Star Wars – From a Certain Point of View by Various
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I told myself that I wouldn’t buy any more Star Wars books until I read through the bundle of new-canon releases I still had sitting on my shelves. I’ve been pretty good about that. But FACPOV was just too tempting: a collection of short stories about peripheral characters in the vein of the Tales story anthologies from Legends (which I mostly loved), a celebration of Star Wars in its fortieth year, and a collection in which all the authors had agreed to donate their proceeds to a literacy/education nonprofit. Sold!
I’m glad I broke my rule. I devoured this book as quickly as I could manage. And I loved it. There was not a single bad story in the bunch. It would be tough to narrow down my favorites, as there were so many that I loved. Many of these short stories were simply good stories, not just good Star Wars stories. The entire anthology communicates a great love of and attention to Star Wars, and yet I’d recommend it even to a non-fan; it’s a good entry point to Star Wars outside of the movies, and it does not demand deep knowledge to enjoy.
An interesting element about the stories is that they all have careful attention to detail, and are obviously drawing from the same basic facts, but many have presentations of events that have slight opposition. The tension is subtle, but it can be jarring at first, to have a single anthology that was willing to…maybe never outright contradict, but present incongruous elements. It works–these stories are From a Certain Point of View, after all. This was a masterful use of canon, informing the stories but allowing the storytellers to do their own things. In the real world, even in our nonfiction, there is not a single version of events, after all. It can be difficult to determine objective fact where one must rely on witness accounts. It’s fun to see that sort of unreliability in these stories; the Star Wars galaxy feels incredibly organic and vital as a result. And the tensions between stories practically require the reader to take a step back and stop sweating the details so much. Nitpicking takes a back seat to narrative, and that’s how it should be. I think major props are due to the editorial team and probably to Lucasfilm’s Story Group, as well.
And once you stop sweating the details, you can more readily enjoy variety in theme and voice and genre. These stories get all over the place. Some are deathly serious and quite tragic. Some fill in background details. Some reflect on personalities. Some are comedic, and a couple are even absurd. One of the “stories” is a one-panel comic strip gag–a clear example of how the length and style of the stories vary considerably, as well. There’s something here for everyone.
I’d stress again that there were no bad stories, and I appreciated some element of every one. At times, though, I thought there was already a pretty good story out there about a particular character or event. There were a lot–a lot–of good takes on Greedo as a background character in this anthology, and he was frequently depicted as a hilariously inept but overconfident loser of a bounty hunter and loan shark. But the Greedo POV, “The Luckless Rodian” by Renee Ahdieh, doesn’t quite rank above the old (and now quite anti-canonical) “A Hunter’s Fate: Greedo’s Tale” by Tom and Martha Veitch (though if you want to see the best attempt I’ve encountered of taking Greedo as a serious and maybe even tragic figure, someone maybe competent but with horrible luck and a chip on his shoulder, “The Luckless Rodian” is that story). “Not for Nothing” by Mur Lafferty is good, with funny coincidences guiding the narrative along, but it echoes loosely some of the plot points of the original Modal Nodes backstory, “We Don’t Do Weddings: The Band’s Tale” by Kathy Tyers, and that original gets far more raucous and giddily dramatic (the trope of band member’s memoir recounting work for a crime lord exists already in the story of The Twisted Rancor Trio from Knights of the Old Republic). And there are perhaps a couple other examples I could cite. But don’t take this for harsh criticism–the slate’s wiped clean with the canon reboot, and I’m happy to have new versions of old stories and reinterpretations of background characters.
I’m happy in particular because so many of the stories are really, really good. I tried to mark which stories I especially loved, but by the end of it, I’d marked just over half of all the stories. So I didn’t weed it down too much. I then tried to limit my choices to the cream of the crop, and I still had too many. I imagine that you will have a similar problem, regardless of how much you care for Star Wars (well, unless you somehow hate the franchise as a whole and with considerable passion, I guess).
