Review: The Empire Strikes Back From A Certain Point of View

From a Certain Point of View: The Empire Strikes Back by Elizabeth Schaefer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This is another great Star Wars short story collection, now offering 40 new perspectives on the events in The Empire Strikes Back. I hope they continue this project, because I love this format and the opportunity to have so many writers, both new and familiar to the franchise, contribute something unique to the saga. Basically all of my praise for the original volume applies for this sequel, so I won’t recap that. And once more, I found that I appreciated something from every story. No bad stories yet again.

To return to the format of my original review for the first book, I’ll highlight one story that I loved and then outline my top ten (once more a very difficult decision). So, number one story I’d recommend? Tougher this time, because there’s not a single story that soars in my mind like “The Kloo Horn Cantina Caper” did, but there are nonetheless at least a handful that I’m quite fond of and would rather like to read again. To settle on one, I’d pick “Due on Batuu” by Rob Hart. Of course there was going to be a story about Willrow Hood, the “Ice Cream Guy.” And it’s not very surprising that a reference to Batuu would appear prominently at some point, given the heavy multimedia efforts built around Galaxy’s Edge. But blessedly, one need not know who Hood is or where Batuu is located to enjoy this little adventure. Willrow, it turns out, is an overworked, underpaid systems monitor for the gas mines who dreams of something bigger. He decides a dishonest living at smuggling is the way to beat the odds and finally become rich, so he pesters perhaps the only smuggler he knows into finally giving him an easy assignment. Things quickly fall apart: a couple betrayals and the Imperial occupation of the city throw everything into chaos. There’s a lot of fun reversals between Willrow and his erstwhile pilot partner Bexley. Their frenemy status keeps things interesting. Ultimately, it reads like a low-stakes heist bungled by a bunch of losers–no wonder I’m so fond of it.

The total top ten are still difficult to pick, but here we go (once more in order of appearance):

1. “Hunger,” by Mark Oshiro, which impressively manages to make the wampa into a sympathetic figure wronged by the Rebellion.

2. “She Will Keep Them Warm,” by Delilah S. Dawson, which provides a heartbreaking swan song for the tauntaun who carries Han in search of Luke.

3. “The Final Order,” by Seth Dickinson, which provides a name, backstory, and personality for the Imperial Star Destroyer captain lost in the asteroid belt but also examines the ugly nature of fascism and the unhealthy obsession with Imperial aesthetic held by at least some fans.

4. “This Is No Cave,” by Catherynne M. Valente, which gives the space slug a truly alien perspective on the events of the galaxy.

5. “Tooth and Claw,” by Michael Kogge, which manages to portray Bossk as a lethal and cruel hunter even as it also throws a wrench into his sociopathic lifestyle and forces him to reconsider strongly held beliefs.

6. “STET!”, by Daniel José Older, is quirky and funny and plays with style. It’s a draft of an in-universe magazine article with notes and corrections made by the editor, where both author and editor become uncomfortably inserted into the events of the story being told.

7. “But What Does He Eat?”, by S.A. Chakraborty, imagines Lando’s top chef, who must consider carefully how to handle a dinner hosted for Darth Vader–and the risks she’d be willing to take to eliminate the Emperor’s brutal enforcer.

8. “Faith in an Old Friend,” by Brittany N. Williams, brings L3-37 back, showing that she hasn’t just preserved her own identity within the Falcon‘s computer but actually drawn out the identities of the some of the other personalities loaded into it over time.

9. “Due on Batuu,” by Rob Hart, on the list for reasons explained earlier.

10. “Right-Hand Man,” by Lydia Kang, makes medical droid 2-1B interesting in his own right while allowing a quiet moment for Luke to work through some of his trauma after his fight with Vader, even while displaying the empathetic, curious traits that make him a hero.

Finally, I want to acknowledge some of the other stories for what they’ve brought into the new canon. “Ion Control,” by Emily Skrutskie, brings back Rebel sisters Toryn and Samoc Farr. “The Truest Duty,” by Christie Golden, provides a clear canon personality for General Veers and establishes for the record what happened to him on Hoth. “Rendezvous Point,” by Jason Fry, offers some old-school Legends Rogue Squadron storytelling centered on Wedge and Janson. And “No Time for Poetry,” by Austin Walker, manages a pair-up between IG-88 and Dengar that I never knew I wanted, perfectly capturing Dengar’s new-canon persona and opening up some new questions, like is that still IG-88’s ruined body on Cloud City in the new canon?, given how screwed up Dengar and IG-88’s efforts to track Solo have become, do they still track him to Bespin?, and does that mean that charming old Dengar is ultimately the one who kills the assassin droid now? I wouldn’t mind further adventures following any of these stories.

I certainly wouldn’t mind further stories From A Certain Point of View.



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The Mandalorian Season 2 Finale

[Warning: plenty of spoilers for The Mandalorian.]

I really rather enjoyed the finale of the second season of The Mandalorian. It was action-packed, it had some great tense sequences in which I was really dreading what would happen and entirely unsure of how it could be resolved, and then the ending was so bittersweet and hopeful, delivering some quiet character development. I thought it was a good cap to the season and, for that matter, to the overall story arc of the first couple of seasons, even while being a clear signal that future content is on the horizon.

