This book takes place apparently very soon after Truce at Bakura. I know just that little tidbit by itself made me happy when I first heard of this book. Han and Leia weren't even married yet, let alone having children who had already died. Chewie was alive. Everyone was still young and vibrant and fun. It was like a breath of fresh air after I had been left constantly wondering why the powers that be keep accelerating the timeline and making the fictional characters in the books age faster than the actors that played them in real life. Why does Han have to go from 29 to 75 in that span when Harrison himself has only gone from 34 to 69? (holy crap, he's more than twice as old... yikes.)
The book begins with Luke struggling a bit with the morals of being a general and how many lives he is forced to take. He actually is asking to be investigated to see if he should be charged with war crimes. At this point, most of the rest of the book is told in flashback.
Luke talks with Han about being a general and Han makes light of it, like it's not really that big of a deal, especially if he could handle it himself. Then Luke gives him a hard time about resigning and Han says that Leia needs a good bodyguard, to which Leia debates if he was such a good bodyguard how come she's the one rescuing him all of the time? "It's how you prove you still love me." That is just the tip of the iceberg as far as these characters just sounding so much like I'd expect Han and Leia to sound in their fun, teasing nature toward one another.
There is a good quote here that you may have seen on our blog before about how Luke says that Han doesn't have to answer to anyone, and Han says, "Have you met your sister?" Not long after that she gives him a "sharp elbow" to the ribs. I'm sorry, I can't quote everything in this book that I liked or this post by itself would be an entire novel.
There is discussion about some holomovies based on their lives which is a fun but realistic look at the fame they must have within the galaxy due to their heroic acts. Luke is not such a fan of the whole thing, but Han apparently uses it to his advantage and makes money off the whole thing. This is one of the only things in the book I'm not sure is entirely a "Han" thing to do. Money? Yes. Fame? I don't know, but maybe we're all wrong about him there and he actually adores the fame, but anyway...
Han and Leia get stuck sitting in on some negotiations with Mandolorians, which makes Han wonder if it is possible to die from boredom. A lot of this book is written from Han's point of view in such a way that it is almost as though we are hearing Han's internal dialogue. Matthew Stover has written a few other Star Wars books, and those were also enjoyable, but this one just has an incredibly unique, fun style that again, makes you wish that he had written almost the entirety of the EU. We get to read about Han's feelings on Mandolorians in which he tries to play off that he doesn't hate all of them, and he's not generalizing, but he's never met one that he liked.
Why does Han bother with these negotiations? Well, the book puts it simply, and this whole section is one of my favorite things ever written in an EU book:
"The main consideration that stopped him from engaging in catastrophic droid-remodelling was the presence beside him of the New Republic's chief negotiator, who was so breathtakingly beautiful that Han couldn't even glance her way without feeling his heart begin to pound.
"She was not only beautiful but brilliant and fiercely courageous, and she had done only one really foolish thing in her entire life: a couple of years ago, she had let herself fall in love with a dashing-but-impoverished tramp-freighter captain - well, okay, a disreputable smuggler on the run from Imperial authorities and various bounty hunters and crime lords, but who was counting? - and Han could never shake this lurking dead that if he, say, did something nasty to C-3PO, who, after all, usually meant well, Leia might suddenly wake up and realize what an awful mistake she'd made.
"Not that he'd ever admit this, not even to Chewbacca. Not even to himself, most days - his ego was invulnerable to self-doubt - but on those rare occasions when he found himself getting irritable and depressed because he was stuck somewhere with way too much time to think and not nearly enough to do, these little whispers would start hissing around in the back of his head. He could quiet them only by privately reaffirming his personal blood oath that he would never - never ever ever - give the woman he loved a reason to regret falling for him."
I absolutely love that passage, for so many reasons. Obviously because it shows just how much he loves her, but it isn't really overly mushy or sentimental. It shows us that he isn't entirely secure in his worthiness of her, but even he is reluctant to admit it to even himself because come on, he's Han Solo, cocky smuggler with the huge ego. In this little passage we know that he loves her for her beauty but he also respects her for her brilliance and courage, among other things. Enough gushing, because there's a lot more to get to here.
