Review written by Clark Valentine.
Wrapping up the first trio of Star Wars YA novel reviews is Smuggler’s Run: A Han Solo & Chewbacca Adventure, a fast-paced adventure starring Han Solo and Chewbacca, set between the films Star Wars (A New Hope, as it’s now known) and The Empire Strikes Back. The Star Wars trivia nerd that lives in my brain wondered if it would cover the tale behind Han’s comment to Princess Leia during Empire—“Well, the bounty hunter we ran into on Ord Mantell changed my mind”—but it was not to be.
That’s OK, though, because Han and Chewie’s visit to the planet Cyrkon detailed in Smuggler’s Run makes for a diverting read, and I recommend it both as a reader and as a Star Wars fan. It gives you some insight into Han’s growing sympathy for the Rebellion, lets you inside Chewbacca’s head a bit (hard to do in the films, given the whole “communicating only in howls and grunts” thing he has going), and introduces a love-to-hate-her villain that survives to be evil another day. I hope we see her again; she’s a good character.
Smuggler’s Run, like the other two (so far) books in this series (The Weapon of a Jedi and Moving Target), is told in flashback from the point of view of characters in the era of the upcoming film The Force Awakens. Also like The Weapon of a Jedi, you only need to have seen the first film (Star Wars/A New Hope) to understand this book.
Smuggler’s Run strikes a tone somewhere between The Weapon of a Jedi and Moving Target in terms of grown-up themes and general darkness. It’s more violent than the former, but doesn’t hit you quite so hard with death and the realities of war as the latter.
SPOILER ALERT: Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid
Violence and Scariness
Han and Chewbacca are pursued by ruthless Imperial agents and mercenary bounty hunters. Neither of those two groups are what you would call nice people; both threaten to and actually commit outright murder when it suits them (it happens “on-screen” once or twice, although obviously Han and Chewie make it out OK). The Imperial villain, Commander Alecia Beck, shows no compunction about getting her own troops killed when it serves her purposes. Characters brawl in a cantina. Blaster fights and starship battles result in deaths, but nothing is described in gruesome detail. (Which is arguably both tasteful avoidance of unnecessary gore and whitewashing the true effects of deadly violence. Whether this is a good or bad thing is pretty much up to you.)
While a ruthless servant of the evil Emperor, Commander Beck is given a bit of humanity. She clearly respects the sergeant of a squad of stormtroopers she works with, and treats him with decency you might not expect an officer to grant to otherwise expendable troops.
A friend of Han and Chewie sells them out. The audience knows that she only did so at gunpoint, but Han doesn’t, and he takes it personally. Readers familiar with the conventions of this sort of literature will see the situation coming a mile away, but betrayal (even coerced betrayal) can be a gut punch to some kids who aren’t as jaded.
While I’ve met both priests and grandmothers who knew how to wield an impolite four letter word, the text is suitable for the priests and grandmothers completely aligned with the stereotypes in your head.
The plot is a bit more complicated than The Weapon of a Jedi, but otherwise there’s no reason the 10 year old Star Wars fan in your life wouldn’t enjoy Smuggler’s Run. A precocious 8 year old might be able to handle it, if longer books are something they can manage (this one weighs in at 176 not-terribly-dense pages, with several full-page illustrations).
Smuggler’s Run: A Han Solo & Chewbacca Adventure by Greg Rucka
Published in 2015 by Disney/Lucasfilm Press
Part of the Journey To Star Wars: The Force Awakens series, including The Weapon of a Jedi and Moving Target
Read the first edition hardcover