The final book in the Han Solo trilogy begins with one of those seminal events that we all knew would be coming in this series. Much like Han had to rescue Chewbacca from slavery, he also had to win the Millennium Falcon from his friend Lando Calrissian. So we open the third book with the sabacc tournament at Cloud City, where the large tournament gradually sees just Han and Lando left, and despite a pretty good bluff, Han is able to win the game with a Pure Sabacc and claims the Falcon as his prize when Lando is forced to use a marker after running out of credits. He immediately begins to work on it, and he and his casual girlfriend Salla Zend engage in races to see who can deliver their cargo the fastest. Unfortunately, Salla comes into trouble and Han is forced to rescue her, after which her attitude towards him changes, and she starts to plan their wedding, despite the fact Han isn’t interested in settling down.
To escape, Han travels to the Corporate Sector, and is absent for a good chunk of the book while Brian Daley’s Han Solo novels take place. Instead, we catch up with Bria Tharen, who was actually present at the Cloud City tournament, using the gambling as a cover to meet with other Rebel groups to try to forge an alliance between them. En route to Nal Hutta for an audience with Jiliac and Jabba, she is nearly captured by Boba Fett, who is following a priority bounty on her head placed there by the Besadii Hutt crime family. However, Lando is able to rescue her with the help of the pirate queen Drea Renthal, who had unexpectedly pulled from hyperspace the cruise ship they were travelling on, intent on robbing the passengers.
Durga’s attempts to discover who had poisoned his parent Aruk the Hutt eventually lead him into bed with Black Sun, manoeuvred there by the Falleen Prince Xizor, who has wanted to gain a hold in Hutt Space and agrees to help Durga in exchange for a cut of the profits from Ylesia. Despite at first trying to remain independent, Durga eventually gains the proof to place a bounty on Teroenza and challenge Jiliac to single combat, during which he is eventually able to kill the Desilijic leader. Jabba, after killing Jiliac’s newborn child, is thereafter the leader of Desilijic, and agrees to bankroll Bria Tharen’s proposed offensive to destroy the spice factories on Ylesia.
Bria, after a discussion with Lando, finally reunites with Han in an effort to recruit smugglers to help with the assault, and at first Han wants nothing to do with her. However, he eventually comes round, and the two rekindle their romance from ten years before. Bria is privately convinced that Han will follow her into the resistance, while Han believes Bria will leave the rebellion and maybe they can re-locate to the Corporate Sector.
The Ylesian offensive goes off as expected, and even the arrival of Boba Fett doesn’t stop Bria and Han from clearing out Teroenza’s treasure, as the bounty hunter is only there for the high priest’s horn. Bria has received orders the rebels need every credit they can get, so she basically double-crosses the smugglers, and they take all of the spice, as well as rescuing all of the slaves. Han is left with a box of Teroenza’s treasure, and the rest of his friends having the impression that Han was in on the double-cross all along.
When Han resumes his smuggling activities for Jabba, he is almost boarded by an Imperial customs patrol, and is forced to jettison the spice he was carrying. Evading the patrol made him fly dangerously close to the Maw black hole clusters, and the way space-time was warped effectively meant he shortened his distance, making the run in just under 12 parsecs. However, Jabba is not pleased, and demands either his spice or the value in credits. When Han approaches Lando for a loan, the gambler punches him in the face and tells him to stay away after double-crossing him. Desperate, Han and Chewie take on a charter to fly two people and two droids from Mos Eisley to Alderaan…
The final book definitely packs a lot of action into its almost-400 pages. Well, the whole trilogy actually has a lot going on, but it seems my synopsis of this one is so much longer than I had done for either of the others! I talked about this before, of course, but the story of Han’s earlier life had been doled out piecemeal for a number of years, through a variety of media, and the trilogy was always, to some extent, going to have that element of ticking off the boxes of things we know had to happen. Han had to win the Falcon from Lando, and it’s nice that we get to have a bit of the rules of sabacc explained along the way. I think it was this trilogy and the Jedi Academy trilogy that gave us our basic rules, with the West End Games supplement Crisis on Cloud City actually coming with a sabacc mini-game (complete with cards!) – I should probably talk about that book at some point, because it’s really pretty good!