Fenn Shysa becomes involved in these negotiations, and if any of you had read the Marvel comics I talked about in that other post (none of you did, I know) you'd know there is more back story here. Leia had met him while Han was in carbonite, and like every single man in the Star Wars universe (although you can't really blame them because Leia is just about the only woman in the galaxy not currently chained to Jabba's throne) he tried to make some moves on Leia, but at least in this case, she wasn't interested. He came back in a later issue and once again started putting moves on Leia, and Han, very uncharacteristically, didn't push or make a big deal of it. In this case it was because he was annoyed about this pilot's test he had failed, and I'm assuming wasn't genuinely worried that he was going to steal Leia away from him.
Han has some fun little names he likes to give the Mandalorians, especially Shysa. In fact, Han's full name he gives him is, "Fenn You-So-Much-as-Look-at-Leia-That-Way-One-More-Time-and-I-Swear-I'm-Gonna-Pop-Your-Mando-Skull-Like-a-Bladdergrape Shysa." So as you can see, he's not a big fan. But it gets better, as he laments that it is obvious Shysa considers himself, "more-studly-than-thou, more-honorable-than-thou, more-self-sacrificing-than-thou, and more-all-around-good-guy-than-thou." Han also hints at some insecurity that Shysa is a bit better looking, pays particular attention to Leia, and worse, she seems to enjoy it.
All of this is interrupted though when Leia proves without a doubt that she's not really thinking about Shysa, when she pulls Han close and tells him quietly that Luke is in trouble. You see, Luke had run off to battle and managed to get himself caught, and of course now that he and Leia have that whole twin bond thing, she can tell when something is wrong with him. It takes some convincing, but Han goes off to see if he can find out, and when he finds out she's right, it takes him about ten seconds to get to Chewie and the Falcon and head straight out to help him. Chewie gives him a hard time about not taking Leia and Han has no intention of bringing her into danger, so off they go.
As you can imagine, when it finally occurs to Leia that Han isn't coming back to the meeting and she finds out he left, she's not thrilled. Of course she's torn between Han's tendency to drop everything to save a friend and his "silly masculine notion" that he can protect her by leaving her behind. She also has some very interesting thoughts about how she is still having difficulty coming to terms with the fact that she has Jedi blood. She had mostly hoped that what she "felt" was wrong was just some silly, meaningless thought. I can see how it would be difficult to come to really start to accept that you have that sort of power and to learn to listen to it. So Leia of course now knows she has to go after them, and it doesn't take much to convince Wedge to get the entirety of Rogue Squadron ready to go. Oh, and not long after that, Lando and Shysa follow suit. This is gonna be some party....
So, they arrive at Mindor. Honestly, I am going to butcher trying to describe this whole thing. I even did a search to see if anyone else described this whole thing accurately and found nothing. So just take my advice and read the damn book, but I'll try to at least give you something to go on. So here we go:
Cronal (who has a couple of names here, but the essence I believe is Cronal) is attacking the Inner Rim planets and using Mindor as a base. This guy somehow has the ability to sort of use other people's bodies to carry out his will, and whomever is carrying it out is known as "Shadowspawn." He lures Luke into a trap and captures him, using one of his Shadowspawns and intending to take Luke next.
Han finds himself immersed in a space battle when he arrives, and for a while many are under the false assumption that Luke is dead. Leia finally arrives and assures him that no, he's still in trouble, but certainly not dead. The battle had taken place in the midst of an asteroid field, which, as you can imagine, brought back fond memories for Han. The whole system is a little strange and honestly this is my fourth reading of this book and I'm still not entirely clear, but somehow there are these gravity wells holding everything together, but they get destroyed and it sets off a chain reaction that sooner or later basically everything is going to get pulled into the sun.
