Review: “From a Certain Point of View: The Empire Strikes Back”

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Just in time for the 40th anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back comes a new collection of 40 short stories that expand upon minor characters and events from the film. From A Certain Point of View: The Empire Strikes Back brings forth a host of stories – some good, some not, and some that are truly bizarre. It’s a perfect microcosm of Star Wars storytelling – not always a home run, but always shooting for the stars.

What makes this collection of short stories alluring for Boba Fett fans is that there are three short stories related to Boba Fett:

Wait For It by Zoraida Córdova

There’s a certain appreciation to be had for Wait For It. It attempts to thread the needle – showing a confident Boba Fett, tying in his relationships to the other bounty hunters from their appearances in The Clone Wars, making his prequel-era characterization tie into who he is as an adult, and even referencing events from the Darth Vader comics. It doesn’t always make these connections gracefully, but there is care in balancing the portrayal of Boba Fett – he’s not a calculated, silent badass, but he’s also not an over-the-top, cocky, and insufferable character. Sometimes the characterization dips a bit into one side or the other, but never fully.

I wasn’t a fan of the story’s use of colloquialisms. It’s not written in the first-person, but the narration tries to capture Fett’s persona. His reference to Darth Vader as “Lord Huff and Puff” and thoughts of “pounding a cold brew” was particularly cringeworthy, as were the grammatically incorrect internal thoughts (i.e., “He wasn’t no little kid anymore”).

Wait For It starts a little rough – I was definitely worried about Boba Fett’s characterization at first. But over the course of eight pages (it’s sadly one of the book’s shorter stories), his portrayal evens out. For Boba Fett fans, it’s definitely a step up from the cocky bro persona he was written with in Paul Dini’s “Added Muscle” short story in the “From A Certain Point of View” collection for A New Hope. Wait For It isn’t perfect – but there are kernels of greatness sprinkled throughout – particularly in showing how his childhood characterization influenced the man he became. It’s a side of Boba Fett that is ripe for exploration, and I really hope future authors pull this thread more.

Rating

3 / 5 1

Standard Imperial Procedure by Sarwat Chadda

This story is a bit of a tease. This isn’t a Boba Fett-centric story. This story follows an Imperial officer on a Star Destroyer’s waste disposal assignment. Obviously, it’s clear that he’ll run into Boba Fett. We all know the story – the Millennium Falcon floats away with the Star Destroyer’s garbage, only to be tracked by Boba Fett. But just how did the notorious bounty hunter find them? You’ll find out here. The story is great – well-written and with a brutal twist. Although Fett is a very minor character in this story, his portrayal is menacing. This is Boba Fett at his most ruthless – and this story showcases just why he’s the best bounty hunter in the galaxy. Longtime Boba Fett fans should be very pleased with this story.

Rating

5 / 5 1

Beyond the Clouds by Lilliam Rivera

Billed as a story involving Boba Fett, fans will be disappointed to learn that Boba Fett has the most minor of cameos in this story. This story was hyped as the story of a Boba Fett fan – and that’s not accurate. Isabalia is a wannabe bounty hunter, and she is desperate to meet him with the hopes that he will take her under his wing and train her. She’s not so much a fan of Fett as someone who recognizes who is the best in the business – and to Isabalia, that person is Boba Fett. The rest of the story, told from the first-person narrative, is decidedly disappointing. Isabalia can’t decide what path she wants to take in life while she’s slowly caught up in a work stoppage on Bespin – something we never see happen in the films. Outside of some of the familiar Star Wars trappings, this could be any sci-fi story. There’s nothing that makes this story special or memorable in any way. It misses the mark, and that’s made worse due to the Boba Fett bait-and-switch.

Rating

1 / 5 1

The Rest

Overall, I found the quality of stories found in this collection to be much better than the collection for A New Hope. For me, there was roughly an even split between stories I really enjoyed and stories that I didn’t. But in a collection of 40 short stories, not every story will be a winner.

