Star Wars: The Clone Wars is having a Renaissance at the moment. The powerful, status quo-shattering season seven was just one of the ways this fan-favorite animated series was able to live on past its original 2014 series finale. And after the success of the seventh season, which saw the show revisit some of the darkest moments in Revenge of the Sith, it isn’t much of a surprise that Lucasfilm is anxious to bring more The Clone Wars stories to life.
Unfortunately, The Clone Wars: Stories of Light and Dark short story anthology doesn’t really show us new parts of the well-trodden conflict. The impressive table of contents is more diverse than the stories themselves would suggest: most of the stories are competent but unexciting, told in a standard, unadorned voice. Since they are retellings of episodes (with one pleasant exception), there isn’t much new to discover here. Whether you enjoy it might depend on whether you’re already a fan of the animated series, or on the strength of a few stand-out stories with a strong dose of Star Wars heart.
Each story retells an episode from the animated series. While the subtitle suggests the stories might be organized according to the light side and the dark side, a la the “heroes on both sides” line The Clone Wars promised to explore, they aren’t that clearly delineated. Stories from the first through fifth seasons are presented in chronological order. There are some particularly good episodes included, like the Umbara arc, as well as some important story beats crucial when it comes to the overarching saga of The Clone Wars, such as Maul’s takeover of Mandalore. But fans who haven’t watched the show in a while, or don’t remember the episodes all that well, might end up confused. While I can’t fault the concept of letting a myriad of authors novelize a wide variety of episodes, it does make the collection feel disjointed.
I’d be remiss to focus entirely on the stories without mentioning the art from prominent fan artist Ksenia Zelentsova. Her watercolor paintings adorn the covers and interior. Her painting style gives a unique hand-made look to the characters that blends The Clone Wars‘ angular faces with some more flowing lines and natural-looking costumes.
Along with the illustrations, the other brand-new material in the book is a short story by E. Anne Convery, wife of the show’s producer Dave Filoni and a compelling Disney-style storyteller in her own right. Her story, “Bug,” bleeds a little bit of horror into a twist on the fundamental Star Wars fantasy of a child on a backwater planet yearning for adventure. It nicely establishes the Nightsisters as a spooky, dangerous faction with ambitions equal to the Sith. This might inevitably have been one of the most memorable stories in the collection by virtue of being new, but the compelling, charming plot also helps it stand out.
Jason Fry’s and Rebecca Roanhorse’s stories work particularly well at getting inside the heads of the characters. Fry’s adaptation of one of Yoda’s first missions with clone troopers offers deep characterization and fun new insights. (Yoda is surprised the clone army would be made up of humans, since they are, as a species, “raucous and impatient.”) Roanhorse chose the second person to cast Maul’s voice as a whisper in the ear of a child, his rebirth re-written as an ominous fairy tale. The result is a character voice that is strong and eerie. Between the two of them, these stories present the light and dark as told in the title: Yoda learns more about the humanity of the people around him, and Maul sinks deeper into his self-obsessed thirst for revenge, slaughtering innocents along the way to draw the attention of Obi-Wan Kenobi.
While they don’t all resonate, many of the stories have some interesting qualities. Tom Angleberger creates a fun, funny voice for bounty hunter Cad Bane, although his choice of episode is one of the cases where it is most obvious the story is part of an arc and could do with more context for readers who don’t remember the episode well. Zoraida Córdova’s Asajj Ventress story makes her episode’s arc more obvious and captures Ventress’ joy at using the Force without restriction.
Some stories serve mostly to remind fans how good some of the episodes were. “The Pursuit of Peace” adaptation by Anne Ursu highlights Padmé Amidala’s role in galactic politics, and the story of war profiteering and financial manipulation on both sides hits close to home. Yoon Ha Lee’s take on “Shadow of Umbara” doesn’t show off the author’s penchant for flashy, weird military science fiction but is a loyal recreation of a hard-hitting episode.
At worst, some of the stories use flat, boring prose to simply retell a decent episode. Both fight scenes and dialogue tend to be devoid of any additional commentary from the characters when they could be the best places to show characterization. The physical comedy on the show just doesn’t work as well on the page, especially if it wasn’t brilliant in the show in the first place.
The anthology novelization format means there just isn’t enough new material here. If you’re willing to pay the price for just a particular favorite character or episode, you’ll get pretty much what you’d expect from a glossy, gift-able collection: lovely illustrations and inoffensive retellings of stories you already know. As a kid-friendly way to carry favorite stories around in a new way, it works. But even as the staunchest supporter of experiencing Star Wars stories in whatever bizarre order you want, the lack of context for some of the stories seems more confusing than intriguing.
Stories of Light and Dark is thoroughly fine. The novelty anthology shows off capable authors, some of whom I’d love to see tackle longer, original Star Wars stories in the future.
The Clone Wars: Stories of Light and Dark is out now.