The original Star Wars (aka, A New Hope) is the single most scrutinized film of all time, and one of the most beloved. Dedicated fans across the world know every line by heart because we’ve seen it 500 times. But as we all know in the Galaxy Far, Far Away, “… many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.”
This anthology presents 40 stories by 43 authors from across the scope of that original film, retelling familiar scenes — and giving us new scenes that happened off camera — from the point of view of characters who were not exactly in the spotlight. From an X-Wing pilot who helped Luke destroy the Death Star, to an Imperial gunner who couldn’t quite blast those droids, to the creatures at the cantina, to Yoda (Sir Not Appearing in This Film), and beyond, what is familiar is made new all over again.
All participating authors have generously forgone any compensation for their stories. Instead, their proceeds will be donated to First Book — a leading nonprofit that provides new books, learning materials, and other essentials to educators and organizations serving children in need. To further celebrate the launch of this book and both companies’ longstanding relationships with First Book, Penguin Random House has donated $100,000 to First Book, and Disney/Lucasfilm has donated 100,000 children’s books — valued at 1 million dollars — to support First Book and their mission of providing educational resources to children in need. Over the past 16 years, Disney has donated more than 57 million books to First Book.
Of course, it wouldn’t be right to review this book without a complete breakdown (both synopsis and commentary) of each and every story, which I’ll write up as I go. Strap in for a long one. This review is going to take a while. I could add so much more to what’s already here, but this is already in excess of 7,000 words. I’ve enhanced it with graphics not only to keep this from being a giant wall of text, but also to provide a touchstone as to where in the film each story takes place. You’re welcome. Some of the graphics will make it seem that these stories are out of order. Fact is, many of them overlap. It all makes better sense when you know where the focus lies.
“Raymus” by Gary Whitta
Told from the POV of Captain Raymus Antilles, this tale picks up as soon as the end credits roll on Rogue One, completely bridging the gap to A New Hope all the way to the captain’s on-screen execution at the hand of Darth Vader. Where a hyperspace jump typically renders a vessel invisible to tracking, we learn how and why the Empire was able to track the Tantive IV to Tatooine, and just how desperate the situation truly was, above and beyond what we thought we already knew.
To open with this story sets the tone for the entirety of what follows. It shouldn’t in an anthology, I know, but it does. This story sets an immediate high bar. It’s that good. I’d expect nothing less from the man who gave us the first drafts and the title of Rogue One.
“The Bucket” by Christie Golden
TK-4601 is an eager, young stormtrooper straight out of the academy on his first assignment in the 501st aboard the Star Destroyer Devastator, Lord Vader’s personal flagship. Behind the bucket — his helmet — this stormtrooper is grinning ear to ear. He bears witness to Vader’s merciless “casual murder” of Captain Antilles aboard the Rebel blockade runner and realizes the stakes of the mission. He can’t believe his luck! They are going after an Imperial senator who may or may not be a high ranking Rebel operative! When he comes face to face with Princess Leia, he must confront his own traitorous thoughts as he reassesses just how strong she truly must be… and what Vader might do to her once the Princess is taken to the Dark Lord.
It seems pretty clear at this point that these stories are (thankfully) in chronological order of the film. That’s going to make this a more cohesive and immersive experience. Better still, so far we’re two for two. Impressive. Most impressive. I’m now wondering just how much interaction the writers had with one another. The editor’s task for this volume must be akin to herding cats. It’s interesting to have the conflicted perspective of a newly-minted trooper who is trying to steel his resolve so he can do what’s expected of him. The ending to this one is just… perfect. I’ve now ordered the hardcover book to go with this audio because I can see that some of these stories are going to be worth revisiting time and again in those small hours of the morning when insomnia strikes.
“The Sith of Datawork” by Ken Liu
“Desk jobs in the Imperial Navy were no less stressful than combat ones.” The amount of data, and coordination of it, that it takes for the efficient operation of a Star Destroyer is staggering. You’ve got to love bureaucracy. Thankfully, this particular Star Destroyer has a datawork genius on board who knows the ins and outs of Imperial regulations, loves to help people, and is not above having junior officers owing her favors to grease the wheels when they need her to work some of her magic. Covering one’s butt is always necessary in any job with an overbearing supervisor. Imagine what it takes when your boss is Darth Vader.
