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Wednesday, 16 May 2018

AFICIONADO REVIEW: 'LAST SHOT'


MILD SPOILERS AHEAD...

When you've lived the fast, exciting and dangerous times that spiky and hard to pin down galactic smuggler Han Solo and entreprenurial/gambler and all-round super smooth Lando Calrissian have, its inevitable that their pasts will someday catch up with them. And not necessary for the better, either, as a mysterious and bizarre set of circumstances comes back to haunt the duo and threaten their lives anew, within Daniel Jose Older's effective showcase novel for our heroes that also acts as a loose tie-in of sorts to the upcoming Solo: A Star Wars StoryLast Shot, emerging brightly from UK hardback Hyperspace courtesy of CENTURY.

Past Prologue! Smooth operator Lando Calrissian is back at the Falcon's controls!

And it's the first failed assassination attempt on Lando at his infamous Tibanna gas mine at Bespin's Cloud City that sets the whole avalanche of Last Shot's events off- wrought by a mysterious Pau'an scientist soon identified as Fyzen Gor- the STAR WARS equivalent of Doctor Frankenstein! Though his presence is sadly lacking in modern STAR WARS sequels, the charismatic former Baron - here the STAR WARS equivalent of Shaft - shows just what a great character he is, and always has been, right from the get-go, literally taking on his opponents in just a bathrobe, and literally after a steamy night of passion with his latest girlfriend- a blast from the past Twi-lek who may have caught him for good. What a guy! But even Lando needs help from time to time- help he knows and can trust in the form of old buddy Han, also linked in his own thread to Gor, in order to solve the mystery of a stolen transmitter containing secrets and technological abilities once and now clearly important to parties both shady and Imperial that have also also sprung from their separate incidents in history-events linking back to Han's later ownership of the Millennium Falcon from ten years earlier, and a unique job with his former first 'wife' Stana, alongside former partner Chewie, that turned sour, and an unusual encounter Lando would equally have five years before in that said freighter, alongside his then trusty droid co-pilot and confidante, L3-37.

A post ROTJ Han Solo is soon back in action!

Around these events, the book's ultimate time framing device is set two years after the landmark Battle of Jakku, and with the recent arrival of young and emotionally swaying Ben Solo, whose cute side, for the most part, is winning over his sulking Dark Side potential edginess lain dormant within him even back then. Despite clear love for his brood, Papa Han is still very much the 'manchild', completely clueless about fatherhood and his position as part of the New Republic, soon eschewing back to a more grounded place for himself as the scoundrel curmudgeon adventurer of his glory days, going from star to star, and not bogged down in procedures and the much paper shuffling brought by his new responsibilities of which he helped to create. This new escapade linked to the Falcon's former owner looks more neck-threatening than ever, but Han can't resist the call to investigate this building affair that his 'respectable' friends can't get involved in, which has to be handled 'outside the books'. And besides, he owes Lando one!

As the past history and threat of mad scientist Fyzen Gor is eventually revealed, our duo is accompanied on their journey by a pair of Lando's unique friends, rendered effectively enough within the story by Older- the aforementioned sexy Twi'lek, Kaasha Bateen - an old flame to Lando and fellow war hero blessed with keen blaster skills, and a grumpy Ugnaught droid mechanic, Florx Biggles, who'd rather sleep than work. Harkening back to the actual film saga, however, there's also a welcome cameo linked to Lando, with the ever faithful android implanted servant from Cloud City, Lobot. Plus, much to the chagrin of Han Solo (and Harrison Ford if he'd ever played the role onscreen in this book), a chirpy female Ewok, Peepka, who also happens to be a top slicer for the New Republic ( I know! - go figure!), as well as a meeting with an altogether different kind of Gungan than our characters or readers have previously encountered!

Unable to use the Falcon, for its being too high-profile, and adding to the weirdness around them, the foursome have to rely on an unusual young human pilot and his equally unique first mate for their travelling- a pair seemingly keen to follow in the footsteps and legend of their role models in Han and Chewie, which doesn't impress the Corellian legend one darn bit! From the jaunty realms of Maz Kanata's bar/base on Takodana, to a grimy prison planet and beyond to the far realms of space, a wide variety of of seedy aliens and repellent monsters large and small will cross paths and blaster target hairs, culminating in an encounter that will need all the quirky skills our truly diverse band have to stop a brutal wave of inhuman slaughter from being waged across the galaxy.

Back to an earlier time for Han and Chewie.

Having been clearly impressed with the prior Aftermath series by Chuck Wendig (watch out for a character from that saga making a cameo appearance!), Daniel Jose Older gives his tale a similar, darker, more adult theme, whilst clearly having a fun time being immersed in that 'other side' of George Lucas's universe linked to crime, skullduggery and deception. He also displays his capable grasp of STAR WARS storytelling that fulfills the continued ambitions and directives of the Lucasfilm Story Group. As the efficient interconnecting timeline unfolds, the characters blossom- the smooth and capable Lando, in particular, being well rendered, whilst Han couples getting older with his prior reputation as the cynical, mildly egocentric, balls-to-the wall gung-ho action figure who never does the expected. And Han's a scoundrel who has two women in his life in this book: Princess Leia in the Now and the equally formidable smuggler heroine Sana Starros, prior introduced in MARVEL, for the Then.

Chewbacca undergoes a mission for his Wookiee race.

Kashyyyk's finest, the truly mighty Chewbacca, will eventually accompany the team on their mission too, linked to a spate of mysterious disappearances and mutilations on his world that may involve Doctor Gor, and there's the required smattering of subtle moments referencing the upcoming Solo: A Star Wars Story. By far the biggest link to the new film is clearly the addition of Lando's all-attitude droid L3-37, brought to life well in Older's story in a most relevant way, partaking at the opposite end of the Then's plot strand, as she takes Lando on a journey to find the elusive Phalanx transmitter, keenly aware of its ultimate sophistication and danger to human life. It's a worthy pre-film release introduction to L3-37, an ever-developing, super-smart character, looking set set to be a promising addition to the continuing cinematic roster of characters and droids.

Secrets revealed by L3-37.

Ultimately, the main concept of droid revolution is nothing new in the STAR WARS Expanded Universe- Classic MARVEL paved the way with a notable adventure with Threepio and Artoo back in 1980 - but this is something done on a bigger platform, with Older adding a macabre and at times chilling layer of grim horror via his Brotherhood of Wire and Bone. Back to Aftermath, its success in revamping SW background characters in all-new ways, like the Battle Droid of the Prequels - the blood-thirsty 'Mister Bones', influences Older in trying a similar tack- giving the tainted Ewoks some respectability via the aforementioned tech whizz who evolves the race beyond anything originally seen in Return of the Jedi. Whether that one works, however, depends greatly on your own point of view!

AFICIONADO RATING: The late Brian Daley's Han Solo trilogy of the seventies still has no serious competition, but the much-hyped Last Shot is engaging enough. If anything this is more of a deserving showcase for past and future Lando fans tale than Han Solo ones, so the alternate cover sleeve wraparound is welcome. Adding to the overall enjoyment is the fact that Daniel Jose Older's work reads as if it could easily have been published for either the original or new iteration of the Expanded Universe of STAR WARS fiction - no mean feat. 3.5 out of 5

Get Last Shot here:
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Star-Wars-Last-Lando-Novel/dp/1780898649/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1526399292&sr=8-1&keywords=last+shot+star+wars

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