My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I’m a sucker for art books–and I’m a sucker for Star Wars. Of course I’d like a book like this. Additionally, I’ve always been especially fond of the in-universe and pseudo-in-universe textbook narratives represented by books like The New Essential Chronology, The Essential Atlas, and The Essential Guide to Warfare; this book feels like a continuation of that tradition (interestingly, Daniel Wallace, the author of On the Front Lines, was also a writer on two of those three books).
These books dig right into what I love about Star Wars: the feeling of a living, breathing galaxy of its own, with a rich history and varied cultures. There’s a place for everyone somewhere out there, and there’s a lot more to the galaxy than what’s seen on the screen. They also provide an interesting reflection on our real histories and “nonfiction” books; these essential guides are typically written from the in-universe perspective of the winners, often with limited information about actual events that presents those events in a slightly re-framed context. History is not always objective truth, so much as it is the best interpretation of the available documentation, with all the bias inherent in any form of interpretation.
On top of the above, these sorts of guides provide a broader context for events in the films, providing tactical explanations behind the actions of, say, Admiral Ackbar’s willingness to engage with the Imperial Star Destroyer blockade at Endor (On the Front Lines suggests he ran with Lando’s suggestion and hoped to punch a hole in the line to retreat with whatever survivors remained, rather than holding onto hope in the apparently failed Rebel ground team), or the Ewoks’ quick about-face in their interactions with the Rebels (they were angry with off-worlders for destroying sacred trees, and they were suspicious initially that the Rebels were in league with the Imperials and intended to eliminate them as ritual sacrifice–Threepio’s significance is downplayed somewhat). They also manage to point out how emotionally satisfying cinematic moments often boil down to absurd, basically insane, sure-to-fail decisions on the part of the protagonists.
In addition to providing additional reasoning and reinterpretation, On the Front Lines manages to reincorporate elements of old canon into the new and to provide new twists on older Legends events. I especially liked this light updating of the canon, and I liked the diverse faces and perspectives presented in the text.
Last but certainly not least, On the Front Lines is beautiful, packed full of gorgeous artwork, with two-page spreads of each epic battle covered. It would make a great coffee table art book, even if never actually read cover-to-cover.
I will say that I am excited to see this sort of in-universe guide reappearing in the new Disney canon. Visual guides and encyclopedias are fun (though often aimed at a younger audience, and not necessarily with much thematic cohesion). But I’m all about these sorts of guides, and I hope to see more!
Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I was up late last night, picked this up, and started to read. And kept reading until I’d finished. It’s a short book, but it’s a good one too. The language is light, conversational, entertaining, often funny and sometimes dark, refreshingly candid and sincere, playful, and yet sometimes a bit circular or repetitive (I’ll chalk that up to the conversational nature of the novel, and its basis in a stage show). Carrie Fisher dealt with topics here like mental illness, substance abuse, complicated parental relationships, and lifelong celebrity with frankness and humor. This was the first Fisher-authored book I’ve read, and I look forward to reading more (and hope that some of her other works might dig a little deeper into some of those most difficult topics, though I’d certainly be pleased if that lovely voice and playful language is always present).
If you have an afternoon, give this a read.