Book Review: 'Solo: A Star Wars Story - Expanded Edition'

(C) 2018 Del Rey Books/Random House and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

On Tuesday, September 4, Random House’s science fiction/fantasy imprint Del Rey Books published Solo: A Star Wars Story – Expanded Edition, a novelization of director Ron Howard’s 2018 film about the early adventures of a young Han Solo, a Wookiee named Chewbacca, and the roguish gambler and starship owner Lando Calrissian in the years before Han’s involvement with the Rebellion against the Empire.

Written by author/podcaster Mur Lafferty (Six Wakes, I Should Be Writing), Solo: A Star Wars Story is based on the screenplay and screen story by the father-son team of Lawrence Kasdan (Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark) and Jon Kasdan (Indiana Jones V). It is a relatively faithful adaptation of the Kasdans’ story, but – as with all of the other Star Wars novels based on the Saga Trilogies and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – Lafferty’s Solo contains material that was left out of the final film or – with permission from Lucasfilm – the author’s imagination.

Don't miss the exclusive content in this thrilling adaptation of Solo: A Star Wars Story, with scenes from alternate versions of the script including Han Solo's time in the Imperial Navy, Qi'ra's past, the beginnings of the rebellion, and more!

Though Han Solo has thrilled Star Wars fans for decades, the notorious wisecracking scoundrel was chasing adventure and dodging trouble long before he walked into the cantina at Mos Eisley spaceport.

Young Han dreams of someday soaring into space at the helm of his own starship and leaving his home, the gritty industrial planet Corellia, far behind. But as long as he's trapped in a life of poverty and crime—and under the thumb of the sinister Lady Proxima and her brutal street gang—reaching the distant stars seems impossible. When Han tries to escape with his girlfriend and partner-in-crime, Qi'ra, he makes it out—but she doesn't. Desperate for a way to find his own offworld vessel and free her, Han enlists in the Imperial Navy—the last place for a rebellious loner who doesn't play well with others.

When the Empire clips his wings, Han goes rogue and plunges into the shady world of smugglers, gamblers, and con artists. There he meets the charming and cunning high roller Lando Calrissian, makes an unlikely friend in a cantankerous Wookiee called Chewbacca, and first lays eyes on the Millennium Falcon. To snag his piece of the outlaw pie, Han joins a crew of pirates to pull off a risky heist. The stakes are high, the danger is great, and the odds are slim. But never tell Han Solo the odds. – Publisher’s dust-jacket blurb, Solo: A Star Wars Story – Expanded Edition

Solo: A Star Wars Story begins on the Imperial shipbuilding world of Corellia. Here, the Empire has a shipyard where Kuat Drive Yards builds fast, powerful starships like Star Destroyers and other cruisers for the Imperial Navy. But as in many planets under Emperor Palpatine’s New Order, life for many of Corellia’s population is harsh and unforgiving, especially for streetwise orphans, outcasts, and runaways – scrumrats – who live in the shadowy slums and alleyways of Coronet City.

One of these scrumrats is a teenaged boy named Han. Orphaned before his adolescence, Han survives by lending his talents as a scrounger, thief, Sabacc player, and an uncanny ability to drive or fly anything with a lot of speed to a local gangster named Lady Proxima. His only friends are fellow scrumrats in Lady Proxima’s gang – and the woman he loves, Qi’ra.

But after Han botches an assignment from Lady Proxima to acquire one of the galaxy’s most valuable commodities – hyperfuel – the hotshot teen and Qi’ra attempt to escape from Corellia and make a new life for themselves offworld. But when they reach the spaceport in Coronet City, they are separated at the emigration line. Han manages to persuade an Imperial officer to let him through; Qi’ra is stuck on the other side of the gate and remains on Corellia, while Han – who is given the last name “Solo” by an Imperial officer who signs him up to the Imperial Navy Academy on Carida – enlists as a flight cadet for the Empire.

But true to his nature in the Star Wars saga, Han is too independent to fit in a strict, by-the-book environment such as the Imperial Naval Academy, and although he is a naturally-gifted pilot, he is impatient with rules and insubordinate to his superiors. Sure enough, his refusal to obey orders during a training flight earn Han an appearance before a military tribunal and a transfer to the Imperial ground forces.

Three years after leaving Corellia, Han Solo finds himself on the boggy planet Mimban, where the Empire has been waging a war against the Mimbanese Liberation Army to “bring peace, prosperity, and security” to a population who doesn’t want Palpatine’s New Order imposed on it. Stripped of his status as an officer-in-training, Solo is now a “mudtrooper” who sees action on the front lines – and watches many of his fellow soldiers dying for an unjust cause.

It’s here that Han first crosses paths with “Captain” Tobias Beckett, a smuggler, thief, and con man who, along with two members of his gang, is in disguise as a member of the Imperial Army as part of a planned heist. It is Beckett – prompted by one of his team member’s apprehensions about young Solo – sets in motion the events that lead to Han’s fateful meeting with a 200-year-old Wookiee named Chewbacca, a daring attempt to steal coaxium – hyperfuel – from a train on Vandor, and the first meeting of Han and Lando Calrissian – the dashing captain-owner of a YT-1300 ship named the Millennium Falcon.

My Take

Like other novelizations of Star Wars movies, Mur Lafferty’s Solo: A Star Wars Story features most of the beats, characters, and situations from the 2018 feature film written by Larry and Jon Kasdan and directed by Ron Howard. Much of the dialogue derived from the cinematic source resembles what viewers heard in theaters or in the digital edition of Solo, although Lafferty’s version has slight variations because she was working from older drafts of the Kasdans’ screenplay and not from the final draft used by director Howard after he took the reins from the original directing team of Christopher Miller and Phil Lord in 2017 after their dismissal from the film due to “creative differences” with the studio.

But that’s not the only commonality that Solo: A Star Wars Story shares with 1976’s Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker and other novelizations of films and TV series set “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.”

Per the publisher’s dust jacket blurb, the novel features “exclusive content” and “scenes from alternate versions of the script.”

Guess what, folks…all of the Star Wars movie novelizations feature scenes from alternate versions of the script.” From the original 1976 novel credited to George Lucas but written by Alan Dean Foster all the way to Jason Fry’s novel of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, movie tie-ins always have scenes that were planned but not shot, shot but deleted from the final cut, or have slight differences, e.g. Luke’s call sign as an X-wing pilot in Foster’s novelization of Star Wars is Blue Five, while in the 1977 film it’s Red Five.  

So, yeah. Lafferty’s version of Solo: A Star Wars Story does have additional material, especially at the beginning of the novel, which adds some expository narrative setting up Han and Qi’ra’s confrontation with Lady Proxima’s White Worms gang. There’s also an epilogue that came wholly out of Lafferty’s imagination that connects Solo: A Star Wars Story to the other Anthology film, Rogue One.

Lafferty has only one other Star Wars byline in her resume – a short story that was published in last year’s Star Wars: From A Certain Point of View anthology – but she is good at describing the various worlds – Corellia, Mimban, Vandor, and others – that are important settings in Solo: A Star Wars Story. She has a good eye for concrete detail and a gift for writing dialogue and internal thoughts, and her prose is crisp and elegantly simple without being simplistic.
Solo: A Star Wars Story is as enjoyable as the movie which is its creative wellspring. I just wish that Del Rey would stop marketing the novelizations of Star Wars films as Expanded Editions.