There are few things I like and a lot of things I dislike about Star Wars: Last Shot by first time Star Wars author Daniel José Older. In fact, the bad so significantly outweigh the good that it is a little overwhelming to figure out where to begin. Perhaps the most obvious place is to just say that this story is entirely inconsequential to the Star Wars universe. While the book centers on Han and Lando coming together three years after the events of Return of the Jedi to stop a maniacal Pau’an who has plans to cause a violent, galaxy-wide droid uprising, the story never truly convinced me of its necessity, or that it was providing the Star Wars universe with any greater meaning. There are certainly a number of Star Wars elements in Last Shot. There are Star Wars places – Takodana, Utapau, Bespin, Kashyyyk – and Star Wars species – Twi’leks, Ewoks, Gungans, Ugnaughts – and a cast of familiar Star Wars characters – Han, Lando, Leia, Chewbacca, Maz Kanata – but as a whole these elements never truly coalesce into a Star Wars story with gravitas.
To save you time, I will just come right out and tell you what happens: Han and Lando survive, the bad guy (Fyzen Gor) dies, and the galaxy is once again saved by everyone’s favorite scoundrels. Thus, we are left with an altogether generic, run-of-the-mill Star Wars novel that is easily forgettable. But what is truly disappointing is that the opportunity for some memorable moments with incredibly profound consequence do exist within Last Shot. When, at the end of the novel, Lando must choose between saving himself or the galaxy at large, he chooses the latter. This IS a profound move, a “holy crap” moment in a book that really REALLY needed one. Yet, Lando’s moment of altruistic sacrifice is undercut when he is saved by a laughable plot device: the offspring? of his former droid L3-37 (who shows up in the novel in flashbacks) known as the “Elthree Assault Team.”
Had Lando died, the Star Wars galaxy would have been shaken to its core. Why isn’t Lando in The Force Awakens or The Last Jedi? Answer: because he was atomized in an explosion in the Mesulan Remnant. Instead, he is saved by a contrived group of vigilante droids made in the image of L3-37 and goes on to live happily ever after with the Twi’lek woman known as Kaasha, wanting to finally (sort of) settle down after years of galactic promiscuity. And who is this Kaasha you ask? I can’t tell you because she is given little development. She is ultimately in the novel because the author needed a sexual/romantic foil for Lando. Their backstory together goes to the Galactic Civil War when they found comfort in each others arms during the battle of…who knows, I can’t remember. She was smitten by the General, has sought him out, and joins him (and Han) on their adventure. While she is given glimpses of agency – she can communicate with their Ewok companion and she aids Han as he attempts to retake a ship during the novels climax – Kaasha is a Twi’lek woman otherwise beholden to the whims and feelings of a man. Shocking!
Kaasha is not the only new character appearing in the book. A human from Alderaan, and the pilot whom Han and Lando hire to assist them, Taka is a gender-neutral character and is referred to as “they” throughout the book. If there is one truly good thing about Last Shot, Taka is it. I appreciate and applaud that Older chose to include such a character in the Star Wars universe, especially since Taka’s gender-neutral status is so banal. I certainly hope more characters like Taka emerge in Star Wars as their inclusion paves the way for more gender-boundaries to be broken. And, I hope Taka shows up again in Star Wars because they are an interesting and fun. Plus, Taka goes out of their way to annoy Han with heavy metal music which is a pretty funny moment in the book.
Taka is one of the few bright spots in Last Shot, and if I were to chose another it would be the inclusion of 2-year-old Ben Solo. Now, I should note that Ben’s appearance(s) in Last Shot primarily serve Han’s story, specifically the smuggler’s inner turmoil about whether he is a good father (I’ll get back to Ben in a moment). Han’s fatherhood questions are dragged out to the very end when, finally, Han talks to Leia and she reassures him that “no one knows how to be a parent before they are one…” (pg. 340). That it takes the entire book for Han and Leia to have the “parenting is hard” conversation is pretty ridiculous (it is a convo he could have had with Leia without going on a galactic mission) but given that this is the core of Han’s character development it is hardly surprising. I don’t begrudge this particular angle on Han, though. We know from The Force Awakens that he and his son had a rocky relationship, so incorporating little bits of that relationship – in this case whether Han feels like he can do the parenting thing – is a fine angle to take. What is truly disappointing, though, is that there was a massive missed opportunity for Han to learn the importance of the parent-child relationship from Taka.
