Book Review: ‘From a Certain Point of View: The Empire Strikes Back

Cover art by Will Stoehele. (C) 2020 Del Rey Books/Penguin Random House & Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

On November 10, Del Rey Books – an imprint of Penguin Random House – published From a Certain Point of View: The Empire Strikes Back, a collection of 39 short stories and one cartoon that depict events from Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back from the perspectives of various supporting characters. Created by 40 writers who have written other Star Wars stories in different formats – ranging from novels, comics, and even books for young readers, this second volume in the From a Certain Point of View series commemorates the 40th Anniversary of director Irvin Kershner’s 1980 blockbuster follow-up to George Lucas’s Star Wars, aka Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.

The first book in the series. (C) 2017 Del Rey Books/Penguin Random House & Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

As in From a Certain Point of View: Star Wars, the new book – which also available in e-book and audiobook formats from Random House – arranges most of the 40 stories – 39 prose, one cartoon – so that they follow the chronology of The Empire Strikes Back. And although the film’s main characters – Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia Organa, Han Solo, Yoda, and (especially) Darth Vader – appear from time to time, the writers tell tales about characters that either are original ones created for the anthology or were onscreen but in the background (the bounty hunters on Vader’s flagship, for instance, or the Rebel controller whose one line in Empire is “Stand by, Ion Control,” or one of the many previously unknown citizens of Bespin’s Cloud City. A few, such as Rae Sloane, are canonical characters from the new post-2014 novels and comics, too.

In some stories, we even experience the second – or fifth, if you watch the films in the series’ internal chronology – installment of the Star Wars Saga from the perspectives of a wampa, a tauntaun, and the exogorth (space slug) that our heroes in the Millennium Falcon discovered – to their horror – that “this Is no cave.”

As in the From a Certain Point of View collection that retold Star Wars: A New Hope, we also get chapters that put us in the minds of Emperor Palpatine and Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi as they ponder the future of the galaxy from their diametrically-opposed perspectives. Here, we get to see what Darth Sidious is thinking before he has his intergalactic Zoom-by-hologram conversation with Vader, and we get to contrast that with a sometimes funny, but often wistful glimpse into “Force spirit” Kenobi’s observations of an impatient and reckless Luke Skywalker rushing off to save Han and Leia and his inevitable comparisons between Luke and his father Anakin.  

From the Dust Jacket Blurb

Celebrate the legacy of The Empire Strikes Back with this exciting reimagining of the timeless film featuring new perspectives from forty acclaimed authors.  

On May 21, 1980, Star Wars became a true saga with the release of The Empire Strikes Back. In honor of the fortieth anniversary, forty storytellers re-create an iconic scene from The Empire Strikes Back through the eyes of a supporting character, from heroes and villains, to droids and creatures. From a Certain Point of View features contributions by bestselling authors and trendsetting artists:

• Austin Walker explores the unlikely partnership of bounty hunters Dengar and IG-88 as they pursue Han Solo.
• Hank Green chronicles the life of a naturalist caring for tauntauns on the frozen world of Hoth.
• Tracy Deonn delves into the dark heart of the Dagobah cave where Luke confronts a terrifying vision.
• Martha Wells reveals the world of the Ugnaught clans who dwell in the depths of Cloud City.
• Mark Oshiro recounts the wampa’s tragic tale of loss and survival.
• Seth Dickinson interrogates the cost of serving a ruthless empire aboard the bridge of a doomed Imperial starship.

Plus more hilarious, heartbreaking, and astonishing tales from:
Tom Angleberger, Sarwat Chadda, S.A. Chakraborty, Mike Chen, Adam Christopher, Katie Cook, Zoraida Córdova, Delilah S. Dawson, Alexander Freed, Jason Fry, Christie Golden, Rob Hart, Lydia Kang, Michael Kogge, R. F. Kuang, C. B. Lee, Mackenzi Lee, John Jackson Miller, Michael Moreci, Daniel José Older, Amy Ratcliffe, Beth Revis, Lilliam Rivera, Cavan Scott, Emily Skrutskie, Karen Strong, Anne Toole, Catherynne M. Valente, Django Wexler, Kiersten White, Gary Whitta, Brittany N. Williams, Charles Yu, Jim Zub

Here’s a brief peek at the first story in From a Certain Point of View: The Empire Strikes Back:

Eyes of the Empire

Kiersten White

“Pick any of the last ten transmissions you’ve looked at. You have to live there for the rest of your life. Where are you?” Lorem said, her voice ringing through the small processing room where they all worked.

Maela admired how Lorem could multitask, sorting through data while keeping up a steady stream of chatter.

Dirjo Harch did not admire it. “Just do your job.” He deleted whatever he was looking at on his screen and pulled up the next data packet. Maela wished they could work individually. Or better yet, in small groups. She’d pick Lorem for her group. And Azier. So really, she’d make a group that was everyone except Dirjo, with his sour expressions and his pinched personality.

“I am doing my job,” Lorem said, chipper as always. Sometimes she wore her cap at a jaunty angle over her dark curls. Just enough to be off dress code, but not enough to give Dirjo an excuse to report her. Maela liked the uniform, liked what it meant. That she was here. That she did it.

