After several disappointments in the mid-1990s, I stopped reflexively reading every Star Wars Expanded Universe book that came out. I haven’t touched most of the river of Star Wars fiction that’s come out since then.
But I’ve never been let down by a Timothy Zahn novel – Star Wars or otherwise – so I thought I’d give Scoundrels a shot.
I’m glad I did.
Set between the events of Star Wars (or A New Hope, if you must) and The Empire Strikes Back, Scoundrels is Zahn’s Star Wars universe take on the classic team heist. Led by Han Solo, Chewbacca, and Lando Calrissian, Zahn’s protagonists pool their talents to break into an organized crime chief’s estate.
To say much more is to overstate the story: There are plans that work, and plans that don’t; there are double-crosses and close calls; and there are all the sorts of things that make heist movies and books just plain fun, only since it’s Star Wars, we get Wookiees and escape pods and laser barrages.
Scoundrels’ one weakness is an abundance of characters: Outside of the Original Trilogy cast members – just Han, Chewie, and Lando – I recognized a few characters from Zahn’s other books, and there are significant links to other Expanded Universe entities, most notably the Black Sun crime organization created in Shadows of the Empire. But both the heist team and the members of their various opposing forces are so many in number and role that it was easy to lose track of who they were outside of their “team role,” such as the ship thief or the cat burglar. Zahn tells such a fast-paced story, though, and switches locales and set pieces so effectively, that I never found myself flipping back or re-reading for character clarification.
Scoundrels reminded me a lot of Brian Daley’s Han Solo adventures, which I’ve loved since I was a kid. I’ve always enjoyed seeing Han and Chewie out on their own, independent of the Rebellion and its ties and complications.
Now that I think about it, maybe that’s why I found Scoundrels itself so easy to enjoy. In a Star Wars universe of fiction that now spans thousands of generations and seven distinct storytelling eras, each with its own set of epic story arcs and larger-than-life characters, Scoundrels offers a straightforward, self-contained action/adventure piece. Yes, there are references to characters and places and events in the overarching Rebels vs. Empire struggle, but for the most part, we know the principals aren’t in any real danger, and that there aren’t any direct galaxy-wide consequences at stake. It’s just a fun ride.
Disclosure: Del Rey Books provided a review copy of this book.