If you’re interested in the other stories that this book tells that aren’t about Boba Fett, I’ve included a list below that is broken down into three sections – the stories I felt are worth reading, the stories that I feel are worth skipping, and the stories that were too bizarre for me to enjoy.

The Good

  • Eyes of the Empire – This collection of short stories opens with a story about the team in charge of reviewing the reports from the Empire’s probe droids. Short, but sweet. I really enjoyed it.
  • A Good Kiss – This story doesn’t really add anything to the larger world of Star Wars, but it’s fun. This tells the story of the random guy who walks between Han and Leia during their argument on Hoth, and it’s exactly what kind of moments these stories should capture. I appreciate the POV of a character who wants to be a hero and is denied at every turn. It’s something we don’t often see in Star Wars stories, and it leaves an impact.
  • Kendal – Who would expect a hauntingly poignant story about Admiral Ozzel? His life flashes before his eyes as he is choked to death. It’s short, but it works really well.
  • Against All Odds – Dak’s story is surprisingly earnest, and I appreciate the background he was given for this story. The ending is even more poignant than I expected.
  • Beyond Hope – When you finish a story and want to read more, it’s a sign of a great story. This story tells the tale of a grunt in the trenches during the Battle of Hoth. It’s extremely excellent, and I hope we’ll get to revisit this character again. One of my favorites from the entire book.
  • Rendezvous Point – This Wedge Antilles story, one of the longer stories in the collection, is fun. It was nice to see some humor with him and Janson that was reminiscent of the Legends stories – even including a callback to the infamous “Yub Nub, commander” line.
  • Amara Kel’s Rules for TIE Pilot Survival (Probably) – As the title hints, this story is a comedy. Usually, comedy in Star Wars is very hit-or-miss with me – and more often than not, it’s a miss. But in this story, it works. Amara Kel is a TIE pilot searching the asteroid field for the Millennium Falcon, and the story is told in the first-person. As expected from a TIE pilot, their outlook on life is a bit morbid. I thought this story was great.
  • Disturbance – One of Emperor Palpatine’s most memorable lines discusses the “great disturbance in the Force” that he has felt. This short story details just what that disturbance was. It’s an excellent look into the mind of Palpatine as he experiences a vision of the future – capturing his evil persona wonderfully in the process.
  • Lord Vader Will See You Now – John Jackson Miller returns to write a story about Rae Slone. It’s great to revisit her character during the events of the film, and learn just what exactly she was up to behind the scenes. Well-written, fun, and a fast-paced story.
  • Tooth and Claw – A really fun Bossk story. We get to see what Bossk was up to before joining the other bounty hunters at Darth Vader’s request. We see an appropriately badass bounty hunter on a hunt – where things aren’t quite what they appear to be. Great action, exciting twists, and one of the longer stories in the collection. Highly recommend this one.
  • Fake It Till You Make It – Who’d have thought that the return of Jaxxon to the Star Wars canon would be so much fun? Jaxxon has shown up in some IDW comics, but this marks the first time Jaxxon has appeared in prose. He’s a scruffy, down-on-his-luck kind of character – and he’s fun to read. I’d read an entire Jaxxon book, if it’s anywhere near as fun as this story.
  • But What Does He Eat? – This is a fun, small story about the chef preparing the meal for Darth Vader and the Imperials at Cloud City. This kind of story is what makes this collection so fun – telling an obvious story that most would hardly consider. It’s not a comedy – although there’s definitely some comedic elements. But this story is more to showcase how beaten down the Empire has left the inhabitants of the galaxy. The portrayal is quite excellent.
  • No Time For Poetry – The idea of Dengar and IG-88 teaming up is really interesting. You wouldn’t necessarily consider those two to be a pair. But thanks to the recent portrayal of IG-11 on “The Mandalorian”, we know that this kind of assassin droid can provide both menace and humor in equal doses. The story itself is serviceable – it’s ground that has been covered many times over. But the writing is really solid, and the characterization of both Dengar and IG-88 makes it worth reading.
  • Bespin Escape – This story from Martha Wells follows the Ugnaughts of Cloud City as the Empire moves in to take over the mining operation. It’s a slice-of-life story, with a smidgeon of humor and plenty of heart.
  • Faith In An Old Friend – This is one of the best stories in the entire collection. Told from the point of view of L3-37 – the droid from Solo whose consciousness is uploaded to the Millennium Falcon – this poignant story shows what L3-37 has been up to since stuck on the Millennium Falcon. The trip to Cloud City, and the chance to see Lando again, is very poignantly written. Honestly, I could have read an entire book from the point of view of L3-37 and the other two droid brains of the Falcon. This story was just stellar. I sincerely hope this isn’t the last Star Wars story from Brittany N. Williams.
  • Due on Batuu – Willrow Hood has been a beloved character from The Empire Strikes Back for decades. His blink-or-you’ll-miss-it moment running through Cloud City carrying an ice cream maker prop is the stuff of legends. Due on Batuu tells a little slice of Willrow’s story. We don’t get many answers, but it’s a short and sweet story that I found enjoyable.
  • The Man Who Built Cloud City – I loved this story. It follows a homeless man who has declared himself the rightful king of Cloud City. His delusions elevate this story, making him a sympathetic character easy to root for. As the Empire takes over Cloud City, we see him internalize this change and see how he rises to the occasion to – at least in his own mind – be a hero.
  • Right-Hand Man – There’s something poetic about this story from the 2-1B droid’s point of view as it works to attach Luke’s cybernetic hand. There is a depth here that many short stories can’t reach. The philosophical discussion between Luke and 2-1B regarding healing was a real treat. Coming near the end of the book, it gives a nice closure to this collection.

