From a Certain Point of View is a grab bag of stories accessible to Star Wars fans both new and old. As long as you’ve seen A New Hope, there will be something for you here. The 40th Anniversary Star Wars short story collection follows in the tradition of Before the Awakening and other anthologies, but increases the ambition with 40 stories from 40 different authors. I can imagine it being a logistical hassle, so props to the editors who wrangled together both new and fan-favorite writers for this collection. The stories vary widely, but I found that the good outweighed the silly.
With the stories being what they are, there is potential for jokiness, intentional or otherwise. Each story shows part of A New Hope from the perspective of a side character. They’re presented in order, with Luke, Leia, and Han causing ripples in the lives of the characters around them. That means some of the stories feel like they could be comedy sketches or trivia oneupmanship instead of narratives: Did the Imperial officer who let the escape pod go over Tatooine lose his job? Why didn’t the Jawas wipe R2-D2’s memory? Some of the stories lean into this: Mallory Ortberg’s “An Incident Report” is droll and made me laugh out loud. Comics and a surprisingly earnest epilogue from the point of the Whills by Tom Angleberger provide some more smiles.
Other stories, though, just felt self-consciously silly in a way that took me out of the narrative. The one that follows the officer who cleared the escape pod to leave is serviceably written but feels self-congratulatory in its cleverness. An Aunt Beru story supposes that she is writing from the afterlife, but mostly just feels too meta. A Boba Fett story evokes Robot Chicken instead of Temeura Morrison.
Mur Lafferty’s story falls squarely in the middle, with a good solid character arc as one of the Modal Nodes figures out her priorities and gets out of a tough spot with Greedo. It’s wink-nudge aspects were softened by the fact that it has a framing device: it’s allegedly an excerpt from a favorable memoir.
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One of my favorite stories in the collection comes in this first act. “The Kloo Horn Cantina Caper” by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Matt Fraction is an intricate and hilarious riddle about the denizens of the Mos Eisley cantina. The droll wordplay worked very well for me in context: it might say as much about my sense of humor as it does about the book, but I laughed out loud at “Myo, a terrible liar, lies.”
Another notable tale is Griffin McElroy’s “Stories in the Sand,” which seems at first to be a cutesy explanation for R2’s intact memory but turns out to be an affecting story that hooks neatly onto the themes of Star Wars as a whole. It’s about finding one’s place, and more specifically about the experience of not being in that place to start. A lot of characters want to leave Tatooine, and the section covering that planet shows people tugged toward goodness and adventure by the tiniest brush with Han, Luke, and Leia. It’s a great way to tie each story to the themes of the movie.
Both Obi-Wan stories in the collection were also standouts. Claudia Gray’s evocation of the Force brings the kind of sincerity I had hoped for, and characterizes Qui-Gon as a heartfelt spirit who believes that Obi-Wan’s capacity “to stand and wait, to have that much patience and fortitude” makes him more of a Jedi than war ever could. A Yoda story which also looks back at the Prequel Jedi is best left unspoiled, but provided one of my favorite tidbits from the new canon.
The middle act on the Death Star is appropriately grim, featuring some Imperials who see the error of their ways and some who do not. “Of MSE-6 and Men” is a sort of workplace romantic comedy without enough of chemistry and comedy for it to work, with wink-nudge connections to scenes in the movie.
I was most excited to get to the rebels showcased at the Yavin IV base, and the collection did not disappoint. Greg Rucka and Alexander Freed bring a one-two punch of stories of rebels for whom Yavin doesn’t feel like a victory. I’m always on the lookout for female characters in Star Wars who don’t fit the action hero mold, and Rucka’s Nera Kase is my new favorite side character for her critical role as fighter crew coordinator. Her story is practical and sad, and I felt for her. Freed always brings something new to Star Wars, and his utterly grim Mon Mothma story in future tense shows it.
Other stories have a bad case of the “small universe” syndrome that feels silly alongside less self-conscious franchise fiction. It seems plausible enough that a stormtrooper who was mindtricked on Tatooine was also stationed on the Death Star, but when actually reading it, that story comes off as a bit trite. The elevated role of the Dianoga also reads like an attempt to assign a huge amount of importance to a character which already served an important plot point in the movie.
However, even the stories that weren’t quite to my taste did include tightly-written character arcs. Unlike my other favorite franchise’s attempt in Halo: Fractures, each story in From a Certain Point of View feels complete and shows a character changing over a very short amount of time.
A collection like this serves many purposes: to draw in new fans, to give established fans a new way to look at the canon, and to let writers create their own love letters to a franchise that has had a huge impact on both fantasy and science fiction. I think it succeeds at most of these things. You’re not necessarily going to like every story in the collection, but that’s sort of the point. The variety will appeal to a lot of different fans. If, like me, you like about two-thirds of them enough to call them new favorites, I think the collection is worth it.