Author: Elizabeth Schaefer (ed.), multiple authors
Title: From a Certain Point of View: The Empire Strikes Back
Series: Star Wars: From A Certain Point of View #2
From a Certain Point of View: The Empire Strikes Back is a collection of 40 short stories commissioned for the 40th anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back memorable debut in an era long gone. It’s a second such venture, after a collection of stories centered around New Hope met with fans’ enthusiasm and quite solid approval – and we all know what a rowdy and unruly and spoiled bunch SW fans usually are 😉.
I haven’t read the first collection, but buoyed by the fond recollections of the Anderson’s anthology Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina and seeing as The Empire Strikes Back remains my favorite SW movie of all times (not that it had any real competition recently), I decided to give this one a chance. There is a solid representation from well-known authors, such as Martha Wells and Django Wexler to Seth Dickinson, Catherynne M. Valente and S.A. Chakraborty, as well as a whole slew of authors completely new to me. This collection, apart from the strong nostalgia factor and a big dose of curiosity topped by healthy mistrust of anything SW-Disney 😉, represented a chance for me to check out some new names and their writing chops.
However, as simple listing of the authors and their stories’ titles has taken me nearly 300 words, I decided to review them in a slightly different than usual mode: as with short stories collections, I will give each story a rating – but this time, I will endeavor to describe every story in 5 words or more (well, usually more, as you’ll see). So, without further ado, here we go:
Kiersten White, Eyes of the Empire 6/10
Eye-opening Moment for an Empire Drudge
Mark Oshiro, Hunger 2/10
Wampa’s Food Has a Saber!
Emily Skrutskie, Ion Control 7/10
All Bets Are Off on Han-Leia Romance
C.B. Lee, A Good Kiss 3/10
Everyone Can Be A Hero, aka Not This Again
Delilah S. Dawson, She Will Keep Them Warm 7.5/10
Tauntauns Are Social Animals Too
Amy Ratcliffe, Heroes of the Rebellion 1/10
Propagandist Meets Ordinary Heroes. Barf, aka How Not to Write.
Gary Whitta, Rogue Two 4/10
Betting as (Boring) Survival Strategy
Charles Yu, Kendal 6/10
Last Moments of an Imperial General
R.F. Kuang, Against All Odds 8/10
Red Shirts Can Be Interesting!
Michael Moreci, Beyond Hope 3/10
Grunts in Trenches, aka So Forgettable That I Don’t Remember
Christie Golden, The Truest Duty 2/10
Imperial Officers Yada Yada Yada…
Hank Green, A Naturalist on Hoth 6.5/10
Interesting, Underdeveloped Take on Anti-Social Biologists
Katie Cook, The Dragonsnake Saves R2-D2 5/10
One Page “Cutie” Comic. Shrug.
Beth Revis, For the Last Time 2/10
Story Mangled More than Vader’s Face
Jason Fry, Rendezvous Point 8/10
Solid Origins of Wedge’s Squadron
Seth Dickinson, The Final Order 10/10
Finally, a Very Good Story!
Django Wexler, Amara Kel’s Rules for TIE Pilot Survival (Probably) 3/10
Trying to Be Funny. Unsuccessfully.
Jim Zub, The First Lesson 8/10
Surprisingly Tender Take on Yoda
Mike Chen, Disturbance 3/10
Emperor Knows. The World Is Round. Any Other Revelations?
Catherynne M. Valente, This Is No Cave 7.5/10
Sympathy for the Space Slug, aka Intimate Portrait of the Exogorth
John Jackson Miller, Lord Vader Will See You Now 5/10
Not Bad, Not Good, Not Necessary
Tracy Deonn, Vergence 6/10
Scattershot Attempt at Speleological Antropomorphization
Michael Kogge, Tooth and Claw 9/10
SW Stories as I Like Them
Daniel Jose Older, STET! 8/10
Fun and Blasters… Is This Mos Eisley?
Zoraida Cordova, Wait for It 6/10
Boba Fett Cameo. All Right.
Sarwat Chadda, Standard Imperial Procedure 3/10
Bad Boba. What’s the Point?
Mackenzi Lee, There Is Always Another 1/10
Is This Whining Jerk Supposed To Be Kenobi? aka Tone-Deaf Love Song to Poor Baby Anakin
Cavan Scott, Fake It Till You Make It 8/10
Jaxxon the Green Space Rabbit: A Sly, Heart-Warming Story
S. A. Chakraborty, But What Does He Eat? 4/10
Full of Good Intentions, Spoiled by the Title
Lilliam Rivera, Beyond the Clouds 3/10
Eh, Meh, aka Union Strike on Bespin, Seriously?
Austin Walker, No Time for Poetry 7.5/10
I Do Love IG-88 Stories (Even Clunky)
Martha Wells, Bespin Escape 7/10
Finally, A Story on Ugnaughts! Could’ve Been Better, Though.
Brittany N. Williams, Faith In an Old Friend 6/10
Cool Concept, Failed Execution, aka Don’t Turn AI Into Humans (and Stop with That Lando-Droid Love Story!)
Rob Hart, Due on Batuu 3/10
Nothing To Write Home About, aka Another Forgettable Wannabe Smuggler
Karen Strong, Into the Clouds 1/10
Invasion of the Body Snatchers aka Help! The Cloying Sweetness is Killing Me!
Adam Christopher, The Witness 5/10
Ex-stormtrooper Hiding In Utility Shafts Witnesses Luke and Vader’s Duel. REALLY?
Alexander Freed, The Man Who Built Cloud City 7.5/10
Oh, the Power of Stories, aka The Beggar King and His Assassin
Anne Toole, The Backup Backup Plan 6/10
Wait, What? aka Ocean’s Four
Lydia Kang, Right-Hand Man 7/10
Clunky, Well-Meaning – A Droid to Watch For!
Tom Angleberger, The Whills Strike Back 10/10
Very Short, Very Funny!
A few final thoughts on this collection. First of all, the idea of amassing 40 stories for the 40th anniversary, while theoretically pleasing, in this case clearly backfired; a few really solid, highly entertaining and even thought-provoking entries are simply drowning in the sea of mediocrity. Less is more! And it also pertains to the problems with understanding the concept of a short story as opposed to novella, and in some cases results in serious structural issues: some of these stories practically beg to be more fleshed out as we get only a bare-boned sketch of a novella.
Second, but related to first: some stories are so bad they really shouldn’t have ever been published. It’s not even about their content, though there are a few that are just so desperately redundant or tone-deaf it’s painful to read. But there are some that are just, to put it simply, so terribly horribly written, they gave me a headache. They’re well meant, I have no doubt about it; but when I was trying to imagine how was this whole idea conceived, I could only come up with a vision of a few SW/Disney insiders calling a bunch of their SW fan friends one evening and asking if they wanted to take part in this cool new project. And once they were in, they stayed in no matter the quality of their input.
That said, there are a few very good, well plotted and enjoyable stories, adding to the lore in unexpected, welcome ways. The ultimate stand-outs for me were Dickinson’s The Final Order, a perfectly structured and executed short story packing more suspense into its few pages than the all the rest of the collection, and Angleberger’s The Whills Strike Back, which was sly, self-aware and tongue-in-the-cheek funny. So, as usual with anthologies, From a Certain Point of View: The Empire Strikes Back is a mixed bag of treats and tricks –the majority of the stories is utterly forgettable, but there are some that will stand the test of time. Pick up the good ones if you can!
I have received a copy of this novel from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. My thanks.
Score (based on average): 5/10