Middling SCOUNDRELS Proves The Force Is A Force Still To Be Reckoned With
Apr 2, 2013
I’ve written about this before: any author – new or established – takes great risks when tinkering or tampering in established universes. Especially sci-fi properties. Especially Star Trek worlds. Even more so with Star Wars galaxies. After all, much of the audience is lured to the book on the premise alone, as they’re hoping to vicariously experience the latest and greatest adventures with their favorite heroes with all-new settings and consequences. So when they show up and find out that not only is the tale populated by unfamiliar faces but also the familiar faces have been essentially relegated to ‘guest starring roles,’ they’re extremely unlikely to finish the book much less give it a positive review.
To its credit, the Star Wars Universe has grown uncharacteristically large. In fact, brave new writers have blessed George Lucas’s original creation with so many layers one almost wonders at this point if every new tale might get shrugged off as nothing more than overkill. They’ve explored the eras of Luke and Leia, of Anakin and ObiWan, and ones located decades and millennia outside established film and television continuity. When I purchased the book from the latest retailer, even the clerk looked at it and remarked, “I stopped reading these books when they got too difficult to follow.” I asked what she found ‘difficult,’ and her answer was, simply, “way too many new characters I didn’t care about.”
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and character. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last paragraph for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
After the events of STAR WARS: A NEW HOPE, Han Solo and Chewbacca remain on-the-run from Jabba the Hutt when they happen to be in the right place at the right time to earn hundreds of millions of credits – an auspicious development since Han has someone lost all of the money he earned in saving Luke Skywalker from certain doom at the Death Star. A man named Eanjer has been swindled out of his money, and what he needs most is a team of accomplished thieves to break into a mansion, crack a safe, and retrieve his wealth. The trouble is – and Han knows this – he’s no thief … but he can hire a team of them, and that’s what he does. Together, they’ll butt heads with the Black Sun and the Galactic Empire all with hopes of raking in enough profit to finally – FINALLY – pay off Jabba and get back to what he does best: smuggling.
One of the (legitimate) complaints many Star Wars fans have of Lucas is that – under his management – the universe has become too commercialized. Long ago, they argue, Lucas and his cohorts ‘gave up the golden goose’ in favor of earning more gold and silver in merchandising toys of every conceivable invention with the Star Wars logo; and one only need examine any of the Star Wars / Angry Birds products to see these folks have a point. Therein lies the problem with SCOUNDRELS for me; this felt like a deliberate mash-up of Star Wars and, say, OCEANS 11 (which many reviewers have already tipped their hat to); and, furthermore, it feels like a cheap knock-of variation indeed. The rogues here who have chemistry to either of the crews featured in either versions of the seminal heist flick are given so little ‘screen time’ that, in the end, they don’t much matter in the larger scope of things. Disappointingly, author Zahn only manages to muster locking Han Solo in a closet near the end of this caper; to make matters worse, he gives the pilot an all-too-easy means of escape, as well.
Are authors really trying anymore?
This isn’t to say that all of SCOUNDRELS lacks some recognizable charm because that wouldn’t be true. Zahn gets some solid mileage (maybe even a bit too much) out of exploring the complex trinity relationship of Han to Lando to Chewie. It was nice to see these three lovable scamps given some greater background, especially as this tale is set in the period established between A NEW HOPE and THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK; it kinda/sorta brings their bonds into focus and even sets the stage for events that will follow in both the theatrical outings (namely, EMPIRE) and other publications (Dark Horse’s SHADOWS OF THE EMPIRE). Also, each of the other members of their team has some history in the Star Wars universe – Expanded Universe focus, mostly – and each is given a task central to achieving the big goal. I just wish they had been given tighter narrative definition.
What starts out as a great idea gets good presentation but it all falls to middling effect, and that put SCOUNDRELS in the disappointing position of being less of a meal than was advertised.
RECOMMENDED modestly. I’ve no doubt that SCOUNDRELS will not end up being many folks ‘favorite Star Wars novel.’ Heck, so far as the reliability of Timothy Zahn, I’d argue that it’s really not even all that good. There’s very little action; there’s very little intrigue (except for some new characters & situations that just didn’t end up meaning much to this reader); and there’s very little familiarity to these all-new places and settings to ever bring about a repeat reading. What ‘seemed like a good idea at the time’ (bringing the rogues of Han, Chewie, and Lando together again) probably was; unfortunately, SCOUNDRELS spends far too much time establishing and exploring secondary characters whose contribution to the tale are critical, but they simply lack the life and distinguishing likeability so common to the rascals we know and love. I give Zahn credit for trying to do something a bit different in the Star Wars Universe, but I also question the logic in weaving such an uninteresting adventure in the first place. The Force wasn’t so strong with this one.
Obviously, Scoundrels was Timothy Zahn's attempt at combining an Ocean's 11 caper with the Star Wars saga. What I hadn't appreciated before reading the book was just how serious Zahn was about this. There have been several Star Wars books this year that try to break into the espionage/thriller genre, such as Annihilation: Star Wars (The Old Republic) and Mercy Kill: Star Wars (X-Wing), but at the end of the day they feel like rehashed Star Wars. By contrast, Scoundrels is something new. It takes … more
Timothy Zahnis the author of more than forty novels, nearly ninety short stories and novelettes, and four short fiction collections. In 1984, he won the Hugo Award for best novella. Zahn is best known for hisStar Warsnovels (Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising, The Last Command, Specter of the Past, Vision of the Future, Survivor’s Quest, Outbound Flight, Allegiance,andChoices of One) with more than four million copies of his books in print. Other books include the Cobra series, the Quadrail series, and the young adult Dragonback series. Zahn has a B.S. in physics from Michigan State University and an M.S. from the University of Illinois. He lives with his family on the Oregon coast.