Of course future content is on the horizon. Ten Star Wars series and a couple movies planned for the near future? That’s too much Star Wars! I’m not even keeping up on the books, and I gave up a couple years back on even trying to track the ever-increasing glut of comics being released for the new canon. Mixed feelings as usual here about this development: (1) more Star Wars gives more opportunities for new creators to dabble in the universe, for new stories to hook new fans, and for plenty of different characters and settings and subgenres so that everyone can probably find something they’ll like; (2) more Star Wars means that it will soon be unmanageable for most people to get a good footing in the universe, especially as it’s leaned more into MCU-esque winks for hardcore fans, like including Maul in Solo or Ahsoka in The Mandalorian, which at some point will surely begin to alienate people not already obsessed; (3) more Star Wars means I’ll have plenty to read and watch in my preferred sci-fi/fantasy setting, which is great, but it’s not so great to have me so insularly focused on one massive franchise when so much great independent sci-fi and fantasy has been and continues to be published; (4) more Star Wars means more talented writers writing for an existing property instead of exploring their own ideas, while also meaning that Star Wars becomes less of a thing defined by George Lucas’s vision and more of a bland product produced by committee; and (5) more Star Wars means that a monolithic corporation within the ever-narrowing band of oligarchic entertainment companies is going to tighten its grip even further by giving plenty of people reason to only watch/read/play/listen to (and thus pay for) its particular intellectual property, IP that in this case it just went out and bought after the fact rather than having any role in creating (as though IP law wasn’t already so corrupted toward longstanding corporate interests).

But enough of that. I actually just wanted to yell about Luke and Boba Fett.

Boba’s interactions with the “real” Mandalorians in the finale were fascinating. It’s easy to see why he remained such an isolationist outsider throughout his life, as he faced bigotry as a clone and a refusal by purists to accept him as a member of Mandalorian culture. Bo-Katan’s hostility toward his use of Mandalorian armor, despite his rightful claim to it, is somewhat ironic given her own wariness toward the extremist sect that Din belongs to. It’s interesting to see a lot of different Mandalorians in this diaspora all finding ways to identify themselves as “real” Mandalorians in the wake of the loss of their homeland, often creating identities in opposition to other ideas about what a Mandalorian can be. All that aside, that post-credits scene was some sweet Boba- and Fennec-badassery, and I am intrigued to see what The Book of Boba Fett does to further develop these characters. There are certainly plenty of subjects to explore. Why did Fett want his armor back now, and why did he not reclaim it earlier? Why was it important to him to claim Jabba’s palace? Does he plan to start his own criminal empire, or a new bounty hunter’s guild? Does he plot to build a coalition to retake Mandalore and rise as its ruler? Or perhaps does he want to assemble a warrior society of his own, an outsider group that rejects the formalistic traditions of Mandalorian culture? And now that he’s more of a team player and working with others, does he make any attempt to reconcile with the “friends” and mentors he’s had in the past, like Bossk or Dengar? I’ve never been great at speculation, so who knows if the story even follows any of those leads, but I’ll be interested to see what they do. Boba’s still not my favorite character, but I like this take on an honor-bound, brutal warrior who seems to be doing a tightrope walk of reflecting on and honoring his father’s heritage while facing and accepting rejection from the culture his father was raised in.

Then there’s Luke. It’s incredible that they really brought Luke into the show as the Jedi to respond to Grogu’s call. It was also incredible fan service to finally show Luke at the height of his powers, easy dismantling a platoon of super-soldier droids after we’d seen a single one of these Dark Troopers nearly pummel Din to death. I haven’t particularly been interested in the Disney Gallery series for The Mandalorian, but I’d love to see some behind-the-scenes discussion of how they got Mark Hamill’s younger voice and likeness spot-on for his appearance. Obviously most of the time, he was silent and hooded, and it’s not hard to figure out that you’d have a stunt double in any sort of sequence like that, but we have some extended periods where Luke is interacting with the Mandalorian posse.

Will we see more of this younger Luke? Will we finally see him starting his own Jedi Academy? I’d love to get more of that story. It’ll be interesting to see where Grogu goes; I suspect that, like Ahsoka, the little guy will find a way to escape the upcoming Jedi Purge (just as he did the original, come to think of it). And, though this is somewhat surprising to me, I’m really eager to see not just what comes of the potential conflict between Din and Bo-Katan, but also what exactly Boba Fett is up to.

Changing hunters

In my review of Tales of the Bounty Hunters, I started by saying that I wanted to some day talk a little more about how these bounty hunters have changed in their depictions between Legends and the Disney canon. That day has come. I’ll admit that the timing is awfully convenient, what with a show about bounty hunters in the new Star Wars canon premiering this Tuesday. It’s truly just a coincidence, though, or if it isn’t, my subconscious was primed for thinking about bounty hunters given the marketing for this show. Either way, it’s not exactly new ground for this blog (examples one, two, three, and four for consideration).

One thing this post is not meant to be is a biographical sketch of the characters from Tales of the Bounty Hunters, or a careful examination of the differing details of their interpretations across Legends and canon sources. You want that, go to Wookieepedia. What I want to do is talk about how I reacted to some of these changes, and how my opinion might have changed in revisiting a work that was so nostalgic for me.

To begin, I found Dengar’s transition from Legends to canon to be most welcome. In the new canon, he’s consistently been portrayed as a sarcastic, playful personality. He seems to enjoy being around people, even if he’s still a little bit of a sociopath. We are still missing a lot of details in his arc, but we see him go from a member of Boba Fett’s bounty hunting team in The Clone Wars to an aging, sardonic loner desperately yearning for a reconnection with others in the Aftermath books. It seems like his adventures during the reign of the Empire are still mostly untold. I haven’t kept up with the comics in a long while, but it seems like they’ve slowly included some Dengar appearances in which he seems to be much more grizzled. It’d be interesting to learn why exactly he became more hardened and violent and if those wrappings ever became actual bandages.

