To kick off my Sci-Fi Month reviews, I’m taking a look at From a Certain Point of View, the new anthology celebrating the 40th anniversary of Star Wars! It features 40 stories giving us a look at the events of the original trilogy through the eyes of lesser known characters, and faces from the sidelines of notable scenes in the films. Read on for my thoughts!
FORTY YEARS. FORTY STORIES.
On 25 May 1977, the world was introduced to Han, Luke, Leia, a pair of droids, a Wookiee, an old wizard, a villain in black, and a galaxy full of possibilities. Forty years on, Star Wars remains an unparalleled cultural phenomenon, having inspired and influenced generations of fans and creators. Decades of rich storytelling were sparked by one film, in part because the Star Wars galaxy feels alive. Strange and wonderful characters fill the edges of the screen and make us wonder:
What are their stories?
Publisher: Century (Penguin Random House UK) | Publication date: October 19th 2017 | This edition: Hardcover | My rating: 3/5
As someone who hasn’t been a fan of Star Wars all her geeky life, I can appreciate the way this lets a certain amount of the sense of wonder that so enraptured life-long fans way back when still feel fresh to me, the more I explore this massive fictional world. I say “a certain amount” because this franchise is forty years old now, after all, and pop culture is what it is; I don’t know if it’s entirely possible to keep yourself completely spoiler-free in this up-to-our-eyeballs-in-social-media world. I’ve always known what Star Wars was about, even before seeing the films, and so it never really felt like it was mine the way I imagine that first wave of young wide-eyed geeks once did. That’s changing now, with The Force Awakens having done for me what I imagine A New Hope did for them. (I’ve expanded on this here before, in a debate/counterpoint blog post in response to a fellow blogger’s opposite take.) And so I can, and currently am, throwing myself deeper into the Star Wars ‘verse in the hope of finding more stories/characters/spectacle to be amazed and entertained by. Picking up From a Certain Point of View just made sense, in that light.
And here’s where my experience of it starts see-sawing back and forth between “it’s awesome” and “what am I missing?”, because while this is undoubtedly a very affectionate celebration of the magical universe loved by so many geeks around the world, I came away from the book with the feeling that, because I haven’t been immersed in it and/or seen the original trilogy countless times, I was indeed missing something – mostly when it came to understanding who these characters were and/or how much they mattered. Also, on occasion, I had trouble picturing well enough the scene in question with some of these stories; namely, the Mos Eisley cantina scene.
You know the scene, right? I know the scene. I just don’t remember the entire scene in minute detail, and there’s a cluster of stories in here that focus on it to the point where I started to feel a bit lost. That tends to sum up how I felt for a few more of them, too.
Now, to be fair, this is an anthology, and it’s one with forty different stories in it. Taking that into account, I wasn’t expecting every story to resonate with me. Some, I bounced off of altogether. Not every story in an anthology can be a winner with every reader, and that’s OK! I don’t consider that a problem. What I do consider a bit of an issue is the fact that, by the time I reached the final stretch of the book, I was starting to skim through it.
I appreciate the anthology’s premise, and I will always approve of a diverse roster of writers, which is definitely what we get here. I really was excited to get stuck into this book – but my energy for it did start to dwindle by the end. Again, I don’t hold this entirely against the book or its content. Sometimes your batteries run dry. It happens.
If I had an issue that is undeniably specific to this book and its content, though, it was that despite the enjoyment I did feel, there were times when I felt like I was reading a book that wasn’t really intended for me, as its audience. As I said before, I like Star Wars, and I’m learning to love it, but I’m not a completionist. Not by a long shot. And I feel as though, in order to get a full and complete sense of enjoyment out of this book, you’d have to know who you were reading about and what exactly was going on around these characters at all times. I … did not have this advantage.
However! That’s certainly not the same as saying I didn’t enjoy any of the stories. There are a few gems in here that even a moderate fan like me can pick out and appreciate it for, namely:
The Bucket, by Christie Golden – this is an early one in the lineup, and it presents the capture of Princess Leia by the Empire’s forces from the point of view of a stormtrooper. He’s young, very fresh-faced under that helmet (the titular ‘bucket’), and full of ideals when it comes to serving the Empire. We don’t get a reversal of loyalties here; instead we get an insight into the kind of young man who is neither fully worldly nor entirely foolish about humanity. To him, Leia represents an opposing force and therefore a danger to his world, and his concern is for reminding her – and himself – that there’s a person under the featureless white stormtrooper mask. Fans of Finn in The Force Awakens may very much appreciate this one.
The Sith of Datawork, by Ken Liu – Not every important role is played out in front of the cameras. Any organisation that involves bureaucracy is going to involve a largely unseen and massively complicated system of paperwork. Files, records, request forms … It would bore many of us to tears when it wasn’t busy confounding us, but someone’s got to do it, and someone’s got to be good enough to keep on top of all of it. The same is true when you’re working for a tyrannical Empire that’s taking over the galaxy. This is a delightful little nugget of a story about how paperwork can be a lifesaver – sometimes literally.
Born in the Storm, by Daniel José Older – Not every story ends when a character drops off the screen or gets ticked off the list of those who Met With An Unfortunate End. Not even when you’re a luckless stormtrooper ‘extra’. This is the story of one such unfortunate soul, though one who remains dedicated to the end. Don’t forget the paperwork…
The Baptist, by Nnedi Okorafor – Have you ever wondered why the trash compactor on the Death Star had a monster in it? Where did it come from? How did it get in there? Well, now we know. I admit I am a sucker for a story that takes us into the mind of someone or something we might never really expect to have a story of their own to tell, and this is one of those. Very well done!
Palpatine, by Ian Doescher – If you enjoy that offshoot of Star Wars fandom that takes the films and mashes them up with Shakespeare, then this story will be for you. I haven’t read any of the Star Wars/Shakespeare books yet, but I do love a good soliloquy, and this reflective aside from one of the nastiest villains in cinema history is pure gold in my eyes.
So! There we go. However ‘hit and miss’ I felt it was, there are stories in this anthology that made it worth reading, though the grump in me does kind of wish I’d gotten the ebook instead of going for the more expensive hardcover … But, hey. At least I read it.