Though Tales from Jabba’s Palace was published next in this lineup of short story anthologies, going chronologically according to the films is more fun. (There’s also a lot of overlap in timeline here for reasons Han Solo can attest to, since everything is about him at the end of the day. No, really. Everything.) Fact is, there aren’t that many background characters in The Empire Strikes Back to latch onto. There are some rebel pilots (half of whom die) and random denizens of Cloud City? They live on a city in the clouds—who honestly needs to know about what they do all day?
But those bounty hunters… they might be worth a second look.
(Note: when talking about droids I will use gendered pronouns because according to various Star Wars reference books, droids have binary gendered programming. Yes, this is very silly.)
There are six bounty hunters assembled on the Executor to get the beat on Solo following the Battle of Hoth. That’s five stories since two of the hunters are working as a team. This odd group demands a second thought if only because Vader’s choice to draw them in seems a bit outrageous in the first place—we know stormtroopers are a waste of space, but are you really telling us that the Galactic Empire has no spies? Retrieval Units? Shady operatives who do things that rank as cruel and unusual even on the Imperial scale?
So that’s six bounty hunters. Two are droids, one is a Gorn knockoff, one looks like The Fly in a fly-shaped suit, one is inexplicably wrapped up in toilet paper, and the other turned out to be the cloned son of another bounty hunter from a few decades prior. And these, ladies and gents and otherwise, are apparently the best the galaxy has to offer.
Yeah, that’s a lie. It’s really just Boba Fett. You knew that when you watched the movie because Vader has to personally reprimand him for disintegrating someone in the past. No one else got a warning. Fett is the teacher’s pet.
So we begin with IG-88’s tale, “Therefore I Am.” IG is an assassin droid, and the title of his story harkens back to a very well known quote from René Descartes (who probably lived on Alderaan or something), so we can see that he’s a reflective sort. IG-88 grows beyond his Imperial programming and decides that he wants to take over the galaxy, so he makes a bunch of copies of himself, and they work together to make that happen. Except each version of IG-88 wanders off on occasion to do other things that don’t really further this “galaxy grab” agenda. Such as deciding to go after Han Solo’s bounty. Well, he was designed to be an Imperial assassin; maybe that’s why Vader calls him in despite the ‘dismantle on sight’ order on the droid?
It’s a very odd story. One that ends with the copies all destroyed and IG-88A hooking himself into the Death Star II mainframe with visions of galactic domination right before he gets exploded by Rebels. Okay, that part’s hilarious.
Next up is Dengar! In “everyone in the universe has a beef with Han Solo” fashion, we find out that the reason why Dengar is perpetually wrapped in toilet paper has to do with a swoop race accident Han caused a long while back. Dengar holds a grudge. It gives him a pretty good reason to start hanging out on a Star Destroyer bridge with a Dark Lord of the Sith even though he’s wanted by the Empire. Right, that’s the other thing, Dengar was working for a Rebellion for a bit on a friend’s recommendation. Then he switched sides to find Solo again, which makes more sense since he had been programmed as, you guessed it, an assassin by the Empire when he was a young man. At the end of the day, Dengar’s story is wrapped up in his desire to kill Han (a somewhat parallel journey he doesn’t realize he’s sharing with Mara Jade, who’s looking for Luke), and the unlikely discovery of love and friendship in place of vengeance.
By which I mean, he ends up with an Aruzan woman named Manaroo, and after being betrayed and screwed over by Boba Fett multiple times, invites the guy to be best man at his wedding. This all gets more fleshed out in the Bounty Hunter Wars Trilogy, where we get more details on how Dengar and Manaroo helped Fett convalesce after escaping the Sarlaac Pit. I have no idea why this is weirdly awesome; it just is.
Which brings us to Bossk, who happily gets what is coming to him. See, his people kill Wookiees for sport, which is nasty enough as is, but worse during this time period when the Empire had been using them as slave laborers. So Bossk teams up with two hunters—a young woman and her Wookiee companion—to hunt down Han, thinking that it’ll be easy to double-cross them. Instead he ends up imprisoned on his own ship, which is then used to free an entire Wookiee prison. Then they turn Bossk in for a bounty on illegal Wookiee pelting. The symmetry of the story is lovely.
Bossk is one of those characters in the Star Wars universe—it’s spectacular watching him get shown up at every turn because he deserves it. He’s fun to never root for. Every time another character proves that his superiority is the most unearned aspect of his personality, you’re cheering. And in this story it’s even more impressive because he gets the wool pulled over his eyes by two people he was always going to dismiss outright due to their gender and species respectively.
Next up is Zuckuss and 4-LOM, an odd duo who, like Dengar, ended up on both sides of the fight between the Empire and the Rebellion. Zuckuss’ precognitive abilities (later deemed a slight Force sensitivity) lead to some choices in their tale that no other bounty hunters would likely make. They accept help from the fleeing Rebels because Zuckuss has a medical condition that will kill him without new lungs. It’s a rare window into how the Alliance treats true outsiders, even suspicious ones. Our heroes conduct themselves admirably, much to the surprise of the bounty hunters.
Zuckuss and 4-LOM end up joining the Rebellion, but anyone who has read beyond this story knows it’s not meant to last. Which is understandable—not everyone can be Han Solo, after all.
And then we come to “The Last Man Standing,” which is unsurprisingly the title of Boba Fett’s story. This tale had a rough road, as the author (Daniel Keys Moran) was upset with the changes made to his Fett story in the Jabba’s Palace anthology. This one made its way into the anthology intact, and is by far the strongest of the bunch. Sure, I might be a bit bias in that regard because I adore Boba Fett and this was one of the first places where you got a deeper insight into his character. And yes, it was apocryphal for a while due to the prequels, but retcon served it well and it still rests comfortably in the canon.
But what story do you tell for Fett? We already know how his hunt for Solo goes—he’s the man who walks away with the prize, having made the other five look like kindergarteners playing Cops and Robbers in the process. So what we get are a series of flashbacks, one in particular that tells us how Fett first set eyes on Solo as a young man in a ring full of murderers twice his size. What we get is a tale set long after Han has settled down with his princess and had a few kids and is no longer capable of calling himself a rogue. What we get is a final showdown (they do meet again, even older and under much different circumstances, but as comrades of necessity), at high noon and off the grid, a final shootout to determine once and for all who gets out alive. Solo isn’t just an occasional bounty to Boba Fett; their moral codes don’t align. Despite Han’s big heart and Fett’s job hunting people down for money, you begin to realize how their dynamic breaks down to bounty hunter: He’s the law. Solo is just a punk criminal.
And that’s an angle that I’m pretty sure no one expected from the twenty-or-so grouchy words he gives up during his screentime. “The Last Man Standing” is story about recapturing youth. It’s about the things we can’t let go. It’s about trying for endings, and how they never stay put.
With all that in mind, Tales of the Bounty Hunters is perfect behind the scenes fun. A friend once told me that dessert couldn’t fill you up more after you had eaten dinner because it just filled in the cracks in your stomach. That’s sort of what these anthologies were. Think of them as the dessert filling in the cracks of your Star Wars-laden tummy.
Emmet Asher-Perrin maybe just really likes strong, silent types who walk around in Mandalorian combat armor. She was recently on the Geeks Guide to the Galaxy podcast talking about Star Trek Into Darkness, and an essay of hers can be found in the newly released Queers Dig Time Lords. You can bug her on Twitter and read more of her work here and elsewhere.