The Han Solo Trilogy: The Paradise Snare (A.C. Crispin)
Han Solo: The Paradise Snare is set before the events of A New Hope. The book is about Han's teenage and early adult years, but flashbacks serve as insights into his childhood. As a biography of Han Solo, the book is fantastic. His background as a slave to Garris Shrike is tragic and intriguing, told through flashbacks that show him at various points of his life. His story is an interesting contrast to Luke and Leia's, and even Anakin's childhood was arguably better than Han's. Early on, we see events that shape Han's self centered but ultimately compassionate attitude, and these insights are the focal point of the story.
The main event takes place on the world of Ylesia. Han takes a job as a pilot on this backwater world, and quickly finds out that not everything is as it seemed. Though shackled with a ferociously dedicated guard, Han makes crucial discoveries about the mining facility that cause him to question his role in the operation. During the course of these events, he also meets Bria Tharen. Bria is a crucial character for the remainder of the book, as she is his first romance, and their interaction foreshadows that of Han and Leia later on in the movies.
Ylesia also introduces the central antagonists to the story; the t'landa Til priests that indoctrinate the minds of the miners. The t'landa Til are capable foes, though their appearance is a bit comical. The leader, Teroenza, does little to establish himself as a superior villain in Star Wars literature, but he also doesn't do much to ruin credibility and render the whole story a farce. The secondary antagonist, Garris Shrike, was an abusive and cold "step-father" for Han. Though the character comes off as weak and incompetent, his role is an essential one, and he is quite convincing as a bully of small children. His sudden return at the end of the story was a bit forced, though ultimately the resolution was a necessary one.
Eventually, Han, Bria, and the bodyguard, a feline named Muuurgh, decide to escape from Ylesia. What follows is an excellent action scene that touches on everything that made the escape sequence from the Death Star so great: excellent action, dry humor, improbability, and enormous odds. This escape sequence is the highlight of the book, and showcases Han's extraordinary luck, and flair for the dramatic.
Things wind down a bit after this, after Muuurgh leaves their company, Han and Bria make their way to Coruscant, where Han will attempt to get into the Imperial Academy. Plans go awry, however, when the Hutt owners of Ylesia sell out one of his fake identities and he is forced into hiding. During this time, Bria decides to leave in the middle of the night. This is easily the most unpredictable and sympathetic aspect of their romance, and it lends it a credibility and tragic air previously missing.
The book suitably ends with a determined Han Solo passing his exams at the Imperial Academy. The story overall is very formulaic, but it is extremely effective at conveying Han Solo's origins and connecting them to the character that he will one day become. The average antagonists and bland romance is overshadowed by some great action scenes and an uplifting final chapter.
Han is obviously the crucial character here, and the author absolutely nailed his essence. Early interaction between Han and his Wookie caretaker Dewlanna help to show his caring nature and sympathy towards Wookies, while the cruelty of Shrike causes him to be mistrustful and self serving around most humans. His smug and cocky nature are at work here as well, particularly when he attempts to woo Bria, but they also color nearly every conversation Han has, even with his "superiors." His sarcastic nature shines through here, as does his reckless side. However, because the book is set some time before the movies, the character isn't quite the same. He is less mistrustful and cautious, and quite a bit more naive, but this only strengths the character, by giving him room to grow in the next two novels, and presenting a more realistic character development. The major draw of this book is reading about Han, and the author does a great job of ensuring that the character is as true as possible.
The other characters are adequate, but unexceptional. Bria is a decent character, and her struggles to recover from her addiction to the Exultation give her a realistic and relate able edge. She comes across as a bit too perfect at many times though, with no flaws and often not even a discernible personality. Her relationship with Han is a necessary but weak ingredient in the story. The relationship lacks the spark of Han and Leia's, and at many times it feels outright contrived (particularly the dialogue, which feels derived from a 1950's teen movie.)
Muuurgh, Han's bodyguard, is a more intriguing character. Initially, he appears to be nothing more than a one dimensional obstacle for Han to overcome, but over the course of the novel, he becomes more developed and likeable. We learn that his initial hostility isn't due to his evil nature, but the stress that the t'landa Til have placed on him. His quest for his lost mate is perhaps resolved a bit conveniently, but it was an unexpected and appreciated turn of events when Muuurgh went from being a flimsy baddie to a full fledged, developed side character.
The remaining characters are a bit short on personality. Teroenza, leader of the t'landa Til, is a formidable, but ultimately boring, antagonist, as is Shrike. There aren't really any other secondary characters- the book has a rather limited cast, but the strength of Han's character was easily the most important thing here, and the successful portrayal makes up for the middling characterization of everyone else.
The Paradise Snare features unexceptional, but generally effective, prose. The action scenes are cinematic and fast paced. From the set pieces themselves to the flow of the writing, the action is some of the best to not feature lightsabers or extended space duels, and the author does a great job of invoking the spirit of Star Wars in the various action scenes. My favorite is the aforementioned escape from Ylesia, but a standoff in a bank, and Han's brawl with a bounty hunter are two other standouts.
The dialogue is mostly strong, successfully capturing each character's personality. The few occasions the dialogue falters are mostly in the interaction between Bria and Han, which is often ridiculous over the top and cliche. The descriptions and world building are a bit disappointing. Ylesia is an intriguing world, but the outpost is poorly described and not enough is done overall to immerse the reader in the world. The thoughts of characters are often randomly italicized and feature more realistic "choppy" thoughts than any other Star Wars book I've read thus far. The POV character will often make italicized statements that are extremely informal, but do a great job of adding a sense of urgency and import to the passages in which they are used.
A promising start to the trilogy, The Paradise Snare would be a mediocre story without the inclusion of Han Solo. Thankfully, the inclusion and excellent characterization of Han are enough to overcome bland characters and a simplistic plot, and produce one of the better books in Star Wars.