We’re stuck deep in the Disney+ doldrums at the moment. Fans know about all kinds of goodies and favorites that are coming to the streaming service, but its release date is still a solid two months away—what are we supposed to do with this hype we’re feeling for The Mandalorian in the meantime?
Based on what we can see in the gnarly trailer for the show, I have a solution: a book from the old Star Wars Expanded Universe called Tales of the Bounty Hunters (TotBH). If you need something to tide you over until The Mandalorian drops, TotBH has a bracing blend of action and intrigue that seems to match perfectly with the upcoming series.
Five shots of old school Star Wars EU action
The book came out in 1996 during the period considered the franchise’s years in the wilderness (the years between the release of Return of the Jedi in 1983 and the Special Edition rereleases in 1997).
The anthology is edited by legendary Star Wars scribe Kevin J. Anderson and collects five short stories, each starring one of the motley crew of bounty hunters recruited by Darth Vader to capture Han Solo and the Millennium Falcon in The Empire Strikes Back (one story features two, 4-LOM and Zuckuss, who work as a pair).
My favorite three are about Bossk, Boba Fett, and IG-88. “Prize Pelt: The Tale of Bossk” is a great slice of old school EU action—betrayals and double-crosses abound aboard Bossk’s ship the Hound’s Tooth, complete with a Wookiee bounty hunter who “helps” the Trandoshan to capture Chewbacca. The Wookiee and his human apprentice trick and trap Bossk with the help of the tiny droid Flirt, sparing Chewie (and many other Wookiees that Bossk wanted to kill for their pelts) in the process.
In the age of Star Wars a la Disney, “The Last One Standing: The Tale of Boba Fett” reads like an opened time capsule. Before the prequel films—waaaay before Disney bought Lucas out in 2012—Boba Fett was no mere clone of Jango Fett.
In the old EU books and comics, Fett was portrayed as a Clint Eastwood-cum-shinobi lone wanderer, taking down targets while philosophizing behind the famous Mandalorian helmet. The story drops readers in at various points in Boba Fett’s life, including scenes as a young man, as the most feared bounty hunter in the galaxy, and in old age, engaged in one last unresolved standoff with Han Solo. It’s good, gritty, Wild West-style Star Wars fiction.
“Our droid revolution will take the galaxy like a storm.”
My favorite story in the anthology is “Therefore I Am: The Tale of IG-88”. This is Anderson’s contribution to the book, and reading it shows why he’s such a beloved figure for fans that grew up in the Expanded Universe’s golden age in the 90s.
We already get the idea that IG-88 is a murderous assassin droid, but Anderson reveals the droid’s backstory as a kind of Frankenstein’s monster. IG-88 awakens in an Imperial lab and immediately kills every animate being; after all, this is what it was made for. This is just the beginning, though, of the droid’s truly insane story.
IG-88A (self-named in order to avoid confusion with the three identical droids that also house its sentient consciousness) is brutally pragmatic and completely devoid of any emotion aside from the eradication of all organic life.
The robotic bounty hunter engineers the takeover of a planet dedicated to droid manufacturing and implants its own galaxy-wide version of Emperor Palpatine’s Order 66: all droids made on the planet have a secret imperative to destroy all biological life-forms upon IG-88’s orders.
Its career as a bounty hunter (which Anderson frames as a diversion from its whole destruction-of-all-life plan) leads IG-88 to discover the Empire’s plans for the second Death Star. Understanding the opportunity this fully operational battle station presents, the assassin droid uploads itself into the Death Star’s core. It luxuriates in the destructive power of its new home, but not for long; IG-88’s consciousness is soon destroyed in the Battle of Endor.
Reading “Therefore I Am” is so much fun because it combines Anderson’s encyclopedic knowledge of Star Wars with some truly awesome storytelling decisions. It’s also a vibrant reminder of how off the wall the EU could get.
Next time you watch Return of the Jedi, keep it in mind: imagine IG-88 watching Luke and Vader’s duel through all the computer displays in the Emperor’s throne room, laughing to itself over these puny bioforms and their petty wars, planning all the while for the ultimate destruction of every living being in the galaxy. Ridiculous? Yes. Awesome? Without a doubt.
Wait, this book could’ve become canon?
The really tantalizing legacy of Tales of the Bounty Hunters is what could have been. Back during the glory days of Lucasfilm’s planned anthology films, one of them was rumored to star Boba Fett and the rest of these notorious paid killers. Daniel Keys Moran, the author of Boba Fett’s story, has said that the studio was considering adapting elements of TotBH into the film. Thanks to the underperformance of Solo and the controversy surrounding would-be director Josh Trank, we’ll never know how it would’ve panned out. At least we know that IG-88 will be in The Mandalorian.
As the days and months til The Mandalorian debuts drag by, give Tales of the Bounty Hunters a try. At the very least, read the stories about Bossk, Boba Fett, and especially IG-88. You’ll get a taste of bounty hunting action and a preview of what Jon Favreau is cooking up for Disney+ with The Mandalorian.