The final chapter of the Bounty Hunter Wars is an action packed story of survival set during the events of Return of the Jedi. Hard merchandise is the cold term that bounty hunters use for the people they hunt and treat as products to profit off of. And sometimes, the hunter themselves may become the hunted.
I liked Hard Merchandise better than it’s predecessor. There was less introspection dragging it down and more action. Boba Fett finds out the hard way that the whole deal to take down the Bounty Hunter’s Guild wasn’t being paid for by who he thought, but instead, by Prince Xixor. This is a being who wants no witnesses, he is as ruthless as Boba Fett himself. And the job that followed it was no better, as it involved Palpatine who also wanted no witnesses.
Flipping back to the now, during the events of Return of the Jedi and after Xixor’s death, the investigating into Neelah’s background continues. Now we have Kuat of Kuat trying to take out Boba Fett lest he reveal his frame attempt on Xixor. Neelah is just now figuring out her real name and who exactly thought she should be the ‘hard merchandise’ for someone and why.
I felt for Kuat of Kuat in Hard Merchandise. He really has few he can trust and his only the goal is protecting the shipyards his family has been entrusted with. Unfortunately, in a vicious galaxy he knows Palpatine isn’t going to want to leave them free agents instead of taken over by the Empire (which is after all what happened to Cloud City and it’s mining operations). The sad thing is, it’s the idealists of the Rebel Alliance that are the ones that force his hand, on the word of an ambitious traitor in his ranks.
So I do get Kuat of Kuat, for the traitor is lying about how sympathetic this man is with the Alliance. And the Alliance squadron sent to be sure the Empire doesn’t grab those ships waiting there are ignoring the fact that no matter his personal sympathies, he does have employees to feed. Giving away their hard work to the Alliance for free isn’t really fair to them, it isn’t really just his to give.
I liked how all the characters (well except Fett) grew in Hard Merchandise. Boba Fett did show a few unexpected angles as he adapted to unexpected twists. I He would change directions to make use of whatever was the better course for him. He didn’t let his ego get in the way, nor did he put profit or ego above survival. He does feel some debt to those who saved his life but paying that back is low on the list of priorities, well under survival and profit. He didn’t so much learn as teach others by them being in the same space.
This story left me liking Dengar best of the bounty hunters, because at least he wasn’t as far gone as the others. He wasn’t quite as ruthless, at least, not anymore. And, to be fair, he didn’t become this on his own. (But that is another story than Hard Merchandise!)
Of course that title, Hard Merchandise – and the reasons for it, give me the cold shudders. No one deserves to be reduced to a pile of cash no matter what they’ve done. And in any case the bounty hunters don’t care if they did anything at all. Their prey had hopes, dreams, family and work and it’s all reduced to credits in the amoral hunters pocket.
I did feel Hard Merchandise left a bit untold that I’d have liked clarified. I’d have liked a bit more detail on Kodir and Neelah’s relationship background and their fates. After all, seeking that information was largely the McGuffin behind much of the story. Still I think the end for Dengar, brief as it was, was a great twist. In any case, Hard Merchandise kept me on the edge of my seat right up to the end.
Hard Merchandise Continuity
Sadly, we don’t see any of the new characters introduced in the Bounty Hunter Wars elsewhere. I’d have liked to have seen more on the Hunt Saboteurs or Neelah.
The planet of Kuat and it’s shipyards wouldn’t actually come under Alliance/New Republic control until some years after Endor, according to the Essential Guide to Warfar by Jason Fry and Paul R. Urquhart.
Boba Fett leaves off playing dead for a time, giving his enemies time to relax their guard. There is a comic, Agent of Doom where he does a job for a pittance, not out of mercy for the people hiring him but for the challenge and to announce to the galaxy he’s back. Hard Merchandise ends with him having a spare ship that will be shown in the Dark Empire series as Slave 2.
Dengar isn’t seen about again until Young Jedi Knights, Diversity Alliance. Clearly he had no idea that if he found what he was hunting. Hard Merchandise leaves him well enough to retire, but he does have ideas he may keep his hand in occasionally. For his previous existence and meeting with Manaroo, check out Payback: The Tale of Dengar by Dave Wolverton in Tales of the Bounty Hunters.
Hard Merchandise finally mentions Bossk’s near fatal encounter with Chenlambec, Tinian, and an Imperial Governor that wanted to skin him. It doesn’t give a lot of detail but does confirm it involved bribery, violence and stealing his ship back. This story is told in Prize Pelt: The Tale of Bossk by Kathy Tyers in Tales of the Bounty Hunters (more on Tinian and Chenlambec can be found in WEG Adventure Journals).
Zuckuss and 4Lom’s previous encounters with the Rebel Alliance in Of Possible Futures, the Tales of Zuckuss and 4Lom by M. Shayne Bell, yet another Tales of the Bounty Hunters story, are mentioned, as is the interesting tidbit that they were working for them when they tried to steal him from Fett in Shadows of the Empire.
This book has a mention of Black Sun factions fighting for control. The only known factions we see later are Durga the Hutt (who is not at that time mentioned as still being a member) in Darksaber by Kevin J. Anderson. The Young Jedi Knights series combined in an omnibus ‘Under Black Sun” does tell of them trying to reclaim control.
For more on Boba Fett check out the page on Jango and Boba and the Mandaloreans.