The Skippable

  • Ion Control – This is a completely skippable story. It adds nothing to The Empire Strikes Back, and has a narrative viewpoint anyone even vaguely familiar with Star Wars has already been beaten to death with.
  • Heroes of the Rebellion – Hey, did you know rebellions are built on hope? Get ready to hear that mantra repeated ad nauseam throughout this story. A reporter goes to Hoth, watches events happening around her, and escapes with her life. The story adds nothing to the movie. Completely skippable.
  • Rogue Two – I love Gary Whitta’s work, and he wrote a technically sound story. But this story adds nothing to The Empire Strikes Back. It’s more of the “rebellions are built on hope” motif, and adds a little characterization into the pilots of Rogue Squadron. But ultimately, this is a story with no meat on its bones.
  • The Truest Duty – This story about Veers doesn’t add anything to his character. He’s just a regular Imperial. No standout personification, and there’s ultimately no reason for this story to exist. The ending was intriguing – but a story shouldn’t explode with potential right when it ends.
  • For The Last Time – I was also disappointed in Admiral Piett’s story. With the exception of Ozzel, the Imperial stories at the start of the book all felt very similar. You could swap Piett out with Veers and it would feel the same.
  • The Final Order – This story tells the tale of the crew of the Star Destroyer that is destroyed by an asteroid during the asteroid chase sequence. It’s unnecessarily long, and the slow pace makes it an absolute slog to finish.
  • The First Lesson – This Yoda-centric story is very short, and ultimately adds nothing to Yoda’s character. The story opens with his meditations, but quickly turns into something of a rehash of his opening moments meeting Luke.
  • There Is Always Another – Have you ever wanted to read a story told from the point of view of an incredibly catty Obi-Wan Kenobi complaining about Yoda, the Skywalkers, and virtually everyone who has ever crossed his path? The characterization of Obi-Wan in this story is so awful – so incredibly unlike the poised characterization showcased elsewhere – that it feels otherworldly.
  • Into the Clouds – A short, by-the-numbers story about a socialite in Cloud City that yearns for a cause bigger than herself. The story feels very underbaked – the characters don’t feel believable, but rather they act more as caricatures. The tie-in to The Empire Strikes Back feels tenuous at best. One of the most superfluous stories in the collection.
  • The Witness – Told from the point of view of one of the stormtroopers that witnesses the carbon freezing of Han Solo, The Witness is one of the longer stories in this collection. I wanted to like this one. It’s written very well, and unlike many of the Bespin stories, it shows several of the film’s memorable scenes. My problem with this lies in the main character. This stormtrooper has worked her way up through the ranks, finally landing a job aboard Darth Vader’s Star Destroyer. But she hates the Empire, and wants to leave it all behind. It’s a viewpoint that I can’t stand. Rather than make the character complex, the story really glosses over the atrocities that she has helped commit. She’s supposed to be a character that the reader would root for – they even give her a squadmate who is so pro-Empire that he’s the immediate foil and who we’re supposed to recognize as the villain of the story. But the truth is that the main character is just as much a villain. This one just didn’t sit well with me. Sure, a conflicted stormtrooper might make sense if it’s a fresh recruit. But this stormtrooper has risen through the ranks to Vader’s personal guard… and that just doesn’t fly for me.
  • The Backup Backup Plan – This overly long story showcases the aftermath of Cloud City once Darth Vader leaves. A woman puts together a plan – which, as the title suggests, doesn’t go according to plan – to pit the Empire’s representatives against Cloud City’s Mining Guild with the hopes that the ensuing chaos will benefit the people left behind. It doesn’t really make a lot of sense, and the story moves at a breakneck speed that disregards logic for a fleeting sense of adventure. I didn’t care for this one.

