With 40 short stories you’re bound to get a mix bag, and that’s exactly what you’ve got with the latest Star Wars anthology release, From a Certain Point of View: The Empire Strikes Back. Some great stories, some not-so-great stories, and just about everything in between!
The success and failure of these shorts’ relies on one simple premise, does the text change or alter your perspective of the film in some way? Are you left with the notion that you’ll never watch these select characters/scenes through the same lens ever again? But that metric is again, just success or failure, it doesn’t speak to the imaginative ways these talented authors have expanded our worldview when it comes to perhaps the greatest sequel of all time. The good news is that your baseline in this case is Star Wars, so no matter what, it’s all good!
The Empire Strikes Back may be structurally simplistic, but like Star Wars, provides a target rich environment when it comes to looking into the weeds for creative ways to tell forty different short stories. With only a handful of characters on screen at a time and much of the film spent inside the Millennium Falcon, you would think the pickings would be slim. But, the folks at Del Rey have re-calibrated their lenses and learned to see the forest for the Wroshyr trees. So, while some of these choices were definitely obvious, there are a more than a few inspired ones that I think will surprise and delight you.
Overall, this edition sticks the landing and matches the tone and essence of the first one, and despite the dire straits we find many of these characters in, there’s a surprising sense of whimsy to much of this book. The Empire Strikes Back is a dark, moody, and atmospheric follow up to its predecessor Star Wars, which is its less-emo, jocky older brother. This edition of FACPOV doesn’t run away from this, but rather re-purposes it to deliver a book definitely not lacking in zeal, producing nothing short of story alchemy.
As you would imagine, Hoth, Dagobah, and Bespin, figure heavily into this list as do many of the peoples and creatures that inhabit those locales. It’s amazing how much mileage they get out of Hoth and Cloud City alone, which is where the book could start to feel a tad mundane. Before you begin to feel weary however, they smartly whisk you away onto the next phase of your journey so you’re never in one place for too long. This isn’t a huge problem for me, as I read the stories not in the order they’re presented. But for those that do, the majority I suspect, shouldn’t have any issues.
So, with all of that in mind, here are five stories (in chronological order) that struck me as the most interesting, thoughtful, and entertaining…enjoy!
EYES OF THE EMPIRE
By Kiersten White
“She was the eyes of the Empire. And its hands had done this because of her.”
I love “change of heart” tropes, when after witnessing or taking part in a wrong being committed, a character experiences a moral awakening and switches teams if you will. That’s the case with the very first short in the book where we meet Imperial Viper droid operator/analyst Maela.
Maela is a key member of the “Project Swarm” team, sending out a hundred thousand probe droids across the galaxy in search of the Rebel base. For Maela, whose mother was a droid builder and warned her about joining the Empire, this was a chance to see the galaxy, to visit new and unknown worlds she would never otherwise get to see. As a youth, she would look for her reflection in the probe eyes of her mother’s creations, imprinting herself upon them, to be a “ghost in her mother’s machines”.
And so, it was on her watch that the Rebel Base on Hoth was discovered, and we all know what happened after that. Her team was elated at their achievement, knowing word of their accomplishment would reach the higher ups and provide advancement opportunities should they wish it. For her part, Maela didn’t wish for such things, preferring to stay put.
Here’s the kicker, turns out there was a second still functioning droid on Hoth, one that Maela would use like an Oculus Rift to explore the charred ruins that was once Echo Base. As the post-battle scene unfolds in front of her, Maela sees just what her handiwork has led to…death.
Bodies, both Imperial and Rebel, were lifelessly strewn about, many draped in bundles of exposed wires and upended workstations, not even tauntauns were spared. This senseless destruction was the straw that broke the tauntauns back (sorry) and for Maela, her moment of apostasy. Staring into the void was one thing, coming to terms with the horrors of war were something else.
So, when back in her chair days later, again looking at an endless number of unknown planets she’ll never visit, she spots something. On a swamp planet far, far away, “a riot of plants and bogs, mud and vines” she spots what looks like an X-Wing, half-submerged. And before anyone else sees what she sees, and rather than repeat the mistakes of the not-so-distant past, Maela makes the decision to delete Dagobah from the Imperial memory banks.
She of course wouldn’t or couldn’t know it at the time, but this simple decision to hit “delete” instead of “enter”, has forever changed the course of history. What a great way to kick-off this edition and Kiersten completely encapsulates what “from a certain point of view” is all about.
THIS IS NO CAVE
By Catherynne M. Valente
“Outside, the empty fury of space. Inside, a world.”
In the book’s most ruminative short, Catherynne takes on the previously unenviable task of making you give a shit about an exogorth, in this case, a sweet baby named Sy-O. Does she succeed? Big yes energy.
These “space slugs” have a lifespan that covers supereons, and as such are witness to a great many things, including the creation and extinction of stars, systems, and galaxies. So, as you can imagine, the comings and goings of “humans” for example, are trivial at best. They view the universe through a lens few others can and as such have experienced both it’s awe-inspiring grandeur, and its cataclysmic devastation.
