Book Review: Star Wars: Scoundrels, by Timothy Zahn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
So, let’s call a spade a spade here. This is not great literature. Heck, I would even hesitate to call it literature at all. It’s fluff, a trifle, space junk. A bit of small beer, as Shakespeare would say. It’s Lucas Books doing its very best to leave no minute of a Star Wars character’s life unaccounted for. Nevertheless, it’s good fun. In the run-up to the book’s release, plenty of people labeled it “Star Wars meets Ocean’s Eleven.” And while some certainly meant that as a pejorative, I think it’s the book’s greatest appeal.
Look, this is a throw away story. It has to be, set as it is between the first two movies. At the beginning of Empire Strikes Back, Han is leaving the Rebellion because he still needs to pay of Jabba the Hutt, so we already know he doesn’t “make his biggest score”, no matter what how book jacket teases. The novel can’t have any major impacts on either the main characters or the universe at large. So, why not bring together a bunch of relatively shallow, yet inherently interesting characters? The fact that most of the “scoundrels” are specialists, ala Ocean’s Eleven, makes them that much better at their bit parts, and also that much easier to dispose of in the grand scheme of things. Character development is largely dispensed with as Zahn chiefly focuses on writing good action, tight dialogue, and sweet gadgets. Another upside to the disposable nature of the story is that a reader doesn’t really need much background in the Star Wars universe to enjoy the book.
In a lot of ways, the best thing Zahn did as a writer was to not overplay the movie connection. I have read plenty of other Star Wars books which make too much of tying in to the movies. It’s like the writer has a checklist of lines and plot points which they feel compelled to reference, never mind what it does to narrative flow. Otherwise solid authors will wreck a good scene just so a reader can say “Oh, Han has always said that line” or “So, that’s why Leia’s hair looks like that!” Maybe other fans dig that sort of thing, but not me. I’ll take craft over cream filling any day. I think the created universe is better served by telling good stories as opposed to trying to make every little piece of it fit together. Fortunately, Timothy Zahn took the higher (and more entertaining) road. Sure, there are a couple of easter eggs hidden throughout (including one big, fat one at the end!), but basically what you’re getting is a fun sci-fi heist story, perfect for lazy summer reading.