We also have to explain why Han is so frosty towards both Leia and the Rebels, so we get Bria Tharen and her double-cross. Bria actually dies towards the end of the book, as her Red Hand Squadron beam the plans to the Death Star from an Imperial comms station to a blockade runner waiting in orbit, which of course was reworked for the movie Rogue One. But it’s nice to see the end of her story, as well. Yes, of course, she is a huge Mary Sue character, with sometimes awfully cliché descriptions (“exquisite bone structure” and “lovely mouth” always make me chuckle). But when you take it at face value, and try not to analyse the story too much, it’s actually a neat little parcel that Crispin delivers here.
Furthermore, we also get to learn what Chewie meant when Han was forced to stop over at Cloud City for repairs. The double-cross was perhaps not strong enough, in my view, as the way Lando had been written up to this point, being best buddies with Han and all, I think he would have actually listened to Han’s side of the story. I feel like something more should have happened to Lando. Han should have left him high and dry or something, it doesn’t feel like it was enough, somehow. And finally, of course, how did the Millennium Falcon make the Kessel Run in under 12 parsecs, when a parsec is a unit of measurement, and not a unit of time? Well, it might not be the best explanation, but it’ll do!
The ending did feel a tiny bit rushed, somehow. It’s where that Run takes place, and I think there was perhaps a need to wrap everything up neatly that overrode things here. The way Han talks about it, it sounds like it should be a famous feat in the Outer Rim, but he made that Run at most a couple of days before he starts to boast, which doesn’t seem right really, but I suppose I’m just nitpicking on that point.
The problem, I suppose, is that the ending is a little bit too neat, for a trilogy that has, overall, been a little too neat as well. On reflection, Han’s life up until the time he sits down in that cantina booth has been pretty smooth sailing, and fairly uncomplicated. Whether that’s a stylistic choice or just bad writing, who knows. However, there is a part of me that thinks he had it a bit too easy, just walking into a life with the smugglers on Nar Shaddaa and becoming one of the gang, and more, very easily and very quickly. There’s very little in the way of working his way up to any kind of notoriety, which I think would perhaps have worked if he’s made that Kessel Run in the middle book.
Rebel Dawn is perhaps most notable for the fact that Han disappears from his own trilogy for about a third of the story, due to the fact Crispin had to incorporate the earlier Brian Daley novels. These novels came out in 1979/80 and are very much just throwaway adventures that were written just to give Star Wars fans more of their favourite stuff, similar to the (dreadful) Lando Calrissian Adventures. With Luke, Leia, Vader and co all off-limits, Han and (especially) Lando were easy fodder for more stories set before the movies, so we have these weird and wonderful sci-fi stories about their escapades. In order to try to pull as many threads from across the old EU as possible, Crispin therefore had to plot her story so that Han disappears, but isn’t entirely absent. There are some Interludes which almost act as a postlude to each book in the Daley trilogy, and this decision is pretty divisive among fans. Some folks hate the book for it, but others like me actually appreciate the fact that it all works out pretty smoothly. The reason for Han’s departure is sound, after all, and I think it works better than ending the Hutt Gambit with a sort of “I’m off to do Corporate Sector stuff!” scene, then beginning Rebel Dawn with his glorious return. It also helps to tie in with the Salla Zend that we know from Dark Empire.
The book also gives us more Hutt action than perhaps any other expanded universe story, and I love it for that. We get to follow the machinations of Jabba, Jiliac and Durga, and we learn a lot about Hutt society and business as a result. These parts of the story are almost more interesting than the rest, I have to say! I love the Fringe in Star Wars, so I suppose it was inevitably going to be among my favourite parts of the story.
All in all, the trilogy is enjoyable. It fits in with the fact that Star Wars is a space fantasy / fairy tale, and the life of Han Solo being as convenient as it is, it still makes for a fun read. Sure, there’s a part of me that wished some things could have been tweaked to make it seem a touch more believable, but I suppose that’s not the point. We want to see Han Solo the dashing rogue, the space pirate who makes the right call and so on. We need tales of derring-do and so on, and this – like most of the other Bantam novels – hits the mark.
Ylesia makes a return appearance later on in the New Jedi Order, in a short story to do with the Peace Brigade that I’ve never actually read, so I’m looking forward to my eventual re-read of that series so I can actually see what goes on there. In the meantime, I’m planning to sprinkle a few more of these Bantam classics into my reading schedule, I think I’m going to move on to Shadows of the Empire next…