During the build up to the eagerly awaited Solo: A Star Wars Story we thought we’d mix it up a little and go back to the late 70’s when the first prequel for Han Solo was released in book form.

Han Solo at Stars’ End by Brian Daley is the first book of a trilogy which focuses on Han and Chewbacca’s adventures before A New Hope. First published in 1979 although it boasted “From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker” there is not a single Jedi or Empire in sight.

The story starts franticly with Han and Chewie gun running for a group of aliens on the planet Duroon. The antagonists throughout are referred to as The Authority and although they are never named it is clear that this is an early faction of The Empire. Delivering the cargo and receiving the reward of jewels shows a softer side of Han early on. Although he is a smuggler for the money and reward you feel a connection with Han as he demonstrates to the hapless species how to use the weapons correctly.

During the hasty retreat when The Authority shows up it is great to see that Han knocks the sensor dish off the Falcon, possibly an inspiration in Return of the Jedi.

Of course, our favourite smuggler will have debts to pay so we are whisked off to Etti IV where we meet Ploovo. Han however knows that Ploovo is not to be trusted so he has already hatched a plan to firstly settle his debts and then to expose him as a double-crosser therefore destroying his reputation.  During the deal a gun fight ensues and Han and Chewie escape when the artificial gravity is destroyed.  As they escape Han makes lots of jokes about Chewies speed and age when brings the reader right back to the original trilogy. Many of the Expanded Universe novels suffered by depicting Han as an aging crackshot who drunk a lot of caf. This segment is so fast paced it reads like a comic at times.

About a third of the way through we now begin the main story. Looking to upgrade the Falcon they look for a repairman called Doc. His daughter Jessa meets Han upon landing whereupon it’s clear that there has been a history between the pair and the reader can assume that Han left without saying a word. Daley has perfectly nailed the pre-A New Hope Han.

Han is dismayed to learn that Doc has actually disappeared. There have been a number of abductions in the area and Jessa has begun her own investigations. They agree a deal for the parts where Han must transport some passengers, including a special droid named Bollux, to the leader of the investigators Rekkon. Han has little choice as The Authority arrive and a space battle begins.

They suffer casualties before The Authority is defeated and Han escapes with the group.  Although there is some sarcasm between Han and Bollux you never really get a sense of Han’s dislike of Droids. They are cordial from the start and this relationship improves throughout.

When they find Rekkon there is concern as to how The Authority found them. Rekkon suspects a traitor in his small group of allies although he trusts them all as they have all lost a close family member too. Bollux is revealed as a special droid capable of carrying a smaller droid inside his chest cavity and it’s easy to think of Starscream from Transformers. Blue Max is a very intelligent droid whose mission is to download and analyse data on The Authority.

Once again, The Authority arrive and there is another firefight.  Chewbacca is captured and Han has to be stunned by Rekkon in order to escape. Han would have been killed trying to retrieve his friend and he reluctantly sees this. The survivors examine the data retrieved by Blue Max.

Stars’ End is revealed as a prison and the likely place of the abductees. The location is only known by Rekkon and The Falcon heads off. Rekkon is killed by the traitor but he manages to scratch the location of the planet on a table before he died. Suspecting all of the passengers Han sets a trap and a young human is caught. He is ejected out of the airlock as Han and his team try to form a plan to enter Stars’ End.

In an unlikely twist they intercept a message asking for entertainers to impress Viceprex Herken who is governor of the prison. They are shocked to discover that the real entertainment for the Viceprex is to fight an Executioner Droid which has defeated all droids so far. Han buys a little time on a pretence of needing parts for Bollux when he goes searching for the prisoners with Blue Max hidden.

The prisoners are difficult to locate but Han does so when he notices unexplainable power usage.  He identifies stasis booths and is about to go rescue his friend when Blue Max refuses to help as Bollux is in danger. He has been ordered to fight The Executioner! It is touching to see the affection between the droids and Han surprisingly agrees to return. Blue Max, rather too quickly, works a plan to defeat The Executioner and the Viceprex is furious.  Han is attacked by his bodyguard so Han is forced to blow the power cells. Stars’ End is blasted into the atmosphere from the explosion in low gravity.

In the confusion Han escapes with Bollux and Blue Max but the prisoners are already free due to a power failure after the explosion. They quickly find Doc and Chewbacca but they are trapped by the Viceprex’s men.  Han’s remaining team arrive with The Falcon and the prisoners all escape.  The Viceprex begs to leave too but is shot and killed by his wife who he was willing to abandon to save his skin.

After reuniting Doc and Jessa, Han agrees another deal to fix The Falcon. We end with Jessa and Han heading off to a private location before the promise of more adventures.

Han Solo at Stars’ End is one of the best Star Wars novels ever written. It would appeal to anyone who enjoys comic type stories that are fast paced, funny and clever. There are many scenes or situations that would transfer very well to the large screen and more importantly it fits so well in the time period.