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Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View: The Empire Strikes Back

When it comes to Star Wars two distinct story universes have to be discussed. The first, the movies, tend to be simplistic and aimed at children and pre-teens. The movies largely follow the Skywalker family and those ancillary to them, and while there are interesting tangents, they largely follow a pretty safe, unsurprising track. Even the movies that try to do something different such as The Last Jedi are eventually course-corrected back to the path that provides maximum merchandise sales and the least amount of controversy. I think we can all admit now that The Rise of Skywalker is just not a good movie. This is largely due to its patchwork script, nonsensical deus-ex-machina reliant story, and an obvious corporate directive to be as Star Wars as a Star Wars movie can be.

Then there is everything else. The books, the comics, the video games, all serve to fill in a rich world and a backstory that shines a light on just how simplistic the movies are. When Disney purchased Lucasfilm they made the decision to wipe the slate clean on the “Expanded Universe”, now called “Star Wars: Legends”. The Expanded Universe was all the non-movie stories that filled in the gaps between, around, and after the movies. Over time, Disney has cherry-picked some characters and events from the old EU for inclusion in their own stories. Most notably they brought over one of the best villains to show up in Star Wars, Grand Admiral Thrawn, and even tapped his creator, Timothy Zahn, to write a new trilogy about the Imperial mastermind.

With Star Wars in Disney’s iron grip, they decreed that all stories going forward are canon. For simplicity, I will refer to this as the “New EU”. Meaning all the comics, books, games, and ancillary material are all part of the story. Where the movies are straight and vanilla, the other stories are diverse and increasingly off the wall. Much like they have done with the MCU, Disney’s reliance on side media to fill in the gaps of the Star Wars universe means there is a lot of material to take in, and a rich well of stories, but this means there is, even more, to try and keep straight. When everything is canon, things can get weird. Marvel’s reboot of the Star Wars comics is a perfect example of this as they tell one massive, complex story connecting the dots between the movies.

This brings me to the massive, short story collection, Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View: The Empire Strikes Back. This collection of 40 stories, released in 2020 (40 years after the movie’s 1980 release) follows 2017’s similar collection Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View: A New Hope. Presumably, one will be coming in 2023 for the anniversary of Return of the Jedi as well.

The conceit of the collection is all of these stories are from the point of view of a character adjacent to the main story of The Empire Strikes Back. So there are no stories about Han, Luke, Vader, or Leia. There are however stories about a Tauntaun, the Wampa snow monster, Luke’s doomed gunner Dak, Yoda, the cave on Dagobah, Obi-Wan Kenobi, many Imperials, a TIE/Interceptor squadron, various droids, and bounty hunters, Ugnaughts, and even the giant worm that the Millennium Falcon inadvertently hides in (called an exogorth). Some of these characters appeared in the movies briefly, others did not but we are told they were there. Like the previous collection, these stories introduce nuance to the movies that did not exist on the screen.

The movies present a simple good vs. evil story with all of the edges rounded off. The closest thing to a gray hat is Han Solo and he has a heart of pure gold under that gruff exterior. The Empire is evil, the Rebellion is good, and good shall triumph over evil. Well, not so fast. Let’s start with “the Empire is evil.” What the movies don’t make clear, but the New EU does, is that the Empire is a conquering force that conscripts most of their troops. While there are true believers in the Empire, most soldiers just want to do their tour and go back to their lives. They fight for the Empire because they don’t have a choice. Added to that, many members of the Rebellion are ex Imperials, most notably Han Solo and Wedge Antilles. When the Death Star exploded at the Battle of Yavin, it galvanized the galaxy but, in some cases, turned some against the Rebellion. Even more concerning, in Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View: A New Hope we learned that there were Rebellion deep-cover agents on board the Death Star when it exploded, and they did not get the message to evacuate in time. The reality of the Star Wars universe is much messier than the movies portray and most characters aren’t all good, or all bad.

Which is a good segue back to this collection of TESB stories. Most of the contributors are experienced writers in the Star Wars universe already. Notable inclusions are Delilah S. Dawson (Star Wars: Phasma, Firefly, Spider-Man), Alexander Freed (Star Wars: Rogue One novelization, Star Wars: Battlefront: Twilight Company), Daniel José Older (Star Wars: Last Shot), and Greg Whitta (screenwriter Star Wars: Rogue One, Star Wars: Rebels tv series). Like all collections, it is a mixed bag, but most are worth the time and a few are absolute knockouts.

Amara Kel’s Rules for TIE Pilot Survival (Probably) by Django Wexler should be made into a full-fledged series. This story introduces us to the irreverent TIE pilot Amara Kel and Theta Squadron as they are tasked with patrolling the edges of an asteroid belt. Faith in an Old Friend by Brittany N. Williams is a touching, somewhat mind-blowing story that fills us in on what happened to L3-37 (Lando’s droid companion from Solo: A Star Wars Story) after she was uploaded into the Falcon on Kessel, and how much of a hand she has had in saving the various heroes since then.

There is Always Another by Mackenzi Lee is an internal monologue from Obi-Wan Kenobi that starts with the great line, “I had hoped that dying would be enough to untangle me from the Skywalker family’s issues.”, as he and Yoda try (and fail) to convince Luke not to blunder off into a trap. He makes several pointed comments about how much Luke is like Anakin. This weighs on his mind along with guilt for not being able to save Anakin and Padme. It’s a good story that again roughs up those edges implying the enormous pressure the council put on Anakin to be “the chosen one” contributed to his fall to the dark side.

The good news is none of the stories are bad, although some are better than others. Your mileage is going to vary depending on what you like in your stories. Of note, these stories are very diverse and all of the romance featured is between LGBTQ characters. Refreshingly, even the Empire doesn’t seem to care about who romances who in their ranks. This focus on diversity is something that the New EU has explored extensively yet still is largely verboten in the movie universe. This is yet another area that sets the movies apart from the New EU and makes this collection worth celebrating.

If you are a fan of the movies then Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View: The Empire Strikes Back is worth a read to see how expansive the Star Wars universe has become. At 561 pages, this is a big collection but worth the time to work your way through. Even as fatigue was setting in (they are on Hoth for a LONG time), there were still gems that kept me going and some truly delightful stories. What I can promise you is these collections will change the way you watch the movies which is a pretty nifty trick after all these years.

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