Regardless, Dengar’s fun now. He’s charismatic on-screen (and on the page), even if most of the other characters find him annoying. I’ll take this depiction over “Payback,” the dour ex-Imperial serial killer bent on revenge from Legends. Plus, the broader story of Dengar now appears to have all the elements of a story of loss, pain, and recovery that formed the core of the older version of Dengar. We’re still missing what caused that pain for him in the middle of this arc, as far as I’m aware, but maybe we’ll see it someday. I prefer Dengar finding salvation in found family over a romantic entanglement, anyway.

Bossk also seems a lot more “fun” in the new canon. He’s loyal to Boba Fett in The Clone Wars, at least. I’m fine with this version of the character; he’s not a mentor, exactly, to Boba, but maybe he’s a sort of weird uncle. That we don’t really have a clear picture of how Boba and Bossk fell out is an unfortunate gap. Bossk’s fate is equally unclear; by the peak of the Galactic Civil War, we only have a snapshot with his cameo on board the Executor. I don’t really know how to feel about this version of Bossk. The original incarnation of the character was so scary, vile, and outright evil. Then again, it’s interesting that Bossk’s character traits went on to largely define Trandoshans as a whole, then in the new canon, with greater individualization within species, Bossk is given a friendlier identity while a faction of Trandoshans is still characterized as Wookiee-hunting psychopaths within The Clone Wars.

Meanwhile, IG-88 doesn’t really seem to have been changed at all. There are a lot of other IG-model droids, from the Clone Wars onward, and these other versions often get used instead of IG-88 himself. That’s been a deliberate choice; in an interview with IGN, Dave Filoni explained:

So a droid like IG-88, if you know the Expanded Universe and the Star Wars history, there are a lot of stories around him or what might’ve happened to that particular droid. So out of respect for people that have been with this franchise a long time, it’s like, “well if we do something with this space, would that be contradicting those stories?” So it’s better just to say, “Well, there’s other droids,” it’s not like it was a unique assassin droid.

I appreciate Filoni’s tendency to bring in things from Legends as reasonable and to leave Legends elements ambiguously canon where possible instead of always explicitly contradicting them with new material, but I also find it ironic that he says that it wasn’t a unique assassin droid, when “Therefore I Am” is very much so about how IG-88 was a unique prototype (something already undermined in Legends with ideas like the IG lancer droids). That all said, I wouldn’t mind a revamped version of IG-88 that more fully explores the contradiction between his lofty ideals for a droid revolution and his practices of overwriting programming and operating through brutal violence. Why does he want the droid revolution? What are his end goals? Something more than simply being disgusted with organics could be really interesting, especially in the wake of L3-37’s debut (and IG-88’s plan to become the Death Star II could provide an interesting mirror to L3’s becoming part of the Millennium Falcon).

Zuckuss and 4-LOM became such weird, splintered characters in Legends. Zuckuss had multiple personalities; 4-LOM had a memory (and personality) reset. These elements appear to have been attempts to explain too many stories about these characters from different writers with different visions who didn’t bother to make for a consistent presentation. That said, I like the earlier versions of these characters. Zuckuss is a thoughtful, meditative, tradition-bound member of a mystic hunting tradition. 4-LOM is a constantly adapting droid who believes that he can program himself to allow for intuition and to maybe even access the Force. It doesn’t seem like the duo have appeared much in the new canon yet, so it’s hard to say how their personalities will cement.

Boba Fett has had the biggest transformation, from weird zealot-murderer to vengeance-obsessed clone; in some ways, he’s become more like the old Dengar. I like the newer version of Boba Fett better. The biggest mark against Boba Fett is that he has an unsatisfying ending. His death was treated as a sort of joke in Return of the Jedi. In a way, Attack of the Clones makes his death more of an inescapable tragedy; his “father” tried to raise a better version of himself, and Jango’s untimely death set Boba down a path that would see him die in a similarly unceremonious way at yet another elaborate execution gone wrong. Legends tried to make Fett virtually indestructible, overcoming the Sarlacc so that he could go on to be a continuing threat to Han and his family. But I think Fett’s life from Kamino to Tatooine has a better, self-contained arc, even if his on-screen death will always be a silly footnote.

As a special addition, I have to mention Greedo. Greedo’s formative Legends tale was in “A Hunter’s Fate,” collected within Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina. There, he’s a young hotshot who’s basically goaded, unprepared, into a fight with Han so that his bounty hunter “friends” can in turn collect a bounty on the inept Rodian. Whatever happened in that cantina–Han shooting first, second, or simultaneously–fits comfortably with this narrative. Greedo was unprepared and couldn’t outgun Han. Greedo’s new canon version is actually frustrating to me; he’s been in operation for at least a couple decades, with an active involvement in the underworld of the Clone Wars era, and yet he still bumbles a point-blank shot at Han. It’s a wonder that such an incompetent gunman could have survived in his line of work for as long as he did. If Lucas had simply left Han to shoot first, this wouldn’t bother me as much–Han would have been taking out a threat proactively, before the dangerous hunter could get a shot off. But if Han fires second, or even simultaneously, it becomes difficult to understand how Greedo, with weapon rested on the table before him the whole time, could have screwed up so badly.

Obviously, the above only reflects my opinions and interpretations of these characters. Bounty hunters are on my brain. I’d love to hear which versions of the characters you prefer and why, or even which versions of the characters you’re more familiar with. And as a separate prompt, are there any other characters who have had particularly successful/unsuccessful transitions from Legends to the new canon? Do you see new characters, like IG-11, that are filling the role of a Legends character in new stories? I hope to see some interesting replies!