Once Han and Leia are reunited, obviously their main priority is to find Luke. They run into a woman named Aeona Cantor, a pirate whose lover she needs to rescue was taken as Shadowspawn. Han does not fail to notice that she is "dangerously good-looking" but also a redhead, which fortunately he has decided he never wants to deal with again. And, he also thinks to himself, "Besides, my dance card's full. For the rest of my life, if I'm lucky." You got that right. They enjoy some witty banter before some TIE fighters interrupt the conversation.
They are forced to immediately flee back to the safety of the Falcon, and Han makes a less-than-graceful move toward his ship and lands hard on his rear. A few moments later, once a bit safer on board, Leia asks, "Are you okay? Really?"
"Mostly," Han said. "Considering I landed on my brain." (that would be referring to his ass)
"As long as there's no permanent damage." Leia flashed a grin and gave his injured anatomy a quick pat as he squeezed by. "It's your best feature - and that's saying a lot."
"You're adorable," he said. "Now let's go shoot some bad guys, huh?"
Leia patting Han's ass? Where has this EU been hiding for the past twenty years? They make a quick escape, but Leia makes Han go back and get the Mindor people and the redhead so they won't be mercilessly slaughtered. Han is reluctant, but of course agrees. So now he's stuck with a mouthy redhead on his ship. And one who led him to a nice cavern to dock his ship in, that reminds him of another cavern not that long ago he had docked in for safety, only to find he wasn't so safe (but at least he finally got that kiss.)
Once safe, they go back to see who they've picked up and Chewie and Leia start helping the wounded while Han starts talking to Aeona, who knows who he is and starts to flatter him while he consciously tries not to do anything that Leia might think was flirting. He reluctantly gives her his blaster after she had given him hers to check out, and of course then she decides she wants to keep it. Then they see that somehow these people have Artoo (he was with Luke and they had found him earlier) and Artoo being probably the real hero of all of the movies, makes it clear that these people are not to be trusted, at which point as you might expect, Aeona pulls Han's blaster on him and he discovers that her blaster has been relieved of its power cell.
She wants his ship, which is an idea Han is not such a fan of. Fortunately, Han is smarter than we initially thought, and he had also taken the power cell out of his blaster before giving it to her. She refers to Leia as "Princess Kissy-Face" to which Leia, quite angrily, replies, "Princess excuse me?" Han can't even hold her back. Once Aeona finds out the blaster is useless she throws it at him and goes to attack, but Leia takes her out and pounds her face into the deck while sitting on her back. When Han goes to get her so they can flee, Leia looked up at him with a fierce grin, sparkling eyes, and high color blazing in her cheeks, and Han thought again for the tenth or hundredth - maybe thousandth - time, that the Princess of Alderaan really was never more beautiful than when she was knocking the living Sithspit out of somebody.
Yeah, go Leia! This is the kind of narrow escape that feels right out of the movies. Nothing goes perfectly and everyone is in on the action. Chewie contributes by literally throwing unconscious bodies toward other enemies. I love seeing Leia in on the action not just with a blaster, but also physically - especially when it involves really taking out her aggression on this woman who really got under her skin. Chewie grabs Han and carries him out. Han wants to cover Leia and get her out, thinking that there's no way he'll make it after she goes, but she refuses to leave him. She gets clipped by a blaster and Han wastes no time grabbing her, in spite of her insistence that she's fine, and carrying her out.
They do all make it out, and we're left with the visual of Han holding Leia in his arms, Chewie and Artoo with them, as the Falcon takes off without them. Stolen. Han is stunned nearly to silence, devastated as you can imagine. He's mostly silent for a while afterward as they walk off to try and find Luke, Leia walking far off in front and not saying much until Chewie convinces him to go and talk to her. After discussing that they are headed in the right direction, Han gets some satisfaction when he decides that she was, in fact, jealous of Aeona. Leia tells him that he wouldn't have been caught so off-guard if she wasn't so good-looking. Han isn't sure, but, "I am pretty sure that if she wasn't so good-looking, you wouldn't have hit her so hard." "Hope I broke her nose," Leia then replied.
I love the interaction between these two in this book! Han also then says, referring to something else, "When I get too old to be dashing, I'll having to be colorful."
"You're already colorful, and you'll always be dashing."
"Aw, you take the fun out of everything."