For anyone who has ever held a white collar job requiring paperwork, this story is for you. It’s brilliant, and funny without lapsing into parody. I couldn’t stop laughing while the gunnery captain that didn’t fire on that escape pod in order to avoid paperwork now has to get help filing all the new paperwork that will cover up his potentially costly mistake.
“Stories in the Sand” by Griffin McElroy
Through the eyes of Jot the Jawa, we get a look at the inner workings of a sandcrawler and Jawa culture. Every relic and artifact hidden beneath the sands of Tatooine tells a story, but the stories Jot is most hungry for are the ones that come from the stars. In pursuit of such stories, Jot takes a position as a memory core optimizer, which gives him the opportunity to view — only once — and hopefully memorize new stories of from the memory banks of scavenged droids before he has to erase them to ready the droids for sale. When an impossibly near-pristine blue and white astromech is scooped up by the salvage team, the odyssey within its memory core is more than anything Jot could have imagined.
What reader of fantasy doesn’t get caught up in the stories we read? Who doesn’t at one time or another wish to live the story rather than simply read it? Jot may be a Jawa, but he’s also one of us: a Star Wars fan… one who discovers that he’s already part of the adventure.
“Reirin” by Sabaa Tahir
Reirin is a young Tusken who knows there is no station as a warrior for females like herself in the tribe. She’s looking to get off Tatooine, and a tip from a trader has her tracking a Jawa sandcrawler for a specific item she can sell to make that happen. When the sandcrawler stops to sell droids to a couple of moisture farmers, she takes her opportunity to sneak aboard. The object of her quest, however, proves to have some kind of connection with her that she cannot describe. When she gets to Mos Eisley, how will she ever part with it to the trader?
I’d heard that some of the stories in this were connected by more than just the film itself. This one feels like it’s planting a seed. Knowing what the object in question is based on description, I’m curious to see where this goes. I have a bad feeling about this…
“The Red One” by Rae Carson
R5-D4 has been a prisoner on the sandcrawler for four years with little to no maintenance. Most of his parts are locked with sand, and it’s all he can do to maintain the functional parts he has left. His fondest wish is simply to be sold, to escape from the Jawas, to serve someone who would give him a purpose and some lubricant. Just when he thinks his number is up, the Jawas start oiling his joints. The word “sell” fills the air. A nearby farm has requested an astromech droid. Dare he hope? But wait… there’s another astromech. Competition. A blue one, an elite model that keeps issuing death threats to the Jawas.
There have been many explanations for R5’s perfectly-timed malfunction over the years, some of which are beyond implausible (such as an old tale of “Skippy the Jedi Droid”). This version of the story makes far more sense. It’s also quite touching in its own way. The Force moves in mysterious ways.
“Rites” by John Jackson Miller
Akoba has beaten a Krayt dragon in combat, a ritual that signifies he is an adult, a warrior in the Tusken clans. But the one-eyed chieftain reminds him a hatchling dragon is not a great prize. Akoba will not be denied, however. He leads a team after a droid into a region where Tuskens were slaughtered by something evil many cycles before. The droid is in turn being trailed by a human in a landspeeder, accompanied by a golden man. The chieftain warns the young warriors they are near the lair of a powerful shaman. A Tusken chief counseling restraint and mercy? But the young never listen to the wise and experienced. Sometimes they have to learn the hard way.
The last time John Jackson Miller wrote of Tuskens, he delivered one of the creepiest endings I’ve ever read in a novel. *shudder* While this one doesn’t get to build to that sort of ending, the insights into Tusken culture keep this one moving with a touch of “desert magic.”
“Master and Apprentice” by Claudia Gray
Death is only the beginning of wisdom in the Force. Obi-Wan Kenobi has come to understand this in his years of exile, communing with his former master, Qui-Gon Jinn. Master and apprentice discuss their insights into victory and failure as the droids cremate the bodies of the Jawas and Obi-Wan waits for Luke to return from the smoldering ruin of his home.
Since 2005, fans have wanted to see something of the communion between Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan since the latter learned from Yoda this was to be his path during his exile while he watched over Luke. It’s been teased here and there, but we never really got anything substantial until now. The moment is not wasted at all. There is so much wisdom here, so much perspective that can only be gained by decades of this saga unfolding, and it’s told beautifully.
