“My Millennium Falcon’s only a small converted freighter, and a rather elderly one at that, I’m afraid.” – Lando Calrissian
I had no expectations when I started reading L. Neil Smith’s Lando Calrissian Adventures trilogy. Though I had yet to read a Star Wars Expanded Universe novel that I didn’t like, with something like 200 novels in the Expanded Universe library, I knew it was bound to happen eventually.
But it didn’t happen with this book.
Lando Calrissian and the Mindharp of Sharu is probably the goofiest Star Wars book I’ve ever read. I mean, just look at that title. Look at the titles of all three books in the series. “Mindharp of Sharu,” “Flamewind of Oseon,” “Starcave of Lonboka.” Just two random nouns smashed together with a place name attached at the end. Based on the titles alone, I assumed these books were going to be different than any other Star Wars book I’d read. And I was right!
The book is just very campy. It sort of downplays the science fiction aspect of Star Wars and really upscales the fantasy aspect. Sometimes it felt like I was reading the plot of a Legend of Zelda game instead of a Star Wars novel. Lando is on a quest for an ancient instrument that has magical powers? Sounds… familiar…
It’s a fun adventure that doesn’t take itself too seriously and isn’t afraid to really push the limits of “believable” fantasy within the context of the Star Wars universe. In some ways, I love the book for that. If nothing else, it was a very entertaining read, and in the end that’s what you want out of a book, right? On the other hand, sometimes it felt too out-there. Just a little bit too ridiculous, even for Star Wars. This book takes place a few years before the original Star Wars trilogy. I find myself having a hard time believing that the Lando Calrissian I saw in The Empire Strikes Back and in Return of the Jedi would have a backstory like the one I read in this book.
The book definitely does still have a Star Wars feel to it. First off (and probably most importantly) Smith writes Lando very well. His characterization is great, and it truly feels like the same character we love from the movies. Obviously having Lando in the starring role is going to make the story at least a little bit Star Warsy. There’s the Millennium Falcon, space travel, and even a fun new droid companion. And honestly, the things that didn’t feel like Star Wars are mostly excusable because the story takes place in a new solar system that we haven’t seen on-screen before. Obviously things are going to be a little bit different on new worlds, with new alien races and different cultures and technology. So, the “weirdness” of this story actually might not be that weird if we remember that it actually makes sense that things are super different in different parts of the galaxy.
The story starts off a short time after Lando won the Millennium Falcon in a game of sabacc. He’s not very familiar with the ship yet, and he’s a pretty terrible pilot. That was one thing that annoyed me from the beginning. This doesn’t take place very long before the original movies, and I very clearly remember Lando expertly piloting the Falcon through the insides of the Death Star, which would, y’know, be basically impossible to do. So the fact that he is a terrible pilot in this story was kind of hard to accept. Though, I assume over the course of the three books that is going to change.
Lando is once again playing sabacc. We get to see a lot of sabacc in this trilogy, and the books do a pretty good job of explaining the rules of the game to us. Star Wars Rebels has given us our first on-screen look at sabacc (and at Lando playing the game) in the season one episode Idiot’s Array (which is named after a winning move in sabacc, as revealed in this novel). During this particular game of sabacc, Lando is told about a treasure called the Mindharp of Sharu. This intrigues him. He wins a droid in the game, but he has to go pick the droid up in the Rafa system, which just so happens to be where the Mindharp is located. He goes to the system and gets the droid, a meter-high, starfish-shaped robot (though he looks more like R2-D2 on the book’s cover) named Vuffi Raa. This little guy sort of fills the same role that Bollux and Blue Max filled in Brian Daley’s Han Solo Adventures trilogy. Though I didn’t love the character quite as much as I did Bollux and Max, Vuffi Raa was still a fun character whose presence I enjoyed throughout the story.
Lando gets arrested, on stupid charges, and is brought to the governor’s office. He is given a strange key, that is said to unlock the Mindharp, and is forced to go retrieve the instrument by a sorcerer named Rokur Gepta. Lando has no choice, and goes off to find the Mindharp.
Along with his new partner, Vuffi Raa, Lando meets a humanoid native of the Toka species, named Mohs. Mohs’ people know the legends of the Sharu (the now-extinct ancient race who created the Mindharp and all of the colossal architecture in the Rafa system) and Lando decides to let the him come along to help find the treasure. The Toka, however, are not a very advanced race, and Mohs seems kind of crazy throughout the story. Still, Lando thinks he’ll be a valuable asset to his quest, since Mohs knows more about the Mindharp of Sharu than anyone else he’s met.
Throughout the story Lando has the worst of luck, with seemingly everything working against him to prevent him for retrieving the treasure and finally getting back to his normal way of life. It’s almost frustrating to read at times because the guy just can’t get a break. He’s always getting attacked, arrested, betrayed, or whatever else that could possibly prevent him from getting the harp.
Being one of the earliest Star Wars books ever written, there were a few things that stood out to me as feeling out-of-place in a Star Wars story. Cigarettes abound in this book. Everyone, including Lando, smokes cigarettes. Now, I’ve watched every Star Wars movie there is–including the spin-off movies–and I don’t remember ever seeing a cigarette. Another funny thing is that Lando’s drink of choice is something called “coffeine.” That’s pretty creative, I have to say. Honestly, it’s no worse than “caf,” which is what became the more commonly accepted fake coffee ripoff in Star Wars literature as the years went on.
Also, apparently jackalopes exist in the Star Wars universe. On the planet “Douglas III” in fact. I don’t know what I think is funnier. The fact that jackalopes are real in Star Wars, or the fact that a planet is called Douglas III. They don’t even appear in the story. They are just mentioned one time. It was such a pointless inclusion in the story that it makes me laugh.
The story ends pretty abruptly, and it became clear to me that this is not meant to be a standalone book, and should be followed up by reading the other two books in the trilogy to get the full story. I haven’t read them yet–at the time I’m writing this–but the story didn’t feel finished, and it definitely left you on a cliffhanger. It caught me a little off guard, but it’s not really a bad thing. I am looking forward to reading the next book.
Lando Calrissian and the Mindharp of Sharu isn’t an amazing book, but it is a fun story despite being so goofy. It left me excited to read the sequel, which is always a good thing. Plus it’s just nice to have Lando take the lead role for once. Outside of this trilogy, and Marvel’s new Lando comic mini-series, we don’t see him at the center of the action very often. I can’t say I’d recommend the book to all Star Wars fans, but I think if you enjoy the other early Expanded Universe novels like Splinter of the Mind’s Eye or The Han Solo Adventures trilogy, you’ll probably enjoy this book too.