Star Wars retro review: Lando Calrissian and the Mindharp of Sharu


In the early days of the Original Trilogy, just a few Star Wars novels existed to expand the Star Wars universe. Despite many changes to the canon, books like Lando Calrissian and the Mindharp of Sharu are still influencing modern Star Wars.

Reminisce with me if you will about the state of fandom in 1983. Return of the Jedi had just been released, and any idea that George Lucas would complete his nine film saga felt a bit like wishful thinking.

The Marvel comics were running, but if you wanted to fill your bookshelf, choices were few. The film novelizations existed, as did Alan Dean Foster’s Splinter of the Mind’s Eye. Brian Daley’s three Han Solo Adventures books were published between 1979 and 1980. Finally, in 1983 former rogue and Rebel Officer Lando Calrissian received a literary backstory.

More from Lando Calrissian

Between June and November 1983, L. Neil Smith‘s Lando Calrissian Adventures appeared as three books, beginning with Lando Calrissian and the Mindharp of Sharu.

At the time, Lucasfilm provided limited guidance, and the only real canon to keep up with was the Original Trilogy. Things we now take for granted regarding the era before A New Hope were supposition. This meant Smith, like Daley before him, was going to have to create the world in which he would tell his story.

Re-reading this book some 35 years later indeed shows some conflicts with what we will later understand as the Star Wars universe. Some aspects seem to conflict even with the Expanded Universe that starts in full with the next Star Wars book to be published, Heir to the Empire. Timothy Zahn’s Trilogy doesn’t come on scene though until 1991, so Smith has a lot of room to surmise and create in, and he does so. Though the broad strokes no longer fit well, what surprised me is how many of the details seem to seep into canon.

Photo Credit: [Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back] Lucasfilm via NerdistThe story itself does not feel particularly tied to the Star Wars universe. Yes there’s Lando and the Millennium Falcon, which he has just won and is not sure he wants to keep. He is moving through a portion of space that seems to have little to no connection with the Empire (mentioned only in passing) and is heavily influenced by the system’s ancient history, a race lost to time known as the Sharu.

Catching wind of Sharu treasure during a sabaac game in which he also wins a droid, Lando ends up on the wrong end of a deal to locate the powerful “Mindharp of Sharu.” Along the way, there’s a corrupt planetary governor, a strange wizard (though never referred to as a Force user; more on this later), and a primitive humanoid, each with their own secrets about what’s going on.

Much of this could be any space opera if not for name-dropping Lando and the Falcon. There seem to be a few more fantastical elements involved, particularly with the technology of the Sharu, than we normally see even in Star Wars. Devices that alter time and spatial relationships or can disrupt planets from a desktop; a droid that has miniaturized elements down to a molecular level; the Sorcerers of Tund. Villain Rokur Gepta belongs to this sect, and becomes the foil for Lando for the rest of the trilogy.

As the Expanded Universe grew, elements of the book would however become woven into its fabric. The Star Wars Role Playing supplements from Wizards of the Coast provided a great deal of backstory for the Sorcerers of Tund, portraying them as a branch of the Sith, and later Dark Side adherents.  No mention of that in the Lando trilogy though. According to an interview with Smith in Star Wars Insider issue 145, Gepta was intended to actually be one of the “Lords of the Sith” as mentioned in the film novelizations, but Lucasfilm prevented this.

Obviously subsequent publications decided to make the link more direct, and references to the role playing game’s interpretation make it into the now “Legends” Darth Plagueis novel by James Luceno.

The influence of the Lando Calrissian Adventures has survived the Disney purchase and appears in the new canon as well. The old EU placed the Lando Trilogy around 4 BBY. Solo: A Star Wars Story certainly changes this reckoning, having Lando lose the Falcon to Han closer to 10 BBY, and honestly that works better with the Han Solo we see Luke meet on Tatooine. However, Solo also canonizes at least the existence of the Sharu as something Lando has encountered when he is dictating his “chronicles” in the scene on Kessel.

Though there is little in common between L3-37 and Sharu’s Vuffi Raa, we do have a free-wheeling Lando on the Falcon with an eccentric droid in Solo; this leads to what may be the most direct application of the Smith trilogy to the new canon: Lando Calrissian himself.

Photo Credit: [Solo: A Star Wars Story] LucasfilmDonald Glover’s performance as the dapper scoundrel has been pretty universally hailed. The quick talk, the front that’s not quite as in control as he wants you to think he is, the remarkable wardrobe; all of this is torn directly from the portrayal of Lando in these books.

The snappy dialogue he throws out can be heard in Glover’s voice more even than it can in the legendary Billy Dee Williams’ performance. Whichever Kasdan wrote Lando’s dialogue in Solo certainly was under Smith’s influence, and for the better. The Lando in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi is a more experienced man, ready to stop moving from grift to grift and stand up for what’s right. Young Lando, along the lines of the old books, is exactly the swindler Han accuses him of being, and it works beautifully in book and on screen.

Finally, there is one more detail the Lando books give us that permeates EU and canon, old and new: Sabaac.

Yes, there’s a different game described in Sharu  than we see in Solo, but even the EU mentions there are more than 80 variations of the game.  It has been expounded on throughout Star Wars. Lando even brings to game to Star Wars: Rebels in the episode “Idiot’s Array.” The first appearance though is right here in Mindharp of Sharu.

If you want to get a feel for what Star Wars was in the early days, and remind yourself how little was known by the end of the OT, Smith’s books are a good place to look. They and the Solo books were the EU for a while, and their DNA lasts all the way through to the latest film. Keep an open mind, and you might find a neat adventure searching for the Mindharp of Sharu.

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What other older EU elements do you think we could see in new Star Wars projects? Sound off in the comments below!