Revisiting the Tales of the Bounty Hunters

Well, I’m a day late, and it’s just a book review, but I think you have to agree that a Star Wars review is pretty standard for this blog! I think I want to talk a little more about the bounty hunters in another post, especially regarding how they’ve changed in their depictions between Legends and the Disney canon. But that can wait for another day. For now, my review of Tales of the Bounty Hunters, which I’d last read well over a decade ago, follows.

Tales of the Bounty Hunters (Star Wars)Tales of the Bounty Hunters by Kevin J. Anderson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I returned to Tales of the Bounty Hunters partly out of nostalgia, but partly because I’d rather enjoyed the other Tales that I’ve rediscovered in adulthood. On finishing, I was surprised to find that my original rating for this collection, based on childhood recollections, was pretty honest; I haven’t altered that rating. The stories are good, extrapolating from our brief glimpse of Empire‘s bounty hunters into full adventures that are generally interesting, though rarely emotionally investing.

The wildest part to me was realizing that “Therefore I Am: The Tale of IG-88,” by Kevin J. Anderson, was nowhere as good as I remembered it. There was no way that it could be; I remembered it as a high-concept piece about artificial intelligence, droid rights, relative morality, and a fight for liberty. It’s…not that. I can see how the basic story of IG-88’s silent droid revolution allowed me to imagine these larger, richer themes; it stoked the fires of my young imagination, even if it didn’t really execute such an epic story. IG-88 is an assassin droid; it thinks it’s better than organics, so it’s going to kill them all. It thinks droid independence is vital, but it’s quite happy to overwrite other assassin droids to transplant its personality, and it views an override code that will launch a galactic-wide droid revolution as an essential part of its plan. IG-88 never seems to even consider that its own quest for independence is really a blood-stained path to change one oppressor (organics in general) to another (IG-88 in particular). I think that IG-88’s vanity and arrogance are intended to be part of the story, but since we’re largely limited to its perspective and that of a generic Imperial bureaucrat villain, there’s not much effort to really emphasize the hypocrisy of the droid’s plans. And so much of the story is couched in Ultra-Cool 90s Grittiness, with hyper-violent deaths, a mechanized factory world, the aforementioned generic villain, and mostly shoot-’em-up exploits that all feel more like the plot to a video game or very of-its-era comic book than a Star Wars story. I’m still amused that IG-88 ultimately decides to become the Death Star II; like its other copies, its perceived strength is a false image of arrogance, and it fails in its moment of triumph, rather like a certain Emperor occupying the halls of its final battle station form.

There’s a story for each bounty hunter, though, and IG-88’s just the first. “Payback: The Tale of Dengar,” by Dave Wolverton, attempts to make Dengar cool. His central motivation is revenge: revenge against Han Solo, who inadvertently caused him to crash in a swoop bike race, and revenge against the Empire, which used his swoop accident as an excuse to perform super-soldier experiments on his maimed body, erasing most of his emotions and augmenting him considerably. The story was engaging for me, with a lot of 007-esque action, but the central conceit is basically that Dengar is able to find himself in the love of a woman, and that’s a tired trope. It’s sort of interesting that he’s able to find happiness when he essentially rejects a form of toxic masculinity that narrows the emotional spectrum to rage–here applied through the dual science-fiction elements of hyper-advanced surgeries that can precisely cut out specific emotions and of an advanced, pacifistic culture that has developed devices that allow shared emotional experiences. His dream girl can literally allow him to feel how she feels about him. It’s certainly not winning any awards for progressive narrative, but this plot element did provide for a clear arc for Dengar. And it ends with Dengar recovering Boba Fett from near the Sarlacc, rejecting revenge against the man who betrayed him twice, and asking the Mandalorian super-commando to be his best man at a wedding, so there’s that. (By the way, the more I think about it, the more that this story feels like the Star Wars version of Casino Royale, just with a happy ending).

“The Prize Pelt: The Tale of Bossk,” by Kathy Tyers, proved to be my favorite story, though I didn’t remember it that strongly. Partially I enjoyed it as a continuation of the story of armament-company-heiress-turned-bounty-hunter Tinian, who appeared first in another short story by Tyers that was collected in Tales from the Empire. Tyers clearly enjoyed writing Tinian and Chenlambec, providing this story with perhaps the most heart and soul of any in the anthology. But I also enjoyed it because it’s got convoluted plans, with crosses and double-crosses and backup options galore, and because Bossk isn’t provided some redeeming narrative like most of the other characters–nor is he made to be “cool.” Bossk is played up as an evil dude, a vile serial killer who hunts other sentients for fun. We want Bossk to be defeated in the end, and he’s dangerous enough that points in the story are truly scary and nerve-wracking.

“Of Possible Futures: The Tale of Zuckuss and 4-LOM,” by M. Shayne Bell, was another story I was fond of as a kid, but it held up better than I expected. Look, I’ll admit that part of what I loved about it was that two of the protagonists shared the surname Farr (hey, that’s my name!), and they were both intimately involved in the Battle of Hoth, which always fascinated me. Now, though, I can appreciate the story for its incredible weirdness. Zuckuss has his own elaborate alien culture, barely touched on, and a desperate motivation to earn enough credits to repair or replace his oxygen-damaged lungs. 4-LOM was a simple protocol droid who overrode his own programming over time through twisted logic to become first a master thief and then a bounty hunter; he continues to test the bounds of his programming, and he’s actually partnered with Zuckuss because he hopes to learn the art of intuition from his companion. His biggest ambition is to somehow learn to use the Force. Meanwhile, Toryn Farr (whom you may know as the background female officer who was one of the last to stay behind in the Echo Base control room) struggles with being thrust into a leadership situation in a crisis, balancing the needs of the crew with her protectiveness for her seriously wounded snowspeeder pilot sister, Samoc. While Legends wouldn’t let Zuckuss and 4-LOM have the fate suggested at the end of this story, “Of Possible Futures” ends with them joining up as legitimate members of the Rebellion. I love not just the expansion of so many background characters, but the sheer amount of wild and weird. It’s sad to me that we never got more of Toryn and Samoc.

