Daniel José Older's new Star Wars novel, Last Shot, was bundled up with the recent wave of Solo: A Star Wars Story-themed book announcements. But while there are parts of it that deal with the early lives of Han and Lando, it's at its best when it's set decades after the upcoming movie, as the two come to terms with leaving their past - and their youth - behind.
Last Shot tells loosely-connected stories across three different time periods; only one of these is particularly pertinent to Solo, because it's set before the film and features the young Lando and his droid pal L3-37, and only then because it features some intriguing insight from L3, played by Phoebe Waller Bridge in the upcoming movie, about the treatment of droids and droid sentience. It's an interesting tease for what we can expect from the character, who's been described in the film as "self-made," in that she literally built herself out of the parts of different droids.
The next time period, chronologically speaking, is set shortly after Solo, with Han and Chewie in new ownership of the Falcon, on a fun adventure with Sana Starros - a character who's been in the Marvel Star Wars comics for a while, a long time partner-in-crime for Han, who, at least in the time period of the books, is a lot closer to Han and a lot less begrudging of the young smuggler's cocky charms than she has been in the comics.
But while both of these stories in the book (intermingled into flashbacks from the main timeline of the story) are fun and relatively cheery romps, their greatest importance is to act as contrast to the primary plot of the third chapter. It's set approximately two years after Return of the Jedi and the Battle of Jakku, with Han pulled away from his family by Lando into a new adventure tying up the other arcs of the book through its mysterious villain, a sort of Dr. Frankenstein-for-droids figure named Fryzen Gor.
That contrast is to starkly remind us of one thing: Han and Lando grew up.
"See that over there? That's our future, and brother, it's not what you think it's going to be."Image: Lucasfilm
From Han's point of view in this time period, getting old is a petrifying and new thing to him, as he tries to balance his new homelife looking after a 2-year-old Ben Solo with a wife constantly caught up in the bureaucratic quagmire of establishing the New Republic (a New Republic that frequently wants Han to get caught up in its administration as well, much to his chagrin). The young Ben, destined to become a new force of evil in the galaxy as Kylo Ren and to despise his father, is a hugely important part of Last Shot, and acts as the nexus point of so much of Han's unease, so potent that it almost feels uncharacteristic for the smuggler-turned-Rebel-hero who helped bring down the Empire.
How does a guy who's spent most of his adult life on the run, solving problems with lies and deals and liberal amounts of blaster fire, know how to be a parent? Can he be the father he never really knew, or the husband he never thought he'd be, to a child and wife who unquestionably, thoroughly love him?
Those questions dog Han's thoughts throughout the story of Last Shot, and when Lando re-enters Han's life with the offer of one more team-up to take down Gor - alongside a motley crew that features a non-binary Alderaanian pilot named Taka and the startlingly adorable Peekpa, a genius Ewok hacker who idolizes Chewbacca for saving her sister during the Battle of Endor— those emotions only well up even more. (And before you ask, no, "genius Ewok hacker" is not a typo.)
Han finds himself worryingly holo-calling home every time he has a moment to check up on Leia and Ben, and at one point late on in the novel he admits that he has no idea if he's comfortable being out among the stars as a pilot anymore, doing the things he's loved his whole life, when he knows should be back home raising Ben - despite the fact he has no idea if anything he's doing with his son is actually good for the child.
General Calrissian can't escape getting old, either.Image: Lucasfilm
Although Han's fear of his new life and responsibilities becomes the driving emotional force of the novel, Lando doesn't escape the looming shadow of maturation either. While the pre-Solo flashbacks with him focus on a keen young man looking to mask his inexperience with lavish, stylish clothing and a charmingly, almost-constantly-cocked eyebrow (and particularly his fleeting romantic exploits), the Lando we meet in this post-Return of the Jedi period instead finds himself looking to settle down with an old flame that's re-entered his life, and how that impacts the person he's been trying to be - or at least projecting himself as being - for decades. It's a smaller arc than Han's is, and it doesn't have the dramatic weight that can be leveraged by knowing how Han and his son Ben's relationship ultimately concludes, but it's a similar one, another aspect of the bond shared between these two friends.
It's a bit of bittersweetness amongst the otherwise lighthearted, roguish vibe Last Shot also has. But it's also important reminder that these characters we've known and loved for years - decades, rather, of learning more and more about them over years of books and comics and movies, as we're about to do so again with Solo next month - that these characters are not trapped in amber. They are confronted with maturity and ageing and realities of lives outside of spaceship battles and daring rebellions, just as we all eventually become (well, at least without the spaceship battles and daring rebellions bit). And in confronting those very real emotions in Han and Lando, Last Shot becomes far more interesting than you might expect a supposed Solo tie-in novel to really be.