Book Review | From a Certain Point of View
Publisher: Del Rey
Length: 496 pages
EE Critic Score: 8/10
From a Certain Point of View is an anthology of short stories commemorating the 40th anniversary of the release of A New Hope. It was published in 2017.
The forty short stories in the anthology each focus on a character or characters featured in A New Hope, though only two, Cavan Scott’s “Time of Death” and Pablo Hidalgo’s “Verge of Greatness” focus on main cast members (Obi-Wan Kenobi and Wilhuff Tarkin, respectively.)
Forty-three authors worked on these stories, including both Star Wars veterans like Jason Fry, John Jackson Miller, Claudia Gray, and Chuck Wendig, and an array of other writers and celebrities, some of the more wide-ranging being games journalist Griffin McElroy, advice columnist Mallory Ortberg, and Star Trek star Wil Wheaton.
I’m going to forego my normal Synopsis-Analysis sequence in this piece, because with forty short stories, writing a synopsis for each one isn’t practical or even all that useful
If you were to watch The Phantom Menace, you would see, for a scant few frames during the pod race sequence, a pale, orange-clad woman watching over the track from a cliffside terrace. That woman is Aurra Sing, and those few seconds of screentime were the springboard for appearances in books, comic books, television shows, and video games. Her Wookieepedia page is not short.
I bring her up to point out that there is a philosophy in the collective creative process of Star Wars authors that every frame, page, or level of a previous property contains elements of not just the story being told, but many more waiting to be told. This is how Star Wars perpetuates itself, largely, beyond the traditional model os sequelizing and prequelizing (though this occurs too, of course.)
It is somewhat surprising, to me at least, that there is a relative dearth of short stories in Star Wars. In a franchise where cameo characters can get multiple novels dedicated to them, one might expect anthologies like this one to be rather common, but they haven’t been. There were the Tales from… series a while back, in the late ’90s, but since then most short stories have been tie-ins or magazine exclusives. And that’s really a shame because Star Wars is a great universe for short fiction to be set in.
These stories are, as I mentioned, scenes from Episode IV retold from the perspective of background characters. For example, the rebel starship captain who Darth Vader choked to death, the red astromech whose motivator blew after Uncle Owen bought it, the Sand People who Kenobi scared away from Luke’s landspeeder, numerous inhabitants of the Mos Eisley cantina, that one stormtrooper who hit his head on a Death Star doorframe, and the rebel pilot who wasn’t Wedge Antilles but said one of the lines attributed to Wedge Antilles in the A New Hope script. The works take the form of not only traditional first-person narratives but also incident reports, letters, journal entries, passages from in-universe memoirs, and droid memory logs. It almost seems like a parody of Star Wars’s extrapolatory storytelling at points, but almost every time another minor extra was given a voice, I enjoyed the read.
I won’t go into all forty stories; I’ll just talk about my most and least favorites, starting with the worse entries:
“Of MSE-6 and Men” by Glen Weldon
This is the one told from as a droid memory log, namely that of one of the mouse droids that scurried around the halls of the Death Star. Here’s an excerpt:
08:16.45…ONBOARD CARGO IDENTIFIED: Servo, Imperial Scanner 97-DX-8
08:16.52…AUTONAV ROUTE; ENGAGE MOTORS
08:44.33…ARRIVE DESTINATION: DB-228
08:45.04…PROXIMITY SENSORS: Recipient detected.
08:45.10…IDENTIFY RECIPIENT: Designation TK-450. Security Level: Rho
08:45.33…ALERT RECIPIENT OF PRESENCE: Beepbeep.
“Oh! Didn’t see you down there, buddy.”
08:45.48…DISENGAGE LOCK, OPEN DORSAL DOORS
“There it is. Finally. Been waiting 6 cycles for this.”
08:45.55…ENGAGE HOLORECORDER FOR RECEIPT ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
The whole story is written like that. I found it difficult to parse and didn’t finish it.
“The Trigger” by Kieron Gillen
This story focuses on Chelli Lona Aphra, who wasn’t in Episode IV but has appeared in comics Gillen has written for Marvel. It wasn’t a bad story, but it came off as less of an expansion on the events of A New Hope and more an expansion on Gillen’s comics, and it didn’t seem to fit with this anthology.
“Laina” by Wil Wheaton
This is a letter (more correctly a video message, but it functions as a letter) from a rebel soldier to his young daughter, who he has sent to Alderaan to keep her far from the war. The whole thing was contrivedly weepy in a way I generally only put up with if the tragedy was some actual event from history. There’s not much story here, and the characters are fairly stock and unmemorable. It showed the tragedy of war, certainly, but I’ve seen this before, and most certainly will again, and done better.
“Born in the Storm” by Daniel José Older
This sarcastic mission report from a deserting Sandtrooper (hah, deserting…) was, like Older’s other Star Wars work I’ve read, rather heavy on the 2010s slang. That’s a purely stylistic quibble; you might like it fine. But I think Older’s work might not age well.
And now some of the best:
“Stories in the Sand” by Griffin McElroy
This was a charming little tale about a particularly diminutive Jawa named Jot who is able to realize his dream of doing something important for the galaxy when he reads the memory banks of a captured R2-D2 and spares the droid a memory wipe, allowing him to continue his mission.
McElroy is a writer, but he’s not a fiction writer, which is too bad, because he has the talent for it. This was probably the best written of the stories in this anthology.
“Not for Nothing” by Mur Lafferty
This one purported to be an excerpt from The Lady has a Jocimer: My Life as a Modal Node, the memoir of musician Ickabel G’ont, who was a member of the Bith band playing in the cantina. It was very entertaining, and I’d gladly read the entire memoir if Lafferty were ever to write it. Star Wars needs more in-universe written works on top of needing more short fiction.
“The Kloo Horn Cantina Caper” by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Matt Fraction
This one is the best of the forty, by my determination. It focuses on multiple regulars at the Cantina, and how the events of their lives come to a head as their stories intersect in watching the confrontation between Greedo and Han Solo. Where everything in this book expanded on the world of A New Hope, this succeeded in building its own world, with a host of interesting characters. Well done.
“An Incident Report” by Mallory Ortberg
Something I’ve always found funny about the Empire is that they are a technologically-minded, highly bureaucratic society run, ultimately, at the whims of an evil wizard. So you can imagine I was giggling all through reading this, what amounts to an HR complaint against Darth Vader. Here, Admiral Motti demands some satisfaction from the Dark Lord for Force-choking him in the High Command meeting aboard the Death Star, all while trying to walk back his own statements deriding Vader’s “personal religious beliefs”, as he puts it. It’s a brief work by its nature, and it masterfully shows what a farce living under a capricious tyranny can be.
“Duty Roster” by Jason Fry
There were four stories in here focussing on Rebel pilots during the attack on the Death Star. I pick Fry’s as the best because it had the most compelling retelling of the iconic trench run scene out of the four. This is the one focusing on “Fake Wedge”, who isn’t assigned to fly the attack and watches it happen on the tactical displays in the Massassi Temple war room. The pilots here were well-written and distinct, evoking the best of the Legends stories about Rogue Squadron and their allies.
Recommendation and Rating
Hopefully, this book will be the first of many more Star Wars anthologies. It actually may have started something already, with the Canto Bight anthology having come out this past May.
With the exception of the mouse droid one, all these stories are at least readable and many were really quite good. If you haven’t read it yet, I’d say give it a go.
8/10 — Without significant negative worth. Able to be recommended, at full price, without reservation.