The Sting, Ocean’s Eleven, Hustle… probably everyone knows at least the names of some famous heist films or TV series. A bunch of likeable criminals and con artists team up to rob some rich jerk. Timothy Zahn’s Scoundrels was the rare case of this genre crossing over into the Star Wars universe.
The protagonists of the story are, to nobody’s surprise, Han Solo, Lando, Chewie and a bunch of their friends and contacts. The more lawful elements, such as Luke and Leia, sit this one out. The story takes place between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. Han is out on his own, trying to figure out how to pay his debt to Jabba. An opportunity presents itself when he gets an offer to help a man retrieve over a hundred million credits stolen by a corrupt governor.
Han vs Black Sun vs Imperial Agents
The story itself follows the traditional pattern of the heist genre. Han first gathers his team, then they survey the situation using various disguises and tricks, and finally set out to rob the governor’s vault. Of course there are unexpected twists and things do not exactly go as planned. Already in the beginning it is revealed that the governor is dealing with the Black Sun – galactic-spanning crime organisation that shies away from nothing. This fact has brought another party into the game – the Imperial Agent who is investigating the situation and trying to get his hands on the governor’s Black Sun associates without scaring them off.
While the main focus of the story is on Han and his fellow scoundrels, the extra plotline provided by the agent and the Black Sun livens up the story. For the most part the tale feels like something that could happen in our world but at the same time the author utilises various technological gadgets including an old, badly-working lightsaber that one of the scoundrels happens to own. Even with the sci-fi equipment playing notable part, the story could easily be swapped into real-world setting and nothing much would change. It does not feel distinctively “Star Wars” but at the same time it does not feel like it is not part of that universe, either.
A Dynamic Cast
Scoundrels‘ main characters are a likeable bunch and it does not take long for the reader to get acquainted with them. There are the ghost thief twins Bink and Tavia, who have a touching brazen-vs-careful-sisterly dynamic, the hacker genius Rachele Rae, the gloomy shipjacker Dozer and the one alien, magician and sleight-of-hand expert Zerba. Long-time fans recognise other familiar characters such as Leia’s (at this point future) handmaiden, Winter, who is also part of the group alongside the future X-wing pilot Kell. From among other Timothy Zahn’s characters one may notice the mention of the smuggler Mazzic but also the Imperial agent Dayja who made a small cameo in the recent Thrawn: Treason novel.
There are very few things to complain about in the book. Perhaps the only downside to the cast is that just like often in Timothy Zahn’s books, almost all of them are humans – a more varied cast of aliens would make for a more Star Wars feel and help the reader to get acquainted with them faster. Out of other “zahnisms” some may feel at loss during several little-too-technical descriptions of how a character opens a lock by rotating a stick attached to a coat-hanger by this-and-that-angle. But as usual you can just skip over the paragraph and trust the author that such a thing would work. Zahn seems to often “hedge” his narrative against potential criticism by too investigative fans by providing a lengthy description of why something works, but those of us who are not physics majors would not likely need it and the book could be several pages shorter.
Otherwise Scoundrels follow the same pattern as any other Timothy Zahn story. You start by being introduced into a basic, fairly interesting plot, then somewhere one-third through things become slightly dragging out. By the time you reach the last third however it will come to blows and plot twists and you’ll finish the last hundred-and-fifty pages in one go. And then you will feel like re-reading it immediately again because now you know all the secrets and you will want to follow it all from the beginning.
Not Just For Star Wars Fans
I would recommend Scoundrels to both old and new Star Wars fans, and to the fans of both the old and new canon. Your previous knowledge of anything won’t limit you and in fact, I could recommend the book even to those who know nothing of Star Wars beside Han Solo’s name. Like I mentioned before the story largely follows the traditional heist form and it can be entertaining for you even if you like the genre. But also, on the other hand, if you don’t particularly like it, but you are a Star Wars fan. In short, Scoundrels has something for everyone.