Following on from the first book in the Han Solo trilogy, we meet up with Han a few years after the events of the last book, where he has been drummed out of Imperial service for his rescue of the Wookiee Chewbacca. Down on his luck, and morose thanks to the fact Chewie is now following him around due to the Life Debt the Wookiee has sworn, Han begins to fall into the life of a smuggler. He reluctantly agrees to having Chewie as a co-pilot and gunner, and the two make for Hutt Space, and the smugglers’ moon of Nar Shaddaa. There, Han meets up with a former Academy colleague Mako Spince, and he gets to meet all of the key players in the smuggler’s life.
Han eventually starts working for the Desilijic kajidic, and its bosses, Jiliac and Jabba. However, Teroenza has not forgotten the grievous blow Han had dealt him when he and Bria escaped Ylesia, and has placed a bounty on the young smuggler’s head. After a series of unsuccessful attempts to claim it, in steps Boba Fett, who almost succeeds until Lando Calrissian is able to intervene, as he wants Han to teach him to pilot his new ship, the Millennium Falcon. Aruk, the Hutt overlord of the Besadii kajidic and Teroenza’s boss, cancels the live bounty on Han, prompting Teroenza to enter into an agreement with Jiliac to help them poison Aruk and weaken Besadii.
Just when Han is beginning to adjust into his new life as a smuggler, the sector Moff, Sarn Shild, proclaims the Empire intends to crack down on smuggling out of Hutt Space, and he specifically targets Nar Shaddaa for “base delta zero”, leaving nothing alive on the moon. Han and his cohorts determine to do all they can to fight back, backed to an extent by the Hutts themselves, who wish to preserve their criminal enterprises, so Han is sent to parlay with Shild. When he meets with the Moff, however, he discovers that Bria Tharen there, seemingly as Shild’s mistress. In truth, Bria has been able to kick her addiction to the t’landa Til ‘exhultation’ and has joined the Rebellion, mainly in an effort to free slaves. Her current assignment couldn’t have landed at a worse time.
The smugglers aren’t able to buy off Sarn Shild, but they do buy the Imperial battle plan from Admiral Greelanx, who is leading the attack. Greelanx is about to retire anyway, so takes the Hutt bribe, only to receive mysterious orders from the highest levels of Intelligence to suffer a defeat anyway. The battle goes well for the smugglers, and the Empire is driven off, not before Greelanx is visited by Darth Vader himself for retribution.
Much like the first book, I really enjoyed this one! Back when I was a teenager reading these things, I think books two and three of this trilogy, taken together, were in my top five all-time favourite Star Wars books. They are a tiny bit dated now, of course, and the plotline is perhaps somewhere more in the realms of junior/YA fiction than anything else – I mean, a lot of things go very right for Han, and sometimes I’m left thinking, where is the conflict? Seems like the life of a smuggler, out on the lawless Rim, is highly romanticised and just one long yarn. Of course, I talked last time about Star Wars on the whole not being all about the grim and gritty ultra-hard sci-fi that it has on occasion tried to become since, but even so. A lot of the plot of this book is very convenient, once again.
But I think this is perhaps down to the fact that Crispin is trying to weave her story around a lot of accepted facts about the Han Solo backstory, as they were understood back in 1997. Dark Empire and The Crystal Star had already been published, so any storyline about Han has got to reference the fact that he lived on Nar Shaddaa, he dated Salla Zend, he dated Xaverri, he hung out with Roa, and so on. The fact that the story is able to tick off all of these points, and still be pretty interesting and cohesive, is actually really nice, I think. When the EU became Legends, a lot was made of the fact that stories didn’t necessarily line up, but that was principally a problem for things set in the immediate are of the original trilogy. Books like The Hutt Gambit show how much care was taken years before the Story Group was established, to ensure the timeline remained sensible and coherent.
One of the things that I do dislike about the now-Legends stuff in general, though, is just how much is made of the fact that Boba Fett and Han have some kind of major enmity between them, which seems to have spouted from the fact that Vader told Fett not to kill Han in episode five. We have a ton of stuff that eventually seemed quite embarrassing, because for all that Fett was made out to be a feared bounty hunter, the fact that the overarching story dictated he could never capture Han, despite all this history between them, made him into a bit of a joke really. Here, an effort is made to explain that Han and Lando basically embarrassed Fett by drugging him and sending him far away from Nar Shaddaa, and then Jabba basically pays Fett to not hunt Solo because he’s too good for business. It’s not the greatest of explanations, but I suppose it’ll do…
But that is really a criticism of the larger EU at this point, I suppose!
All in all, the book is a lot of fun. We have tie-ins to all the other smuggler stuff like The New Rebellion and Dark Empire, we get to follow Han as he begins to make a name for himself in the underworld, and we get a look into the Hutt cartels and how they all work together. Much like the last one – indeed, much like a lot of the Bantam-era novels – it’s at its most enjoyable when you just sit back and enjoy the ride.