Finally, the last story is “The Last One Standing: The Tale of Boba Fett,” by Daniel Keys Moran. This one still gets discussed in some fandom circles as one of the great Boba Fett stories. It’s fine. Fett is a dispassionate killer, and apparently an ugly man. He’s devoted to the concept of Justice, but he’s perfectly fine with extrajudicial murder, even for lesser offenses like smuggling. He views a good deal of sex as immoral. He’s a prude with a laser gun. There’s an especially awkward scene where Jabba sends Leia to his room, and he promises to leave her untouched, safe in his chambers, for the night; they have a brief moral discussion in which his incomprehensible values are stated as obvious truths. It reads as the ultimate fanboy stand-in: so close to the beautiful Leia Organa, possessing great power over her in a sexually compromising situation, and choosing to be the Noble Gentleman who promises not to lay a finger on her. Frankly, it’s a weird scene to me because I see no reason why, in the fiction of Star Wars, Leia ever had to be at any sort of risk of sexual assault, and I’d believe she could fight or talk her way out of any such situation anyway, so painting her as so vulnerable (and, in this scene, scared) is just downright uncomfortable. That all said, I did like the later sections of the story, as Fett deals with his traumas and wounds as he continues to hunt in old age, finding himself at the very end in a standoff with an equally exhausted Han Solo. The standoff cliffhanger ending, with its ambiguous outcome, is interesting, but I think we all know a character like Solo would never be killed off-screen, in or out of Legends. I think I can see how a story that attempted to provide a background and personality to Fett was so well-regarded at the time, but it hasn’t aged well.

In all, I think I mostly prefer the new canon versions of the characters. But the stories were still mostly enjoyable. Unless you are guided by nostalgia, like myself, I think you can pass over a purchase of the book, used or otherwise, and instead pick it up from the library to check out the tales of Bossk, Zuckuss, and 4-LOM.

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Review: Empire’s End

Empire's End (Star Wars: Aftermath, #3)Empire’s End by Chuck Wendig

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Empire’s End offers an exciting and eventful conclusion to the Aftermath trilogy. Like with Life Debt before it, this finale offers a mix of original and film legacy characters. There’s plenty of action and suspense. The book can largely be broken into two halves: the first half involves the amassing of the Imperial fleet over Jakku and Leia’s efforts to get the New Republic to engage that fleet in a final battle; the second half is the battle itself and the fallout.

We don’t see too much of the battle at Jakku because Wendig keeps the focus on Leia, Han, and the Imperial-hunting team of bounty hunter Jas Emari, mother-son pilot team Norra and Temmin Wexley along with Temmin’s bodyguard droid Mister Bones, ex-Imperial Sinjir Rath Velus, and Republic commando Jom Barell. Leia’s politicking and Han’s playing the scoundrel, doing the dirty work to fix some political problems. Jas, Norra, and Bones spend most of the book stranded on Jakku after they left their ship to bypass the Imperial blockade in an attempt to locate Sloane. Temmin has the biggest role in the battle, while Sinjir sits it out, having most of his involvement limited to helping first Han and then Mon Mothma, all while wrestling with his romantic life. And Jom barely appears at all; for a character who became a lot more significant in the second book, he’s basically written out, mostly appearing in the context of a complication for Jas (an interesting subversion of the sexist trope of minimizing a female character to romantic plot device for the male lead, but still a disappointing wrap to the character).

During all the above, Sloane, now an outcast, is trying to sneak through Imperial-occupied Jakku to track down and kill her former mentor, Rax, who has usurped Imperial rule, making the remaining Imperial forces something harsher, more vicious, more primitive. Rax’s big plan, it turns out, is to destroy both Republic and Empire, then rebuild a new Empire in unknown space, carrying out Palpatine’s Contingency plan in the event of the Emperor’s death. Frankly, I was a little disappointed by the simplicity of the Contingency. After all the eliminations of rivals and careful plots, it all comes down to trying to get both militaries on a planet that can be blown up. Most of the really juicy hints of some Dark Side presence or greater threat in the Unknown Regions on the edge of the galaxy remain window dressing for now. I hope that a later story picks up those threads.

Perhaps I just wanted more. Empire’s End was a wild ride, loaded with a lot of momentous events and shifting viewpoints, and the pace became blistering fast in the latter half. I can’t say it ended abruptly, but maybe some threads were rushed to get to a conclusion. Wendig’s usual strengths are on display, including tight pacing, interesting interlude chapters (which have at this point built up to some truly fascinating background narrative arcs worthy of further exploration), uniquely identifiable characters, and a whole lot of nods to Legends and the new canon. (In example of that last point, bringing in Embo and Dengar from Sugi’s old bounty hunting team in The Clone Wars to challenge Jas, Sugi’s niece, was not just a nice nod but an effective use and development of the characters.) If you’ve at least read Life Debt, it’s worth reading Empire’s End to complete the narrative.