At one point in Last Shot, Han happens upon a recording of Taka’s parents. From the recording we learn two things: Taka’s parent loved them unconditionally and Taka’s parents were Alderaanian which means their parents are dead. Later, Han will mention to Taka that he watched the recording and they will tell Han that it is the last little piece of his parents they own. Han clearly sympathizes with Taka, particularly since he reflects on comforting Leia when she feels down abpout the destruction of her homeworld. But what was missed was the chance to unite Han’s parenting woes with the fact that Taka is holding onto a small remnant of their deceased parents. I cannot help but imagine a different version of Last Shot where Han comes to a fuller appreciation of his role as a parent, as a father, as he listens to someone who lost their parents. In turn, the conversation he had with Taka, and the lessons he learned/chose to reflect on, could have easily tied in with the remained of the novel (particularly the conversation with Leia at the end). Instead, Han’s parenting woes culminate in the final moments of the book when he receives cookie cutter wisdom from his wife. Ugh. Let’s just go back to Ben Solo…
Moments that Left Me Speechless
That Ben Solo makes a handful of appearances in Last Shot was certainly a positive aspect of the novel, enabling the reader to experience the sequel trilogy villain as an innocent toddler. In fact, it is two lines about Ben Solo – coming through the inner thoughts of Han – that left me completely stunned early in the book. The child looking up at his father, Older writers:
“Han had no idea how a two-year-old could have such ancient eyes. It was as if Ben had been waiting around for a millennium to show up at just this moment in history.”
Wow! Like, wow! With clarity and brevity, Daniel José Older captures the entire trajectory of the Sith Order which Darth Bane instituted, an Order based on the Rule of Two, an Order which survived for a millennium, an Order which was finally destroyed with the death of Darth Sidious at the hands. Now, as if he had been waiting for the Sith to die out, Ben Solo’s time has finally come, his conception coinciding with the death of Darth Sidious. Ben Solo’s conception and birth are the prophetic sign of a new era of Darkness, a Darkness which has been waiting to emerge for a millennia, a Darkness the boy will one day help to bring about as Kylo Ren. And the “ancient eyes”? Those are the eyes which Han will sees when his son pushes a red lightsaber through him on Starkiller Base. They will be the very last thing Han ever sees, and perhaps in that moment he will think back to that moment he saw the “ancient eyes” in his two-year-old son.
That Han’s small reflection on Ben came early in the novel left me hoping more moments would pop up that packed a punch. But there are really no other Star Wars gems in the book on par with Han’s reflection on Ben. Instead, the opposite is true, with two other lines showing up which left me dumbfounded and at a loss. They are (and I can’t believe I am about to type this):
“Tight enough for a bulge and the insinuation of an ass…” (pg. 41).
“Like a droid orgy of some kind, but with astromechs and those old battle droids from the Clone Wars?” (pg. 335)
My problem with references to “a bulge” and “an ass” and a “droid orgy” is pretty straight forward: they don’t add anything of value to the novel. Unless, that is, one counts shock value, which, in this case, I don’t. There is a time and place in a story to really shock the audience, to authentically catch the reader off-guard with something that comes out of left field. Lando choosing to sacrifice himself for the greater good is shocking, and if he actually died in the process would have been even more shocking. But “a bulge” and “an ass” and a “droid orgy”, these sexually-charged references caught me off-guard and shocked me in a way that left me thinking only one thing: this book is really bad.
