Han Solo and the Hollow Moon of Khorya
Scripting: Jeremy Barlow
Penciling: Rick Lacy
Inking: Matthew Loux
Coloring: Michael Atiyeh
Lettering: Michael Heisler
Cover: Rick Lacy, Michael Atiyeh
Released: 03/27/2009 (Titan Books); 04/29/2009 (Dark Horse)
Reviewed by: JF Boivin (04/20/2009)
On Simbarc, Han is reunited with childhood friend Billal Batross to repay a debt to crime lord Sollima. They have to infiltrate an Imperial garrison and bring back his droid containing critical information about Sollima's gambling operation. Meanwhile, Chewie will go with Sollima on his gambling station Hollow Moon as a hostage to ensure the mission's success. Han and Billal are captured and given a deal to go free if they provide the Empire access to Hollow Moon. They return to Sollima with only the droid's head, Chewie leads a slave revolt, and in the confusion Han overrides the station's security for the Imperials to invade. Han, Chewie and Billal escape from the planet, and deliver Sollima to the Imperials. But Billal quickly finds out that the smuggler duo are not planning on taking on a third partner.
I don't usually write the release dates for the Titan Books editions (Dark Horse's official publisher in the UK), except that this one was shipped ahead of its US release schedule, and I was kind of excited about it so I got ahold of a copy. I have no clue as to why it came out early overseas, but it seems that Dark Horse bumped up the American release from May 20th to April 29th possibly because of this. I don't expect much to be different between the two versions, except small details that concern the different publishers and the countries where they are printed and sold (a hint is the "colours" spelling in the credits page). The font of the title on the cover is also different. The book is in a digest-size format, like the Clone Wars Adventures and the current The Clone Wars digests, except the page count is a bit less at 80 pages (71 of story).
I just love the concept of a series of graphic novel-length stories starring famliar characters and set during different times of the Rebellion Era. The titles harkens back to the Brian Daley Han Solo novels (all-time favorites of mine), the L. Neil Smith Lando novels, and more recently Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor by Matthew Stover. On top of that, this one is written by one of my favorite Star Wars comic writers (and former associate editor), Jeremy Barlow. He hasn't written that many stories (Jedi: Yoda, Empire #23, Rebellion: Small Victories and others), but they were all homeruns. Barlow has a penchant for using characters and events from lesser-known sources and fitting them within interesting, character-driven stories. In this new story, he created new characters and places but they merge perfectly with lapses in Han's backstory.
The title page indicates that this story takes place one year before ANH, but the narrative text in the story itself says two years, and I tend to go with the latter. During the one year period, Han was working around in the Corporate Sector in Daley's second novel Han Solo's Revenge so it doesn't really work. At the two year mark it places it before the Corporate Sector period, namely Han Solo at Stars' End, which in turn happens between chapters 6 and 7 of Rebel Dawn, Ann C. Crispin's third book of her Han Solo Trilogy. This fits perfectly since Rebel Dawn's chapter 5 begins with "Over the next five months, Han Solo and his Wookiee First Mate rose to the top of the smuggler heap." This leaves ample freedom to explore this period of the smuggler's life which this story does. To place the story in context, Han has recently won the Falcon from Lando, Chewie has just gotten married on Kashyyyk, they hadn't known each other for very long, and they working for various employers and other shady individuals to purchase upgrades for their ship.
One of these employers is Sollima, an Aleena crime lord who owns a casino in the Dakata Spaceport on the Outer Rim world Simbarc. Han has been caught cheating at Sabacc at said casino, and the security forces are hot on his heels, as Chewie tries to outrace them driving a landspeeder. The Wookiee manages to loose the pursuers, but Sollima (or "Solly" as Han affectionately calls him) is waiting for them with a trio of armed guards in the hangar where the Falcon is berthed. After beating Han up a bit, Sollima offers Han a job. But to ensure he completes it, the crime lord says he will keep Chewbacca hostage and instead send someone else to co-pilot the Falcon: an old friend of Han's named Billal Batross (last name from the back cover blurb). Billal was Han's best friend during their childhood days as part of Garris Shrike's thieving operation on Corellia. This period of Han's life is covered in book 1 of the Han Solo Trilogy, The Paradise Snare, but Billal is a new creation who adds even more depth to Han's background. Admitedly, the two friends lost contact when Han killed Shrike and enrolled at the Imperial Academy. Billal has been doing unsuccesful jobs until he ended up working for Sollima, to whom he now owes a debt that he intends to repay by doing this job.
The job in question is to regain possession of Sollima's chief accounting droid which the Imperials have stolen in order to find a way to overtake his casino world. Turns out that Sollima is part of a gambling network and owns other casinos, namely a gambling station called Hollow Moon in the Khorya system, within the Hutt Sector. The Imperials dare not intrude in Hutt space, hence the theft of the droid. Han is not given much choice, and reluctantly he agrees to go to the Imperial garrison on the banking world of Moog Mot VI where the droid is being studied. Meanwhile, Sollima goes back to Hollow Moon to wait for Han and Billal's return, bringing Chewbacca along as a prisoner. Sensing an opportunity to make money, Sollima enrolls Chewie in the gladiatorial arena and he bets heavily on him.
