While The Paradise Snare gives us some much-needed set up for Han’s ultimate journey, it’s in The Hutt Gambit that a more recognizable scoundrel comes to the forefront. For those who were worried (no one was worried, I know), Han doesn’t last long in the Imperial Navy. He is discharged after saving the life of a Wookiee who is almost murdered by slavers. Don’t forget, there’s that disturbing “human purity” angle to the Empire that no one ever talks about.
Looks like Dewlanna never taught him about those pesky Wookiee life debts, though, because now Han is stuck with Chewbacca. Forever.
Everything about this is perfect.
It occurs to me that this is a way in which Han and Boba Fett are almost exactly alike—they both claim to do things only for selfish reasons, but they’re both secretly stuffed with marshmallow fluff. We saw the exact same kind of personal insistence out of Fett in the Bounty Hunter Wars Trilogy. Here, Han is adamant that the reason he saves Chewie is to “pay back” Dewlanna for saving his life. Uh-huh. Sure thing, Han. Just like you came back to save Luke while he was trying to blow up the Death Star because you “weren’t gonna let him take all the credit and have all the reward.” Of course, one of the primary ways that Solo and Fett diverge as characters is that Fett never stops insisting, while Han eventually just gives up and admits that he’s not this hard, cold criminal who doesn’t love anybody, not even cuddly Wookiees.
I should not talk about Fett right now, though. He comes in later.
So Han wants to get a real job (read: a job that pays him lots of money) and starts hanging out with an old classmate from the Imperial Academy who has become a smuggler: Mako Spince. He starts gaining his reputation as a galaxy-class pilot and tries to get in with the big guns, specifically Jabba. There are rivalries and feuds between the Hutt clans, because that’s what Hutts do when they decide that they’re not getting enough diamond-caked cocoa space frogs for their spice lots. This is sort of important because intrigue!
Han hangs out on Nar Shaddaa for a while, gambling and drinking and making best bed-friends with this illusionist named Xaverri. She has this very Zatanna vibe to me, probably because she has a soft spot for not-so-squeaky guys. He and Chewie get involved in her act for kicks before she eventually realizes that having him around makes her all squishy (the marshmallow fluff is contagious), and hurts her ability to scam Imperial officers during her tours. She leaves the boys, who head back to smuggling.
Solo has bigger problems, though. The guys from Ylesia are still really angry that he blew up their spice refineries, and they sic Boba Fett on him. Fett has a clever ploy this time around; Han has something of a reputation, so the bounty hunter injects him with this toxin that makes Han do whatever he says. The fact that this exists in the Star Wars galaxy should give us all pause. This is really screwy. Imagine the many horrendous ways this toxin could be employed that have absolutely nothing to do with capture and delivery. Or even capture and delivery of a different sort. It’s practically relieving that the only person using it here is Fett—at least there’s an honor system at work.
Everything is looking bleak for Han, but luckily, someone else wants his expertise. Lando isn’t a fan of bounty hunters and really needs Han for his piloting skills in a bad way. So he manages to sneak up on Fett, inject him with his own scary medicine, then tells him to fly far, far away. I would put this on the list of “Top Ten Ways to Make Sure Boba Fett Spends His Life Trying to Ruin Yours.” In fact, with this knowledge, watching Fett swagger around Cloud City in Empire Strikes Back is sort of brilliant. He’s got his two least favorite people under his thumb, and neither of them are capable of doing a damn thing about it because of the mean Sith Lord rolling through the halls. Worse, the alliance between Han and Lando that lost Fett this first bounty has completely deteriorated due to Lando’s betrayal. It’s a Kaminoan Christmas for Boba.
But that comes later. First, Lando tells Han that he can pick a ship from a gambler’s used lot in exchange for teaching him how to fly. It’s adorable. Lando takes the best ship for himself, though—Han’s beloved Falcon. This is the ship Lando uses for his lessons. Han gets a crappy old freighter that he names Bria. Ugh, Han, stop. No naming ships after old girlfriends. The Emo-Romeo Setting doesn’t suit you. (It’s weird to think about how the age gap between Han and Leia is about a decade, but not when you see him like this. Leia would have brunched on this undercooked version of Han, and she’s only about fourteen during the events of this book. Get out of your mid-twenties, Solo.)
So we get to the Big Plot part of the book, which involves some Hutt warring and eventually awfulness due to the Empire getting involved in business. To start, Aruk the Hutt is assassinated via stealthy slow poison. This puts Jabba and Jiliac in a place of power, or it would if continued Rebel activity hadn’t convinced Palpatine that he needed to put his foot down. For some reason, the Empire decides that the lawless Hutt sector is really to blame for all the Rebels getting their way, and makes plans to attack them. The Hutts are understandably concerned, and ask Han to go talk to their Moff and their admiral and bribe one of them out of the battle. The logic is that Han knows Imperial stuff on account of being trained as one.
Han’s meetings go badly—he only manages to get the battle plans from the admiral in exchange for a lot of gems, and it doesn’t guarantee the smugglers and Hutts a victory. In addition, he finds that the ex-so-special-he-named-a-ship-after-her, Bria, is mistress to the main Moff in charge of the strike. Bria’s actually working as a spy for the Corellian Resistance, but it’s not like she can tell Han that; it’s important for this to lead to at least a few years of anguished brooding on his part.
Oddly, even after handing over the strike plans to give Han and Co. a fighting chance, the bribed admiral is later called by an unknown source and instructed to throw the battle. He does as he’s told, and the smugglers win the Battle of Nar Shaddaa. Go Han! Go smugglers! Go rebel sympathizers! That Moff that Bria was spying on is toast, we presume.
These several years of Han’s life have played out in a telling manner. He seems attracted to people who hate the Empire. He’s always fighting with underdogs. He falls in with criminals because they are most praising of his abilities. Doesn’t sound like a really bad guy, does it? The makings are all there for Han to become a Rebel Alliance General. He just needs better friends. A solid push in the right direction. He’s about to get the preemptive one, but that’s in the next book. In the meantime, his ship has been irreparably damaged in the battle, so Lando does what any good friend would do—he advises Han to enter a big sabacc tournament that he’s headed to on Cloud City. Han figures he might win enough credits to get a new ship and gamely follows.
Oh, Lando. You’re going to be ever so sorry you suggested that.