Sunday, March 13, 2016

JOURNEY TO STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS – Smuggler’s Run: A Han Solo and Chewbacca Adventure by Greg Rucka

This book is in the same series as The Weapon of a Jedi by Jason Fry and Before the Awakening, which was also written by Greg Rucka. Along with a similar adventure starring Princess Leia, these books were all produced as part of Disney’s JOURNEY TO STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS marketing campaign. Several other books have been produced as part of that campaign, but unlike Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath, Smuggler's Run and its companion works were all written specifically to target younger readers. That said, they don’t feel exclusive to that audience. The main difference between these and a book not written for young readers is length. They’re short, which gives you even less of an excuse not to check them out.

Smuggler’s Run runs mostly parallel to the timeline of The Weapon of a Jedi, following the adventures of Han Solo and Chewbacca immediately after the destruction of the first Death Star.

There a couple of bits I love about this book right from the start, beginning with the subtitle. It is credited both to Han Solo and Chewbacca. Previous Solo stories were not solo stories per se, but always exclusively billed Han. Brian Daley’s Han Solo trilogy, most notably, did not credit Chewbacca in the titles, even though the stories involve Chewie as much as Han. The second Han Solo trilogy of novels, written by A.C. Crispin, followed this same convention. Daley said in an interview that he preferred to think of his books as the Solo and Company series rather than the Han Solo series, but for marketing purposes, Han’s name just looks better on a book cover. Rucka’s book does not follow that convention, crediting both characters in the title and, more importantly, featuring both of them with equal prominence in the story.

Right away, Smuggler’s Run answers questions in the new canon that were never satisfactorily addressed before. Chewie has a medal, so apparently the rebels only had time to make two medals before the ceremony at the end of EPISODE IV and shipped Chewbacca’s medal to him sometime later. Which makes sense when you think about it. What the hell were they doing forging gold medals and having a massive formal ceremony in the secret rebel base that had just been exposed to the Empire? Did they think the Death Star was the only weapon the Empire had? If the Imperial fleet (which should have been in communication with Darth Vader) had attacked the Massasi temple while they were all patting themselves on the back for blowing up the Death Star, the entire Rebel Alliance would have been destroyed. And you can’t argue that they just put the ceremony together really quick before hastily packing up and getting out of there, because someone had time to design and create Olympic gold medals to give the honorees (two of them, at least). Bad priorities, Rebellion.

I feel the urge to make a joke about the Oscars just now.

But Chewie gets a medal, and we will learn in the Chewbacca comic that he gives it away to a young girl after having his own solo adventure shortly following this one. This answers the question once and for all, validating earlier sources like Alan Dean Foster’s novelization and the associated comics adaptation while dispelling the retcon offered up by the Bantha Tracks newsletter, which explained that Chewbacca declined to receive a medal because Wookiees find such things distasteful.

You see, it's not that Wookiees find medals ethically distasteful.
They just don't consider them to be fashionable.

The original Marvel Comics were torn on the issue of Chewie's medal. Roy Thomas' adaptation of the film is visually consistent with the movie, showing Chewie looking annoyed while Han and Luke are honored with medals, but the text explains that Chewie will also get a medal that he will have to put on himself. Later in "The Day After the Death Star", a story Archie Goodwin wrote for Marvel's STAR WARS WEEKLY comic, Goodwin stated that Leia did put a medal on Chewie, but had to stand on a table to put in on him.

Above shown are Marvel's answers to the medal controversy: In the background the adaptation
shows Chewie without a medal and inset is an image from a color reprint of the STAR WARS
WEEKLY story in which Leia stands on a table to put the medal around his neck.

Chewbacca isn't too concerned with getting a medal in Smuggler’s Run. He regards it as little more than an oddity. But at least in this version of events, he was duly recognized for his contribution to the rebel victory. Chewbacca is also regarded by the other characters as the more trustworty of the two, with Han being thought of as much less reliable. He is clearly Han’s moral compass, but he’s not just shown as an accessory; he is treated as his own self-sustaining character.

