It was so disheartening to hear of A.C. Crispin’s passing last week. She was a veritable queen of tie-in fiction, and offered so much to genre community. She was also (in the brief interactions I had with her), a lovely human being.
In her honor, I’d like to spend the next few weeks taking a look at the Han Solo Trilogy. They were a pretty spectacular set of Star Wars books, and gave everyone a glimpse into a character we’d been waiting for background on since forever—our favorite scruffy-looking nerf herder. And it all begins with a familiar sort of scheme, and a really clever title. (The Paradise Snare might very well be my favorite name for a Star Wars book ever, come to think of it.)
We find out that Han wandered the streets of Corellia as a youngster with no memory of his family, or where he came from. Then he gets picked up by a man named Garris Shrike who’s running a Fagan-type scheme with a bunch of young orphans; he has the kids steal on his behalf and gives them shelter aboard his ship. So he’s pretty much a bastard.
The cook on his ship is a female Wookiee named Dewlanna, which is the reason Han knows Shyriiwook (that’s their language). She basically mothers Han, and he adores her. At one point she even gets Shrike drunk enough to get him to admit he knows Han’s last name—which is the only reason Han ever finds out he’s a Solo. He later goes to meet his relatives on Corellia out of curiosity, which brings us into our first encounter with his charming cousin Thracken Sal-Solo. (You can hear the sarcasm, right? My disdainful sarcasm? For that lovable man?) We don’t know about Han’s parents, but this side of his family proves well that he doesn’t belong there either.
By the time Han is nineteen, he’s ready to run away—it’s amazing he hasn’t already, really. We can only assume that it’s his big ol’ heart getting in the way, preventing him from leaving the only people in his life who’ve ever meant anything to him at all, even if it means he’s under Shrike’s thumb. His escape costs Dewlanna her life, but she’s happy that he has a chance at his own. It’s awful and poignant, and explains exactly why he prefers having Wookiees as friends, and why it’s so difficult for Han to recognize when he stumbles across good things in his life: his youth was full of so much pain.
Han ends up on a planet called Ylesia where he gains employment as a pilot. Nothing’s quite so simple, of course—the planet is question is being used by Hutts as a spice refinement facility, and the workers are all basically slaves. The native species gives all the religious pilgrims who journey to the planet a daily fix of some strange alien hormones, and they stay and work willingly, never realizing that they are being manipulated. Han is prevented from escaping his post by being assigned a “bodyguard” named Muuurgh. Han saves the guy’s life when they’re attacked by pirates anyway because Han, despite the cold-blooded out-for-number-one cutthroat he wishes he was, is really just full of warmth and honor and things that do not a good mercenary make.
And then he goes and falls in love. Oh, Han.
The woman is named Bria Tharen, one of the slaves unwittingly held captive on Ylesia, a pilgrim from Han’s home planet of Corellia. When he breaks the news to her about her brainwashed status, she doesn’t want to believe, but she eventually gets all the proof she requires. They get Muuurgh on their side by proving to him that his people are corrupt and holding his mate hostage. Then they make a great escape involving some stolen antiquities (which leads to a perfect Indiana Jones reference later in the book) and some great big explosions and leave the largest spice refinery in teeny tiny pieces.
Han returns to Corellia with Bria to see her family, and surprise—she’s loaded. Poor Han seems to have a thing for those affluent, dark-haired, devoted-to-causes types. Bria’s mother and brother are less than impressed with her choice in men, though her father is a-okay with him. Then someone recognizes Han from an old pod-racing alias he used, and Bria’s mother is even less impressed. It doesn’t change the lovebirds’ plans to sell the antiques they liberated and go to Coruscant so Han can apply to the Imperial Academy. Once they get there Bria—who’s still fighting her addiction to those nasty Ylesian alien hormones—decides that she’s holding Han back and leaves him. The broken-hearted teen applies to the Imperial Academy and makes it all the way through his training—only to be ambushed by Garris Shrike on his graduation night.
Luckily, a bounty hunter after Han kills Shrike before he can get revenge, but Han realizes that safety, for him, will always be in short supply.
There’s a lot of pain in the Star Wars galaxy that we’re encouraged to ignore because the primary arc of the films is simply good triumphing over evil. But Han Solo is a testament to everything wrong with this place: his abusive childhood, his escape into practical servitude, his constant loss of those he loves. We learn quickly why Han is such an unbearable brag about his piloting skills—it’s literally one of the only things that has kept him alive. Ann Crispin does a beautiful job of painting the Han Solo we love with fewer years on him; it hurts to see just how optimistic he is about his chances, long before cynicism and experience have taught him better. In spite all of that, we can see that he’s just a bit too noble to truly fit into the underworld—it’s clearly half the reason for his misguided entrance to the Imperial Navy.
But this is just the beginning for Han. After all, you’re waiting on Chewie! Lando! The Millennium Falcon! Don’t worry, they’re coming. Along with a whole lotta trouble.
Admit it, you’re only here for the trouble.
Emily Asher-Perrin's primary reaction to this book whenever it's brought up is just to shout Dewlanna's name, then sit in the corner and sob. You can bug her on Twitter and read more of her work here and elsewhere.