compared to others that had come before it.

And while we've seen Zahn manage some pretty complicated stories at various points in the history of the Expanded Universe, admittedly this one felt a little awkward at the beginning. to be fair, setting up a proper heist story is sort of like the opposite of how would set up a mystery novel. Thus we get to see how a heist is generally planned without revealing the nuances of the plan itself. This allows us time to "witness" the plan unfold step-by-step as the characters execute it. And in this case, it really felt like a lot of the book was wasted on scenes that didn't quite move the narrative forward. And while I'm sure that it still contributed to the elements that would come into play later in the story, I'm not sure if we needed to see everything in as much detail as we did here.

That is not to say that things weren't still a lot of fun. It just takes the book a bit longer than I had expected to really get into the feel of things. Once can only endure so much of the planning stage of a caper after all. It's only when things start actually happening that it all becomes interesting - after all, no plan ever survives contact with the enemy. And thus the fun of such stories is more around how the characters get into trouble and how they eventually improvise a way out.

The novel certainly had some strong characters - and I'm not just referring to the big characters like Han, Chewie and Lando. He created a good mix of seemingly petty criminals for this role and found a way to slip in other characters who become a lot more important further along the Expanded Universe timeline. And how things come together were satisfying enough, but not exceptionally so.

I hate how vague this review is sounding, but I guess there's really just a larger part of me that doesn't want to spoil things. And naturally many of the more interesting parts of the book are the ones that involve somewhat key reveals. And in this case, a lot of the key story elements are to be found much further into the novel, hence my complication here.

Still Star Wars: Scoundrels felt like a nice new twist for Timothy Zahn's contributions to the Star Wars universe and an interesting story added to the so many other stories out there. Smugglers and thieves actually play a rather big role in the Star Wars universe and it was nice to get a book more focused on their world. Thus the novel rates a good 3.5 added elements to the crew's main goal of getting into the vault out of a possible 5.

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