If Solo: A Star Wars Story is disappointing at the box office, it can’t be blamed on the crew at Penguin Random House Audio, who’ve been cranking out immersive versions of new books that give fans of all ages the opportunity to explore the relatively lightsaber-less reaches of a galaxy far, far away.
First came Last Shot, a novel that hopped from the Solo era to the post-Jedi era with reference to such adult preoccupations as marital compromises and Twi’lek sex. (Yes, those tendrils are erogenous.) Now, a pair of new stories offer tamer excursions into the years before and after Han makes his escape from Corellia.
The Mighty Chewbacca in the Forest of Fear was written by Tom Angleberger, author of the Lucasfilm-licensed “Origami Yoda” books about schoolkids who take inspiration from a folded-paper Jedi master. This story actually takes place in the Star Wars universe, specifically in the pre-New–Hope years when Han and Chewie are footloose and fancy-free, tearing up the galaxy in their legendary freighter.
Playing on Han’s libido (in a tween-appropriate manner), an exotic gangster princess captures Solo and forces his Wookiee companion to fly off to a distant planet in company with a feisty librarian, a herd of space cats, and K-2SO — the repurposed Imperial droid who was introduced in Rogue One. He doesn’t get as many good lines in Mighty Chewbacca, but at least when he’s talking, that usually means Chewie isn’t. Even for dedicated fans, Wookiee conversations get annoying real fast. Would someone get this walking carpet out of my AirPods?
Most Wanted is a much smoother ride. Written by YA fantasy vet Rae Carson, it finds an 18-ish Han and Qi’ra in the Dickensian murk of Lady Proxima’s (literally) underground crime ring. They start the story as rivals for the job of head honcho among Proxima’s swamp rats, but they’re forced to work together when the worm queen decides to test them with a dangerous mission to bid on a game-changing bit of shield technology. When everything goes wrong, they become their shipbuilding planet’s…yep, you’ve got it.
Both books get typically lavish treatments, with multi-level soundscapes and scores drawing on John Williams’s judiciously edited film cues. Narrator Saskia Maarleveld works wonders on Most Wanted, handling voices from Qi’ra to Han to their Rodian buddy who only speaks Huttese. Sean Kenin has an awkward job on Mighty Chewbacca, with look-into-the-camera asides that often turn on alien obscenities he discreetly declines to translate.
Most Wanted is a worthy listen for any Star Wars fan, and since the films themselves are essentially written at a young-adult level, there’s little dissonance of tone. Despite Angleberger’s creatively imagined Force-forest setting, Mighty Chewbacca is more of a starter listen for younger fans of the franchise — and for adult superfans, of course. Both audio editions are available now, although you might want to wait until Solo leaves theaters and you need a scoundrel fix.