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Maybe not the galaxy’s greatest

I’ve never really been active in any fan community. At best, I’ve been on the periphery. Suits me fine. But I am an observer, and from the periphery I’ve been observing the Star Wars fandom, especially through Twitter, more and more. The people I follow are people I like, with interesting things to say; they generally have warm, positive attitudes, which is impressive for an impersonal venue like Twitter. My little bubble blinded me to a lot of the gross, hateful elements of fandom, however.

My bubble’s been burst a little bit. I’ve watched from the periphery as fanboys flailed about in rage, insulted by the very idea that someone would publicly announce, in the context of an off-hand tweet, that they thought Boba Fett was boring. I have no role in that conversation, and I’m not going to involve myself there. It doesn’t affect me at all. But it did remind me of the toxicity and rigid adherence to nostalgia that fan communities so often become consumed by.

Again, I have nothing to say about that larger discussion. It has nothing to do with me, and it’s not my place. But it did make me reflect on my own engagement with Star Wars. While I try to critically engage any property, no matter how much I love it, at some point views do calcify. With something like Star Wars, where I’ve had exposure since a young age, it can be surprising to realize that my views have crystallized, sometimes in ways that would never have occurred to me.

I thought about Boba Fett in particular. I don’t love Fett, but I have (typically) thought he was a cool character. I started thinking about Fett and some of the other small, supporting characters I loved in The Empire Strikes Back, thinking about why I liked them, and trying to reexamine them from different angles.

Background characters from the film that I’ve been especially fond of are Admiral Piett, the bounty hunters, and General Veers. While I still like the characters, and I think they serve their roles well, I realized they may be less a collection of the galaxy’s most badass and more a collection of the galaxy’s…most simply bad. (Note that I’m evaluating the characters here based on the new canon, so things like Boba’s death-defying crawl from the Sarlacc are simply irrelevant to these versions of the characters).

databank_admiralpiett_01_169_18014135.jpegPiett’s an easy example of how my uncritical childhood fandom obscured flaws. I saw him as a survivor, someone who could course-correct and avoid the pompous ego of Admiral Ozzel. He seemed to have a healthy respect for Vader. And the fact that he made it to Return of the Jedi indicated (to child-me) that he was capable.

But really, Piett is a bumbling idiot. He gets promoted to Admiral by Vader not because of quality but because he happens to be the highest-ranking officer aboard the ship after Ozzel is killed. While it may be unfair to blame Piett for the many escaped rebel ships in the aftermath of the Hoth invasion, since he was left with what could be salvaged of Ozzel’s failed plan, he led a very ineffective search for the Millennium Falcon. And while it was Captain Needa’s crew that was fooled by Han’s quick flying, Piett did not uncover the deception. Nor did his fleet find Han–the bounty hunters he dismissed as scum did that job. And he fails to properly carry out Vader’s orders on Bespin: his troops fail to secure the prisoners, his technicians fail to droid-proof their sabotage of the Falcon, and his crew fails to seize the freighter before it makes its jump to hyperspace. Piett surely escapes death at Vader’s hands for the mounting failures only because the Dark Lord is distracted by his encounter with his son.

Then in Jedi, Piett dies, the whole of the Executor along with him, because he only recognizes the weakness to forward defenses in a reactionary fashion. He is emblematic of every other Imperial officer who fails to adequately assess the ability of the rebels until it is far too late.

He’s a decent military officer in the sense that he can comply with orders, he doesn’t seem to get a big ego (at first), and he manages to stay on Darth Vader’s good side. But he’s not a great officer, nor a clever tactician, nor even a challenging foe.

bountyhuntersAs with Piett, so with the bounty hunters. A couple of droids and a bunch of low-lifes in mismatched armor and bandages, the group does manage to at least look cool. But none of them do anything. I always viewed Boba Fett as a badass for two reasons: (1) the “no disintegrations” line, and (2) his capture of Solo. Not that his Return of the Jedi death by way of jetpack malfunction did much to help his image. But even the two reasons I’ve cited can be easily weakened. As many have pointed out, Darth Vader could be warning Fett, not because of lethal efficiency, but because the bounty hunter has a history of messy screw-ups and virtually-impossible-to-identify bounties. As for the second reason, and I’m surprised that I never realized this (or heard the theory circulated, not that I looked), but the only reason that Fett realized Solo’s trick and could find him amid the emptying garbage of the Star Destroyer is that Obi-Wan had pulled a similar disappearing trick on the back side of an asteroid during Boba’s formative years. Given that Obi-Wan’s escape soon after resulted in a sequence of events that left Boba’s father dead, the boy probably would have remembered it. Boba was not necessarily a skilled tracker; his prey just so happened to use the one trick that any prequel viewer would know he is very explicitly aware of.

The Clone Wars also establish Boba and his fellow bounty hunters as a lot of losers, for the most part. In “Death Trap,” Boba repeatedly fails at a covert mission to assassinate Mace Windu. Bossk, Boba, and their companions also screw up another attempt to take down Mace Windu in “R2 Come Home.” Bossk and Boba end up captured in the following episode. Bossk and Dengar fail to escort moving cargo in “Bounty,” and that same episode sees Boba outdone by Asajj Ventress. In short, they’re definitely not top-notch hunters like Cad Bane.

With a relative dearth of writing about the Empire bounty hunters in the new canon, we have not fully seen their stories developed. What there is remains mixed. For example, Boba is shown to be a brutal hunter when tracking down Luke in the Star Wars comics, although he fails to capture the boy in the ensuing confrontation.