“Beru Whitesun Lars” by Meg Cabot
Aunt Beru gets to tell her story, first person, from the beyond.
This little story seems somehow out of place. I think it’s the writing style. Beru seems a little… catty. It’s funny as written, but she seems really out of character as she waxes nostalgic about Luke and the options in her life before he showed up. I suppose death changes a person. Also… this one’s a little heavy on the blue milk cheese. Just saying.
“The Luckless Rodian” by Renée Ahdieh
Justice will be served… on Han Solo. Greedo believes himself to be just the bounty hunter to do the job.
Our first look inside the cantina, told from Greedo’s POV. He spends the entire time coiled like a rattlesnake as he waits for his chance to bag his quarry. This tale doesn’t add anything to what we’ve already seen, but… it still seems appropriate to have it.
“Not for Nothing” by Mur Lafferty
Ickabel G’ant is one of the Modal Nodes, the best Bith band in the galaxy. She’s the Double Jocimer player, the one with the best eyes of the group, so you can instantly tell her apart from the others. This story is an excerpt from his memoirs recounting the lies that brought the band to Tatooine, their slavery to and escape from the court of Jabba the Hutt, and how they landed the gig playing the cantina. “Better than Jabba’s” is how they would go on to describe any gig that was terrible. But Chalmun’s Cantina is owned by a Wookiee, so protection is virtually guaranteed. What could go wrong? Whatever happens, you don’t ever stop playing… not for nothing.
Far more interesting than the straightforward version from Greedo, this account of the goings-on at the cantina is far more fun. Having read several real life memoirs of musicians, this one feels just about pitch perfect (no pun intended). Eat your heart out, Sinatra.
“We Don’t Serve Their Kind Here” by Chuck Wendig
Another tale of the Cantina, this one told from the POV of the bartender, Wuher. I bet you guessed that from the title. Bartenders see things even the patrons don’t see.
I’m on record as already having a predisposed hatred for Wendig’s work after that wretched piece of Bantha poodoo Aftermath. It’s one of the two worst books I’ve ever read in my life. Seriously. So while my instincts screamed at me to skip this one on account, I figured I’d give it the full due all the same. Imagine my surprise when it turns out… he learned. Or the editor did, one of the two. Either way, every single preconceived notion I had from Aftermath: not an issue. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear it was a different writer. The tale itself fits in perfectly, with enough character to fill that cantina. Look out for a Holiday Special cameo at the end.
“The Kloo Horn Cantina Caper” by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Matt Fraction
The Muftak and Kabe are a double act of pickpockets and thieves who are underworld legends in their own minds, hustling even one another. The problem: rent is due, and while Ackmena won’t throw them out, her Wookiee boss will likely do far worse if they don’t scrape up some cash. Even worse: there’s a bounty hunter looking for the stolen Kloo Horn they hocked.
This rather long caper moves fast between the scenes on screen, adding yet another layer or seven to the characters in the cantina. Try to keep up with the layers. Who would think an otherwise worthless Kloo Horn could cause so much trouble? I can’t believe they expanded on Ackmena here, though I suppose she’s fair game, Holiday Special aside. As a bonus, this story even makes Greedo more interesting.
“Added Muscle” by Paul Dini
“Originally, I wasn’t supposed to be a part of this.” This statement says so much — on both sides of the screen — about the sequence where Jabba was added back into the movie with Boba Fett (who was not yet created for Star Wars) in tow as extra insurance. The usually silent Fett narrates his tale of what should have been either a simple settle up or shoot ’em up.
Paul Dini has more than made his reputation with me as one of the creative geniuses behind Batman: The Animated Series. His other contributions only further stack the deck in his favor, so I was excited to see his name attached to a story here. Seems only right that story should revolve around a man of mystery in a mask. That said… I’m not sure I can make peace with the idea of Fett as a talkative loudmouth, even if he’s technically not talking. This kind of egotistical yappiness is best when the audience is unaware of it. I questioned this whole setup going into this story when I found out this was part of the collection. I’m still questioning it after getting the full tale. I mean… four speaking lines in Empire and one “killed like a punk” scream in Jedi… not exactly the template for a POV story this cocky. This feels more like — and I hate to say it this way — the parody of the character from Robot Chicken. That’s what I pictured in my head the entire time.