The Bizarre (Your Mileage May Vary)

  • Hunger – I hate when the short stories in the From A Certain Point of View collections personify creatures as humans. They’re not, they’re animals. So reading about The Empire Strikes Back’s infamous Wampa with human feelings was weird. I didn’t like it. I imagine there are some out there who will enjoy this one – but it wasn’t for me.
  • She Will Keep Them Warm – Another short story told from the point of view of a creature. This time, the story is told from the point of view of a Tauntaun. It’s a very weird story – not for me.
  • A Naturalist On Hoth – Reading about a pacifist ecologist that has nothing but disdain for the Rebellion was not interesting. It has potential, but I ultimately found this story lacking.
  • The Dragonsnake Saves R2 – This isn’t a short story – it’s a one-page picture with some cutesy artwork. I get that some people love this. I am not one of those people.
  • This Is No Cave – A story told from the point of view of the space worm. Did we really need this? At the risk of repeating myself, this kind of human characterization for clearly animalistic creatures is, for me, cringeworthy.
  • Vergence – Did we need a story told from the point of view of the cave in The Empire Strikes Back where Luke faces a vision of Vader? Of course not. It’s one of the most absurd stories in this collection. It makes absolutely no sense, and it’s virtually impossible to fully grasp.
  • STET! – This story about Zuckuss and 4-LOM is written as a newspaper article draft, complete with tracked changes and with comments from the editor reviewing. It’s an interesting way to write a story – definitely a standout in this collection – but I found it to be awful. The humor is a complete miss for me. Have you ever experienced something that’s supposed to be funny, but it just isn’t? That’s what the experience of reading this story was like. I love a good bounty hunter story – but this was too dumb for me.
  • The Whills Strike Back – The sequel to my least favorite story in the first From A Certain Point of View collection is definitely my least favorite story in this collection. The Whills Strike Back is supposed to be a humorous exchange between R2-D2 and the Whills as the droid relays the story of The Empire Strikes Back through the film’s opening crawl. The humor falls so flat. It feels forced – with references to Star Trek being perhaps the most cringeworthy moments. I’m resigned to the fact that we’ll see a third story in this vein for the inevitable collection of short stories for Return of the Jedi – and that’s too bad, because these Whill stories are real stinkers.

From A Certain Point of View: The Empire Strikes Back goes on sale today, November 10, 2020.

Rating

4 / 5 1

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