See, these are two people who aren't acting like some stupid, teenage romance. And utilizing their fun, sarcastic humor that we know them for. But we don't get that for long, because this cave they're in is... interesting, and the floor falls right out beneath them. I don't even know if I can adequately describe what happens to them at this point, notably because it is actually told from Artoo's point of view. The rock is sort of.... alive. And it doesn't like them very much. First it takes out Chewie, and then an energy bolt takes out Han who is left twitching, and as you can imagine, Leia is next. Although even Artoo says how he would do everything he could to prevent any harm from coming to Princess Leia. It's a wonder anything bad ever happens to her with so many men on her side.
Next comes close to the only part of the book that is written from Leia's point of view. That is maybe my only gripe here, that we don't get more from Leia's point of view, because it would be interesting to see more from her. But, well, hearing things from Han's is just so darn much fun. But here, Han is out, and Leia isn't doing so well either, but even in the dark she seems to know where he is and manages to reach out and grab his boot. Desperate to wake him up, she starts with shaking. Then she moves to slapping, then, ever-so-lovingly, she grabs his earlobe and digs her thumbnail in as hard as she can. I suspect this wasn't so much because she is into abusing him, but because if he didn't wake up right then, there was a good chance he'd die.
Fortunately, this did the trick, and he is only mad at her for about a second. They manage to run away from.... an enemy honestly I'm still not clear on. Basically live rock that wants to envelop them and destroy them. Except they wind up running to a cavern full of dead bodies. Yeah, that sounds better. Basically, they think that's it. Han just pulls Leia into his arms, and: "Leia, I'm just - I'm sorry things went this way. I just wish you and I had more time. Together."
She smiled up at him and touched his face. "I know."
"How is it we only kiss when we're about to get killed?"
"Just lucky, I guess." She kissed him, briefly, glancedly, but even that slight contact brought a hot flash of bittersweet regret for all of the kisses he was pretty srue they'd never get the chance to share."
Are you crying yet? I guess my only complaint there is the insinuation that they aren't kissing constantly, whether about to die or not, but still. They get some brief hope when they discover that not all of the bodies are dead, but then things get worse again when suddenly a very large, ominous dude starts coming toward them, and Leia can understand what he wants. And he wants her. But first he grabs Han by the throat and basically is very slowly breaking his neck when Leia says that if he dies, so will she. Han decides that the threat seems kind of silly since that seems to be what the guy wants. And at first you might think of it as a sweet, "I can't live without him" sort of thing but really it is just clear to Leia that he needs her alive, and she can bargain with her life to save Han.
He drops Han and she gets him to back away, but then everything goes dark, and Han can hear Leia being taken but he can't get to her and falls through the floor again, and basically the rock melts around his hands and knees and he is trapped. Worse, Luke finally comms him, and of course, his hands and knees being solidly entombed in the ground, he can't answer the call. But I did forget to mention, Luke actually winds up on the Falcon with Aeona and Nick, isn't that convenient?
Luke had escaped, gotten away from being Shadowspawn. Which is why Leia was now in so much danger. Her body was the perfect alternative. Except apparently Leia has some spark of something that Luke didn't have, and it is preventing him from getting rid of her fully and using her body. She just won't let go and he can't figure out why. Well, he doesn't have time to figure it out because Luke comes in and saves her, gets her body to Chewie and Han although she is still having some sort of seizure and Luke stays behind to take out Cronal. Han decides he has to go back for Luke, and he tries to help him until Luke finally tells him he has to go back to Leia and basically uses the Force to make him go back and he is unable to open the Falcon's hatch to go get him. So he takes off, Leia still convulsing in the copilot chair.
Luke manages to take out Cronal, but basically the planet is still about to explode and there is no way to get away fast enough because of the surrounding asteroids. The Falcon is simply sitting on the planet and Han took Leia out, knowing they were about to die. Her seizures had finally stopped and she was mumbling something about light and he just laid her out on a blanket, thinking he shouldn't wake her up basically just to die.
