My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I read these three books back-to-back and because the lines between them are a little blurred I'm going to review them all together here. I will try to comment on each one separately, but there might be spoilers between the books.
This Han Solo trilogy, which differs from The Adventures of Han Solo trilogy by Brian Daley, introduces a young Han Solo and fills in many of the gaps left by other works. The gap filling is nice, but also causes the books to jump around a lot and be a little sporadic because they assume you know the backstory from other places. For example, we don't get to see a lot of Han's time in the Imperial Academy or his meeting of and bonding with Chewbacca. Also, there are fairly large gaps of time in-between the books that make these books more like three stand-alone novels, than a coherent trilogy. These books also mark the first time, in-Universe chronology, where we leave the comfort of modern MP3 and CD audiobooks that are unabridged to slightly abridged and enter the uncomfortable territory of really abridged cassette tape audiobooks. The reader and audio quality went way down. I was also surprised how much the sound effects that I loved as a teenager got in the way of following the book as an adult [although this could be because of low analog to digital conversion quality or because I listen to most audiobooks at x2 speed]. That being said, I'm going to attempt to briefly review each book individually now that I've introduced the series.
Growing up, my library had this book, but not the two sequels, and so I listened to this one dozens (if not hundreds) of times before I ever found the other two, which I have listened to twice each. The book explains Han's rough childhood and his escape from being a con-artist. It also explains his affinity for, and understanding of Shyriiwook. From there we meet a new, temporary, furry sidekick as Han develops his piloting skills running spice instead. There is also the first of several love interests that we see develop in the book, which serves as the driving plot for this novel and the only thread loosely holding together the whole trilogy. Like many novels, Han's past catches up to him, but in the end [no surprise] he prevails and goes into the Imperial Academy.
The Hutt Gambit:
By the time this book starts Han has already left the Imperial Academy, and although this is discussed elsewhere, it seems like a hole in this series. We see Chewie serving a reluctant Han, which seems to go against the personality of Han Solo that was established in the first book. Although, yes Han is a loner, he also has deep friendships with people he has just met. These friendships come fast, but are hard and true. As seen with, Bria, Muuurgh, and to a lesser extent Dewlanna. In fact, Dewlanna should be a motivator for Han to bond to Chewie. Of course, they do come together, and pretty quickly. The book also explores Han's joining the smuggling trade again, despite trying to flee from it several times and get his life straight, and his introduction to Lando and other familiar smuggler friends. Through this we get to see the infamous run that led to him getting boarded and what resulted in the debt he owed to Jabba the Hutt. The book closes on an (view spoiler)[odd little bit of rebellion and unification amongst the smuggler's as they resist the Empire at the Battle of Nar Shaddaa. (hide spoiler)]
The book opens with another famous scene where we get to see Han win the Millennium Falcon from Lando. From there (view spoiler)[we see Han hook up with Bria again and begin to flirt with the Rebellion. For me this was unbelievable because it seems from the movies [although it is not explicitly forbidden] that Han is unfamiliar with and [is certainly] unsympathetic to the plight of the Rebellion (hide spoiler)]. As the story continues, we see the falling out that Lando and Han had in an event that not only wasn't Han's fault, but is hard to see how Lando could possibly interpret it another way. As the story closes the scene is perfectly set for the actions at the Mos Eisley Cantina, even better than some of the Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina told it.