Audiobook Review: Star Wars: Last Shot by Daniel José Older
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 3.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction, Media Tie-In
Series: Star Wars Canon
Publisher: Random House Audio (April 17, 2018)
Length: 11 hrs and 11 mins
Narrator: Marc Thompson, January LaVoy, Daniel José Older
As the time draws nearer for the release of Solo: A Star Wars Story to hit theaters, in true Star Wars merchandising fashion, there’s a media tie-in novel available just in time to prime you for the movie experience. Star Wars: Last Shot is something of a “then and now” story, with the focus on our two favorite scoundrels in the galaxy, Han Solo and Lando Calrissian.
Using the movies as a timeline, this book takes place approximately three years after Return of the Jedi, which means for Han, he’s now married to Leia and the couple has just welcomed little Ben to the family. Despite having lived a life of danger and excitement, however, nothing could have prepared him for the rigors of fatherhood. He’s struggling and not adjusting well at all, and he’s paralyzed with fear by the idea he’s doing everything wrong. Meanwhile, Lando is on Cloud City having his own little “growing up” moment when he finds himself contemplating the idea of settling down with a longtime friend for whom he has been developing deeper feelings. But before this thought can be explored further, the relative peace is shattered by an assassination attempt on his life—by his own trusted protocol droid, no less.
The incident brings Lando fuming to the Solos’ doorstep, demanding explanations for events that happened ten years ago when Han last ran afoul of Fyzen Gor, a mad scientist-like villain who invented a droid-controlling device called a Phylanx Redux Transmitter. Desperately seeking something to take his mind off his situation at home, Han doesn’t need much convincing to pack his things and run off on another adventure with his old friend. The mission: to find the transmitter before Fyzen can use the technology to bend the galaxy to his will. Told with frequent flashbacks to the past, Last Shot chronicles three different eras in our characters’ lives, taking us to a time before the events of Solo (with Lando), as well as the period that occurs between the movie and A New Hope (with Han), before bringing all the threads together in the present storyline.
Even if you’re not a big fan of Star Wars, the words “a Han and Lando story” should make you perk up, and for good reason. Just the mention of these two promises a fun and adventurous experience, which this book delivers. The sections that take place in the past are especially entertaining; here we see our characters as younger and more cocksure men, so full of swagger and confidence. The dialogue is snappy and upbeat, even a little silly in some places, highlighting the “good old days” feel of these flashbacks.
But then there are also the heavier moments scattered throughout the novel. The differences between the present Han and Lando and their younger selves are quite stark, for one, when you consider how the intervening years have affected them both. Han’s struggle with fatherhood is especially heartbreaking, in light of how things turned out with him and Leia and their son, and I can’t help but think what we’re seeing here is a brief glimpse of that rift starting to form as Han’s first instinct is to run away in response to his fear of failure. This version of Han—who loves his family but is nonetheless overwhelmed by the crushing responsibility of being a husband and father—is parsecs away from the young starry-eyed Han with his idealistic notions of romance, as seen in his flirtatious pursuit of Sana. The effect is similar with Lando, whose transition from smooth-talking charmer to someone who thinks he may have finally found “the one” to settle down with is truly quite surprising, even speaking as a reader who has seen the character go through many evolutions going back to the old expanded universe days.
Personally, this aspect of juxtaposing the past and present versions of Han and Lando—showing the different people they’ve become while still staying true to the core of their characters—was my favorite aspect of the novel. I also liked how the story’s conflict raises a lot of interesting issues, many of which have philosophical value or ethical implications, such as the role of droids in the Star Wars universe. By any reasonable definition, droids are people—they have distinct personalities, can form memories, and possess a sense of self-awareness and volition—but they’re not always treated as such, or at least the portrayal of the relationship between droid and organic has not always been consistent. Perhaps, the themes and events in Last Shot will finally set the record straight, as a part of the story focuses on the plight of L3-37, a navigator droid who dreams of rights and freedom for her kind.
But then, there are the things I didn’t like so much about the book. First off, I’m not the biggest fan of flashbacks, and the way this story was structured reminded me exactly why. The constant jumping around can get confusing, not to mention it played havoc with the pacing. As much as I enjoy Daniel José Older’s writing, I also confess I was a bit skeptical when I found out he was working on this book. I’m a fan of the author’s urban fantasy because his style is very well suited to the genre, but I worried that it would not be a good fit for a Star Wars novel. Indeed, in some places, I felt that the prose was far too modern and “real world”, which seriously messed with the immersion. Coming across certain contemporary sayings or slang in the dialogue was extremely cringe-y, and occasionally, the downright goofiness of the writing style would also kill the mood and remove a lot of the gravity from the book’s serious themes.
As such, I would probably put Last Shot in the middle of the scale: nowhere close to the level of my favorite Star Wars reads, but it’s also far from poor. Without a doubt, it’s one of the more entertaining books to come out of the new canon lately, compared to examples like Catalyst (the super dry Rogue One prequel) or Phasma (which didn’t really live up to my expectations). But let’s face it—with Han and Lando at the helm, it’s impossible to have a boring book. The thrilling action and adventure make this one an approachable read for everyone, whether you’re into the Star Wars universe or not, but I for one am now pumped for Solo.
Audiobook Comments: I enjoyed the audiobook of Last Shot, which is narrated by Marc Thompson, January Lavoy, and Daniel José Older. With respect to the author though, he probably should have sat this one out. Not only was it somewhat distracting to have multiple narrators, Marc Thompson is a god when it comes to Star Wars audiobook narration, and to be honest, Older reading the sections featuring young Han just could not compare. His voice felt wrong for the character, and he also made everyone sound the same. At least the case could be made for January LaVoy (another veteran Star Wars audiobook narrator) reading the parts featuring young Lando since those sections heavily feature the POV of L3-37, but the decision to bring on a third person for the Han flashback chapters just didn’t really make sense to me. Other than that though, this was a decent listen.