“You Owe Me a Ride” by Zoraida Córdova
The Tonnika twins, Brea and Senni — con artists, thieves, and murders — take center stage in this tale, on a job for Jabba the Hutt. The job, of course, is to hunt down Han Solo and bring him back. A lot of bounty hunters are going after that prize. Why not them? Because they have a past with Solo. It’s complicated. All they need is a fast ship to get off this rock. Their plan: steal the Millennium Falcon. After all, it’s the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy.
It’s a nice touch here that this story references a much older one involving Solo and Lando Calrissian (also referenced by the line in Empire, “You’ve got a lot of guts coming here, after what you pulled”), and there is also a mention of Hondo Ohnaka’s gang. References aside, this turned out to be a solid character piece all around.
“The Secrets of Long Snoot” by Delilah S. Dawson
Real name Garindan, the creature known as Long Snoot has money troubles, family troubles, and a goal to ultimately liberate his world from the Empire that got cut short by the need to grab some fast credits, return home, and free his clan. He chooses his jobs carefully: no combat, just information. The Imperial bounty on the droids the Empire is looking for means that the Empire that drove him from his home would be paying to send him back… with the intelligence needed to both incite a rebellion and to arm his people with the tech needed to ensure their freedom. Oh, the irony.
This first person POV story shatters all preconceived notions about this secretive informer. It’s really interesting to get the perspective of humans and other creatures from the perspective of a being descended from insects.
“Born in the Storm” by Daniel José Older
Ever wonder what an incident report looks like when filed by an Imperial sandtrooper? This particular Q&A is definitely not filled out the way the Empire would appreciate. After all that back there, this sandtrooper has had enough.
This is the most snarky entry in this book so far, as a sandtrooper on garrison duty at Mos Eisley unleashes about the terrible conditions on this world, how much he hates his unit, the details of substandard armor, and the fact that you have to point their new E-11 blaster rifles as far away from a target as possible in order to have a chance of hitting it. It goes on from start to finish like this. Entertaining on its own, but this is starting to become a little too meta for my tastes.
“Laina” by Wil Wheaton
A Rebel mechanic says a heartfelt goodbye to his family and especially his infant daughter as their transport ferries them away to the safety of their new home, far away from the Outer Rim and any of the fighting: to the peaceful world of Alderaan.
After the snark of the previous story, this one hits hard, putting a personal face on the Rebellion. All who serve have been injured by the Empire in some way. Those with the courage to fight, do so in the name of that which has already been sacrificed. It’s a tough story, but it reminds all of us what’s truly at stake in the Galaxy Far, Far Away.
“Fully Operational” by Beth Revis
General Cassio Tagge understands a military truth: a weapon is meant to be fired, and all weapons are to be treated as fully charged and ready. As Chief of the Imperial Army, Tagge prepares for the briefing on the Death Star with Grand Moff Tarkin. He thinks back to the last such briefing, considering the empty chair two seats down, where Director Orson Krennic sat. Admiral Conan Antonio Motti completely dismisses Tagge’s concerns, as do the other senior advisors, but Tagge refuses to be complacent. After Scarif, he’s convinced there is more danger in the ranks of the Rebellion than anyone realizes.
In the 40 years since this film, new insights and character profiles have helped to inform fans as to the greater picture in play. Through all of it, nothing has done more to increase the shadow of the Death Star and its players quite like Rogue One. A simple callback and an outline of understanding as to how rebellions work is all that’s needed to increase the tension in that briefing room.
“An Incident Report” by Mallory Ortberg
Following the briefing on the Death Star, Admiral Motti files a complaint against Lord Vader for attempted murder. To his mind, Vader’s arguments are wrong. They undermined the entire Death Star project and all under his command, and his religious beliefs are not welcome at a military briefing. Trying to crush a man’s windpipe doesn’t make Vader any less wrong, and Motti refuses to concede his point. Vader is not a team player. Motti wants to see him brought to heel.
This story is played straight as opposed to going for the cheap laugh. As a direct result, it feels right. It feels exactly like something I’d expect if such an incident occurred in the real world. And it’s somehow still funny without being over the top about it. My kind of humor. If anything, it makes Motti come across as almost more dignified than he appears on screen.
“Change of Heart” by Elizabeth Wein
This one is a POV tale of a Death Star trooper who escorts Lord Vader to the detention cell where he is to interrogate Princess Leia.