Another question that was never consistently answered was whether or not Han and Chewie were ever actually paid what they were promised for their efforts in EPISODE IV. The radio drama suggested they were paid in valued goods, but I don't think they ever got to sell them because they ended up throwing in with the Rebellion. The original Marvel comic said they were paid, but the money was immediately stolen by space pirates. Smuggler’s Run specifically states that they were indeed paid the reward they were promised for rescuing Princess Leia, even though that promise was made by Luke Skywalker, who did not represent the Rebel Alliance. It goes on to say that they were also paid the additional 15,000 they were promised by Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Mos Eisley cantina, even though Kenobi also did not represent the Rebel Alliance.

Smuggler's Run does not explain how Han and Chewie still manage not to pay back Jabba the Hutt, but it does point out that Jabba has already sent bounty hunters on their trail (one of the underlying threats in the story), and if Han is captured before he can pay Jabba, the fact that he has the money to repay him will be rendered moot.

Before Han and Chewie have a chance to push on after the Battle of Yavin (a process Han seems to be dragging out more than is necessary), the smuggling duo gets an appeal from Princess Leia to rescue a wayward rebel who is in possession of information too sensitive for the Empire to acquire.

The rebel is Caluan Ematt, leader of a rebel unit called the Shrikes. He’s also one of the old guys you see standing around in the Resistance base in EPISODE VII and makes an appearance in Moving Target, the JOURNEY TO STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS adventure which stars Princess Leia.

Han and Chewie travel to the planet Cyrkon to fetch Ematt, but run into an Imperial Star Destroyer as soon as they come out of hyperspace. They talk their way out of trouble with a fake ID and get down to the planet, where they run across a trio of bounty hunters intent on capturing them before Boba Fett gets sent out on the job. This is supporting the apocryphal fiction that Boba Fett is the most revered bounty hunter in the galaxy and not a trash-talking Hutt-henchman who doesn’t even know how to work his own rocket pack.

Ematt is being hunted by Alecia Beck, an elite Imperial officer with a robot eye who is intent on following Palpatine’s post-Yavin mandate to root out and route any and all rebel forces she can find. When her stormtroopers interrupt a confrontation between Han, Chewie, and the bounty hunters, Han takes advantage of the tension by telling the stormtroopers the bounty hunters are rebel agents. The hunters, not being particularly bright, shoot it out with the stormtroopers rather than explaining themselves. Han and Chewie use the firefight to cover their escape from everybody.

Sorting the mess out, Beck lets the bounty hunters go so long as they agree to hunt down the rebels and hand them over to the Empire. She sends one of her stormtroopers - who is actually a clone trooper still serving the Empire - to follow them and lead her to the rebels.

Han and Chewbacca locate Ematt and attempt to extract him, but are cornered once again by the bounty hunters. This leads Beck to them and she captures them all, but with a little help from their fellow starhopper Delia Leighton, Han and Chewie manage a blundering two-fisted escape. They usher Ematt to the Millennium Falcon and whisk him away to safety, with Leighton providing cover against Beck’s TIE fighter pilots.

This is a good character piece for Han, who is faced with the uncomfortable knowledge that people are starting to believe his gruff persona is his true self. While he wants to come off as indifferent, he can’t stand to be thought of as untrustworthy. Meeting Ematt, a true believer in both the cause and in his fellow man, forces Han to confront his outwardly stated world view.

During the final space battle with the TIE fighters, Han reveals his true nature when Delia’s ship is damaged and she is delayed in making the jump to light speed. Rather than leaving her, Han stays behind to cover her until she can complete the calculations and jump to safety. This is a good way of illustrating the change that Han is going through on his road to becoming a hero of the Rebellion.

Like most of the young adult books produced for the JOURNEY TO STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS campaign (with the exception of Lost Stars), this is a really fun story that honors the spirit of STAR WARS and its characters. It reminds me of the Brian Daley novels and the early Marvel comics, when the emphasis was on lighthearted adventure.

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