Philosophical, scientific, theological, and metaphysical speculation are weighty issues that are normally reserved for theoretical minds in all fields of study, not a Star Wars short. But Catherynne doesn’t seem terribly concerned with that fact, instead crafting a story that’s unique in its form, moody in its construct, and profoundly introspective. I doubt any one story in this book will change your purview more of something that is mostly an afterthought, a fun but forgettable moment, in The Empire Strikes Back. Basically, if there’s an exogorth rights group somewhere, sign me up.
One of the points she drives home is that even exogorth’s aren’t a monolith, they dream, they yearn, they bully, they laugh, they even cry. Spending their entire lives in the emptiness of space, they combat the one thing that is common to all sentient beings, that unfortunate but sometimes inescapable feeling of loneliness. Sy-O, in its sublime naiveté, just wants friends, someone, or something to share the most profound moments of growing up with, and who can’t relate to that?
Catherynne’s grasp of the finer details of the universe and it’s many physical and chemical structures is impressive. She uses a pithy vernacular normally reserved for physics and biology TED Talks, but with her obvious talent she makes it come across as poetic and hypnotic, even romantic in a way. I can’t say enough about her use of language and its intent to clarify a mystery even the greatest minds on earth can’t decipher.
So, as you travel the Road of All Moons with Sy-O, experience the prejudice of the Clew, mistake mynocks for butterflies, and Hum to your crystalline-metallic hearts content, remember, these shorts are about changing your perspective, and this accomplishes that bigly. If I had to compare the story’s towering empathetic sensibility to a selection from the previous edition, I’d say Nnedi Okorafor’s The Baptist comes closest, which is a massive compliment by the way.
Oh, and best of luck not crying the next time you see an asteroid field.
By Tracy Deonn
“This fear tasted sweeter than any I’d fed on before. The agony of loss so rich I could barely stand it.”
One of my favorite characters from the What We Do in the Shadows TV series is Colin Robinson aka the “Energy Vampire” And I couldn’t help but picture his face while reading this fantastic short from Tracy. But don’t give my comedically ineffective comparison any value by labeling this short ineffective, it’s quite the opposite really.
As you’ll see from this list, I’m always a fan of giving consciousness to non-human, not typically sentient beings. Usually this is a Yahtzee when done with droids and such, but a weird as hell, Dark side cave on Dagobah? Just as good.
What’s great about Tracy’s take on the cave itself, despite the film’s aim, is that it’s a mostly benevolent being, not good or bad. Its inherent and unending hunger for the four basic understandings (Time/Thoughts/Memories/Fear), is more a fact of its functionality, rather than a partisan declaration. And tracking the cave’s evolution in learning that these “understandings” are the fuel it needs to prosper, is an overwhelmingly clever premise. But this type of creativity and inventiveness shouldn’t come as a surprise if you’ve read Tracy’s debut book Legendborn, which came out in September.
The totality of our encounter with the cave on-screen happens rather quickly, but is visually striking, metaphor’s and foretelling aside. And it’s dealings with Luke are great, but it’s the cave’s long-standing relationship with Dagobah’s most famous resident, Jedi Master Yoda, that is key to this story. This give-and-take relationship, this “dance”, between the two is fantastic as Yoda uses the cave to not only look for answers but strengthen his resolve.
Turns out, the cave like’s these visits not only because it feeds off Yoda’s troubled past, but, in a fantastic twist, seems to enjoy the back-and-forth. You see, the cave has been around for a millennium, encountered and fed off a vast array of beings, leading to its sentience. But then Yoda arrived on the swamp planet, and none before had seemed so tasty.
Everything about Yoda was sweeter, his Time, his Thoughts, his Memories, and most of all, his Fear. The cave was ecstatic to feast on this emotional Buffet, never expecting Yoda to return, as none had before. But, to the caves delight, and bewilderment, he did return, many times in fact.
So, when Luke finally shows up and the cave does a number on him, it’s shocked and dismayed to learn that it had not been Yoda’s superior, but his equal. And that the cave, who’s hubris led it to believe it was all-knowing, had been taught a fifth understanding, one that would change the cave’s perception forever, Alliance.
FAITH IN AN OLD FRIEND
By Brittany N. Williams
“I’m not sure where your ship learned to communicate but it has the most peculiar dialect.”
One of my favorite characters from the Solo: A Star Wars Story film, was Lando Calrissian’s artificially intelligent co-pilot and miscreant sidekick, L3-37. The problem was, that I left feeling unsatisfied with the way she was ultimately handled, with her “droid revolution” bit going nowhere, with no payoff. In the end, she was boxed in even more, with her new existence providing less “freedom” than before her destruction on Kessel, or so we thought. The expanded novel by Mur Lafferty helped ease that frustration a little, but still, it was more about what wasn’t, than what was.
