It’s hard to believe that Star Wars debuted 40 years ago this year (May 25, 1977, to be exact). With so much new ‘Wars on the horizon—The Last Jedi is less than two months away (!) and the last season of the always excellent Rebels just started—Lucasfilm and Disney might be excused for not celebrating the anniversary in a huge way.
But Star Wars created a universe beloved by billions the world over and singlehandedly changed both movie culture and pop culture in general; its birthday is always a big deal. Enter the new anthology From a Certain Point of View: 40 Stories Celebrating 40 Years of Star Wars.
Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View
I was stoked by the project’s announcement last spring; it immediately conjured fond memories of the old Expanded Universe’s Tales From… series in the 1990s. From a Certain Point of View also has an incredibly deep bench of writers, with famous podcasters like Griffin McElroy, science fiction/fantasy authors (Ken Liu, Nnedi Okorafor, and E. K. Johnston), comic and TV writers like Paul Dini and Greg Rucka, and actors (Wil Wheaton and Ashley Eckstein) all jostling for pages.
The anthology is set during the events of Star Wars (that’s Episode IV: A New Hope, if you need a number), with the first story connecting the final scene of Rogue One to Star Wars and the last literally set in the throne room during the medal ceremony that closes the film.
The stories vary in length from three to thirty pages, with some—like Ian Doescher’s “Palpatine,” a meditative soliloquy à la Hamlet spoken by the Emperor after the death of Obi-Wan Kenobi—falling outside the traditional short story format.
There are three general categories the stories fall into: the big timers, the well-known background characters, and the surprises. Each category is stocked with excellent, sometimes surprising stories.
The “big timers” category is expected but full of excellent stories like “Verge of Greatness” (Grand Moff Tarkin savors victory on the cusp of Alderaan’s destruction) and “Added Muscle” (Boba Fett pulls an “I’m too famous for this crap” on Jabba). My favorite of these big timers is the unexpectedly moving “Time of Death” by Cavan Scott: Obi-Wan, fighting for his life against a much stronger Darth Vader on the Death Star, reflects on his attempts to protect and teach young Luke Skywalker during those years in hiding on Tatooine.
This wouldn’t be a good Star Wars anthology without stories written from the points of view of characters more famous as toys than as active contributors to the film’s plot, and From A Certain… is packed with them.
“The Red One” tells the story of R5-D4, the poor astromech droid who blows his motivator just after being purchased by Uncle Owen from the Jawas, all in the name of the Rebellion.
“We Don’t Serve Their Kind Here” reveals the Clone Wars-related reason for Wuher, the surly barkeep in the Mos Eisley cantina, unexplained hatred of droids.
My favorite from this batch of stories is “Incident Report,” a smarmy delight by Mallory Ortberg that is lifted entirely from the paperwork Admiral Motti files after he is Force-choked by Vader’s “ancient religion.”
The most delightful parts of the anthology are in the “surprise” category. In the old Tales From… books set in the EU (now relabeled Legends), most major characters were off-limits; Boba Fett was as close as readers came to the major characters of the films. From a Certain… has tales from everybody from the aforementioned bounty hunter and Emperor Palpatine to Lando Calrissian (the Rebels-ey “The Angle”), Mon Mothma (the realistic, sorrowful “Contingency Plan”), and the Force ghost of Qui-Gon Jinn (the deeply philosophical “Master & Apprentice”).
My three favorite stories in the whole anthology, “There is Another” by Gary D. Schmidt and “The Baptist” by Nnedi Okorafor, fall into this “surprise” category.
Yoda—a character whose thoughts and background seem to be closely guarded by Lucasfilm in almost all Star Wars media—is the main character in “There is Another,” a vignette of the old Jedi Master’s profoundly lonely life on Dagobah by Gary D. Schmidt.
The best original character from the new Marvel Star Wars comics, the archaeologist/exotic arms dealer Doctor Aphra, gets her own story of escape and roguery in “The Trigger,” by Kieron Gillen of the excellent Darth Vader comic run. In “The Baptist” by Nnedi Okorafor, the Dianoga in the Death Star’s trash compactor is revealed to be a Force-sensitive swamp-dweller named Omi whose entire life leads to that brief, smelly encounter with Luke Skywalker from the film.
From a Certain Point of View is a rollicking, joyful return to the heights Star Wars books ascended in the glory days of the 1990s EU. Almost all of the stories are enjoyable, many are fun, some are great, and a couple will change the way serious fans think about that galaxy far, far away.
Official Nerds On Earth rating: 10/10 nerd nugs