Han Solo and Lando Calrissian are walking complications. When they tangle, they really tangle. When they’re friends, it gets even worse.
In the new Star Wars novel Last Shot, now in stores, author Daniel José Older sets out to unravel their histories with a time-hopping tale of long-ago crimes and misdemeanors from their younger years that return to make trouble for them in middle age.
The Empire has fallen after the events of Return of the Jedi and Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath trilogy. Han is a new father, struggling to connect with his toddler son while Leia gets to work rebuilding the galaxy. Lando is thinking about settling down with a Twi’lek lover named Kaasha Bateen and joining his old buddy in domestic bliss.
But then a fringe figure named Fyzen Gor comes calling, in pursuit of a mechanical device he thinks the captain of the Millennium Falcon took from him decades ago.
Last Shot also explores topics that touch a nerve in our own galaxy — sometimes using humor, sometimes heart, and sometimes just by making it matter-of-fact.
There’s a new Gungan character who objects to the Jar-Jar Binks-style stereotype. An Ewok hacker who defies the notion that the furry little creatures are primitives. Lando’s Twi’lek lover gives him a lesson in respect and consent. And there’s a human pilot whose gender fluidity is accepted without mention, which underplays the significance of such a character in a Star Wars novel.
Older is the author of Shadowshaper and Half-Ressurection Blues, with a new middle-grade collection of books coming in September called Dactyl Hill Squad, which he describes as “about a group of kids of color in 1863 New York, but there’s dinosaurs running around. Essentially, they’re flying around on pterodactyls and running around on top of brachiosauruses, dealing with some of the fallout of the Civil War that’s going on down south at the same time.”
Blending fantasy and reality, scrambling time periods, and exploring the bond between friends and the tension between disparate groups are among his specialties. As a lifelong Star Wars fan, here’s how he brought those talents to a tale of Han and Lando that brackets the events of next month’s Solo: A Star Wars Story.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Congrats on the debut this week. Are you doing a reading today or anything?
DANIEL JOSÉ OLDER: I’m doing my taxes! They decided to put my book out on Tax Day, so here we are. No, I mean I’ve been enjoying myself on Twitter mostly. That’s absolutely what I’ve been doing.
What was the collaboration like with Lucasfilm? What did they give you to get started, and where did you decide to take it?
I’ve never done a process quite like this. They had a very loose concept of a story where something happened in the past and it’s caused Lando to go and team back up with Han. They really wanted to bridge this gap between the Han and Lando that we know and love, and then the ones that we’ll meet in their younger years in Solo.
And the rest was up to you?
They were really great about just letting me develop who this bad guy was going to be, what kind of actual crisis they were going to be up against, all of those sort of deeper levels that were going on. Where they went, what different kinds of creatures they ran into, all of that was up to me.
The book has three main perspectives. You have the book’s present, set a couple years after Return of the Jedi. Ben Solo, the future Kylo Ren, is just a baby. Leia is engaged as a senator trying to rebuild after the fall of the Empire. Then you have two flashbacks, the first of which is the droid L3-37 and Lando before the events that we’ll see in the Solo movie. Then Han and Chewie after the events in that film.
And then we also have these little moments of the bad guy, Fyzen Gor. That takes place about 20 years before a lot of the action.
He’s in the prequel era, right?
Pre-prequel, almost. Yeah, it’s awhile back. There’s definitely a lot of time-jumping that’s happening. They all do tie together. They’re all very deeply entwined, but over the course of several decades.
Are there things in the book that will hint at the Solo film?
There’s definitely no spoilers. But what’s interesting about this moment for each of them, is that [the book] literally sandwiches the movie. It’s almost like parentheses, right? But the actual conflict and things that happen within the movie don’t really affect the book much.
The basic story of Last Shot is that there’s a thing called the Phylanx Redux Transmitter, which is almost as big a mouthful as the “navicomputer” line that Han Solo had to say. But Han and Lando don’t even know what it is. They can barely remember having interacted with it in the past, right?
But it’s really important to Fyzen Gor, who’s this, oh … I don’t even want say too much about who he is, but he’s kind of a …
He’s a maniac! [Laughs]
He’s a maniac, but he’s a former doctor.
Yes! He’s obsessed with droids because of this traumatizing experience that happened to him in his final year of medical school on Utapau. We kinda chart that journey with him being this really wide-eyed medical student, and the best of his class, to having this run-in with these gangsters. His whole life basically spiraling out of control, sending him on this path where he pretty much worships droids, but also wants to rule them. It’s this awkward dynamic of him wanting to free them and rule them at the same time. Gets him into a lot of complicated, savior-complex-type stuff.
I thought he was fascinating because he’s a doctor, he’s trained to heal, yet he’s disgusted by the way the human body breaks down. The way it ages, the weakness that it has.
He’s viscerally disgusted by it. He’s disgruntled at the idea of organics in general, even though he is one. He’s willing to do whatever he has to do, to change the world the way he sees it should be.
Was there anybody in real life, a crime boss or a warlord or somebody, who inspired this guy?
You know what’s really interesting? Just today, late last night, they announced that they’re removing the statue of Marion Sims from Central Park. Marion Sims was called the “father of gynecology,” but also famous for doing really horrific experiments on black enslaved women. He’s a true historical monster that has been lionized and worshiped in modern day culture, right? I think there’s a fascinating dynamic that happens in different forms of oppression, where you have someone that’s committed to healing, supposedly, and also literally just destroying peoples’ bodies because he doesn’t view them as human, right? So right there, history is full of people like that.
