The Empire Strikes Back is one of the most famous sequels in cinema history, and arguably still the best of the Star Wars films. The conceit of From a Certain Point of View is to move through the events of The Empire Strikes Back chronologically, but to tell the story from the perspective of minor characters, whether they appear on screen or not. Key events from the film are spoken of, described or witnessed, snatches of film dialogue are overheard, minor walk-on roles get starring turns, and major characters are only viewed through their interaction with minor players. So that the by the end of the book, the movie itself has been sketched in silhouette. And it works, as 2017’s From a Certain Point of View: Star Wars did, spectacularly well.
This collection of 40 short stories celebrates the fortieth anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back. Back when the original movie was released, the whole ‘Star Wars Universe’ was one film that could only be seen in a cinema, a ‘sequel’ novel, a bunch of comics and a maligned Christmas special. Forty years later and the Star Wars extended universe includes novels, TV series, comics and games. In 2014 it had become so big and unwieldy that some of the material had to be designated ‘legends’ when Disney redefined what was ‘canon’. Plenty of that new canon, and the re-canonisation of some of those legends, provides background or main characters for many of the stories in this collection.
The 40 authors who took part in this new collection all clearly love the material and manage to be both playful and reverential. Some take a more standard road – for example, ‘Ion Control’ by Emily Strutskie, writing from the point of view of actual on-screen character Toryn Farr, or ‘Kendall’ by Charles Yu, describing the last moments of the life of another on-screen character, Admiral Ozzel, as he is killed by Darth Vader. But even these manage to put a new spin on the action. For Farr it is her involvement in the local book being run on when Han and Leia will finally get together; in Ozzel’s case, it is memories of a romance and a simple life doomed by his allegiance to the Empire. There are those authors who think a little more laterally – the opening story, ‘Eyes of the Empire’ by Kiersten White, takes the point of view of an imperial officer whose family makes probe droids and is watching through the eyes of the thousands of probes sent out to hunt for rebels; and in ‘But What Does He Eat?’ SA Chakraborty has the head chef on Cloud City wondering what to whip up for a dinner party hosted by Darth Vader.
Then there are the authors who think even further outside of the box. ‘Hunger’ by Mark Oshiro and ‘She Will Keep Them Warm’ by Delilah S Dawson are both melancholic stories that imagine the action through the eyes of the wildlife of Hoth (the wampa that attacks Luke in the former, and Han’s tauntaun in the latter). Even wilder is ‘This is No Cave’ by Catherynne M Valente, a story from the point of view of Sy-O, a giant asteroid-buried space slug who was ‘born on the thin breathless edge of the galaxy where light and warmth are legends told to frighten children’. Weirder still is ‘Vergence’ by Tracy Deane, a story which finds the ancient force-sensitive cave on Dagobah in which Luke is tested learning lessons of its own.
The Empire Strikes Back is a pretty downbeat movie – it starts with an evacuation and rout and ends with a near escape, a devastating reveal and the capture of a main character. And many of the stories reflect this. The early stories are about characters who either die or barely escape with their lives and so are tinged with sacrifice and hope. They focus on the fact that this rebellion is not just the actions of the three or four people in the movie’s spotlight. ‘In A Good Kiss’ by CB Lee, a kitchenhand on Hoth considers his role:
Chase looks unacceptably plain, with boring written all over his features, nothing at all like the heroes whom epic spy stories and romances were written about.A Good Kiss by CB Lee
But he ends up saving lives and finding his romance. In Amy Ratcliffe’s ‘Heroes of the Rebellion’, embedded journalist Corwi Selgroth considers the nature of sacrifice:
Jyn Erso’s words came to mind. ‘Rebellions are built on hope.’… Hope wasn’t limited to a handful of names … Hope was about people – ordinary people that made a choice to join the fight and stay in it.Heroes of the Rebellion by Amy Ratcliffe
Similarly the last part of the book, which covers the Imperial takeover of Cloud City, is full of tales of characters going above and beyond in a chaotic and dangerous situation. Even fan-favourite character Jaxxon T Tumperakki (a smuggler from a race of hominid rabbits called Lepi who first appeared in Star Wars comics in 1977) gets a chance to be a hero in ‘Fake It Till You Make It’ by his creator Cavan Scott.
This collection is a treasure trove of Easter eggs and sly and overt references to the movies, TV series, comics, games and books that make up the Star Wars universe. There are some great deep dives – Willrow Hood, the man who became famous for carrying an ice-cream maker (which viewers of The Mandalorian now know is called a cantono), finally gets his tale told in Rob Hart’s ‘Due on Batuu’; bounty hunters IG-88 and Dengar form an odd-couple alliance in ‘No Time for Poetry’ by Austin Walker; and even Obi Wan-Kenobi’s force ghost gets to consider his life and his choices in ‘There is Always Another’ by Mackenzie Lee, which contains the killer opening line:
I hoped dying would be enough to untangle me from the Skywalker family’s issues.There is Always Another by Mackenzie Lee
You don’t necessarily have to be a Star Wars aficionado to enjoy From a Certain Point of View but it will definitely help. And even if you think you know everything there is to know about Star Wars, there are so many obscure references to characters and events from the massive Star Wars canon that you may still want to have Wookiepedia handy. But this is a great way to celebrate the anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back, a film that still casts a long shadow, not only for die-hard Star Wars fans but also for those who want a taste of the broader Star Wars universe from the comfort of a very familiar tale.
This review first appeared in Newtown Review of Books.