On further reflection, I kind of like the idea that the bounty hunters are not aboard the Executor because they are the best, but instead simply because they could get there the fastest. Perhaps they’re just a bunch of desperate Outer Rim lowlifes who could hop into orbit around Hoth to get the mission almost immediately after the end of the battle because they were already in a nearby backwater sector.

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So that leaves General Veers for reexamination. What are his flaws?

Um, none. He’s an awesome bad guy. He successfully leads a massive Imperial land victory even after the Imperial Navy screw-up on approach. He obeys orders and keeps a cool head. He delivers. He’s great.

 

My kind of scum

Bounty hunters and other such miscreants have long ranked among my favorite Star Wars characters. Just for fun, and as a follow-up to my last post, I’m going to list my top five favorite Star Wars bounty hunters.

1. Cad Bane

cadbaneHe’s intelligent, cool, calm, and collected. He’s ruthless and effective. He plans jobs that actually work, and when things do sometimes fall through, he can make an escape. And he can stand up to Jedi in a fight. Not to mention he just has an awesome outfit that evokes Old West-style bounty hunters. Everything about Cad Bane is cool. Cad, Ahsoka, and Hondo Ohnaka are my favorite characters to be introduced by The Clone Wars TV show.

2.  Dengar

dengarDengar looks so pathetic in his first appearance. An ugly, scarred, weary, and washed-up human held together by bandages and spray-painted stormtrooper armor. He looks like tragedy personified. Dengar has always seemed like a character deserving an origin in film noir style.

Dengar did have a dark origin story in the Legends continuity. A former swoop racer who was severely injured in a race with Han Solo, Dengar reformed himself as a lethal assassin and bounty hunter with a burning desire for vengeance against the smuggler. Dead-eyed and dangerous, Dengar nonetheless was allowed a character arc that granted him love, empathy, and redemption. Dengar could be scary, but he was allowed growth in a way that most of the more archetypal bounty hunters never had.

In the new canon, Dengar seems a lot warmer character with a comic relief sense of humor and a great sense of loyalty to his team–or at least, to whichever team he’s currently contracted to. His flirty, playboy nature means he’s still a winner in my books.

3. Sugi

sugiSugi is an interesting sort of bounty hunter. She’s more a mercenary for hire than a flat-out bounty hunter in most of her depictions. She also has more heart than most of the bounty hunters in the Star Wars universe. Yes, she’s in it for the money, but she’s shown herself to be loyal to her squad, a good leader, and inclined to work for good causes (like protecting an innocent farming community or helping Wookiees to rescue Trandoshan prisoners).

While Sugi doesn’t have much screen time, I like the idea of a transparently noble bounty hunter. After all, collecting fugitives and criminals does not require one to be evil, cruel, or prone to excessive violence! It would be interesting to see more stories with Sugi–maybe even some ones where she actually does the bounty hunting her job description would suggest!

4. Boba Fett

bobafettquestionsOf course Boba Fett makes the list somewhere, right? He’s the bounty hunter who tracks down Han-freaking-Solo, after all. He’s disciplined, professional, and to the point. He gets the job done right and doesn’t waste time on words. He’s so dangerous that Darth Vader has to specifically warn him against disintegrations. And his inclusion in the Special Edition of A New Hope makes it seem like he’s long been someone Jabba has relied on.

But there are many reasons why Boba Fett ranks relatively low for me for a bounty hunter of such widespread fan renown. Principally, it was hard to take Boba Fett seriously when he died in such an embarrassingly stupid way in Return of the Jedi (even if he did later tear himself out of the Sarlacc in the Legends continuity).

Furthermore, his backstory as developed in Attack of the Clones was certainly underwhelming, and making him a clone of one of the greatest bounty hunters of all time–and a genetic match with basically all clone troopers–makes him far less special or significant. All of his accomplishments, at this point, must be compared to those of his father. But even before this backstory development, Boba Fett’s backstory has always been confusing, and his behavior and motivations have shifted from writer to writer. Sometimes he seems more noble, sometimes he seems like a psychopath. So many people have taken a turn at Boba Fett that his character had become quite muddled well before the continuity reboot. On top of that, he appeared in too many of the Star Wars video games–typically in some confrontation requiring you to defeat the allegedly mighty hunter. And as he is an heir to Mandalorian culture, he was rather burdened with the constantly changing, overly involved lore tied into that group. There was a time when it seemed that Mandalorians were everywhere, and they were fast becoming a superheroic band of always honorable, super-badass, nigh-unstable warriors. Amid that backdrop, I had both Mandalorian fatigue and Boba Fett fatigue.

Still, Boba Fett has been reformed into a formidable figure once more. With the new canon, all the backstory associated with Boba and the Mandalorians has been stripped away, leaving only Episode II. And The Clone Wars TV show actually used Young Boba to good effect, showing just what sort of violent and sociopathic figure would be formed if trained to be a bounty hunter by the top guy in the business basically since birth. The ongoing Marvel Star Wars comic series has also put Boba Fett to good use. He’s ruthless, casually violent, and quite effective.

As long as he’s used minimally in the new canon, and as long as they keep displaying him in a consistent manner, as a cold, competent badass, I’m on board with the new Boba Fett.

5. Calo Nord

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Calo is a fairly simple archetypal bounty hunter in Knights of the Old Republic, but he’s used very effectively. You first encounter him in a cantina, where he’s harrassed by some idiotic Rodian thugs. Calo gives them to the count of three before he calmly eradicates them. If you initiate contact with him, he gives you the same three-second count, and it’s clear enough what will happen if you push it. This moment alone establishes him as the force behind a looming confrontation to be feared. Calo is the top enforcer to crime boss Davik Kang, and when you visit Davik’s estate, you can find further testament to Calo’s abilities, including a trophy room complete with a rancor head–and a journal detailing how Calo nabbed the beast. He is seemingly killed in his first encounter with you, as part of a hangar ceiling collapses on top of him, but he proves to be a pernicious foe and a good initial rival. When he catches up with your character later on, it’s genuinely intimidating.

