Friday, February 17, 2012

Shepherd492 reviews: Star Wars: Han Solo Trilogy: The Hutt Gambit

Han Solo Trilogy: The Hutt Gambit (A.C. Crispin)


Plot

The Hutt Gambit introduces several new and crucial elements to Han's life, such as Chewbacca and Lando, while continuing the story told in the first book. The book is short, fairly simple, and surprisingly action deficient, but it functions as a great origin story for Han, and the sub plot concerning Hutt politics is excellent.

The book starts with Han and Chewbacca after they have just met, we do not see the circumstances of their meeting, but we are told what happens. The story is an important part of Han's character, so atleast it was mentioned, but it would've been better to actually experience it. This is followed by a classic Han and Chewie scene that successfully starts the book off with a bang.

From there, things immediately go down hill. Bria Tharen, his ex-lover from the first novel that abandoned him so that she could fight off her addiction to the Exultation, shows up in what will be her first of many useless cameo roles throughout the book. These don't serve any purpose to the story of Han Solo, aren't particularly compelling, and seem to set up even more of Bria in the final book.

Another lacking aspect of this book is an absolutely embarrassing sub-plot concerning bounty hunters on Han's trail. It starts off well enough, with a few good action scenes that manage to maintain the pacing for the initial chapters of the book, but it quickly gets repetitive and lame. The worst part, however, is when Boba Fett decides to take the bounty. Boba Fett uses a toxic dart that forces Han to obey any of Fett's commands. Things seem dire for our hero, but then Lando shows up out of absolutely nowhere to save him, and everything is resolved. They then stab Fett with the dart, and send him on his way. So much is wrong with this passage, from the "young adult" feel of the darts, to the random characterization of Lando (he turns over his friends in order to save himself from the Empire, but risks life and limb to save somebody he has never met just because he needs a pilot?) The only positive that comes from this is the fact that it plays nicely into the short stories in which Boba Fett hates Han for constantly eluding him. Besides that small positive, this sub plot is rubbish.

After this, Han grows closer to the smugglers and develops a relationship with a magician named Xaverri. The smugglers are really, really bland characters, and Xaverri isn't much better. This part works because Han learns new things and grows as a character- that is the purpose of this trilogy, after all- but if not for the extensive characterization and skills acquired by Han, this part, and book, would be nearly intolerable. There are so many smugglers, and they have basically interchangeable personalities and feelings. Fans of the Dark Empire series will recognize quite a few of the smugglers featured here, though to be fair these characters were awful in that book too.

One of the brightest spots of the novel are the frequent cutaways to the war between two of the major Hutt factions: Besadii (including Darksaber's Durga the Hutt) and Desilijic (Jabba's faction.) The insights into Hutt culture/biology are interesting, and the subtle maneuvering and political machinations are quite a contrast to the relatively simplistic, black and white nature of everything else in this book. It was also fun to see how the dealings that the Hutts had with each other and the Imperials indirectly shaped the story of Han Solo.

The final third of the book is dominated by the planning and execution of a giant space battle around Nar Shaddaa. This sequence is tarnished by the horribly drawn out planning, and the fact that everything goes exactly to plan. Our heroes are never really tested as it is the Imperial admiral's intention to lose, partially due to a bribe from the smugglers, but also because of orders allegedly from his higher ups. The orders from the higher ups don't really add anything to the tension of the battle or the conflict of interest inside the general. They order him to do what he was already getting paid by the smugglers to do- throw the battle. Though the engagement is described very well, it lacks any kind of spark due to the complete lack of twists. A disappointing ending to a disappointing book.

Characterization

As one might expect, this book centers around Han Solo's growth as a person. On that count, the book does a great job, putting his growing skill and emotional maturity on display in a realistic manner. His character is still a ways from what he will become in A New Hope, though it's good to see that there will be even more character growth in the third and final novel.

His relationship with other characters is another crucial element to the novel, and here the author is successful too. Han's feelings toward Chewie progress from viewing him as an unwanted tag along to sharing a close knit bond over the course of the novel. Chewie is characterized fairly well here, though it is a simple thing to convey his character. Han's relationship with Lando is also shown, though this is significantly worse. Besides saving Han for no particular reason, Lando and Han don't develop much of a relationship, all they do is throw stupid nicknames at one another. Lando overall is extremely annoying in this book. He seems more like a poser than a cool, charming gambler.

Han's love interests, Salla and Xaverri, are two boring, interchangeable characters. His relationship with each of them is quite similar too. Each of the women are portrayed as having no real faults, a tortured past, and a brilliant mind. These two are far more annoying than Bria was, and every time they turn up the desire to skip ahead is nearly overpowering. The other smugglers aren't much better, coming off like awfully good people instead of hardened space pirates.

Where villains are concerned, the Hutts are easily the standouts. Boba Fett is laughable here, and the Imperials are fairly dull witted. The Hutts, though not true antagonists, are still the driving force behind much of what goes on in this novel. The plotting and scheming shown from each side is one of the best aspects of the book that doesn't directly involve Han, and each of the Hutts has a suitably relentless, calculating personality. Durga, a young Hutt born with a cursed birthmark, may be the stand out here, though Jabba's parent, Jiliac, makes a strong impression too.

Overall the characterization is good at what it needs to do- show the growth of Han Solo and the relationships he forms in his early years, and pretty bad at everything else. If you aren't reading this for Han Solo, only the Hutts will stand out as viable characters in their own right.

Prose

The author's writing style is very simple, though the action scenes are quality throughout the book. Each of Han's run ins with bounty hunters are fast paced and enjoyable except for his encounter with Boba Fett, which is one of the absolute worst scenes in this book. Similarly, the final space battle is great, with plenty of rotating points of view, a simple but effective description of the action, and good use of the main group of characters. If this particular sequence was plotted better, it would've been a highlight of the book.

I appreciate the descriptions as well, which are mostly concise and informative. Picturing Nar Shaddaa and the various ships involved in the novel was very easy, and the author did a great job of making the handful of planets featured stand out. The exploration of Hutt and smuggler culture was done in a similarly concise way, and the writing style is one of the better elements of this book.

Some areas are a bit lacking. The dialogue is atrocious. Almost all of the lines between Han and Lando consist of some stupid nickname after whatever is actually being said, something like "I'll meet you at the space barn, you old space pirate!" The smugglers overall talk in a very, very childish, PG-rated manner. The "pep rally" before the climactic battle is positively cringe worthy in the number of awful lines used. This book has some of the worst dialogue in any Star Wars  novel.

Conclusion

A good characterization of Han that shows several important moments in his life is tarnished by the mostly lifeless supporting cast, awful dialogue, and poor plotting concerning the climactic space battle. The action is good, and Han Solo fans will not want to miss this, but for anyone else, this series is mediocre at best.

Final Score

46/100

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