That’s what fantasy does so well. It’s a great way of exploring things that, maybe it is a more difficult conversation to have in real life. But you take it away from our world, and suddenly it actually becomes pretty clear.
Definitely. The other conversation with Fyzen Gor, of course, is about the idea of what it means to come into someone else’s community and demand that they stand up for things without a full understanding of what that might mean. There’s this constant dynamic with Gor, who’s like, “Yes! Droids, rise up around the galaxy!” And he’s doing it by literally trying to control them, right? What kind of liberation involves being controlled by someone else?
That leads me to another thing I wanted to talk to you about with this book. There seem to be two kind of parallel themes going on. One, just talking about the way the body degrades and we get older, from Fyzen Gor’s perspective. Then we see Lando and Han in soft middle age, right? Lando’s thinking about settling down with a Twi’lek woman. Han has already been domesticated. [Laughs] He’s trying to figure out how to be a dad, and how to be a good husband, and how to be just a good guy, and not a smuggler anymore.
Right, right. I really love that connection that you made. That’s one of the best things about writing a book. You write a book, and you have all these ideas in your head, and then someone else reads it and sees these lines that you had no idea were in there. I’ve never actually put together that the whole question of Fyzen Gor, and obsession with decay and disgust around the natural course of human life, and Lando and Han going into actual middle age, and the decay of both their bodies and they’re just being like, “Wow, things are boring after you won a war.” [Laughs] They’re actually confronting a very similar form of disgust with things, and trying to break out of that and break the pattern by finding their old pattern, and all of that. Anyways, that was a great connection.
There’s another strong theme in Last Shot about fairness and justice and equality. So many of your side characters are really interesting. The Gungan, Aro …
The disgruntled Gungan! [Laughs]
He tells Han, “Don’t hit me with this ‘Meesa, meesa’ talk. Then there’s Preepka, a female Ewok who’s a slicer, the galactic version of a hacker. We’re used to seeing the Ewoks as these primitives, right, and she’s actually pretty tech-savvy. Then there’s Takka Jamoreesa, who you never really specified, I don’t think, but you refer to Takka as “they” and “their,” so I’m guessing non-gender-specific, or …
Yeah, gender non-binary. I don’t think the Star Wars universe really has a term that they employ as far as that goes, except for just to say that Takka’s pronouns are “they” and “their.” They’re gender non-binary, and that’s who they are.
I’m guessing that both of these themes are important to you, too. On one hand, Han dealing with being a father, and on the other hand, you explore the broader social or political issues of the galaxy. I assume these are all personal to you?
Well, I’m not a father. I do have an amazing niece and nephew — whose toys I have stepped on in the middle of the night — that I adore. But I thought it was just a really important question to get into the daily life, the really basic detailed drudgery of what it’s like for Han Solo. The hero of the galaxy, this guy who’s known and beloved both within the galaxy. He’s a legend, and it’s very hard to write people that are so gigantic and legendary. I grew up, since I was 3 years old, knowing who Han Solo was and thinking, “He’s the coolest person in the world.” How do you write that and make them feel human?
To me, the answer to that question is, “Put a 2-year-old in their arms, and maybe have that 2-year-old kick them in the face when they’re trying to sleep.” [Laughs] The very real, basic thing of having a toddler running around, and how annoying it is, and how wonderful it is at the same time. And there’s a galactic incident unfolding. All these things are happening at the same time, which is its own form of crisis and drama and everything else. As long as there’s also some good space shoot-outs and other cool stuff happening, that has a place in Star Wars.
The contrast between these guys is striking. You have a scene where Han is on a prison moon trying to escape literal monsters, and Lando is back on the ship with Kaasha. … I guess, is “girlfriend” the right word?
[Laughs] I think it’s safe to say it’s complicated.
Right. They have some intimacy there. And he reaches to touch her … what are they called?
Yeah, the lekku. The long, sort of organic tubes that come out of her head, and she kind of scares him off. “You don’t touch those unless …”
Right, exactly. She’s like, “I’ve literally cut off men’s hands for those without permission. You better make the next move very, very carefully.” Yeah. I do know that does add yet another question within the book, one of those deeper down questions, which is really about love, right?
Both men are trying to negotiate what love looks like in a way that lasts. Han from the perspective of someone who’s in a marriage that he jumped into very quickly, in the middle of a war, literally. And now having to settle down when he knows he has a rambling heart.
Then Lando …
Lando wanted that, very badly, and not knowing what that means for him after finding someone who challenged him enough that he feels like he could actually settle with it.
That’s the personal side; tell me about the political side, and imbuing this story with a sense that we go through life, and we have our own identities, but we’re constantly interacting with people who are from other backgrounds. In the galaxy, man, I don’t know if it’s more complicated than it is here on our own planet, but you’ve got so many variations of creature and culture. It seems like a natural for this kind of storytelling.
Touching on what you mentioned earlier, it’s this idea that with fantasy and science-fiction we have an opportunity to talk about the real world on a very multilayered and nuanced way that, far from getting in the way of the fantasy, actually enhances it deeply. These stories are like having a complex conversation about power as it functions in that world, and that echoes what happens in this world, makes the story better. So whether that means dealing with the power of the Galactic Empire, or the power of being a father and what that involves. That’s when stories get good, when we really dig into those questions and explore them.