Review by Kay
Star Wars: Empire & Rebellion: Honor Among Thieves, or SWEARHAT as we like to call it around FANgirl, is the Han Solo-centric tale in the Empire and Rebellion series. It is also the book that temporarily made me question if Han Solo was really my favorite Star Wars character.
Technically, My Favorite Star Wars Character is a title jointly awarded to three characters, but Han has been on that list since I first saw A New Hope as a small child. I’ve always enjoyed Han’s sarcasm and bravado. His plans, when he had them, always left something to be desired, but he always showed up and had the skills ready for when it really counted. There’s no doubt he’s that Han here, but those same qualities in this story got to a point where they started to become old hat and, at times, even kind of grating.
Honor Among Thieves is by no means a bad book. The writing of James S.A. Corey (Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) is decent, with sparks of brilliance here and there – especially in the philosophical, galaxy-at-large moments. The dialogue all sounds like it could have come out of any of the movies. But Han’s character seemed stuck. There was no real growth for him in this story.
Setting the book during the Galactic Civil War between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back seems to have limited the authors, which is something I didn’t feel in the first book of the series, Razor’s Edge by Martha Wells. It’s true that setting puts certain parameters on where the characters can end up and how much change can really happen, yet whereas Razor’s Edge deepened Leia’s character, showing us more of what thoughtfulness and pain resided inside her, Honor Among Thieves kept Han boxed in, like a scene stuck on repeat – the emotions and motivations of Han’s time on the Death Star replayed in varying locales. Even when he takes a moment to reflect, it’s always the same observation on how his path was changed by picking up Obi-Wan and Luke for that trip to Alderaan. The few times he thinks about Luke, it’s the same sentiment of wanting to look out for the kid, even though for most of the story he’s nowhere near him. Besides, Luke seems to be doing just fine.
I even went back to watch A New Hope and saw that Han’s lifting from there is surgical. Yet it surprised me that with all the observations Han makes about the Empire in this book, he never makes any connections about his own time at the Imperial Academy. Perhaps the authors were instructed to keep the references mainly to the movies.
Meanwhile, Han’s trusty co-pilot Chewbacca is largely relegated to a secondary character. The Wookiee’s first reaction is to protest against whatever just happened or was said pretty much every time someone says something to him or something happens to the Millennium Falcon. That’s something Chewbacca does, no doubt, but I’ve never felt it was his main recourse before now.
When it came to the new characters, they were much easier to distinguish than the ones in Razor’s Edge, although there were also fewer of them. The scene when Baasen Ray, a smuggling acquaintance of Han’s, first appears is reminiscent of an episode of Joss Whedon’s Firefly. The Western feel, the dialogue, the unaccounted-for third party messing with the plan – it was a neat element I didn’t see coming. Baasen was also distinct and fairly well-developed for his limited page time. The same could be said for the thief Hunter Mass, who was incredibly reminiscent of The Clone Wars’ Hondo Ohnaka – complete with a pet on his shoulder and delusions of grandeur.
We also get Scarlet Hark, a Rebel spy Han’s been dispatched to retrieve from behind Imperial lines. I liked her, but I think a large part of that had to do with the fact that I like Leia. Scarlet comes off as Leia with a wider skill set, a smaller scope of responsibilities, and some more height. She can take care of herself. She’s quick with a comeback. And I have to give the writing team props for Scarlet’s practical approach to her hair; she always gets it out of the way when there’s potential for action. About three quarters through the book we also find out Scarlet is an adrenaline-junkie, which helps further her from Leia a little and explains more about why she does what she does. Together Scarlet’s and Leia’s impact make the story more gender-balanced than the dramatis personae implies. It’s easiest to see the differences between the women when they’re both in the same scene, though.
Speaking of Leia, her characterization is pretty spot-on. It was interesting to see a bit more of how the choices she makes as a leader of the Rebellion weigh on her, as well as some insight on the practicalities of securing funding for the effort. And while they were brief, the little moments of connection and comfort-level between her and Han were appreciated.
When it comes to the plot, again there’s that boxed-in feeling. The book has a lot of action, but the tension is reduced by knowing certain characters are going to make it out no matter how tight the situation. Scarlet’s on the trail of a potentially war-changing weapon, and while it’s more creative than the typical planet and star crushers, you know in the end it’ll be nullified (unless you’re reading this story but haven’t seen The Empire Strikes Back or Return of the Jedi). The book is relatively short and a quick read, but I didn’t drive right through it. I picked it up and read a little and then read a couple chapters more the next day. It wasn’t until that last quarter of the book that things really got going and I really got into the story. Although I was still a bit disappointed there wasn’t more connection between this one and the first book of the series.
At the end of the day, Honor Among Thieves is an adequate book – enough to fill a need for another Star Wars story, but not the deeply satisfying tale of adventure and insight.
The publisher provided FANgirl Blog a review copy of this book.
Kay grew up wanting to be an astronaut. After seeing Star Wars, she wanted to be Princess Leia, Han Solo, and an astronaut. Life’s taken her on a bit of a different path for now, but she’s still a Star Wars fangirl at heart who enjoys surprising people with how geeky she really is. Currently a photographer who also specializes in communications and marketing, Kay spends her free time reading, cooking, writing, learning and, of course, making pew pew noises. You can follow her on Twitter.