THE STORY: 0 ABY. Following the destruction of the Death Star Han's reward money is stolen and he once again finds himself in need of credits. The perfect opportunity arises when a man named Eanjer asks to hire him to steal a fortune from the vault of a crimelord on the planet Wukkar. To accomplish such a task Han puts together a team of thieves, con men, smugglers and tech specialists but soon finds himself caught between the crime empire Black Sun and Imperial Intelligence.
WHAT'S GOOD: Zahn is an absolute master of creating deep and complicated plots whose twists constantly keep you guessing as to what will happen next and this is an excellent example of just that. This is a book primarily driven by its main cast of scoundrels (obviously) and here they're all portrayed brilliantly, each one a master of their own particular niche of the underworld and each one having their own hopes and fears. I think this is most clear (and important) in the case of Han, who Zahn shows to be a man who has been surviving (and occasionally thriving) in the criminal underworld of the galaxy for ten years but who has a solid core of loyalty and honour.
WHAT'S BAD: I've always hated it when they've marketed Star Wars products as mash-ups ('Agent of the Empire' is Star Wars/James Bond, 'MedStar' is Star Wars/M*A*S*H etc., etc.) and it irked me that they felt the need to bill this brilliant book as 'Star Wars meets Ocean's Eleven'. I'm not saying it's not accurate, I'm simply saying that it makes this novel sound trashy. Marketing aside, there are only two major problems I had with 'Scoundrels' and the first is simply that, given the timeframe of the story, we know that Han and Chewie won't strike it rich and retire, robbing the book of some of its tension. The other issue, similarly, is the fact that this book once again features Han and Lando reconciling and working together, something we know has to change before 'Empire Strikes Back'. The constant on-off-on-off of their friendship is starting to stretch believability here.
OVERALL: Not for you if you want a sweeping epic across the stars, but a fantastic read if you want intrigue, plot twists and great characterisation.
In 1991, Timothy Zahn re-launched the Star Wars Expanded Universe with 'Heir to the Empire' and ever since a new Star Wars novel from Zahn has been something to look forward to.
As many other reviews have pointed out, Scoundrels is basically Ocean's Eleven in space. As always with Zahn, it is a plot with twists, turns and multiple layers...the final twist is particularly well done and surprising. The usual key Zahn characters are left out of this one with the focus very much on the saga favourites of Han, Chewbacca & Lando, but there are one or two guest appearances and a couple of new characters also.
The book is well written, if not a bit obvious in places, and the beauty of a Zahn book is that he gets Star Wars and it's characters better than possibly any other EU author. Particularly well written is Han Solo and his relationship with Chewbacca...it takes you back to the partnership we see in the films; Han has not been so well understood and written since Brian Daley's excellent novels back in 1979.
I'm not sure that this story fits particularly well into the Star Wars "canon" but it's a very enjoyable read and a blessed relief from the long multi-book arcs that have been seen in the EU of late.
A supposedly chance meeting results in Han Solo accepting a contract for a job outside of his usual remit; a job he and Chewbacca can’t possibly do alone. Assembling a team consisting of data analysts, explosive experts, conmen, thieves and gamblers; Solo attempts to steal one-hundred and sixty three million credits from the heavily secured and defended safe of a dangerous organised crime boss.
The plot is obviously that of a heist movie and this novel is unashamedly ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ in the Star Wars universe (Han Solo and Lando Calrissian virtually filling in for George Clooney and Brad Pitt). Most of the usual elements of a heist based plot are present but of course come with a Star Wars twist. As opposed to having to deal with the mob or the police Han’s team are pitted against agents of Black Sun and the Empire. The setting and atmosphere are somewhat gleaned from ‘Shadows of the Empire’, the novel that really establishes Black Sun. Although neither Vader nor Xizor appear in this novel their presence is felt throughout, as is their vying for power.
The idea doesn’t entirely work because a large part of what makes heist stories interesting is in how the team performing the heist/con pulls it off. When it involves technology far in advance of what exists in our real world rather than actual wit and forward planning the achievement of what they are doing is somewhat devalued and appears to lack ingenuity. A heist isn’t so impressive if a safe is opened by a magic wand or a sonic screwdriver for example.
There is obviously a lack of character development for Han, Chewie and Lando because of circumstances and setting in the Star Wars universe; between ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ and ‘A New Hope’. It is also probably not the best idea to cover the relationship between Han and Lando at this particular time. At this time their relationship cannot be allowed to develop into what it becomes so as to maintain the tension in ‘The Empire Strikes Back’.
With too large a cast really for the confines of the story, some of the other characters are a bit bland. Equally some of the good haven’t really got the space to develop. The twins are, perhaps, the most unique and add a different operational aspect to the general heist plot.
The twists are minimal and a bit predictable. The main revelation is a good one but it is easy enough to guess. A process of elimination will allow most Star Wars’ fans to work it out.
The book also includes a novella that acts as a prequel to the main novel. I’m not sure how much the novella has to do with the main story other than it features four of the same characters from ‘Scoundrels’ working together on another job. It might have more of a link but my edition is missing the last few pages so I can’t really tell. It looks like this is a publication issue so there is probably a whole batch of misprints. Be aware of this when purchasing.
This story was well written and featured a lot of intrigue. It featured action set in one place which for the length of the novel became a little tedious. This is not Zahn's best work but should be well received for its originality. There was a nice little twist at the end. Overall a fine read for the Star Wars enthusiast.
I remember reading the original Thrawn trilogy many years ago and have gone back to them several times; sadly it is very rare these days to find a Star Wars novel that matches the scope and brilliance of those books. This book is ok, and you'll probably enjoy it, but I did find myself struggling to commit to the book and get it finished.
It's a story in between episode of this beloved saga. If you love Star Wars and you are interested in adventures of Han and Chewbacca and also you like heist flicks like Ocean's Eleven (like me) this is perfect for you. Timothy Zahn balanced perfectly a heist story in Star Wars universe. Definitely worth a read.