Last Shot is the only adult novel released in the build up to Solo: A Star Wars Story and believe me it is very adult! Older introduces us to the hi-jinks of young Han and Lando in a time-hopping, rip-roaring ride of a novel set across three different time periods. The time periods are – Lando pre-Solo, Han immediately post-Solo and Han and Lando a couple of years after Return of the Jedi.
Whilst the time jumps can be a little confusing at first, once you find a hook to settle you in the zone, the time-hopping can be a lot of fun. No period in our two scoundrels’ lives is dull (of course!) so each time period was exciting to be in and offered us a very different insight into Han and Lando.
I thought Older had a really great grasp of Han as a character. In Legends, C-3PO once described Han as “…the most human of humans…” which I have always thought was a perfect description of Han and Older really captures that very human and flawed being. Han never claims to be perfect, but I have always thought there was a certain sweet side to Han which he of course would always try and cover with bravado and bluster, but it nonetheless still there, whether in his interactions with Chewie or, of course, Leia.
Older captured both young and older Han beautifully in this book. Interestingly, despite having not seen Solo when I read this book, I still pictured Alden Ehrenreich during the young Han scenes, before flipping back to Harrison Ford for the chapters set post-Return of the Jedi. It’s during these later years that we see such an interesting side to Han. He is of course chafing slightly at the routine of married life. He still adores Leia, (that much is so apparent in this book and I thought the couple and their relationship were portrayed beautifully) and he is also struggling to navigate the perils of fatherhood. I loved how Han and Leia accept that they are two very different people. They are totalling accepting of the other’s nature and I think that is why they are such a compelling couple. Older really captured this relationship perfectly for me. I also loved the juxtaposition between this more established relationship and Lando’s burgeoning relationship with Kaasha.
Speaking of Lando, his characterisation sparkles throughout this book. I think Older had the most fun writing Lando and it really shows throughout Last Shot. Through young Lando we get a great insight into his relationship with his feisty, revolutionary droid, L3-37. If you read this book for one reason and one reason only, then make it L3! She was a brilliant character and really whetted my excitement for her in Solo and deepened my understanding of her. Her relationship with Lando is lovely and they make a formidable team. Plus she is a great lens to view his young Lothario ways – especially when this is contrasted with character in the chapters set post-Return of the Jedi.
The times spent with Lando and Kaasha were some of my favourite in the book. Kaasha is not only a fantastic character in her own right, but more than a match for Lando! I really enjoyed seeing this softer side to Lando and being able to see how much his character has grown. It’s such a challenge for Lando to be vulnerable with anyone (more so than Han I think) and their relationship was beautifully portrayed. They are clearly established with each other when it comes to the more casual, physical side of their relationship, but as the story develops they begin to explore something far more intimate with each other – their true feelings and fears, which was delightful to watch.
There is a lot of social commentary running through this novel, from the difficulties faced by new and busy parents to challenging our initial misconceptions about other people/characters and forcing us to look at them with a much more open mind. Older does this in a very clever way, by forcing us to look at our own pre-judgements of people through the character’s eyes. In one memorable scene, Han (and thus we, the reader) is forced to look at his own stereotypes of the Gungan species by the silver-tongued Aro as we come to release that the notorious Jar-Jar Binks is not indicative of his entire species. The same can be said for the hilarious first encounter with Peepka, the Ewok slicer, as Han assumes she is the receptionist as opposed to his master hacker! We are such a looks-based society and Older used the Star Wars setting, with its plethora of aliens and creatures to challenge our own misconceptions in a delightful manner. Because Older writes with such a wry sense of humour, none of this felt too heavy-handed, in fact I think you could miss it if you were just ploughing through the story – but it made me stop and smile on several occasions as I had my own judgements of Gungans etc challenged. (Plus Aro is an excellent character and an absolute delight to read about!)
Finally, I thought the genre of this book was an exciting twist on the Star Wars universe. Last Shot has a healthy dash of horror about it which I have always thought works really well in both Star Wars and science fiction generally. The villain, Fyzen Gor is creating some seriously sinister murder-bots which form the backbone of this story. Everything about Fyzen is creepy and there are some genuinely spine-tingling scenes throughout the book. I love this mash up of genre and I think it worked very well, especially in the context of this swashbuckling yarn with Han and Lando.
I’m going to play devil’s advocate here because the things I’m going to mention worked well for me personally, but they are worth pointing out if you are considering reading this book because they might not be your jam!
First up, I touched on this briefly above but this is very much an adult novel. There are strong references to sex and sexual encounters throughout the book which might not be suitable for everyone. I personally thought it worked really well within the context of the book and, particularly for Lando’s character arc, but I know there are some people who really want their Star Wars to be a little more restrained when it comes to adult themes so it is worth bearing in mind!
Also, Older uses a fair amount of modern colloquialisms in his writing, which can threaten to pull the reader out of the GFFA narrative slightly. There is some modern humour and slang in the book which some might not feel quite hits the mark in terms of a Star Wars book. For me, I did think that Older just got away with the slightly more casual modern references because this is a Han and Lando book. It definitely would not have worked in a book all about Tarkin for example, but I do think he just about got away with it in the context of a Han and Lando novel.
Finally, I know the time-hopping can be confusing. Because Han and Lando are present in every time jump, sometimes even chasing the same plot thread, it can be a little disorientating to work out which version of Han or Lando you are reading about! I found that the easiest way round this was to focus on which supporting character was around – if you’ve got L3, it’s young Lando, if you have Sana Starros (YES she’s in this book! Squee!) then it’s young Han, if Kaasha, or Leia or Peepka are around, then it’s older Han and Lando! Just a little tip there!
Overall: I thought this book was obviously a ton of fun, it’s impossible not to have fun in a book about Han and Lando! But it’s also a surprisingly deep and touching portrayal of the journey of two young, fairly carefree men as they begin to tackle some of the responsibilities of manhood. If you enjoyed Solo you will definitely enjoy this book – and if you liked L3 in Solo, or felt you wanted more time with her character then I highly recommend this book because she is an absolute gem it in and a great addition to our delightful cast of droid characters in Star Wars!
Rating – 4 out of 5 Death Stars!