Quick, somebody get George Lucas on the phone! It's time to show him how a prequel trilogy is really done.
If you've seen the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy, it's pretty easy to nail the supreme mistake: Lucas spent all three movies trying to tie every possible end together that he could, in some cases even tweaking the history of the very universe that he wrote. What we knew before the Prequel Trilogy was that Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker were Jedi Knights and best friends who, together, fought for truth, justice, and the, er.... Well, whatever passes for the de facto American way in the Star Wars universe. We knew from the first movie that they had a nasty, bitter falling out with each other, and one of them turned to evil. And instead of concentrating on the big story at hand - you know, why all that had to happen - Lucas presented us with a more circular narrative which showed us a lot of the beginnings of the Original Trilogy, thus creating a lot more questions than answers along the way.
Meanwhile, there was this character from the Original Trilogy who was s amazingly minor that he was almost insignificant, and the people who did notice his three seconds and two lines didn't like him or care about him. He was a cocky smuggler named Han Solo, and against all odds, he walked away from his role in the Original Trilogy and became one of the coolest characters in the expanded universe. (No... Wait... I'm thinking of Boba Fett. Han Solo had a big, important role, was popular, and everyone loves him.) Solo actually had a couple of book trilogies written about him. One of them was a prequel trilogy which was written by AC Crispin - who, sadly, passed just a few months ago - which set up his role in the Original Trilogy. That trilogy consisted of the books The Paradise Snare, The Hutt Gambit, and Rebel Dawn.
The Paradise Snare deals with Han's coming of age, but it's the third book, Rebel Dawn, which does the most to se up the recognizable Han Solo from the original movies. (I haven't read The Hutt Gambit yet.) How close does Rebel Dawn come to bringing Han into his introductory scene from Episode IV? Let me put it this way: The final scene of Rebel Dawn, in the epilogue, involves Chewie and Han in a bar. Han is desperate for cash because he had to quickly dump a load of spice he had been carrying in order to avoid arrest at the hands of the Imperials. His boss, Jabba the Hutt, isn't happy, and is demanding repayment for the cargo. So as Han sits in a Mos Eisley Cantina wondering what to do - his usual methods of quick money exhausted - Chewie mentions that a certain old man in a robe and a young moisture farmer are looking to charter a passage to Alderaan....
Yeah. Rebel Dawn also begins with Han Solo winning his trademark ship, the Millennium Falcon, in a Sabacc tournament, right against his old buddy Lando. Unbeknownst to him, who should be watching the tournament but his pre-Leia true love forever, Bria Tharen? Bria has come a very long way from the naive religious pilgrim the Han met on Ylesia, and who needed Han to lean on and give her some form of stability. In her abrupt departure letter at the end of The Paradise Snare, after all, she said she would, like Han, someday become free and strong. Although Han had apparently believed she had returned to Ylesia, unable to live without her addiction to the Exultation, free and strong is exactly what she became. There's a rebellion afoot against the Empire, and Bria is right in the thick of it as the leader of the Red Hand Squadron, the badassingest group of badasses in the galaxy. She's not a person you should be a slaver in front of, because it won't end well. She is also world-trotting with contacts from other rebel groups, trying to sell them on the idea of merging into one big rebel group - a Rebel Alliance, as it should be!
The rebels need credits and recruits, and Bria smells an enormous bounty of both from Ylesia, the slave colony where she met Han and escaped from in The Paradise Snare. She's planning a planet-wide raid, and wants Han and his group of smugglers to show her squads the ropes. In it for Han is a quantity of spice worth, uh, well, more than Han can imagine, and anyone who's seen A New Hope knows that Han can imagine quite a bit.
In the meantime, there's intrigue in the house of the Desilijic Hutts. The supreme patriarch of the Hutt clan, Aruk, was poisoned. His successor, Durga, is proving to be a lot more shrewd than anyone gave him credit for, and in the meantime, the once-formidable mind of Jiliac is being lost because she spends most of her mind on her kid. This proves to be a huge annoyance to her nephew, Jabba, when she turns down a deal on which the Hutts shoulda coulda made a damned killing. The Hutts are just about fed up with each other.
If you're like me and were introduced to the Star Wars expanded universe before it truly became the STAR WARS EXPANDED UNIVERSE, you might find a couple of surprise canon elements in Rebel Dawn. This is the book in which Chewbacca gets married to his wife, Mallatobuck, and introduces Han to his father, Attichitcuk. You know them as Malla and Itchy, respectively, from the Star Wars Holiday Special. There are also several references to Zorba the Hutt, Jabba's father, who was introduced in the Jedi Prince books, the series of young adult books which had the advantage of getting in just before the full bloom of the EU, so most Star Wars-loving kids read them and are now ashamed to admit they loved them. Flawed as the Jedi Prince series is, I'm actually pleased that they kept it in the EU. I thought Zorba was one of the most effective characters in it.
The setting up of Rebel Dawn is very interesting, but the payoff.... Well, Bria isn't the only character from The Paradise Snare being pulled along for the greater plot of Rebel Dawn. Teroenza is also back, Muuurgh and Mrrov are also back, and let's face it, Crispin recycled just about every meaningful aspect of The Paradise Snare. Crispin got a lot right with her Han Solo Trilogy that George Lucas blew in his Prequel Trilogy because Crispin was able to provide the background information in a leg of the overarching story setting up the primary story without having them get too intertwined with each other. We learned how Han met Chewbacca, why he understands Wookiee language so well, how he got the Millennium Falcon, his relationship with Lando Calrissian, and why he became a smuggler. For getting all that right, though, she also made Bria Tharen one of the very founders of the Rebel Alliance. That's the mistake that truly enters George Lucas territory. I was happy to accept everything else about Bria, and I would have taken her better as a regular Rebel Commander. Having her make the sales pitches as a founder, though, is crazy. It makes two high-ranking officials that Han fell in love with. The bigger absurdity is that Han makes his fateful charter flight just days after breaking things off with Bria.
A lot of the time, Han Solo isn't even in the book. According to Wookieepedia, the book covers about three years in Solo's life, and so much of it centers around the Hutts and Bria's actions with Red Hand that Crispin has to add interludes at the ends of at least two chapters to let the readers know that no, she has not actually forgotten who Rebel Dawn is supposed to be centered around. This is the other big mistake. I would have loved to know about the daily life of a Nar Shaddaa smuggler, even if he does move to the Corporate Sector. It hurts the book because I found the Hutt sections to be slow and a little confusing, at least in the beginning. They do pick up and get more interesting, and worthy of a book that stars Han Solo, but it takes a few snapshots of them doing nothing to get to that point.
Despite the issue of Bria Tharen's role, Rebel Dawn is a workable example of how to set up the universe we saw for the first time in A New Hope. It's very quick and readable, but it can't hide its flaws.
Every guy who's ever seen Star Wars has wanted to be Han Solo. Now, A.C. Crispin's Han Solo Trilogy fills in the backstory, and does it well. Rebel Dawn tries to bridge the gap to the original trilogy and tie up loose ends with Han and Bria's relationship. It also explains why Chewie worried Lando still held a grudge against Han. The book works, but perhaps not quite as smoothly as the first two books. Both Zala's suggestions she and Han get married and Han's pining for Bria seem a bit out of character. … more