The Paradise Snare, The Hutt Gambit, and Rebel Dawn together make up the Young Han Solo Trilogy, spanning Han's escape from indentured servitude at around age 19, through his on-the-fly training as a smuggler, and leading right up to the day he walks into Chalmun's Cantina on Tatooine and meets an old man in weather-worn robes and a callow lad in moisture-farmer garb.
Book One, The Paradise Snare, kicks off with the teenage Han bidding farewell to his Dickensian, begging-and-petty thievery childhood, stowing away on a cargo ship, and setting off for the first of his early adventures. Surviving a harrowing landing in the cargo vessel, he blusters his way into a job as a pilot on the Hutt-controlled world of Ylesia. His only thought is to last-out his initial contract, keep his head down, collect his pay, and then pursue his goal of applying to the Imperial Academy to become a starship officer. Unfortunately, Han has more of a conscience than he would like to admit, and Ylesia is a planet rife with distracting complications. Chief among these is Bria Tharen, a young Corellian woman, lured to Ylesia as a religious pilgrim, and now caught in the grip of addiction and slavery. Book One then becomes the tale of Han and Bria's efforts to flee Ylesia, and Han's continued quest to be accepted into training to serve as a Naval Pilot.
Skipping over Han's Imperial Academy years (a gap reportedly dictated by Uncle George himself), Book Two, The Hutt Gambit, picks up 3 years or so after the end of The Paradise Snare. Han…with his new, life-debted companion Chewbacca in tow (the actual events leading to this are also left vague, again, supposedly per Mr. Lucas' directive)…is a bit at sixes and sevens over what to do with his life. Evading bounty hunters put on their trail by the still-irate Ylesian leaders, Han and Chewbacca begin their sojourn on Nar Shaddaa, the Hutt smuggler's moon, and thus come into the employ of Hutt crime lord Jiliac…and his scheming nephew Jabba. It is in this phase of his career that Han has introduced to him many of the important components and players that will come to define him: Lando Calrissian, Boba Fett, and his first true love…The Millenium Falcon. As Nar Shaddaa and the planet around which it orbits, the adopted Hutt homeworld of Nal Hutta, become threatened by the manipulations of Emperor Palpatine, The Hutt Gambit also shows where Han honed the battle leadership skills that he would come to need so acutely in his eventual service to The Rebellion.
Book Three, Rebel Dawn, shows us the last couple of years leading up to Han's fateful first encounter with Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker. As the book starts off, Han is on Bespin engaged in a high-stakes Sabacc tournament. Yes, this is the famous event that gives Han the keys to the "fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy". With their own ship, and with the modifications they make on the Millenium Falcon, Han and Chewbacca really come into their own as smugglers. Rebel Dawn takes a couple of odd little time-outs to allow for the previously written Han Solo Trilogy by Brian Daley. (Han's escapades in the Corporate Sector). Surrounding these breaks in the action, Bria Tharen comes back into Han's life. Once a Ylesian slave, Bria has converted her anger at her impotence in the face of her subjugation into action, and is now an aggressive leader in the Rebellion against the Empire. Bria comes to Nar Shaddaa to enlist Han's aid in a once-and-for-all attack on her former prison, Ylesia. The pitch she makes to him is that she will benefit by freeing the enslaved pilgrims, adding their much-needed numbers to the rolls of freedom-fighters, and Han and his smuggler pals will benefit by taking a large cut of any of the drugs and riches cached on the planet. Things, of course, are not that simple, and Han and his cronies, and Bria and her Rebel troops get caught in the middle in an escalating turf war between powerful Hutt factions. And everything leads inexorably to one more trip to smuggle Spice for Jabba, an Imperial boarding party, and the simple passenger run to Alderaan to extricate from that debt…
Well, the Young Han Solo Trilogy is not a bad day at the office, but it's not the most polished work either. Where some of the late in the timeline…late in the publishing timeline, not the saga timeline…Expanded Universe authors contort themselves a bit to align perceived continuity problems, A.C. Crispin practically bends herself into a pretzel (or whatever the Star Wars equivalent to that food delicacy might be) to accommodate all of the existing Han Solo lore. Some of this apologia and explanation works, and some of it is jarringly silly. There are nice touches in Han's introduction to Lando, Fett, the Falcon, Jabba, and some of the other, more minor dramatis personae in his past. And the early scenes in Book Two between Han and Chewie are quite fun. Enough of the back-story is so blatantly expository, however, that the overall effect, especially in Book Three with Crispin's attempts to give meaning to Lando's line in The Empire Strikes Back "You've got a lot of guts coming here…after what you pulled" is of story elements being shoe-horned into an ill-fitting mold. At best, these moments are plot-distancing winks at the reader; at worst, they add themselves to the list of EU timeline discrepancies.
The Young Han Solo trilogy has another glaring problem. Intended heroine Bria Tharen is a woefully inconsistently drawn character, and her multiple changes of heart are poorly motivated and conveyed. Her character's strength never grows as much as Crispin gives her credit for either, hence Bria's level of command, other players' reactions to her supposed authority, and Han's swaying emotions regarding Bria, all ring false in the face of a flaccid, uninteresting protagonist. Frankly, it is the sort of depiction of a female lead role more commonly perpetrated by male writers; from a female scribe it is suprising and unfortunate.
On the upside, Han Solo himself is handled well. For most of the 3-book story arc, Han does "read" right. Crispin's Han has the sound of someone who grows up to be the character that we know from the Star Wars films. And Crispin ages, or rather de-ages, him believably, too. Despite his orphaned and forcibly self-sufficient childhood, there are glimmers of youthful idealism and unguardedness still evident when first we meet Han; as these books unfold, we watch all his layers of cynicism added on in reaction to repeated betrayals and to successive proofs of the inherent indifference of the universe.
Perhaps it is cheating as a reviewer to be influenced by tidbits gleaned from interviews with author A.C. Crispin, but in those interviews, as in these books, it is clear that her understanding of the Han Solo persona only goes about 75% of the distance. The Young Han Solo Trilogy is entertaining, and when it works….Han's first sighting of the Falcon, is a prime example… it gives the EU fan an engrossing insight into the formative events in our hero Han Solo's life. The other 25% of the time, it is EU-light. Not offensive, but not illuminating or even congruous. 75%…that's like a C-plus, right? Not bad as divertissements go.
In the first of the GalaxyFarAway.com
Books Features, we have an exclusive interview with the
Black Fleet Crisis Series author, Michael