Tales of the Bounty Hunters, edited by Kevin J. Anderson (1996, Bantam)
Like Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina and Tales from Jabba’s Palace, Tales of the Bounty Hunters is an anthology of stories by different authors set during and around the events of one of the films. This one, of course, follows the exploits of the bounty hunters that Darth Vader sicked on Han Solo and the crew of the Millennium Falcon in The Empire Strikes Back.
Unlike the other two collections mentioned above, this one has only five stories (as opposed to sixteen or nineteen). The trade-off is that each is significantly longer, still managing to fill your standard three-hundred plus pages for a Star Wars paperback.
The collection opens with “Therefore I Am: The Tale of IG-88” by Kevin J. Anderson. The story reveals that the assassin droid showed up on the Executor (Vader’s Super Star Destroyer) partially to raise funds for his ultimate goal and partially to divert attention from that goal: complete destruction of all organic life in the galaxy, ushering in an era of droid supremacy.
Anderson writes serviceable, quick-paced prose, but he indulges in a little bit of cheese here when IG-88 and his duplicates start killing folks. In my mind’s eye, I could see a ‘90s holofoil super-special-awesome collector’s edition comic book cover for this story with the words “ROBOT CARNAGE!!!” emblazoned on it. That said, this isn’t a bad story. It’s reasonably entertaining, and its conclusion is immensely satisfying. IG-88 is foiled by his arrogance, a trait that is, of course, all too human.
You know, Boba Fett gets all the love. When I read this book years ago, I became just as fascinated with Dengar because of Dave Wolverton’s “Payback: The Tale of Dengar.” It turns out that Dengar’s head is all bandaged up because of a nasty swoop bike crash—the result of a race with none other than Han Solo. Dengar’s life was saved by Imperial doctors, who made him into an ideal government assassin by burning out several of the emotional centers in his brain. This left Dengar with few emotions save for rage, the likely false hope that his situation might improve, and loneliness.
This begins to change when he meets Manaroo, a member of a race whose members share a cybernetic empathic link with those closest to them through a device called an attanni. Through brief glimpses Manaroo provides, Dengar slowly relearns to make decisions for the wellbeing of another person, to distinguish from right and wrong, and to love. The last thing most folks would expect from this collection is for any of the stories to tug at the heartstrings, but Wolverton does so here, and to good effect. The story is romantic and even heart-warming, but Wolverton remembers that Dengar has spent years as a cold-blooded killer, and doesn’t let the bounty hunter’s transformation stray into the realm of schmaltz.
Despite the title of the third story—“The Prize Pelt: The Tale of Bossk”—Kathy Tyers chooses to make the big Trandoshan bounty hunter the antagonist of this tale. The protagonists are two original characters: A human woman called Tinian I’att and her Wookie partner, Chenlambec. Both sign on to help Bossk with the intention of capturing him and collecting the bounty on his head. Bossk, on the other hand, is interested in Chenlambec’s rare silver-tip pelt.
The story’s cat-and-mouse game works well enough, but its most interesting elements are its insights into Trandoshan culture. Bossk’s people worship a deity known as the Scorekeeper, who tallies point values based on kills made, pelts collected, and other lovely things, all to be rewarded in the afterlife. There’s something chilling and captivating to me about an alien race with a truly alien set of ethics. I would have liked to have seen more discussion of these ideas here, but the story is solid nevertheless.
Mysticism is something one would not be likely to associate with any of these characters, but I’m glad that M. Shayne Bell did in “Of Possible Futures: The Tale of Zuckuss and 4-LOM.” It turns out that Zuckuss has a gift he simply calls “intuition,” which allows him, through meditation, to discern the location and intentions of people, as well as the outcome of events. It is left relatively ambiguous as to whether this gift has anything to do with the Force, but either way, Zuckuss’s droid partner 4-LOM, who has a long history of exhibiting several very un-droid-like qualities (such as greed), has also decided that he can learn Zuckuss’s skill.
The story also follows Rebel Commander Toryn Farr, who is forced to make several tough decisions during the evacuation of Hoth. Her path crosses with that of Zuckuss and 4-LOM when the former intuits the Rebel rendezvous point outside the galaxy, and the bounty hunters rescue Farr and her crew as a gesture of good faith—a decision that later prompts the pair to begin working for the Alliance.
In this story, Bell explores the themes of choice and consequence and keeps things interesting by writing both Zuckuss and 4-LOM in a way that defies the expectations I imagine most readers had for those characters going in.
In compiling this volume, Kevin J. Anderson has saved the best for last. I don’t say this because Boba Fett is a fan favorite character. Boba Fett is pretty bad ass, to be sure, but this last story is the best simply because Daniel Keys Moran’s “The Last One Standing: The Tale of Boba Fett” is the most well-written story here. Its prose is thoughtfully considered and skillfully crafted, full of memorable lines and phrases that are repeated at appropriate moments throughout the story.
This one covers the greatest length of time, beginning with Boba Fett’s first from-a-distance encounter with Han Solo, tracing his activities through the trilogy and beyond, and ending with a confrontation between Fett and Solo, the conclusion of which is left ambiguous. Moran conveys the passage of time in poetic fashion, sometimes choosing to execute time skips with an isolated line reading “Fifteen years passed,” and other times doing so with several paragraphs describing the monumental changes taking place in the galaxy, and in Boba Fett and Han Solo. There is plenty of Boba Fett being a badass and exploration of his unique and uncompromising principles to be found here, but at its heart, this story is really about aging and change. It’s an excellent exploration of those themes, and I don’t just mean “for a Star Wars book.”
Tales of the Bounty Hunters isn’t quite as cohesive a collection as Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina or Tales from Jabba’s Palace, and the difference in quality between these stories is more noticeable because there are fewer of them, but for a fan of Star Wars books, they are all well worth reading.