A light flashed near Maela’s face and she flipped the switch, accepting an incoming transmission and adding it to the ever-growing queue. She had spent so long with the Vipers, infinite rows of them, round domes and legs like jointed tentacles. She used to stare into their blank black eyes and wonder where they would go. What they would see.

Now she saw everything.

“But while I’m doing my job,” Lorem continued, and Dirjo’s shoulders tensed, “I don’t see why we can’t have some fun. We’re going to be looking through a hundred thousand of these transmissions.”

Azier leaned back, stretching. He rubbed his hands down his pale face, clean-shaven, wrinkled. Maela suspected working on the Swarm transmission recovery and processing unit was a demotion for him, though she didn’t know why. Dirjo and Lorem were just starting their Imperial service, like her.

“Lorem, my young friend,” Azier said in the clipped, polished tones of the Empire, the ones Maela was still trying to master to hide that she came from somewhere else, “the man we report to is serving on the Executor as part of Lord Vader’s Death Squadron. Do you really think fun is a priority for any of them?”

Lorem giggled, and even Maela had to smile. Dirjo, however, scowled, turning his head sharply. “Are you criticizing Lord Vader?”

Azier waved a hand dismissively. “They’re bringing death to those who would threaten the Empire. I lived through a war none of you remember or understand. I have no desire to do it again. And Lorem, to answer your question, I’d rather stay in this floating tin can forever than visit any of the forsaken rocks our probe droids are reporting from.”

My Take

(C) 2020 Del Rey Books/Penguin Random House & Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

As was the case with 2017’s From a Certain Point of View: Star Wars, this second anthology features works by 40 different authors, each one with a unique perspective, writing style, and “hook” or plot twist. Some stories focus on Imperial “true believers” (such as Admirals Rae Sloane and Firmus Piett) who will stay loyal to the Emperor and his “New Order,” while others reveal changes of heart by young but disillusioned Imperials who are forced to see the true nature of the Empire they serve.

We also see stories that delve into individual Rebels’ personal lives during the Battle of Hoth and the evacuation from Echo Base, including the experiences of a Rebel propagandist who is trying to create a recruiting holo for the Alliance, a kitchen assistant who feels like a failure because he didn’t qualify for the combat arm of the Rebel forces, Dak Ralter, the enthusiastic – but doomed – Rebel pilot who flies as the rear gunner in Commander Luke Skywalker’s T-47 snowspeeder, and Wedge Antilles, Luke’s fellow veteran from the Battle of Yavin and second-in-command of Rogue Squadron.

Like the 2017 Star Wars: A New Hope-based volume, the 40 stories written by different writers with an array of narrative voices and distinct vantage points in From a Certain Point of View: The Empire Strikes Back is a kaleidoscope of space opera tales that are entertaining yet reflect the complexities of the human experience seen, of course, from the perspective of sentient beings, droids, and even the Force in that galaxy far, far away.

Overall, the authors managed to come up with a balanced mix of action, adventure, humor, drama, and even romance that, when complemented by the presence of the film’s main characters and dialogue from the scenes in which the stories are set, works rather well.  I like how each tale is self-contained and has its own tone, viewpoint, and internal twist yet feels as if it was a scene from Empire that didn’t quite make it into the finished 127-minute film.

From a Certain Point of View: The Empire Strikes Back will please most Star Wars fans, especially the ones who believe that Empire is their favorite Episode in the nine-part Skywalker Saga. I’m sure that there will be a few Star Wars fans who will find something not to like in the anthology, either stylistically, canonically, or even thematically, especially if they have any prejudices about gender equality or LGBQT issues.

I also would like to point out that when you buy a copy of From a Certain Point of View: The Empire Strikes Back, you are helping to promote literacy and put books in schools, libraries, and into the hands of kids (and maybe even adults!) who have limited access to them.

As the dustjacket blurb explains:

All participating authors have generously forgone any compensation for their stories. Instead, their proceeds will be donated to First Book—a leading nonprofit that provides new books, learning materials, and other essentials to educators and organizations serving children in need. To further celebrate the launch of this book and both companies’ longstanding relationships with First Book, Penguin Random House will donate $100,000 to First Book and Disney/Lucasfilm will donate 100,000 children’s books—valued at $1,000,000—to support First Book and their mission of providing equal access to quality education.

Awesome, no?

Published by Alex Diaz-Granados

Alex Diaz-Granados (1963- ) began writing movie reviews as a staff writer and Entertainment Editor for his high school newspaper in the early 1980s and was the Diversions editor for Miami-Dade Community College, South Campus' student newspaper for one semester. Using his experiences in those publications, Alex has been raving and ranting about the movies online since 2003 at various web sites, including Amazon, Ciao and Epinions. In addition to writing reviews, Alex has written or co-written three films ("A Simple Ad," "Clown 345," and "Ronnie and the Pursuit of the Elusive Bliss") for actor-director Juan Carlos Hernandez. You can find his reviews and essays on his blogs, A Certain Point of View and A Certain Point of View, Too.

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