Friday, April 5, 2019

Forgotten Books: Han Solo at Stars' End by Brian Daley

Has it really been forty years?

That Special Pocket of Time in Star Wars Fandom

Travel back, if you will, to 1979. If you were a kid like me, your life probably revolved around comic books, Saturday morning cartoons, The Three Investigators books, and reading everything you could get your hands on regarding the 1977 movie Star Wars. You had the Star Wars action figures and, depending on your allowance or lawn-mowing money, you might've had some extra cash to spring for the additional nine new figures beyond the original twelve. You were already more than a year into reading the Marvel Comics Star Wars issues, and devoured Alan Dean Foster's Splinter of the Mind's Eye the year before.

Maybe you could easily imagine yourself as young farm boy, Luke Skywalker, because he was only slightly older than you were. But who you really wanted to be was Han Solo. And if you couldn't be him, then you wanted more adventures featuring him and his trusted partner, Chewbacca.

A Momentous Discovery on the Bookshelves

I"m sure how many young readers knew the name Brian Daley before April 1979, but they sure knew his name after. Commissioned to write three novels featuring Han and Chewie (although we didn't know it at the time), I think you can image the heart palpitations I experienced when I saw that blue hardcover book on the shelves of either B. Dalton Bookstore or Waldenbooks in Westwood Mall in Houston. My parents being readers, it was not a hard sell to at least go into the bookstores and browse. Naturally, I'd find something, then sidle up to one of them with the innocent question "Did you find something?" Because if they found something, I got a book, too.

They must have found something that day, or knew it would be a losing battle if I didn't walk out of the store with that glorious book with the blue cover.

I have no memory of reading through that book forty years ago and, to be honest, had zero memory of what happened. I don't think I ever re-read it, so last month, when it came time for me to select a novel to read, I had my choice. Perfect, since April 2019 marks the books fortieth anniversary. And, in light of the character's evolution over the decades both in the movies and comics, how would the book hold up?

A New Han Solo Story

In those heady days between Star Wars and its then unnamed sequel, the entire Star Wars universe was wide open. Darth Vader killed Luke's dad without "a certain point of view." Heck, Luke and Leia both faced off against the Sith Lord on the planet Mimban in Splinter of the Mind's Eye. The creatures in the cantina were just a small sampling of the vastness of the galaxy just waiting to be discovered. And, in Brian Daley's new novel, you got to see where Han Solo was before he met that old man and the kid.

He was in hot water. And, if you needed to know just how awesome and grown up Han Solo was to a ten-year-old mind, Han actually drops the "d-word" in the first sentence. Mind. Blown.

In his narrow escape from the ships of the Corporate Sector Authority--the stand-in baddies instead of the Imperial Empire--Han damages his ship, the Millennium Falcon. He even pulls out the maneuver he uses in the asteroid field in Empire Strikes Back when he flies the Falcon on its side through a narrow canyon. The dish atop the ship is knocked off (sound familiar) so he's now blind.  But he knows a guy. Of course he does.

Except after going through all the cloak-and-dagger maneuvers to locate Doc, he's gone. Taken by the Espos, the elite police force of the Corporate Sector Authority. His daughter, Jessa, is willing to make repairs to the Falcon in exchange for Han flying to Orron III and picking up some people. Needing the repairs, Han agrees.

And things go downhill from there.

A New Cast of Characters

Joining Han and Chewbacca on this mission to Orron III are a pair of droids. Well, the template had been set with both Star Wars and Splinter. Later, when the Lando Calrissian books are published, he also has a droid partner.  Bullox is a large, old labor-type droid who is not at all like the prim and proper See-Threepio. He's not exactly smart, but he's very loyal. Who is smart is Blue Max, a smaller, up-to-date droid. The only problem is Blue Max has no means of transportation. Thus, he travels around inside Bullox's chest cavity. When the situation calls for it, someone will take Blue Max out, hook him up to a larger computer, a la Artoo Detoo, and work computer magic.

Am I the only one who thinks this sounds an awful lot like Twiki and Dr. Theopolis from the Buck Rogers TV show?

A few other characters show up, but the discovery of them are more fun when you read the novel.

A Good Space Opera Adventure

But what about the book itself? The story cracked along fine with just enough jolts and twists to keep it interesting. Daley had to know he needed to write the book that would appeal not only to adult science fiction readers but early readers like my ten-year-old self. While there is some shooting and gunfights, the violence is kept to a minimum or described using words to hide the reality. For example: "Red beams of annihilation bickered back and forth." Didn't bother me in the least.

I assume Daley had access to the material on sale at the time--which wasn't much--and maybe a little backstory from creator George Lucas. But I also get the impression the author just imagined his way into a Star Wars universe. At the time, Star Wars wasn't too dissimilar to other far-flung space adventure novels, so Daley just ran with whatever idea came to mind. Orron III, for example, was a planet-sized agricultural farm. Like Dagobah is a planet-sized swamp or Coruscant is a planet-sized city. It's merely a piece of imagination.

As an author myself, I enjoy dropping little side notes that hint at other adventures of my characters. Daley does it here, too, but none so tantalizing to young fan than the reference to "Freedom's Sons" in the same sentence as mention of the Jedi Knights! Did Daley know something we didn't? Would Freedom's Sons get into a comic or the next movie? The possibilities were endless.

 I really enjoyed the swiftness of the story. It was a lean 183 pages in my paperback copy. There was a time, even when the property was not from a movie, where a SF author could write a book and it clocked in under 200 pages. Now, so many novels top 400 or 500 pages, if not more, that I hesitate to even start. Granted, Daley didn't need a lot of world building, but I enjoyed that which he gave, including the slang and other parts that contributed to the 'lived in' nature of Star Wars. He went on to flesh out the first Star Wars movie in his fantastic script for the Star Wars radio drama, but that is another post.

Overall, I really enjoyed revisiting this book, and I'm already moving on to the second, HAN SOLO'S REVENGE.

Best Quote of the Book

"Han made a sour face. "I happen to like to shoot first, Rekkon. As opposed to shooting second.""

No comments: