(This is a review of the audiobook version.)
A long time ago I was a Borders book clerk. More accurately, I was the magazines clerk, because while quite literate, I didn’t have the all-over rounded encyclopedic knowledge that most of the English graduates did. What I did have a was great grasp on genre fiction & art, as my mother was an inveterate mystery reader, I read Sci Fi obsessively, and I had a brand new BFA from the nearby state university. I got stuck in magazines because they needed a warm body and my warm body was better than anyone else coming through the door. I was mocked appropriately in my first lunch break for picking up Barbara Hambly’s new novel, Children of the Jedi. Hambly had written the psychedelic-Western cross Ishmael for the Star Trek franchise 10 years earlier, so I was curious how her new one was going to stretch the Star Wars universe.
I only wish Steve Zahn knew how to stretch. I suppose with the status I posted in my Facebook feed when I finished this thing about a month ago is really the best summary; “Timothy Zahn is now officially, and unabashedly, a hack. Don’t bother with the newest one.”
It’s not like anyone has held up Star Wars as science fiction in its full glory, as both entertaining and relevant, or even slightly challenging. A strong argument can even be made Star Wars is even the poster child for the worst of brainless entertainment in the stars, ‘Science Fantasy‘. After the prequels-that-shall-not-be-named, Star Wars has become so hackneyed, that Disney’s acquisition of the empire (*cough*) has been roundly applauded by most Star Wars fans as a positive thing.
The book’s really simple – Han Solo (who never is) & Chewbacca recruit a gang of thieves, just like Ocean’s Eleven, and they try to rip off a local underworld boss whom has the galaxy’s stash of blackmail files. Han Solo at the end gets chased, in probably the all-time runner-up Nuke the Fridge moment, by a large spherical boulder, wildly swinging whips that-aren’t-really-ligthsabers-but-sill-glowy-and-cool. They barely lose the score, break even. The End.
The worst part is that its reheated dribble that the Extended Star Wars has already covered, and covered well; Aaron Allston’s run with the Wraith Squadron in the X-Wing novels was a joy to read and had an original spin. In a gross display of laziness, Zahn even uses the younger version of one of Allston’s characters (Kell Donos) in that group of n’er do wells for his own crew.
The rights holders have gotten much less free about how they’ll let authors wander from the Brand since those days – it’s why branded genre fiction is a Disneyfied slum like Times Square. You don’t get slash like The Price of the Phoenix anymore, much less Diane Duane’s nuanced portrayal of the Romulan culture, or John M. Ford’s blatant middle finger to the publisher. There’s nothing original here, much less fun.