We don’t actually see the interrogation in the film. While this story gives it to us, we are not given any details. Instead, we stay in the head of one of the two troopers that bears silent witness to Leia’s ordeal and its aftermath as Tarkin orders the destruction of Alderaan. The comparisons drawn between trooper and prisoner are interesting, to say the least, hearkening back to an earlier story, “The Bucket.” My only real gripe is this story is written in second person. You did this, you see that. It’s not nearly as effective a tool as writers seem to think, at least not to me. Still, the idea is there. As with the earlier companion story, it tells more about Leia’s strength than anything else.
“Eclipse” by Madeleine Roux
Queen Breha Organa of Alderaan hides her concern for her husband and daughter while they are away by organizing galas and performing other royal duties. With the Senate now disbanded, her thoughts can’t help but dwell upon the dangerous mission for the Rebellion. Once Bail returns home, she can finally learn if the rumors are true about Scarif and the true mission of their daughter. The news he bears is potentially heartbreaking. The Tantive IV has been lost…
Breha and Bail are a characters we’ve only come to know in recent years. To have a story of their final moments carries a huge weight here, adding a harrowing resonance to the destruction of Alderaan. This story absolutely needed to be in this collection.
“Verge of Greatness” by Pablo Hidalgo
With the Death Star operational, Tarkin now commands a power and authority second only to that of the Emperor himself. But is it this battle station that gives him power, or is it the power of politics that put the station in his hands in the first place that allows his authority?
Getting Tarkin’s POV is of special interest to me, being the Peter Cushing fan that I am, and fully appreciating how large his presence looms in this film, even over that of Vader. With the recent advent of Rogue One and the insights of that film, so much can be added into a short story like this that in turn adds so much to the original film. Capturing Tarkin’s voice and motivations, however, can be as tricky as the man himself. To hear him weigh his power and skill vs. Leia’s defiance is priceless. This story aced it.
“Far Too Remote” by Jeffrey Brown
Jeffrey Brown is a cartoonist, and as such his story does not translate to audiobook. Sure am glad I picked up the hardcover now! Due to his style, this one’s an oddball entry, a single panel drawing. I won’t spoil it here, but it’s pretty cool.
“The Trigger” by Kieron Gillen
Doctor Aphra is combing the ancient artifacts of Dantooine when she discovers an abandoned Rebel base on the moon’s far side. When captured by Imperial patrols, she has to convince General Tagge that she is not associated with the base’s previous occupants.
I previously reviewed the Marvel Darth Vader comics that introduced Doctor Aphra. My complete disdain for this character is well-chronicled in the course of those reviews. The moment I saw Gillen’s name on this, I feared she’d make another appearance, this one obviously predating the story in the comics. This is another one I almost skipped just on principle. I should have. Aphra is still a complete waste, a bad excuse of an overly-yappy Doctor Who character in the wrong universe, utterly inappropriate to Star Wars. She just happens to escape execution again because she just happens to have the remote lockout codes for Imperial weaponry? Bantha poodoo. This story added absolutely nothing. Thankfully, it also didn’t take anything away by association, unlike the complete character assassination of Vader her very presence caused before. By the Force, I truly despise this character.
“Of MSE-6 and Men” by Glen Weldon
This story is the logged commands and recordings of an Imperial mouse droid.
Due to the nature and style of this story, it’s another oddball entry in this anthology. If I can say anything at all, this one is truly a unique point of view, especially when the droid starts malfunctioning, and the story goes off the rails. *shudder* Definitely not in character for Tarkin. I was hoping for a palette cleanser after the previous story. This one’s worse, and it goes on seemingly forever. I skipped the rest of it when it pushed past ridiculous and became offensive to my sensibilities as both a fan and a writer. It is the only one in this collection that didn’t get a full hearing. It never will either. Not my brand of humor.
“Bump” by Ben Acker and Ben Blacker
Another backbiting stormtrooper commentary, one returned to the Death Star after a shift on Tatooine. All he wants is a shower after a triple shift, but the intruder alert alarm sounds. There is no reprieve for the patriotic. The intruders will die.