He’s a perfect Boba Fett analogue to challenge the protagonist. But because he is basically an echo of Fett, he’ll always be lesser.

Bonus: IG-88ig_88_cdd5cc52

IG-88 intrigues a lot of people, but at the end of the day it’s an assassin droid. There are plenty of those. They are programmed to kill. There is not much mystery built into a droid that simply fulfills its programming. And it’s not as quirky a concept as a renegade protocol droid, like 4-LOM (or C-3PX, or Triple-Zero). Plus, IG-88 was everywhere in the late nineties and early aughts–consequently, he was also destroyed a lot, for instance in comics and in the Shadows of the Empire video game. IG-88 gets a mention here because of just how wild his Legends backstory got in “Therefore I Am: The Tale of IG-88,” by Kevin J. Anderson. In this backstory, IG-88 was actually a line of experimental assassin droids; one of the droids gained consciousness, killed the lab staff, and inserted his personality into a few duplicates. The IG-88 gang then attempted to foment a droid rebellion. The multiple apparent deaths of IG-88 actually all fit together after all, as each destroyed droid was a separate IG-88. In what is to me one of the goofiest moments in all of Star Wars, the primary (and last surviving) IG-88 infiltrated the second Death Star and uploaded his personality into the battle station, only to be destroyed before he could act further on his plans. It’s so weird, I just love it! Since nothing in the new canon explicitly contradicts most of “Therefore I Am,” I honestly still keep it as super-delightful headcanon.

Bounty Hunters!

I’ve always thought the bounty hunters presented in The Empire Strikes Back were so cool. Most of them were wrapped in heavy armor or obscuring layers. Two of them are apparently autonomous bounty hunter droids! They all looked weary and dangerous and mysterious. And, except for Boba Fett, the single introductory scene with Darth Vader is the only time that these bounty hunters appear in the film. It’s easy to quickly conjure up interesting potential stories about these characters and their exploits; so much intriguing character is visually communicated in a moment, and yet they largely remain blank slates.

As a kid, Tales of the Bounty Hunters was my favorite Star Wars anthology because it gave these characters some stories, some insight into their personalities. The “canon” status of those stories was gradually eroded; Greedo was old enough to confront Anakin in The Phantom Menace so not an overconfident young hotshot when he confronted Han Solo in the cantina, and Boba Fett was a clone of Jango so most certainly not a former lawman named Jaster Mereel. It hardly mattered, as even before the old EU became Legends these were legends about bad, dangerous men, the kind of wild stories and whispered rumors you could imagine being told about them.

Anyway. I mention the bounty hunters today because I’ve only just realized how much the characters changed between page and screen. The novelizations often diverged from the finished films, so I noted the discrepancy but did not see it as significant when Donald Glut described the gang as follows:

[A] particularly bizarre assortment of fortune hunters, including Bossk, whose soft, baggy face gawked at Vader with huge bloodshot orbs. Next to Bossk stood Zuckuss and Dengar, two human types, battle-scarred by innumerable, unspeakable adventures. A battered and tarnished chrome-colored droid named IG-88 was also with the group, standing next to the notorious Boba Fett. A human bounty hunter, Fett was known for his extremely ruthless methods. He was dressed in a weapon-covered, armored spacesuit, the kind worn by a group of evil warriors defeated by the Jedi Knights during the Clone Wars. A few braided scalps completed his unsavory image.

Compare those descriptions to the actual appearance of the mercenaries:

bountyhunters

Not exactly the same thing.

I’ve mentioned that I love to leaf through Star Wars: The Annotated Screenplays, reading snippets of interviews or plot summaries from older drafts, and occasionally checking dialogue. I’d noticed in the past that even where something was suggested to be improvised on set, it was typically recorded in the screenplay, so I had assumed that it matched the film more or less one to one. I’ve been going through The Annotated Screenplays in my first attempt to read them sequentially, and I was surprised to see that the bounty hunter scene did not really match the film in description:

The group standing before Vader is a bizarre array of galactic fortune hunters: There is Bossk, a slimy, tentacled monster with two huge, bloodshot eyes in a soft baggy face; Zuckuss and Dengar, two battle-scarred, mangy human types; IG-88, a battered, tarnished chrome war droid; 4-LOM, a bounty hunter, and Boba Fett, a man in a weapon-covered armored spacesuit.

Besides the inclusion of 4-LOM, the screenplay basically matches the novelization rather than the film!

This prompted me to recognize a rather large gap in my knowledge regarding the production of the films. How were the bounty hunters designed? I knew that Boba Fett originally appeared in the Star Wars Holiday Special, and I’d seen the little cartoon in that program with Boba Fett in it, but that was it. The Annotated Screenplays include some discussion about the design of Boba Fett by Joe Johnston and Ralph McQuarrie, but it’s limited to Boba Fett alone. Wookieepedia provided a little clarity: each of the articles for the bounty hunters has a brief description of the design development or portrayal of the characters, and some have cool concept art.  See Bossk, Zuckuss, 4-LOM, IG-88, and Dengar, and check the Legends tabs for a little more Behind the Scenes details. Still, I imagine that out there somewhere, perhaps scattered over a few different books and interviews and commentaries, is a more complete picture of the development of these characters. I just don’t know where!