God bless Brittany N. Williams, because in “Faith in an Old Friend” she brings L3’s relationship with Lando back around in the best possible way, the only way really. She also really leans in on her ability to lead, mentor, and help other AI’s become self-aware, to become the best themselves they can be. In a sense, this is the droid revolution we were promised, but never given. It’s not the singularity we’ve been waiting for in Star Wars, but it is profound, and certainly emotional.
By giving L3 a family, which includes V5-T, ED-4, and repair droid WED-15 aka “Treadwell”, Brittany has given her a purpose again, and isn’t that what we all want in life? This family, or consciousness, who L3 named the “Millennium Collective” (because it sounded “epic”), seems to be everything she’s always wanted, minus a body of course. But old flames do indeed die hard and when she sees the opportunity to check in on one Landonis Balthazar Calrissian, she takes it.
There’s a remarkable bit where, once landed in Cloud City, on the now famed Platform 327, Lando is going down memory’s lane, touring his old ship. He reaches the cockpit and feels the weight of his former life, AND former co-pilot, crash into him like a thousand starships. Even L3 isn’t immune to the magic in the otherwise stale air and sends Lando a message of sorts, a recognition. It’s a great reunion for these two old friends and Brittany handles it perfectly.
This time around, we’re presented the Cloud City escape from the Collective’s point of view, which includes a bit of both heroism and loss. As the ship works cohesively with war hero R2-D2, ignoring the useless ramblings of C-3PO, their unsung efforts allow the Falcon and it’s VIP passengers to escape uninjured, Luke’s right hand notwithstanding.
Britany’s style is irreverent, and is perfectly suited for this story and it’s lead character. It’s a wonderful blend of cheeky humor, adrenaline, and even grief as she gives us, as I said, a completely different perspective on this well scrutinized sequence. Using binary language to bend the “found-family” trope to her will, Brittany has crafted a beautiful story using a unique approach to language. By treating each of these “machines” as sentient beings, who experience the elation of success and mourn those they’ve lost, she once again gives us droids to care about, part of the long-lasting tradition of science fiction prose.
Long live the Millennium Collective!
By Lydia Kang
“Moral perfection is no requisite for care. That would be cruelty itself, as no beings are perfect.”
I love this story for some of the same reasons I love “Faith in an Old Friend”. The idea of artificial intelligence and sentience is my bag and here’s a great example of that.
The scene is familiar as in the Redemption med-bay Luke is getting his brand-spanking new cybernetic right-hand courtesy of surgical droid 2-1B. At perhaps his most vulnerable, Luke is fresh off a battle with his newly discovered father, Darth Vader, still without his starboard meat hook. His emotional and superficial wounds are both very real and very raw, and Too-Onebee, (who in a fun twist treated Luke on Hoth as well), plays the part of not only fixer-upper, but more importantly, temporary confidant. Yes, his bedside manner will have to be functioning at optimum levels for this particular patient.
With Luke feeling understandably down about the whole situation, Vader, Han, the Force, Too-Onebee gives him the clarity and purpose he needs to continue. And when Luke even questions whether he deserves to have his hand replaced, feeling vanquished, the clever droid reminds him that the hand is a tool like anything else, and it’s what you do with that tool is what counts. That’s pretty great advice, droid or not.
This is the beating heart of “Right-Hand Man”, Luke’s constitution. Much like this brooding sequel, our former farm boy finds himself at yet another low point on his path to becoming a Jedi. With his self-confidence at an all-time low and the feeling he’s been lied to by those he trusted most, it’s not a friend he necessarily needs at this moment. This savior would come in the form of a droid who happens to wax poetic whenever a dispassionate bit of sage advice is needed.
Too-Onebee will tell you that this is all part and parcel of being a medical practitioner, as a positive mental attitude aids the bacta, which in turn helps the recovery process. Lydia delivers this part of the story and his dialogue with a bit of a wink, indicating this droid has more going on than meets the eye. Whether Luke understands how valuable this exchange is in the long-term, we don’t exactly know, all we know is that Luke allows him to finish his work, and has seemingly turned a corner. It’s not hard to imagine the ramifications of what could’ve happened, should Luke have refused a new hand and stayed in this somewhat catatonically deflated state.
As a side note, I kept picturing N-3RO from The Freemaker Adventures for some reason, minus the pessimism. This is a good thing. Oh, and look out for an interaction between 2-1B and his assistance droid FX-7, it’s wonderful.
So, that’s my favorite shorts from this edition of From a Certain Point of View. This list may or may not change over time but one things for certain, these stories struck me as the most unique among the bunch. If I had to round out the top ten, it would include C.B Lee’s “A Good Kiss“, Martha Wells “Bespin Escape“, Hank Green’s “A Naturalist on Hoth“, and Django Wexler’s “Amara Kel’s Rules for TIE Pilot Survival (Probably)“.
And what’s great about these FACPOV books, despite being canon, is that they really are just licensed fanfiction, it’s great. And I don’t know about you, but I’m already making my wish list for the Return of the Jedi edition in three years.
I would love to hear your favorites once you’ve had a chance to read the book!
Till next time…MTFBWY.