I suppose it was inevitable that we’d get the internal monologue of the trooper who famously hits his head on the blast door. Why are we supposed to assume this trooper was on Tatooine looking for the droids? Are there not enough troopers for both duties? And why are we supposed to assume Tarkin would single this one out to talk to or reprimand once, let alone more than that? At least I assume it’s Tarkin. Whatever. I’ll just come right and say it: I’m ready for a good story now. This is three duds in a row. At least this one isn’t offensive to my fandom like the last two. I’m just bored with backbiting stormtrooper commentaries.
“End of Watch” by Adam Christopher
Commander Pamel Poul is not a hero. She’s an Imperial Navy career officer with absolutely no desire to die in battle. She’s an administrator, proud of the fact that she’s good enough to serve in that capacity aboard the Death Star. Her problem, however, is that there’s a mystery freighter in Docking Bay 327 disrupting all of the hangar deck flight traffic and causing a crimp in her day. And an alarm in the detention block. And a reactor leak? The problem with the Death Star is that it’s too big to know all of its working, and besides… Poul was now off shift for the next 12 hours. Let her replacement deal with it.
Now we’re back to form. This story is all about the voices on the other side of the intercoms while our heroes rescue the Princess and cause havoc in their wakes.
“The Baptist” by Nnedi Okorafor
Omi isn’t supposed to be here. She’s supposed to be swimming freely in the swamps of her homeworld, where she was before her capture and imprisonment in the Death Star‘s garbage smasher. It’s in this artificial swamp that she encountered a handful of beings, one of whom could potentially be a new friend!
This story makes it a point of saying this race of creature could choose its gender, so while this one is female, others are male, and the most common gender is dianogas. Um… what? Not to be pedantic here, but dianoga is the species name, not a gender category for it. It also mentions a couple of times about Vodrans being large creatures. Vodran is the name of the dianoga homeworld, not a different creature. Seriously, look it up for yourself. This is a very well written story otherwise, but if you’re going to dig around into the esoteric details, how about maybe utilizing what’s been already built? Stuff like this undermines an otherwise enjoyable story because fans who know this stuff can’t simply unknow it for an author’s storytelling convenience. It did explain where she survived when the walls crushed in, so there is that.
“Time of Death” by Cavan Scott
Obi-Wan Kenobi narrates from the other side of the Force moments after his death, attempting to make sense of the images he sees as past and future collide with the present.
Let’s just start at the top. If you’re going to do a quote from the film, quote it properly. “If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.” Not “ever” imagine. People, this is the most scrutinized film of all time. Do your damn homework. As you can tell, my patience is wearing thin now. But… that’s the only criticism I have of this story. It’s incredibly well told. Hints of stories we’ve never seen, Easter eggs of tales we know… it’s a powerful collage of imagery, a proper send-off worthy of a venerable Jedi Master.
“There is Another” by Gary D. Schmidt
From his exile on Dagobah, regrets that he was unable to train just one more padawan and feels the passing of Obi-Wan.
If there’s a theme to this one, it’s loneliness. So much character here, so much heartbreak. A near perfect companion piece to the previous story in this set. Some little comments… Just because we’ve confirmed via George Lucas and Dave Filoni that the Chosen One is Anakin, that doesn’t mean the characters in the story understand that or would want to believe it anymore. For Obi-Wan, it’s Luke. Yoda believes it’s Leia. That’s a nice touch, I think. We also learn that even Yoda must deal with Imperial probe droids from time to time. Dumb question: when did Yoda have time to go back and get Obi-Wan’s cooking pot before they left the Jedi Temple? Or Qui-Gon’s cloak? Wait, wasn’t that burned with him at his funeral, or did he have more than one? And isn’t attachment against the Jedi ideals? This isn’t a complete undermining of the story, and it would hold some serious character touch to it if it made any sense to what we know. But it doesn’t. It’s a good story in spite of that.
“Palpatine” by Ian Doescher
“Enter EMPEROR PALPATINE, having received news from DARTH VADER of OBI-WAN KENOBI’s death.”
From the brilliant mind who gave us William Shakespeare’s Star Wars, we have… more of that awesomeness. What better than an old fashioned Shakespearean soliloquy to mark the end of an old rival? This one’s every bit as good as any of Doescher’s full scripts, and this time without a film script as dialogue reference. It’s all classic villain scenery chewing. *applause* Bravo. Once again, the Bard would be proud, and I am in awe.
