The Hutt Gambit by A. C. Crispin (1997, Bantam)
In The Paradise Snare, we left Han Solo heartbroken and hardened, but with a promising future as an Imperial cadet. The second book of A. C. Crispin’s Han Solo Trilogy, entitled The Hutt Gambit, fast forwards to a Han much closer to the one with whom we’re familiar from the films. Han has recently been dishonorably discharged from the Imperial Navy for saving Chewbacca from beating and death at the hands of an Imperial slave driver. This, as most readers already know, has incurred a Wookie life debt. In short, Chewbacca is bonded to Han for life. This comes much to Han’s chagrin at first, but as Chewie proves himself an increasingly useful and pleasant companion, Han begins to warm up to the concept.
Han and Chewie make their home on the “Smuggler’s Moon,” Nar Shadda, which first appeared in the 1991-92 comic series, Dark Empire, mentioned in that book as an important part of Han’s past. Mindful of continuity, Crispin includes such characters as Shug Ninx, Mako Spince, Salla Zend, and even a brief cameo by the winner of the 1991 Palpatine look-alike contest, Vima-Da-Boda, seen here in Dark Empire doing her best Yoda impression:
Several characters from other books, such as crime lord Prince Xizor, seasoned smuggler Roa, and illusionist Xaverri play important roles as well.
Nar Shadda is in Hutt space, and Han quickly forms a professional rapport with everyone’s favorite vile gangster, Jabba the Hutt while working for him and his uncle/aunt Jiliac. The majority of this book’s first half consists of Han and Chewie kicking around on Nar Shadda, making smuggling runs for their new employers and making short work of the bounty hunters that Teroenza, the t’landa Til High Priest of Ylesia, has been sending after Han.
One of those bounty hunters turns out to be Boba Fett, who almost succeeds in bringing Han in, but for a last minute rescue, compliments of Lando Calrissian. Han’s new friendship with Lando, who owns a used spaceship lot, allows him to lease a ship which he christens the Bria.
This ship will see combat quite soon, as in the novel’s latter half, shit gets real. The Empire has been having increasing troubles with rebel activity (they have Han’s old girlfriend Bria Tharen to thank for some of that), and the decision is made to tighten the iron grip even further by making an example of those outside the law—including the entire moon of Nar Shadda.
This latter portion of the book focuses on planning for the upcoming battle, which proves a lengthy, but nonetheless exciting sequence. Despite the sting of seeing Bria again in the company of an Imperial sector Moff (how’s he supposed to know she’s a rebel spy?), things turn out pretty well for Han in the end, and the book concludes in the way it began: with Han preparing for a high stakes card game.
The Hutt Gambit is easily my favorite book in this trilogy. The majority of the novel is spent with Han in his element, quickly becoming a pro at the smuggling trade and hanging around with his fellow scoundrels. Crispin shows us not only Han’s obvious capability as a smuggler, but in the Battle of Nar Shadda, we see his potential as the leader that he will eventually become. I feel that Crispin perfectly captures the characters, tone, and scope necessary in this novel. In short, it’s pure Star Wars.
Join me on Friday for my review of Rebel Dawn, the final installment in The Han Solo Trilogy.