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Thursday, 5 July 2018

AFICIONADO REVIEW: 'MOST WANTED' (UK EDITION)

Fast times, fast trouble for Han Solo and Qi'ra in Most Wanted. Image: EGMONT.

Back in 1977, when Han Solo first appeared in Star Wars, confidently settling in to meet the naive ex-farmboy Luke Skywalker in a shady booth of the Mos Eisley cantina, a very young Lawrence Kasdan knew that the shady, seasoned smuggler with the glint in his eye was quickly going to be the most popular character of the saga, of which the future screenwriter would have daydream ambitions to one day bring this fascinating and relatable character's backstory to life. By 2017, those once misty dreams would become a proud reality, as the respected filmmaker joined forces with his equally enthused and imaginative son Jon to create the fun and thrilling story and script that would become Solo: A Star Wars Story. And now The New York Times best-selling author Rae Carson gets the chance to join the duo in that small elite circle bringing further facets of Solo's early origins to believable life, via the all-new movie tie-in: Most Wanted, out now in UK paperback from Egmont.

Living on the edge from his early days: Corellian orphan Han Solo.

In a book that sets the fuse to the eventual movie baptism of fire for the galaxy's most talented pilot, the Han of Most Wanted is a mould in the raw, and still has lots of to learn about life. But most of the elements we'll know and love about him in his later years - notably his recklessness and his ability to improvise - are clearly prescient. It's also in this earlier life where new snippets are revealed about the orphan (some of it also referenced in Solo), of which, amongst the surprises, is the fact that he hasn't yet become so jaded as he will be by the time of A New Hope- in fact, we get to see a point in Han's life where he actually did trust some people and would even have good relations with droids and Rodians (at a time before he encountered Greedo!) - in a noble friendship with a young green-gilled member of that race, the tech-wizard Tsuulo (who also intriguingly just happens to believe in that 'hokey religion' called the Force of Others). In further character foundations, the boy Corellian knows the beauty and potential of 'junk' and likes to soup things up to make them faster. Desperate to escape the troubles of his current criminal-edged life, he's also been building up his own connections for a one day escape- his dream to become the ultimate star pilot of a lightspeed hot spacecraft firmly lodged in his psyche!

No mere street urchin, Qi-ra is always on the look out to escape her meagre existence.

And as Han's story beginning are revealed, so too is that of his co-star in this journey of discovery and danger: Qi'ra- another unique young survivor of life's brutalities, struggling and adapting at the lower end of the food chain on Corellia within the cruelty and harshness of this relatively new First Galactic Empire. Knowing that status and power are the only way to win freedom, Qi'ra is shrewd and intelligent, always planning ahead when she can and looking for the best exit points out of any hostile situation. Having known Han for a fair while as the book starts, she's not a particular fan of the cocky youngster-in fact, she could quite easily punch his face in at times. Numerous times, actually. Their relationship is tested by the fact that there's also a rivalry between them and several others to win the new open position within the organisation of which they have so far not been able to escape from- the White Worms Gang, led by the malignant, shadow dormant Lady Proxima.

More facets of the young Han Solo are revealed.

As part of this test of suitability, Qi'ra and Han, amongst the oldest of the 'scrum rats', are sent out on seemingly separate important assignments for Proxima, both determined to do well for her. Soon enough, events for them fuse as one to go dangerously out of control, as a unique data cube from a deal that's gone murderously sour ends up in their possession, with everybody bearing any inclinations for power and ambition from what the cube contains soon out to get them for it. As the threats to their lives intensify, and being weaponless, the duo's bond grows strong when they have to rely on their well-honed instincts- neither of our young characters knowing they can truly trust anyone: a fact of life that they've always lived with. Sure enough, their enemies include a dangerous rival syndicate, their own organisation, and even the Empire, in the lead-up to a meeting with their mysterious and highly talented 'The Engineer'.

Harsh times with the White Worms crime gang.

Though the data cube story is the main thrust of the adventure, the background layering of Solo and Qi'ra's lives is well developed by Rae Carson, giving us the hardships of their day-to-day survival within the aforementioned, almost cult-like White Worms gang (with its need to be larger in scope and ambition via Lady Proxima). And more detail on the young and old orphans also forced to exist and steal for both her and second-in-command Moloch, the latter as equally unconcerned with the well being of their human work force as Proxima, and ready to cull the weak and disloyal at a whim.

Whilst Han and Qi'ra work fast to find a solution that doesn't mean their extermination, readers minds are opened to lots of seedy new locales on the planet of Corellia now made real for the big screen. Amongst them Cornet City's factories, sewers, scrap yards and underground realms. Plus visits to the weird and wonderful climes of The Silo, once home to Qi'ra in her darkest days - literally a freighter graveyard, plus a pod racing championship, underground realms, and a chase through the life-shortening industrial realms of The Foundry. There's also the kind of prisoner break-in and breakout that Han will eventually be used to by the time of his arrival on the first Death Star (links to that 'long-term construction project', as well as all kinds of references to the classic trilogy, there for fans to further enjoy, and some subtle future links to the recent Solo/Lando novel Long Shot's droid plotline involving the spirited L3-37, seen in Solo. The book culminates with a journey into space for a secret rendezvous whose pleasing outcome will shape Han and Qi'ra's destinies one step further, bringing the pair closer together in their will to ultimately escape Corellia.

AFICIONADO RATING: As author Carson keeps things bright and breezy, the early genesis of Han and Qi'ra's early history, and their individual destinies leading up to Solo, proves satisfyingly revealed. And though the book isn't quite as memorable as other recent Egmont SW film tie-ins like Rogue One's Rebel Rising, Most Wanted nonetheless capably acquits itself admirably as an efficient and entertaining adventure in its own right. 3.5 OUT OF 5


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