Readers just getting into the "Star Wars" EU might be concerned about novels that have plot holes brought about by conflicting events in the prequels and "The Clone Wars." Remarkably, K.W. Jeter's "Bounty Hunter Wars" trilogy -- which concludes with "Hard Merchandise," which actually came out a bit after the release of "Episode I" in 1999 -- holds together quite well as all the threads come together. The intricately plotted final tome gets Boba Fett and Dengar involved in an explosive finale at Kuat Drive Yards simultaneous with the Battle of Endor.
Another strength is the characterization of the bounty hunters. Boba Fett continues to be a cool customer, always looking out for his best interests and never giving out more information than he needs to. I like Dengar's portrayal as a man in over his head who just wants to start a new life with his bride, Manaroo. Granted, this is not the cold-blooded Imperial-bred assassin of the early pages of "Dengar's Tale," but it is someone who is recovering from the experiments performed on him. Zuckuss and 4-LOM get a brief moment in the spotlight when they pull off a job in the opening chapter of "Hard Merchandise." IG-88 is absent from this book. That's probably just as well considering how confusing his storyline is, thanks to Kevin Anderson's introduction of multiple IG-88s and the appearance of even more IG-88s in "The Clone Wars," before the model was designed, according to "IG-88's Tale."
Most fun of all, the much-maligned Bossk actually gets the best of Boba Fett in an encounter at the Mos Eisley Cantina. He challenges Fett to shoot him in cold blood; Fett declines (he doesn't want attention that would complicate his goals) and declares that Bossk has won their little battle. Amusingly, the whole cantina applauds Bossk after Fett departs. Jeter performs a deft balancing act in this trilogy: Fett is clearly the top dog among these bounty hunters; however, his rivals don't come off as cartoons by any means.
While plot holes aren't a concern, the "Bounty Hunter Wars" trilogy includes some "characterization holes," if you will. For example, as Bossk and Dengar reflect on the troubles that come from dealing with Fett, neither thinks back to when they all worked together on a job during Season 5 of "The Clone Wars," back when Fett was a kid. Furthermore, the TV show made it clear that Bossk is actually older than Fett, but Jeter portrays Bossk as a younger, put-upon rival to Fett. In the end, though, I find characterization holes much easier to deal with than plot holes. The way I see it, some details of Bossk's and Dengar's thoughts are missing, but that doesn't affect the plot of this story. It's similar to Vader not thinking about Luke being his son in "Splinter of the Mind's Eye" -- it's missing information, but it doesn't mean the overall story is apocryphal.
While the Emperor glaring from the cover art is a bit of an exaggeration of his participation in "Hard Merchandise," it's also appropriate. Palpatine's desire to control everything in the galaxy hangs like a shroud over the decisions of the Kuat Drive Yards head, Kuat of Kuat. His scheme to protect his assets ends up filtering down to the bounty hunters that drew readers to this trilogy in the first place. And while they're not featured in the cover art, Kuat, amnesiac Neelah and escrow-holder Kud'ar Mub'at are all fine characters, too. Jeter tells an intimate story that ties into the wider galactic conflict, yet he avoids the cheesiness that could result from this approach (see some of the weaker entries in the "Tales from ..." trilogy).
Jeter's writing is nothing like the action-adventure of the original film trilogy, but he's not aiming for that. He nails the characterizations of the figures we're familiar with -- I don't know if there's a better Boba Fett portrayal out there, to be honest -- and tells a K.W. Jeter-style tale of slow-boiling, noirish, twisty intrigue. I recommend it to all fans who are open to outside-the-box "Star Wars" storytelling.