“Star Wars meets Ocean’s Eleven” is the quick pitch for Star Wars: Scoundrels, but that sells the book short by a few parsecs. With Han, Luke and Leia on their way out in the Expanded Universe, quite a few novels have chosen to go back in time and flesh out the pieces that we missed. Naturally, that three year gap between A New Hope and Empire is the perfect ground for these sorts of adventures.
So Han Solo isn’t quite a Rebel yet—he’s trying to clear that bounty on his head, and the perfect job falls right in his lap. But Han’s a smuggler, not a con man; it would seem that a team of special experts are required to pull off one of the biggest heists in galactic history.
The group assembled are a fun gang who have far more heart between them than they should in their respective lines of work. Also making them a great deal shinier than Danny Ocean’s team is the fact that they have a nice quotient of women on board. Count on the author who invented Mara Jade to create interesting female characters and have them pass the Bechdel Test in the midst of the ultimate con.
And the heist itself should be the normal sort that you’d expect from this sort of yarn. Except we’re in a galaxy far, far away, so now said heist involves police droids and moving stone safes and escape pods. So it’s just like a normal heist only much, much better.
This book could easily be enjoyed by the casual reader, but for fans of the Expanded Universe novels, there’s so much more for you to gnaw on. You’ll see familiar faces that you weren’t expecting, recognize callbacks to Han’s past (like his mistake in helping Bria Tharen and the Red Hand Squadron), and have fun watching the Black Sun operating in places where Prince Xizor’s keen eyes aren’t fixed. Your average fan won’t think too hard when one of the team points out that a building is laid out like an “aurek,” but for those of us who know it’s the Star Wars alphabet’s letter “A,” it’s another lovely layer on a very tall cake.
For those of you who are only in it for the original scoundrels, rest assured, Han and Lando are the heart of the book. Or rather, their confusing friendship is at the heart of the book. Or rather, Han being concerned that their friendship isn’t really a friendship anymore is at the heart of the book. Their trust issues would be sort of endearing if they didn’t come from very real places.
The story also, without hammering it home, makes a case for why Han’s time as a smuggler is about to come to an end. It’s not about losing his nerve, or getting into one too many close scrapes. It’s just that Han Solo is honestly too good of a guy. He cares too much about people, as we see over and over while he works to keep his team above water. Bad qualities for any kind of mercenary. The way his thoughts keep coming back to that Princess he just met sets the stage for everything that happens in Empire and beyond.
And then there’s a twist at the end. I can’t spoil it for you. I won’t. But I’m fighting hard against my impulse to smash the keyboard with my hands to effectively demonstrate precisely how elated I was. I closed the book cackling, set it down and then jumped up and down in my living room for a while. If you’re the sort of fan I am—this ending was written for you. Enjoy it. Then go back and read the book again.
Emily Asher-Perrin just wants you to know that really, though. The ending. She has remarkable self-control, being able to keep it from you. You can bug her on Twitter and read more of her work here and elsewhere.