THIS is how Star Wars is done.
Released in conjunction with Solo: A Star Wars Story, Most Wanted is a young adult novel by Rae Carson that tells the backstory of Han and Qi’ra on Corellia before the movie’s opening.
Unlike many of the new canon backstory novels, Most Wanted takes place approximately one year before the beginning of the Solo movie and encompasses only a short amount of time, limiting itself to one self-contained story about how Han and Qi’ra essentially became a pair. Their story sets them up for where they are at the beginning of Solo, but by no means is the only story that can fit in before the movie. They’ve left some room.
I have made it no secret that I am not a fan of the new canon’s penchant for only giving us backstory novels that feel like they need to fill in every nook and cranny of the canon characters’ lives, yet not really feeling like a satisfactory story. They are often piecemeal stories that are just the opening chapters to the movie’s denouement.
But recently it feels like that has been changing, especially with the book releases tied to Solo. Last Shot, although not my favorite Star Wars canon novel, felt like a fun return to the old Han and Lando adventure stories. This too feels like a fun adventure story, but in this instance I think the story really worked for the characters and the story felt genuine as a whole.
Han and Qi’ra are street rats living in the sewers of Corellia and working for a giant millipede thing/crime boss called Lady Proxima (seen in the early parts of Solo). They are some of Lady Proxima’s top workers and are competing for the job of Head of the White Worms (Lady Proxima’s gang). And although they only eat once a day and often that meal involves rats in some form, there are places where the citizens of Corellia are much worse off. Han and Qi’ra’s stations in life aren’t all that bad, at least comparatively, but becoming Head would move them up and entitle them to more freedom and more food — things both of them could sorely use.
The story starts off with Lady Proxima sending both Han and Qi’ra off on separate assignments, promising both of them the position of Head if they succeed. Shortly into their assignments though, things turn bad for both Han and Qi’ra and they end up on the run, not only from the White Worms, but also from several other gangs across Corellia, carrying a data cube with information that each gang is willing to pay billions of credits for.
With the help of a Rodian named Tsuulo and eventually a mysterious person codenamed ‘The Engineer,’ they manage to avoid getting captured by each of these disparate groups and are able to turn things to their advantage.
While reading through this story I was often left questioning how this could link up to Solo. It felt like they were pushing Qi’ra in a direction that she obviously wasn’t in at the beginning of the movie and the more they went in that direction the more I felt her eventual change back to where she was at the start of Solo was going to feel disingenuous. But I was actually very pleasantly surprised with how well Carson pulled it off. Not only did it not feel disingenuous, it actually felt perfectly in character for Qi’ra.
It’s hard to pick a best part of this novel, since almost everything works in perfect unison, but I would say the characters are what makes this novel thrive. Carson plays up each of these characters’ strengths perfectly. Although Han is very young in the book (18 years old) he tries to pull off the cocky, self-assured attitude we associate with him. But he is also heavily impulsive, which is the trait we really see in him here. He goes with his gut and a lot of times, when there is no plan or the plan goes bad, it’s his gut that gets him out.
Qi’ra is the planner. She takes the time to figure out where things could go bad and has a backup to get her out. She tries to see all the eventualities, which doesn’t always work but will often get her most of the way through a plan.
With the characters set up in this way, they make it perfect for Han to become the yin to Qi’ra’s yang. And combined with Tsuulo’s technical expertise they set up the characters with enough know-how and street-smarts to make it actually believable that this trio is able to evade gangs of murderers and even the Empire itself.
Not only are the main characters great, but many of the side characters work in the book as well. There is a droid named Tool who is one of the better characters in the book. You really feel for him even though he is “just a droid.” And as mentioned before Tsuulo is pretty much a main character, and may be the most interesting character of the book. This book puts a spin on the “all Rodians are bounty hunters” trope and makes Tsuulo a loveable sidekick.
The most interesting part of the book is that there really isn’t a “villain” per se — sure, the band of murderous thugs could be considered the villains, but really, they are just out for themselves. They are almost a blank-faced entity out to obtain the information from Han and Qi’ra. And if there is one failing of the book (a slight one at least), it is that the “villains” of the story don’t really have a well established face. Their leader is forgettable because she is only seen a handful of times, and even then, who cares. The villains are not what the story is about.
The book ends up being a character-driven action story — something that we don’t always get in the new canon. Most of the novels we have tend to be character stories and the movies have a tendency to lean towards being action stories (see Solo for example), but this book works perfectly as a bridge between the two. Han and Qi’ra are both incredibly strong characters in their own rights, but they are broken characters. Broken by their situation and fighting tooth and nail to get out of it. It isn’t until they realize that they need each other in order to get out of their situation that they actually start making progress towards their goals.
By the end of the novel we aren’t butting right up to Solo, but we have set Han and Qi’ra on a path to be where we find them at the time of the movie. This is perfect because there are plenty of opportunities for more adventures in this time period (about a year) but still gives us a fulfilling character and story arc.
I have said it before, but it bears repeating here: the new canon novels marketed towards the young adult crowd are easily the best group of Star Wars novels currently being printed. Most Wanted maintains that status that I believe was started with the phenomenal Lost Stars and continues right through this book. I don’t know what they are doing differently, but these books are fun, easy to read, and often leave me with a great feeling at the end. THIS is how Star Wars is done.