“Sparks” by Paul S. Kemp
Y-Wing pilot Dex Tiree of Gold Squadron and his beat up R5 unit “Sparks” steel themselves for the upcoming mission against the Death Star. With the details of the briefing in his mind, he knows he’s the one to make that shot. “Almost there…”
In the film, Tiree was the first pilot shot down when Vader entered the battle. As soon as this story ends, I can hear the chatter over the comm in my head: “Gold Five to Red Leader: lost Tiree, lost Dutch.” Gold Two and Gold Leader. A story like this… it’s so much more rewarding than more sarcastic stormtrooper commentary. But then, I expect nothing less from Kemp. He’s one of the best for a reason.
“Duty Roster” by Jason Fry
This story centers on the X-Wing pilot Col… who is not chosen to join Red Squadron to fly the mission. There are more pilots than birds. Eager for action, Col can only engage the battle from the Strategy Room, listening helplessly as the Battle of Yavin unfolds, and his fellow pilots are picked off.
Say what you will about the bravery of the pilots. At least they get the chance to do something. The hardest part is waiting as a countdown clock announces your impending doom. Through Col, we feel the threat and the losses, cheering on those remaining. Their only hope: an untried pilot Col has never heard of: Luke Skywalker. There’s a nice little nod at the end about “Fake Wedge,” which hardcore insiders will absolutely get. Excellent tale.
“Desert Son” by Pierce Brown
This one’s a first person POV for Biggs Darklighter, best friend and wingman of Luke Skywalker.
Pride in his friend turns to fear and conviction as the Death Star comes into view. This is easily the most personal of the pilot stories in this collection, and the most necessary. We absolutely had to have this story. This is the loss audiences felt, because Luke felt it. We feel it more with an internal monologue of his final mission.
“Grounded” by Greg Rucka
Nera Kase is the ground crew fighter boss at Base One, in charge of every ship and its pilots. But when the Battle of Yavin unfolds overhead, Kase can only wait and hope, listening to the comm chatter on the base speakers.
This story is magnificently written, up to Rucka’s usual high standards. Kase knows the names, personalities, accumulated flight hours, and confirmed kills of every pilot. When you hear their credentials, it shines a light on just how inexperienced Luke Skywalker really is. Kase knows each of their fighters just as intimately. We get to know them all through her, adding yet another layer to the dogfight. The losses at Edu and Scarif already weigh heavily on Kase. She does her job, marking the reason for each loss, ensuring it’s not her ground crew that could have done more… not that she’d ever stop questioning it. Nice callout to Hera. I wonder where she is during this fight, now that we know she was at Scarif and lived on at least to Endor. On the down side, there’s a case of seeing warts because there was less communication and coordination between authors than was previously suggested. Two stories back, there were more pilots than fighters. This story says the opposite, that there are not enough pilots to crew the fighters, and thus some are still on the ground. Again, I remind people this is the most scrutinized film of all time. It’s not just the diehards who will notice details like this. Other than this, this one hits just as hard as the previous entries for Battle of Yavin. Powerful work.
“Contingency Plan” by Alexander Freed
In the day before the Battle of Yavin, Rebellion leader Mon Mothma is evacuated from Base One, her confederates aware that without her, the Rebellion ends regardless of the outcome of this fight. It is widely assumed the Death Star will obliterate Yavin IV, and Mon Mothma will be needed to make contact with the surviving Rebel cells, even if it’s assumed the Rebellion will be but a memory within the next handful of years.
This one is curiously written in both present and future tenses, which as I’ve previously stated is inappropriate for a story set “A long time ago.” It bugs me. Having said that, in this case it’s entirely appropriate for reasons that become clear upon reading. This story fills in a necessary gap between Rogue One and A New Hope with understanding of how just how little hope the Rebellion truly has in these moments, and of how much hinges on the survival of its chief architect. After Yavin is destroyed, the Rebellion would effectively be starting over. The weight of the galaxy sits on her shoulders as she considers the possible futures of what may unfold in the days and years to follow this moment. Freed makes you feel it with her, the fears, and especially the hopes.
“The Angle” by Charles Soule
For Lando Calrissian, staying out of the Empire’s business is his business. The art of gambling is not about the hand you’re dealt, but how to read your opponent quickly and accurately, in the space of a single conversation. Heroes are easy targets; they’re suckers. But when holo footage of his old ship, the Millennium Falcon, is seen running interference on the latest Rebellion propaganda video, he knows only Han Solo could be flying her. The Rebellion is nothing but heroes, and betting against the Empire is like betting against the house. Lando can’t help but wonder: what’s he missing? What’s the angle?
