Following the events of losing his reward from the Rebel Alliance as depicted in Episode IV, Han Solo agrees to take on a job from a down-on-his-luck businessman who promises a big payoff. Scouring the galaxy for various types of men and women of specific talents to work with, Han assembles a team that find themselves being pulled into a scheme that will make or break their lives and reputations. Throughout the operation there are some surprises that pop up, such as Imperial interference, the mechanizations of a galactic-spanning criminal organization, and the subtle subterfuge of one of their own members that ends up putting them all in danger.
In the end, the group departs to areas unknown to one another, and a new connection has been made between some for the future of the Rebel Alliance and the galaxy as a whole. Han still has his life intact, but comes face-to-face with the bitterness that is Jabba when his debt has been expanded drastically, and a new threat has emerged without anyone knowing.
Personal Observations & Reactions
While there are some similarities to the events of both versions of Ocean’s 11 and this story, it doesn’t really follow the same sort of pattern outside of gathering the various individuals (which was always an amusing and interesting scene form the movies). I honestly think there is a lot more in common with an episode of the recently-ended Leverage than with the movies, especially given the step-by-step operations and switch-reveal at the end. Also, a stray comment from my fiancée brings to the forefront a rather large problem that I see with this novel: “Han Solo may be cool and cunning, but he’s no Danny Ocean.” While Han would regularly invite the thoughts and comments of the other participants to help come up with the plan, in the end he was the one who ended up conceiving and executing the overall operation, which would have relied on a much smarter and cleverer individual than Han ever gave evidence of throughout his entire life. The only way this makes sense in my head is if he was actually being manipulated by the true mastermind of the entire operation, a man who has proven he is quite clever and cunning when he wants to be.
Also, while even Zahn has stated that this story is as much an homage to the Ocean’s 11 movie as it was his own thoughts, the fact that the group of scoundrels brought together to pull of his caper equaled 11 was rather blatant and without any real need. It isn’t that I don’t mind some jokes that poke fun of the real world that we find ourselves in, but normally I prefer to have those in something that isn’t so far removed from our reality that it becomes absurd. Another example would be the moniker that one of the scoundrels is called later on in the book; now, with the vast amount of random and seemingly exotic-yet-familiar names available to Star Wars characters, to call someone “John Smith” outright is pushing it even for me (much like having someone drinking coffee or hot chocolate in Zahn’s classic, Heir to the Empire). You’re better than that, Zahn; don’t bend to the masses.
There were also a lot of subplots going on between the group's individuals, some of which did relate to the overall plot of the novel, but some that didn’t and just built of the specific characters; however, considering this book takes place not long after the events of the first (in terms of chronological release date) film, most of the characters have already been built up from previous novels, short stories, comics, and films—this is more or less filling in gaps that not always have to be filled in. I’m also not entirely happy about some of the name-dropping thrown in, trying to make later “Extended Universe” characters appear as though they have more of a background than initially given in their other appearances. It isn’t really needed, especially in the context of one of the characters whose name I recognized easily, but was given no real details on in this novel.
While I do believe it could have been better, it also could have been a lot worse than it was. This was by no means the best that Zahn has written—even if you limit it to just his Star Wars works—but he did a very decent job with it. I’m always afraid that I’m going to end up reading the stories of a beloved author and find the work predictable after a while, and there were some areas in which this book felt that way, but he really surprised me at the end with his big reveal. It was given as an afterthought, not a long, drawn out process, and with two simple words, he was able to change the entire dynamic of the book for me. I highly recommend this to anyone who enjoys his other works, as well as anyone who enjoys the well-done novel that has disappeared from most bookshelves the last few years. I only hope that he will continue to write like this, keeping me on my toes, and within the Star Wars realm.