Updated: Feb 26
Smuggler's Run by Greg Rucka is among the first of the canon books, having been released in 2015 as part of the "Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens" line of stories. I only just read it now since I'm trying to catch up on my Star Wars reading before I get too much more behind, and I very much enjoyed it.
Spoiler-free review: Smuggler's Run is a really enjoyable story, especially for fans of Han and Chewbacca. It's a nice little exploration of Han's feelings immediately following the events of A New Hope, and the prologue and epilogue have some fun old-man Han moments too. And of course Chewie rocks, as he does in everything. This story also has some interesting original characters, and some really exciting action scenes (you know a Star Wars book is good when you can hear John Williams music in your head while reading it).
You can score your own copy of Smuggler's Run and read it yourself if you'd like, which I think you should, but if you've already read it or don't mind spoilers for it, then go on!
The prologue of the story introduces us to older Han, telling a story to a mean-looking group of mercenaries (one of which is a human with an extremely gaudy-sounding tattoo on his forehead of a small Twi'lek woman kissing his face). The story is about Han and Chewie right after A New Hope, when the Rebellion is packing up to move from the base on Yavin IV. Leia tries to convince Han to run a rescue mission for an ex-Imperial contact in the Outer Rim, but Han refuses. He calls in Chewie to convince Leia that they shouldn't do it... but Chewie takes Leia's side. So, off they go. They're hunted by some bounty hunters sent by Jabba in their rescue attempt, because of course they are, and also by the Empire, looking for the contact so they can get his information. The officer leading this charge is Commander Beck, a fearsome woman with a mean streak and a meaner, red-glowing cybernetic eye. Through a long series of fights and chases, Han, Chewie and the contact get captured by Beck, but they're rescued by Han and Chewie's friend Delia, and through some risky maneuvers they all get away safely. In the epilogue, Han fights the mercenaries once they realize who he is, and is able to get the best of them with Chewie and Delia.
Han and Chewie are, of course, amazing in this book. We get to see how familiar they are with one another, especially during the tense, climactic escape scene where they act in sync with one another to pull of a risky move that almost crashes them into a planet in order to escape a tractor beam and go into hyperspace. We also get to see Han's heart of gold, as Chewie puts it. Even back in the original trilogy, it's pretty clear that as much as Han talks himself up as being uncaring, he does care about others, even if he sometimes puts up a fight to help. He also disliking when people perceive him otherwise- he's pretty offended when Delia doesn't believe that he's working with the Rebellion and instead trusts Chewie to verify. He wants people to trust him and feels bad when they don't, even if he tries to portray himself as aloof and like he doesn't care what they think of him. This is a pretty great Han book, especially in light of Solo (which was years away when this was released). One interesting thing about this story were the small details revealing the slight differences since Solo has come out. For example, when we're reading from Chewie's perspective there's an offhand line about how the novelty dice in the cockpit were originally hung up by Chewie "as a joke." Unless there's another pair of dice in the Falcon at the time (which their could be, I guess), we now know that isn't quite true. It's just an interesting bit of information, and I think it's cool how to see even the little details of the stories we love evolve over time as more and more creatives get to add their own spin on things.
Delia is a character that, though her role is rather small, I really liked. I kind of had an instant love for her, because we're introduced to her as soon as she saw Chewie, when she got excited and went in for a big hug (same, Delia), but as the story went on I grew to love her even more. Delia owns a ship known as the Miss Fortune that she inherited from a kind, older Duros man she used to talk to when she was a barmaid on Lothal (maybe in Old Jho's, I like to think). Delia turned the ship into a traveling bar, and goes from planet to planet to serve- and sometimes, to pass along rebel information between cells. She has a kind heart and cares for her friends, even the ones that don't pay off their tabs. Delia comes to Han's rescue when he needs it, and later when things look bad for her ship, urges him to just leave her behind. Han doesn't, of course, and Delia is able to escape and serve another day- thankfully, because she helps him in the fight in the epilogue, when both are aged.
The most fascinating of the original characters in the story was Commander Beck. Commander Beck prides herself on her strategic abilities and fierce loyalty to the Empire- she lost her left eye in a fight when she confronted her commanding officer as a lieutenant for treason. Commander Beck always seem to be just half a step behind the contact that she is hunting, and even gets tricked by Han pretending that the bounty hunters chasing him are rebels, which infuriates her. However, she is finally able to catch Han- only to be outwitted by Delia's surprise appearance. Beck seems to be the pinnacle of the Empire's best- loyal, determined, wicked smart and an apparent strong believer in "the ends justify the means," as she's more than willing to sacrifice her own pilots in order to capture some ships. Beck thinks of everything through a strategic lens- Han flies close enough to the planet that the only way to catch him in their tractor beam would be to destroy the city. Beck finally relents and lets Han get away because of this- not because she cares about the lives lost, mind you, but because she worries that people who heard about the incident would become more rebels, and she can't allow that. Beck is cruel and calculating, which makes her an extremely intimidating villain to follow through the book.
Another interesting, though much smaller character is Torrent. Torrent is mostly just known as TX-828 through the book as a stormtrooper serving Commander Beck, however when he takes his armor off in order to go undercover through the city and track the contact, it's revealed that he is actually a clone trooper, one of the few still serving the Empire. We don't get to see much of Torrent's personality, but it's always cool to see clone troopers, even fighting on the wrong side.
Smuggler's Run, though an older book comparative to new Star Wars canon, is definitely worth the read if you haven't read it already. More than anything, it really feels like a good old Star Wars adventure at its most intense points. Rucka writes Han really well- you can absolutely hear Harrison Ford's voice in your head if you give it a try while reading, and it's a great story to get your hands on.