Brian Daley provides fast-moving space opera fun in ‘The Han Solo Adventures’

July 7, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
July 7, 2016

Sometimes, when I pick up certain books that I read years ago, I am transported to past eras of my life. There was a stretch in the summer of 2003 when I would frequently take a picnic lunch from my apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, amble over to Riverside Park and read one of the hefty volumes from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. I no longer recall which of the books I consumed during those warm, lazy afternoons, but I think of those idle summer reading sessions anytime I pick up the third or subsequent entires from the Potter chronicles.

Similarly, when I reread the first two volumes in Douglas Adams’s “increasingly misnamed trilogy” of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy novels, I recall sitting in the backyard of the house where I grew up, also on a summer day, and virtually inhaling the words that I still enjoy these many years later.

The other day, I was looking for books to discard from my personal collection when I noticed a long-forgotten paperback that bore the clunky title of Star Wars®: The Han Solo Adventures. This yellowing mass-market paperback was published in June 1992 by Del Rey, an imprint of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House. It’s an omnibus edition of three space opera novels licensed from George Lucas’s Star Wars universe; its cover boasts, “For the first time, all three books in one volume!”

The three books contained therein — Han Solo at Stars’ EndHan Solo’s Revenge and Han Solo and the Lost Legacy — were all written by science fiction author Brian Daley. They were originally published over what seems like an unbelievably short period: Han Solo at Stars’ End debuted in April 1979, according to Wookieepedia, while the trilogy concluded in August 1980 with the release of Han Solo and the Lost Legacy.

As soon as I saw the book, I knew that I wanted to reread it, and almost as soon as I started rereading it, I began recalling the novel’s intricate particulars in detail. All three books are rip-roaringly fun adventures that pay loving homage to the eponymous smuggler, his immense fur-covered Wookiee sidekick, Chewbacca, and their battered, deceptively ordinary-looking freighter, the Millennium Falcon.

It’s no great surprise to learn that Daley, an American who died in 1996 at the age of 49, was extensively involved in the Star Wars franchise, having scripted National Public Radio’s adaptations of all three movies from George Lucas’s original trilogy. Not only does Daley capture the characters and atmosphere of Star Wars perfectly — despite the fact that everything and everyone outside of Solo, Chewbacca and the Falcon are original to these novels — he has a knack for conveying action. Take, for instance, this early passage from Stars’ End, in which Solo unleashes a tiny predator on a business associate in a spaceport cantina just as the local constabulary tries to bring him in for a chat.

“Chewie!” was all Han had time to yell. He punched the nearest Espo [policeman], not wanting to shoot at close quarters. The Espo, caught off guard, fell backward, thrashing. Chewie did better, picking up the other two by their harnesses and bashing them together helmet to helmet, eliciting a gonging sound from the ultra hard surfaces. Then the Wookiee ducked into the crowd with notable agility, following his friend.

The Espos at the doors were unlimbering wide-bore, shoulder-fired blasters, but the confused crowd was milling around and no one had a clear idea yet of just what was going on. The antigrav dancers began alighting as beings raised their attention from assorted intoxicants, stimulants, depressants, psychotropics and placebos. The room buzzed with a sort of befuddled, translingual “Huh?” ….

Ploovo, still caressing his wounded snout, turned just in time to see Han Solo vault the bar. “There he is!” the underworld boss exclaimed. The two bartenders rushed to stop Han, shining the stun-staves they kept behind their bar for the preservation of order. He met the first with crossed wrists intersection the bartender’s, stopping the descending stun-stave, brought his knee up, and elbowed the first mixologist into the second. Chewbacca, following his partner over the bar with a joyous bellow that made the lighting fixtures tinkle, fell on top of the bartenders.

A blaster bolt, fired by one of the Espos at the doors, shattered a crystalline globe of four-hundred-year-old Novanian grog. The crowd bleated, most of them diving for the floor. Two more shots blew fragments out of the bar and half slagged the cash repository.

The novels, which play out in chronological order, are set in the years leading up to the saga that George Lucas kicked off in his 1977 movie, Star Wars (which has been retroactively titled Star Wars: A New Hope and variations thereupon). In the closing lines of The Lost Legacy, Solo talks about going on a run for Jabba the Hutt, an ill-fated smuggling venture that we know will put him deep into debt to the slug-like crime boss. But aside from that and a few references to the oppressive Galactic Empire, these books don’t intersect with the rest of the Star Wars universe. In fact, unusually for Star Wars, the books feature absolutely no Jedi, lightsabers or other things associated with mystical Force-wielding warrior-superheroes.

Daley introduces two recurring characters, the droid Bollux and his advanced computer module, Blue Max, who team up with Solo and Chewbacca throughout the trilogy. A third character, a gray-haired, mustachioed gunman, becomes Solo’s nemesis over the course of the latter half of Revenge and part of the third book as well. Otherwise, however, all of the characters are of Daley’s invention and appear in just one entry in the trilogy.

The first two stories are set in the Corporate Sector, a stretch of the galaxy barren of native sentient life that is governed by an exploitative bureaucratic fiefdom subservient to the Empire, while the final book is set in the Tion Hegemony, a distant, loosely regulated galactic backwater. Daley populates these places with a variety of stuff that will make virtually any fanboy or fangirl vibrate with ecstasy. There’s a hovercar chase, a hovercycle chase, a duel between sentient swimming dinosaurs, a battle royale between desperate hardscrabble miners and ancient war robots, and much, much more.

The first book requires Solo and friends to infiltrate a prison on a barren asteroid after Chewbacca is captured by agents of a Corporate Sector Authority intelligence program that has been quietly abducting political dissidents from across the region. In Revenge, Solo and Chewbacca manage to turn the tables on murderous slave-traders and then resolve to track down the sinister organization that owes them 10,000 credits for a transport job that they accepted blindly. In The Lost Legacy, the duo meet up with an old friend who may have information that will unearth the fabled lost treasure of an ancient despot named Xim.

Daley’s tightly constructed plots move at breakneck speed, packing some action into virtually every chapter. There are also espionage elements in all three books. (The naturally distrustful Solo deals with double agents in two of the tales.) And an episode in The Lost Legacy establishes why Solo — as portrayed by Harrison Ford in the filmic episodes numbered four, five, six and seven — has a prominent scar on his chin. (Incidentally, the same physical feature was explained for another hero played by Ford in a George Lucas production in the 1989 movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Furthermore, the 1984 entry in that series, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, features some action with a giant gong and a wild slide down a mountain that may have been influenced by a scene from Han Solo and the Lost Legacy.)

The stories and characters from these books have been relegated to the non-canon Legends category of the Star Wars universe — although at least some elements of the trilogy, such as the Corporate Sector Authority and the Tion Hegemony, are part of the canon — so none of this really matters. Instead, these books simply offer a great excuse to give your mind a vacation and indulge your yearning for space opera fun.

Indeed, The Han Solo Adventures is science fiction entertainment, pure and simple. I’m not sure I agree with the critic Brian Welk, who in his review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens called Solo “one of the great pop culture characters of all time,” but he’s definitely a fun guy to hang out with — a science-fiction variant on Robin Hood, Solo is a quick-witted criminal, charismatic leader and skilled warrior who prefers to prey on the powerful and corrupt while occasionally succoring the poor and vulnerable. (Solo and Chewbacca are very obviously models for the crew of lovable scoundrels in the Guardians of the Galaxy movie.)

If you’ve read this far, well, first, thank you, and second — what are you waiting for? Go out and read these stories already!

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