But she wakes up, and tells him how where she was had been so dark and she couldn't remember anything.... "except for you. It was like you were with me," she murmurred. "You were all I had left - and I didn't need anything else."
Awww.... See, that was the light that had prevented him from taking over her body. Han. The only reason this passage made me angry was because the next book in sequence would be COPL, and you'd think after he was the only thing she needed and the light that brought her back from the dark she might not be so taken by some blond, long-haired, rich prince. But that rant is probably for next week. Oh, but one more thing, after that, why did it take another four years to get married again?
Leia is hungry, even though she knows they're going to die and they decide to share a "picnic" of the dead stormtroopers' stale rations. Han jokes that obviously this is a meal they will never forget as long as they live - what with the fact that apparently they are going to die within minutes. Leia replies, "Always the joker, even now. Even here."
Han nodded. "Well, y'know we always get romantic when we're about to die. It was getting repetitive."
The ground beneath them spasmed once, then again, and Leia said, "I think we should respect the tradition."
"Kiss me, Han. One last time." She lifted a hand to his cheek. Her touch was warm and dry, and impossibly precious to him. "Once for all the kisses we'll never get."
I love this. And while I obviously hope that they never actually die, I think I could live with it if this is how they were in their final moments. They don't need a lot of words. But, of course, they don't die. In fact, they don't even actually get to kiss there because Chewie informs them that if they move fast, they'll live. Even Han would give up a Leia kiss if it meant he'd get to live instead of die. Push is going to have to explain why they don't die because honestly, I've never been able to figure it out.
That is the last we hear from Han and Leia in this book, but I like to speculate that once safely in hyperspace and fed and rested, then they decide to get married and have lots of sex. Yep, that's my story. In all seriousness, if I ever posted my ideas on how they got engaged and stuff, it would follow right after this book, negating any further timelines in the EU. Don't get excited, I never wrote it and there's a good chance I never will.
Artoo actually goes back and saves Luke by signalling a ship that takes the asteroid they're on with it in its hyperspace bubble or whatever. And everyone is safe.
I apologize for the worst general summary in the history of general summaries, but I had to get a lot of quotes in. If you've never read a single EU book, maybe are curious but don't want to get into reading a bunch of books, read this one. I'd give this to a casual fan just to take a look at, and I'm not sure there are any other books I'd do that with. This book feels the most like the movies and is the most fun while at the same time having very dark possibilities. The characterizations are utterly perfect. Han is at his awesome-est, and he works perfectly in synch with bad-ass Leia. Luke is facing some real personal issues when it comes to what he wants to do as far as being a general and/or Jedi and what they both would mean.
I didn't even get into the fact that there is also a lot with Rogue Squadron and poor Lando is the one who was stuck with Threepio all that time. There is also a lot more that happened with Luke but I'm sorry, this was already really long and you really should read the book anyway. This is the kind of fun adventure that I really, really wish had been on their minds from the beginning of writing the EU. I'd be thrilled if they wiped the slate clean and started over from the end of this book.
Han and Leia factor? Easy 5. For me, anyway. Obviously the focus is not on their relationship but I think that's part of what makes it so great. It doesn't have to be the focal point for the author within the context of the story to be able to show us what they mean to each other. Honestly, right now off the top of my head I only remember the word "love" being used once, and that was when Han was teasing Leia about how often she has to save him. It is never mushy but still leaves you smiling. They tease each other and work perfectly with each other, whether it is to save one another or just in the face of an enemy, often not needing words to communicate.
I don't even know what else to say about this book I haven't already. If you haven't read it, do. I know when I first got it I was almost laughing to myself at how awesome I thought it was and how much I wished there were more books like it. I'd say Zahn's latest installments are fairly close in tone, but he loses points simply because Han and Leia aren't together yet - not his fault. This is what Star Wars books were meant to be. And hey, if nothing else, like I said, it still doesn't hurt that there's a part where Leia not only pats Han's ass, but compliments him on it. What more could you ask for outside of fan fiction? Let's just try not to think about how the great status of their relationship at the end of this book further illustrates how proposterous COPL is, but again, that's a rant for another book.