On the way to the Imperial planet, Billal reveals how much he envies Han's lifestyle and he would love nothing more than being as succesful as him. But during the course of the mission, he will demonstrate numerous times that the hard life of a smuggler is really not for him. He says the Universe is against him but it's really his lack of skill and integrity that prevent Billal from being Han's equal. Case in point: he supplies fake Imperial uniforms that actually look very fake; he comes up with get-rich-quick schemes at every opportunity (good thing Han is there to prevent him); he destroys the droid when they find it when Sollima wants it intact, revealing that he stole money from Sollima's accounts so he erased traces of it, and that he sold the droid to the Empire in the first place; and when they are captured, he reveals everything he knows right away while Han is being tortured for information. As a result of that, Imperial Captain Taavin offers them a counter-deal: he will let them bring back parts of Sollima's droid to him as long as they give the Empire access inside the Hollow Moon by overiding the station's security codes. With his friend's life hanging in the balance, Han has to agree.
Meanwhile, after easily defeating the reigning champion Dravin Razorbrain, Chewbacca is quickly moving up the ranks as an arena fighter where he becomes known as "Chokk the Eviscerator." He becomes a crowd favorite and is awarded VIP quarters and his own personal masseuse. But he also sees the way the other slaves are treated, and a Klatooinian named Stokasa confides to Chewie that he, Dravin and other slaves are planning a revolt. And they want Chewbacca to lead the way to freedom or death. By the time Han and Billal return, the slaves have broken out of the arena and the revolt is in full effect. Sollima, not happy at having his droid destroyed had ordered Chewbacca killed, but now he doesn't know what to do. Han and Billal hid a bomb inside the droid's head and they use it to kill Sollima's bodyguards, take the crime lord hostage and override the security giving entry to Captain Taavin's fleet.
While the Imperial takeover is taking place, Han and Chewie are reunited. Han is afraid that Chewie might not want to stay with him because of his recklessness, so he repeats what Billal told him earlier: "Don't give up on me. I'm trying." But Chewie wants nothing more, and he gives Han one of his famous Wookiee hugs. The other slaves leave to find their own way off planet, and the Falcon lifts off with Billal and Sollima aboard. But theirs is not the only ship taking off, fleeing from the Imperial bombardments, and it takes a lot of piloting skills to avoid the heavy traffic. But once they are away, Han drops off Sollima in an escape pod for the Empire to deal with. They also later leave Billal stranded on a planet with Hoojibs (Arbra?), and so they are free once again to go on another adventure.
Here are the things I love about this story: the way ot starts during a frenetic chase scene; Billal's various schemes that always put him in trouble, proving that not everybody in the galaxy has what it takes to be a hero; Han and Chewie's touchy-feely bond is strenghtened as a result of the events of the story; the way that it's written to appeal to both mature and younger fans (take note Henry Gilroy!); and Hoojibs! My favorite quote, Han saying to Billal "I love you, man... but sooner or later you're going to get me killed."
Rick Lacy has done previous work on Dark Horse digest comics: He illustrated stories for Clone Wars Adventures ("The Brink" in Vol.4 and "Means and Ends" in Vol.6), as well as the Hellboy Animated series. Sadly, I am not familiar with his other work, but that might soon change. I think he brings a whole new style to Star Wars comics: his artwork is very much in a simplified animation style, yet it displays a lot of dynamic movement and expressions. The action scenes (and there are many) leap off the pages, and the characters' poses and facial expressions add new dimensions to the story. Characters and objects further in the background are less detailed, but when closeup shots are needed they are used very effectively putting the focus on the character's feelings and creating a dramatic effect. Sometimes a scene would start with a wide shot and then move in on a particular character or group of characters, or sometimes it's the opposite starting with a closeup and then revealing more about the setting and the action as it moves out. I also love the amount of research done for the artwork. Some little details will appeal to hard core fans; of course I mentioned the Hoojibs who look lovely here; Sollima's bodyguards are a Taloron hunter and 2 of the blue-skinned aliens from the Revenge of the Sith video game (Jastus Farr's species?); the arena crowd includes several familiar aliens, monsters like reeks and a rancor, and one guy who looks a lot like Doctor Evazan; and Billal reminds me a bit of Rik Duel, which makes me wonder if the writer didn't intend to use him originally. To sum up, the artwork is very character-driven, the coloring work is amazing, and the whole story is dynamic and action-packed.
A very cool story about everybody's favorite smuggler, done in a very entertaining style with smart dialogue.
Rating: 9.5 / 10 Highly Recommended