I’ve read a lot of Star Wars books by a lot of authors. There are many I’ve enjoyed, but nearly all my favorites are by one author: Timothy Zahn. When I heard he was writing a new standalone novel, I immediately knew I would have to read it! And, as a bonus, this novel is all about everyone’s favorite scoundrel: Han Solo. Scoundrels is no standard Star Wars adventure, though; it has no Jedi, nobody using the Force, no lightsaber fights. Instead, it is a heist story set in the Star Wars Expanded Universe and inspired by Oceans 11.
Han Solo is deeply in debt to crime lord Jabba the Hutt. The reward money from destroying the Death Star at Yavin—with which he planned to pay off his debt—has been lost to pirates, and the bounty on his head is causing no end of problems. So when Han receives an unexpected job offer from a mysterious stranger, the payoff is enough to tempt this smuggler into branching out. Han himself might not have the skills necessary to pull off an elaborate heist and break into a heavily guarded safe, but he knows plenty of shady people who do!
Genuinely stands alone—ish
While I’m not sure what kind of person aside from a Star Wars fan would be reading this review or considering this book in the first place, it is readable as a standalone novel; you don’t even need to have seen the movies to make sense of it, though some of the more significant moments may lose some meaning. For the best reading experience, I do recommend familiarity with the original trilogy. And though no prior reading is really remotely necessary, a few other novels may help introduce or add background to some of the situations, characters, and organizations featured in this book: Shadows of the Empire by Steve Perry and the Thrawn trilogy (Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising, and The Last Command) by Timothy Zahn.
Star Wars: Scoundrels is set in the year 0 ABY (After Battle of Yavin), so in terms of internal chronology, it comes before those books I mentioned. Star Wars Expanded Universe books can usually be read in any order, whether it be publication chronology, internal chronology, or whatever other order or disorder you desire.
A varied cast
Whether this is your first or fiftieth experience reading a Star Wars novel, there will be both new and familiar faces. Anyone who knows Star Wars at all will know Han Solo, of course, and his co-pilot Chewbacca and frenemy Lando Calrissian. Those more familiar with the Expanded Universe will recognize Winter. Most of the characters Han pulls together for this heist, though, are completely new, and completely fascinating to learn about! There is a ship thief, an explosives expert, a ghost thief and her reluctant assistant—her twin sister. Of course, a few Rebels get involved, as well as an Imperial Intelligence agent.
Despite the array of new, unfamiliar characters, they’re all fleshed out beautifully. There’s more history between Han and Lando to enjoy, and each of the new characters gets their own slice of history as well. Some get more than others, but they all feel believable; they all live and breathe and contribute uniquely to the group. This was one of Scoundrels’ biggest strengths, in my opinion.
And a fascinating new setting
The “galaxy far, far away” has a plethora of varied and unique settings. In Scoundrels, we get to see Wukkar, a new planet with new customs, and we see it during the most interesting time of its year. The Festival of Four Honorings is being celebrated, providing a crazy, chaotic, colorful backdrop for the heist. To me, Star Wars has always been an interesting blend of science fiction and fantasy, a subgenre many like to call science fantasy. I felt that the combination of a high-tech heist with this festival, which has more of a magical fantasy feel, definitely contributed to this overall quality of Scoundrels.
Why should you read this book?
Timothy Zahn has done it again. If the Jedi are the coolest beings ever and you’re never happier than when you’re reading about the Force, Scoundrels might be a bit disappointing for you. However, if you love elaborate heists and consider criminals to be the best protagonists, you wouldn’t even have to be a Star Wars fan to appreciate this novel.