Review: Tales of the Bounty Hunters

talesBHSomething about bounty hunters seems to naturally fascinate people. Equally fascinating as the vigilante, and existing on the same plane of law enforcement as police, sheriffs, deputies, and other old-west versions, bounty hunters were originally simply mercenaries. Like with so many other western or mythological types, though, George Lucas reinvented them in Star Wars.

Bad guys of a different type, bounty hunters aren’t soldiers (i.e. mercenary troops). And even though — or maybe because — the glimpse of them in the films is quite brief, the fans have been gripped by six individuals most particularly. Ever since 1980, these names — and, I imagine, accompanying action figures — have been bounced back and forth among the fans, just names and stats, their stories unknown.

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IG-88. Dengar. Bossk. 4-LOM. Zuckuss. And of course, Boba Fett. Who are they? Where did they come from? Where did they go? Of course the EU exists to tell those exact stories, and in this 1996 collection, edited by Kevin J. Anderson, those stories come to life.

Kevin J. Anderson, Dave Wolverton, and Kathy Tyers return to the Galaxy to give us the first three stories; M. Shayne Bell and Daniel Keys Moran present the final two offerings. Anderson’s short story of the four IG-88s and how they plotted to take over the galaxy is a gem. Repetitive big nose jokes aside, the neat way he connects the Battle of Endor with the self-destructing probe on Hoth is clever, further cementing the history. Shades of Greek irony touch the story as well, as even emotionless droids, caught up in their superiority to organic beings, are not immune to hubris. Fan voting declared James Spader should do the voice of IG-88.

Wolverton gives us the tale of Dengar, a modified Corellian assassin with a grudge against Han Solo. Unlike IG-88, though, the inhuman human can remember emotion even if he can’t feel it, and he adheres to his own moral code — and falls in love. Touching on the character more fully fleshed out in The Bounty Hunter Wars Trilogy, the story explains his weird bandages and grudging glint in his eye. Fan-casting suggests Vin Diesel to play him, and I’m inclined to agree — though Liev Schreiber came in a close second.

I didn’t enjoy Bossk’s tale (Kathy Tyers) as much, though I was impressed that the Scorekeeper — referenced throughout The Old Republic — appeared first here as part of the Trandoshan religion. So did the grudge match between Wookiees and Trandoshans that also comes up in TOR. The story itself is very clever with a good twist, setting Bossk up as the perennially outfoxed short-fuse that he is in the BHW trilogy.

I did like the tale of 4-LOM and Zuckuss — unexpectedly poignant, a friendship story in the classic Star Wars tradition — and though I’m not familiar with anything else M. Shayne Bell wrote, this story was very well done. I’m picturing Seth Green and Breckin Meyer for the pair, with Breckin’s soft-spoken yet stubborn demeanor perfect for Zuckuss. The subplot of how 4-LOM went from being a steward droid to a jewel thief to a mechanical bounty hunter is worth it on its own, but add a dose of what happened to the coughing girl in ESB and the other rebels who got out on that last transport, and you’ve got a winner!

To be honest, the most disappointing story in the batch was that of Boba Fett, and it’s the only one of the six that I’m not going to even bother retconning into my canon. When I read this book almost 20 years ago, the Boba Fett story made me uncomfortable and depressed and was part of how I knew post-Vision of the Future would never be Star Wars to me when Vector Prime came out in ’99. Boba Fett doesn’t seem in character, which isn’t helped by the fact that Moran attempted to name the man and give pre-ANH detail, which authors weren’t supposed to do. But the same way Schreiber fumbles in Lockdown with making Maul a walking, talking real character, all his mystery and interest gets stripped away by a lackluster portrayal. Han’s appearance and the Slave IV, from 15 years after Endor, just adds to the general weirdness. The only one-star contribution in the book, I must say.

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But the rest more than makes up for it, and it remains by far my favorite of the Tales collections. Bounty hunters? We do need that scum.

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