At last. At long last. No more galactic scale space fight for a while. After the two Alphabet Squadron books and the three Aftermath ones, it’s nice to have the universe give way to something smaller and more intimate.
I was really looking forward to revisiting this book. I liked it well enough when I read it the first time. But in the year since I read it, I heard so many people describe it in such glowing terms that I was really excited to give it another go. It’s safe to say this one now ranks among my top Star Wars picks. Why you ask? Well, let’s dive into Last Shot by Daniel José Older.
Here’s something new: a thriller/mystery with elements of a heist!
Lando Calrissian is attacked in his own home by a red-eyed droid with one mandate: kill. The shadowy figure accompanying the droid is a being by the name of Fyzen Gor, who holds the owner of the Millennium Falcon responsible for the theft of a device known as the Phalynx some 10 years prior.
Problem is Han is the one who owned the Falcon at the time.
Han gets a late night visit from Lando, and the two of them take off on an adventure to track down the Phalynx and figure out why exactly droids keep switching their programming and trying to kill them.
Meanwhile Han is wrestling with his want to still be out and on adventures when he has the very real responsibility of being around for his family, something he feels very insecure about.
Of course, because this is Star Wars and because it’s a quest, they’re accompanied on their adventure by a ragtag crew including Chewbacca, a former Twi’lek freedom fighter named Kaasha, an Ewok, an Ugnaught, and a hotshot young pilot
4 Things I Liked (and 1 I Didn’t)
1. The Scale
I already mentioned above that it made a nice change to go from the chaotic, galaxy-spanning, cast of dozens each with their own point of view, epic conflict with massive consequences story of the last 5 books to this book which is a much “smaller” story.
Though Han and Lando do have a crew with them, the point of view in the novel mostly alternates between one of them (with very rare chapters focusing on Fyzen Gor). When the crew split up, sending Han and Lando one way and everyone else another way, we don’t know what happens to the other characters until Han and Lando catch up to them later.
Though failure in their mission would mean consequences for the whole galaxy, since the Phalynx is capable of transmitting a virus to millions of droids turning them all into killing machines, the story never feels that big. And I mean that in the best way.
This is just two characters on a mission with a very specific goal in mind. Even when the book goes into one of the extensive flashback sequences, the scale and goal are still kept very intimate, and that allowed for a deeper appreciation and investment on my part.
2. The Tone and Pace
I don’t have much to say about the pace except that the book moves quickly and the chapters are short. I loved that I could read a full chapter whenever I had a moment and then put the book down without forgetting what was going on or where I was.
As for tone, the book was funny. The descriptions, the dialogue, all of it. It’s hard to convey in a review like this, but the lighthearted tone paired with a more serious mission was seriously such a breath of fresh air.
Even little throwaway moments, like Han and Leia’s kitchen droid believing a well-brewed coffee (sorry…”caf”) is the solution to every problem, including getting baby Ben to stop crying.
But in addition to being funny, the book is also genuinely thrilling/a little scary. Ok maybe it isn’t that scary and I’m just a wimp. But the terror of facing a droid whose only mission is to kill you, a droid that is beyond reasoning with and won’t stop till it’s reached its objective? Scary stuff. And I loved it.
3. Multiple Timelines
Though the story largely takes place in the “present day” (that is to say about 3 years or so after Return of the Jedi), it also flashes back to two points in the past. One set of flashbacks focus on Han Solo, a few years before we meet him in A New Hope, and the other set focuses on Lando, some 5 years before that. Both flashback sets focus on a time when each man was in possession of the Falcon, and focuses on a mission centred around the Phalynx.
Because it’s unclear what the Phalynx is or what Fyzen Gor wants to do with it, the flashbacks act as pieces in the puzzle, helping us solve the mystery along with the characters. It was a really effective way of making the narrative feel a little more varied, and not so claustrophobic, without pulling focus away from the two main characters.
4. Old Friends
Each flashback set sees Han or Lando with a mission partner, and in both cases these are people we’ve seen before.
For Lando’s mission, we see him with his droid copilot L3-37, who we know from Solo. Though the book did come out before the movie, I read it after, so for me it was nice to see L3 again. I’ve always liked the character and thought she got a lot of unnecessary flack. Here, she and Lando usually had scenes that were just the two of them, giving the reader better insight into how close they were before the events of the movie.
Not to mention L3 basically saves the day, which I loved.
For Han’s part, other than having Chewie with him as always, he is also joined on his mission by Sana Starros.
Back in my Doctor Aphra review, I mentioned that I felt like I was missing a chunk of the story, especially where Han, Leia and Sana were concerned? I got a little of that here, seeing Sana and Han on a mission together, and also learning they pretended to be married?? I’m definitely going to have to read those comics now.
(We just won’t mention how I’d already read this book and somehow forgot Sana Starros was in it)
5. Fyzen Gor’s human/robot hybrids
Fyzen Gor is a Pau’an who believes in droid supremacy. In a bid to elevate organics to a higher state of being, while also not wasting parts when repairing droids, he makes hybrids of the two. He dismembers organic beings to fix broken droids, and enhances organic beings with droid parts.
The concept is a cool one for the story villain, and is messed up, perfectly in keeping with the more thriller/horror tone. But I am personally not a fan of body horror like this. It’s not even that I think it was badly written. It was never gratuitously gory like some other things I can think of. But of all the parts of the book, I liked this the least. What can I say, I have a weak stomach.
I’m a sucker for Han and Leia’s relationship, and for Ben Solo (which I’m sure you’ve figured out by now), so of course I loved all these scenes in the book. The last time I read this was pre Episode IX, and in the months since, things have changed in my reread. All the Han and Ben scenes are now 100% more emotional in the wake of the one scene they had together in that movie. Plus, all the scenes of Ben being a sweet little kid are just that much sadder knowing he isn’t going to come home after all, not really. OK, end rant/moping for this post.
I never got a concrete answer about whether Jannah in The Rise of Skywalker was supposed to be Lando’s daughter or not, but if she is I have to ask…what happened to Kaasha?
Han and Lando have a frank discussion about Lando selling him out to the Empire, which is such a sincere, emotionally complex moment in an otherwise more action-and-banter driven story. It was nice to see that addressed in a small way now that they actually have time to do so safely.
For all her talk about droid liberation and droid rights, we see L3 actually took great steps to ensure that there was a way to stop droids from massacring all humans. All she ever wanted was equal rights. I love that droid so much.