I can say that if you only were to read one story, I’d recommend “The Kloo Horn Cantina Caper” by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Matt Fraction. This made great use of background cantina characters; it’s ostensibly about out-of-luck hustlers Kabe and “the Muftak” (there’s a quite humorous explanation for why he’s “the Muftak,” which I will not spoil), but it broadens to draw more and more characters in, until it surprisingly becomes a story about a community (even if the community of regulars at a bar). The writers have a hilarious voice, with witty turns of phrase, too. I often found myself reading whole passages aloud to my wife, they were just too good. And the story had emotional heart, with a subtle climax that didn’t quite register with me until the consequences of that climax played out pages onward; there was no surprise twist, but the conclusion of the story made me reflect on the story as a whole in a different light. (By the way, I couldn’t really remember Kabe and Muftak’s old story, so I skimmed through “Play It Again, Figrin D’an: The Tale of Muftak and Kabe” by A.C. Crispin in the digital version of Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina, and it is a good adventure/heist story, and there is a clear dramatic arc, and there are faint echoes of the characters in the newer story, but I will simply say that there are reasons that I forgot most of “Play It Again” and yet was so excited by “Cantina Caper.”)
There are many, many other good stories. My review would get way too long discussing my favorites and why I liked them in detail, while being way too unfair to the stories I loved that nonetheless ended up off that list of items to discuss. That said, I would like to point out my top ten (very agonizingly chosen, and presented only in the order they appear in the book):
1. “Raymus,” by Gary Whitta, about the last voyage of the captain of the Tantive IV.
2. “The Sith of Datawork,” by Ken Liu, which simultaneously provides a canonical explanation as to why the Empire didn’t blast all escape pods just to be safe while also introducing a crafty and cocky Imperial bureaucrat, who is a new favorite character (truly, what an example of the “banality of evil”).
3. “Master and Apprentice,” by Claudia Gray, a last encounter between Obi-Wan and the Force Ghost of Qui-Gon, particularly worthwhile for its mystic handling of the Force afterlife.
4. “The Kloo Horn Cantina Caper,” by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Matt Fraction, which I praised above.
5. “The Secrets of Long Snoot,” by Delilah S. Dawson, which provides a shocking degree of moral ambiguity and complexity to a character who initially appears to be an evil spy caricature.
6. “An Incident Report,” by Mallory Ortberg, in which Admiral Motti files a workplace complaint against Darth Vader.
7. “Eclipse,” by Madeleine Roux, showing the heartbreaking final moments of Alderaan from the perspective of Queen Breha Organa.
8. “End of Watch,” by Adam Christopher, following an Imperial commander who has to deal with remote oversight of Luke and Han’s prison assault as she prepares to change shifts.
9. “The Baptist,” by Nnedi Okorafor, which gives the dianoga a personality (and Force sensitivity. And spirituality. And a grand destiny/purpose).
10. “Duty Roster,” by Jason Fry, which makes Fake Wedge canon and does a fantastic job of emphasizing the stakes of the final battle, the desperation of those involved, and, frankly, the awesomeness that is Wedge Antilles.
That’s definitely not an objective or definitive list. Those are some of the stories I’d personally recommend. But there’s a lot of great material in this anthology. Whereas before I might have pointed to Heir to the Empire or perhaps A New Dawn for those who were interested in getting into Star Wars literature, I would now say that this is the perfect introduction.
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P.S. In reading other reviews on Goodreads, I’m finding that a lot of people suggested that an intimate knowledge of Star Wars is vital to appreciate this anthology. Okay, yes, if you haven’t seen the original film, some of these stories won’t make a lot of sense, and others will lose emotional weight. But you hardly have to be a super-fan. I assure you, you don’t need to know who the cantina denizens of “Cantina Caper” are to enjoy that story; knowing who they are in the context of the film or the old Expanded Universe is really irrelevant. I only vaguely remembered Kabe and Muftak myself, and many of the other characters were unknowns to me (I think there’s one secondary character in the story who is described as an alien but not given a physical description; I didn’t know what the alien species looked like, and while I looked it up later, it didn’t mar my understanding of the story). Many of the best stories did their own thing without requiring some greater knowledge of Star Wars to appreciate.