One of the reasons that George Lucas’ films are so engaging is that he followed the serialization template from the movies he saw as a child. Back in the olden days…going to the movies on a Saturday afternoon meant seeing a newsreel, a cartoon, a preview or two, the main feature, and also a short adventure-type “serial” that picked up where it left off from the previous week, resolved its dilemma, and introduced a new one. Think Flash Gordon. When Lucas introduced characters in Star Wars or Indiana Jones, there was always backstory involved, but rather than flesh it out and slow down the story, he’d simply refer to it, or even drop the audience into the middle of an adventure and leave the viewer to sort it out. Movie magic.
His greatest feat along that line is the introduction of Lando Calrissian in Empire Strikes Back. Han Solo decides to turn to this guy for refuge from the Empire, but he doesn’t really trust him. Their first on-screen meeting almost comes with a punch? And the most iconic spaceship in the cinematic world once belonged to Lando? These guys have some kind of warped past, we think. As of yet, we haven’t had a chance to learn about that past, though our chance will soon be here. But never fear! Star Wars—Last Shot: A Han and Lando Novel by Daniel Jose Older is here to fill in some gaps so that you aren’t swinging by a rotting vine in the middle of your own adventure during Solo: A Star Wars Story.
As the book begins, Han has been a bad boy, as has Lando. But they were naughty independent of the other. It seems that each of them had either tried to steal or ran into a device referred to as the Phylanx Redux Transmitter. Neither were successful in acquiring it, but now a demented villain is trying to locate it and thinks that Lando can help. As they try to avoid Fyzen Gor and his twisted sense of personal dogma, Han and Lando come back together for a journey that could bring about their end during the best times of their lives or result in saving the known Galaxy Far, Far Away. Again.
Taking place after the Battle of Jakku from the Aftermath series, Han is doing better at being a father, but still doubts his place. Lando has found love(?) but is afraid he’s going to ruin it because, well…because he’s Lando. Older doesn’t waste time getting into the peril of the story, and quickly, Lando and Han are back together.
The most difficult part of any non-film Star Wars novel, I believe, is meeting and remembering new names and places. I suppose this is true of any sci-fi novel, and it is no different for Last Shot. I struggled with orienting myself to all the character names, ship names, planet names and then species names. Often I found myself pulling up Google searches of the character species just to be able to understand what alien I was supposed to be imagining in my mind’s eye. Hey, it works.
I was further frustrated with the Older’s decision to have the story jump back ten years to follow a younger Han, then return to the now. Then jump back fifteen years to a younger Lando, then back to the present. Each return to the present could land in any one of three or four timelines, so make sure to pay attention or you might find yourself lost in the chronology.
The jumps to the past do not include one thing: Han and Lando adventures. Yes, Han is on an adventure ten years in the past (with a certain Sana Starros) and Lando is on a separate adventure fifteen years before (with his trusty droid companion L3-37, referred to in “her’ more familiar droid nickname as L-3), but it would seem that Lucasfilm has directed Older to avoid all Young Han/Young Lando entanglements, saving those instead for the rumored three-film movie deal that Alden Ehrenreich has signed. The two scoundrels spend plenty of time together in the present, and those interludes cement in this reader’s minds that they are indeed old friends, who, though employing deceit to reach their goals, are loyally devoted to the other.
As for Han, I’m beginning to tire of the “am I a scoundrel or a husband” debate that seems to drive his character lately. Yes, we know he and Leia get together and have a child. Yes, we know that by the events of The Force Awakens that he and Leia have separated. But as a father and husband myself, I never found myself wandering around the house doubting my domestic purpose in favor of a more exciting life whenever I’m alone with my thoughts. Even though Solo is one of the greatest rogue heroes of all time, I still don’t buy that his mental process goes back to self-doubt every time he has a moment to himself. If anything, I’d think he’d be cocky enough to submit his own name each year in the Father of the Galaxy contest. Is it okay if future novels involving him stay away from that “who am I?” trope? I may be holding out false hope—I’m sure we’re going to get a novel someday soon that details his break up with Leia which will probably be full of self-loathing and doubt. Actually, now that I think about it, maybe that is where Ben/Kylo Ren gets his emo tendencies. He certainly didn’t get them from his mother.
I’d highly recommend picking the book up before the May 25, 2018 Solo premiere. While I’m certain that the film will be highly satisfying in and of itself, Older has given two characters some depth that may add to your viewing pleasure: L3-37 and Sana Starros. L-3 is Lando’s partner in crime during his flashbacks in the book and is surprisingly well-adjusted for a droid. Funny, devoted, capable and very self-aware, “she” was the character I was most interested in following in the novel. I’m certain that will hold true in the Solo.
Pure popcorn reading at its best, the novel challenges readers to pay attention, but in the end delivers a fun story that cements a friendship, engages readers and gleefully adds to the Galactic lore that will reward those readers for decades to come.