The Bad Outweighs the Good
To be fair, I would say this book is really bad even if it didn’t reference “a bulge” and “an ass” and a “droid orgy.” Here, I will list a handful of other things that are problematic about the book (to go along with things I have already mentioned):
- The flow of the book is choppy and confusing, the narrative jumping back and forth as it follows four storylines through flashbacks. I am not opposed to flashbacks in general, but the book jumps across timelines far too many times without giving the reader a chance to catch their breath.
- Speaking of flashbacks, Lando’s storyline (“about 15 years ago”) does not line up with the events of Solo: A Star Wars Story. How do I know this? Because I was paying attention in the 1st Grade and learned addition and subtraction. But there is a bit more to it: L3-37 was destroyed, and uploaded into the Millennium Falcon, in the Solo movie (which takes place around 10 BBY). However, Lando’s flashbacks in Last Shot take place in 8 BBY and L3-37 is still intact and NOT uploaded into the Falcon. Oh, and let’s not forget that at the very end of Solo, the Millennium Falcon no longer belongs to Lando…
- The villain, Fyzen Gor, gets his own flashbacks but is completely unconvincing as a bad guy and, even worse, uninteresting. What makes his story all the more confusing is that he is from Utapau, his evil plan involves melding organic body parts with droids, and his evil conversion takes place sometime around 13 BBY, but there is not a single reference to General Grievous!!! At the very least, Gor could have been doing his initial evil organic- droid stuff and reflecting on the droid General who died on Utapau in 19 BBY.
- The droids Gor activate to kill people literally say “Killlllll.” #facepalm
- Speaking of those killlllllller droids, when Han and Leia’s kitchen droid is activated and moves to killlllll little Ben, a brilliant opportunity existed for the toddler to destroy the droid with his adolescent connection to the Force. This would have been awesome and a perfect connection the “ancient eyes” moment early in the book. Instead, the droid is activated and then immediately deactivated. Ugh!!!!!!
- Oh, and what about all of the other droids galaxy-wide that were activated? Even though it was brief, a lot of droids probably killllllllled quite a few organic beings in those moments. And by “quite a few” I mean millions, and by millions I mean tens of millions.
- Where are R2-D2 and C-3PO? This book is about killllllller droids but the two most famous droids in Star Wars never show up. Were they activated?
- Aro, a Gungan working on Substation Grimdock, gets upset with Han for saying “meesa” and chastises him for assuming all Gungans talk like…like Gungans. I understand what Daniel José Older is TRYING to accomplish here, giving the reader an object lesson in not assuming how individuals speak based on stereotypes. But it comes off as preachy and makes Aro even more annoying than the average Gungan. And besides, there are plenty of Gungans that say “meesa” who do some pretty great things in Star Wars (check out this piece: The Sacrifice of General Tarpals).
- Chewbacca doesn’t need to be in the main storyline. Like, at all. He is there…and I know this sounds crazy…just because this novel is partially about Han. Now, to be fair, Older does drum up a reason for Chewie to go on the adventure: young Wookiees being kidnapped by Fyzen Gor for his experiments. However, there is no definitive resolution to this other than Chewie fighting the half droid-half Wookiee abominations. In turn because Chewbacca is “lugging a sack” (pg. 337) following his battle, Han presumes it is full of Wookiee body parts but this is never confirmed. Nor does anyone, at the end, question whether some Wookiees are still being held in some secret laboratory. Oh welllllllllllll….
Here is the deal – if you want to read Star Wars: Last Shot, go for it. It you end up liking it, more power to you. And, if you would like to convince me this book is far better than I have suggested, by all means, leave a comment below. I will gladly give your thought(s) careful consideration. But as of right now, beyond the few things in this book that I actually liked (Taka, Ben Solo, “ancient eyes”) there is just too much stacked against Last Shot for me to give it anymore significant thought. In turn, Last Shot has given rise to an unintended consequence: it has made me less likely to purchase/read Star Wars novels in the future, especially novels by new Star Wars authors. If nothing else, this will (I hope) save me from having Lando’s “bulge” and “ass” shoved in my face again.
***Page numbers are from the first edition of Star Wars: Last Shot.***