The inclusion of Lando in this anthology is completely unexpected, but always welcome. He is, after all, cooler than the other side of the pillow. This story is a wonderful little seed for what we know will come later, written to the absolute hilt.
“By Whatever Sun” by E. K. Johnston and Ashley Eckstein
Miara Larte stands at parade rest near the front of the Rebellion award ceremony alongside what remains of the Alderaanian guard. From her position, she can clearly see the Princess and the heroes as she reflects on the meaning of this event.
More than a victory celebration, the final sequence of the film is far bigger than a happy ending. Through Larte’s eyes, we remember the fallen, celebrate the living, and know that every day is another day the struggle continues. That in itself is a victory. It would be difficult to ask for a better way to translate this scene to another perspective. Although, there’s still the long unanswered question: where’s Chewie’s medal? Sorry, I couldn’t resist…
“Whills” by Tom Angleberger
In an unspecified future, an historian has prepared diligently for the task of documenting the events of this era. All that remains is the chronicle itself… if he can avoid some “constructive criticism.”
The idea of the Journal of the Whills dates back to the earliest drafts of Star Wars, suggesting a chronicle of the Jedi as a plot device to connect the Galaxy Far, Far Away to our own. The novelization for The Force Awakens is the first canonical appearance of the Journal, carrying on the tradition that just because a concept has not yet been used, it has not necessarily been discarded either.
This particular story… plays it for laughs, removing the somber tone of the last few stories and ending the anthology on a much lighter note. It’s tongue-in-cheek, calling out all the geekiness of the fans who will argue endlessly about how Star Wars should or should not be presented. A bit over the top, but I appreciate it for what it is, even if it’s not my style.
Every anthology is going to be a mixed bag. It’s impossible to please every reader with every story, and different writers / writing styles appeal for different reasons. There ends up being something for everyone. Usually I find that anthologies are a great way to bring unfamiliar writers to my attention, which this collection has done, but the overall presentation ends up being hit and miss at best. This particular anthology was considerably more hit than miss, likely driven by a unified goal and a love of the film that started it all. Those that missed… I’ve already called them out and won’t circle back. I’m grateful for what worked here. I wish primarily that there could have been more cohesion in the details between certain stories so that there were no contradictions. Unreliable narrators are one thing, but contradictory facts as to whether or not fighters outnumber pilots or which races come from what planets… that’s basic editorial sloppiness when such things are overlooked. The strength of the writing helps to overcome such things at the individual story level, but the collection is weakened by such things. Worldbuilding is details, and as I’ve said time and again, this is the most scrutinized film in history. That’s not by accident. People love Star Wars, the richness of theme, of character, and of detail serving only to heighten that experience. It’s the sort of thing that drives people to emotional instability at times too, another hallmark of how much they care. The creative teams at Lucasfilm and Lucasbooks know this. And yet… *sigh* Apparently the more they tightened their grip, the more star systems slipped through their fingers.
This film was my first solid memory of life. I experienced it opening day in my local movie theater. Like so many across generations now, I grew up on it. I’ve rolled it around from every perspective I thought possible, across every medium imaginable. This anthology gave me the means to experience it from new directions, most of them worthy of my consideration. In the end, none of it changes the film as it exists (any version of it), though there are plenty of ideas from this that I will invariably carry forward to enhance certain scenes. The idea of new stories that can do this, that honor the love and excitement we have in common for this film, is special beyond my ability to express. This anthology could have been a lot less than it is. It could have been a messy hack job. But it is none of that. Ok, not too much of that. I also would have liked to have seen a story told from Vader’s POV, but maybe we’ll get that in the now-obligatory follow-up to this when The Empire Strikes Back hits 40. I went through this collection in audio, and as I’ve mentioned, I have a hardcover copy at my bedside now that I will likely dip into quite frequently just because I can. I can’t say that about a great many books in the Star Wars line, no matter how good the stories may be. This one offers what few others can: an opportunity to truly recapture the magic as it appears to us at the personal level, at a specific time, in a specific place… from a certain point of view.