Pros: Strong, intriguing stories from new directions
Cons: Virtually no anthology is perfect
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
From a Certain Point of View (Star Wars): “40 Stories Celebrating 40 Years of Star Wars” is a collection of 40 stories that take place during the events of the first Star Wars movie (episode IV), but are told from the perspective of ‘alternative’ characters. The stories are told roughly in order from the start of the movie to the end, although sometimes events and stories overlap. Some stories are told more than once (Greedo’s death, the destruction of Alderaan, and the final run on the Death Star’s exhaust port all show up about four times each, if I remember correctly). With only a couple of small discrepancies, the stories don’t contradict each other, which is really cool. Some stories cover almost entirely things that we’re familiar with and have seen on the screen, only from a new perspective. Other stories barely touch on and are somewhat tangential to the events of the movie. Just to establish my own perspective on how I view these stories: I’ve certainly seen the movie multiple times, but it’s been a while, and I haven’t kept up with books, etc. Only once or twice did I feel I missed out on something that was mentioned, but I definitely got the feeling there were some extra layers of details that I would have gotten out of things if I knew more. So I think there’s plenty for the seasoned fan, but the casual fan won’t get lost. Since there are 40 stories in here, I won’t touch on all of them–just a few that stood out to me more than others.
Ken Liu’s “The Sith of Datawork” was the first of my favorite stories in this volume. A fleet logistics liaison with a real knack for datawork (the sf equivalent of paperwork) has to help a certain gunner who failed to fire on a certain escape pod over Tatooine figure out how to avoid getting in trouble. His solutions are pure gold. In Rae Carson’s “The Red One,” we get inside the head of the robot Uncle Owen didn’t end up taking home, and surprisingly, I shed a tear or two. Meg Cabot’s “Beru Whitesun Lars” did such a good job of getting into Aunt Beru’s head that I just loved it:
I may be a country girl who’s never been offplanet, but even I’m aware that when a Jedi walks up to you and says, “Here, have a baby,” it’s not going to end well.
The cantina on Mos Eisley serves something called ‘fistula juice’? Could you be more gross, Chuck Wendig? (Pro tip: don’t do an image search on ‘fistula’.) If you were any other writer I’d be wondering whether you did that on purpose. Since it’s you, I’m sure. (This is from one of the four stories covering Greedo’s death, “We Don’t Serve Their Kind Here,” and we finally get to understand why droids are so hated at that cantina on Mos Eisley.) I think my favorite of the cantina-adjacent stories is Kelly Sue DeConnick and Matt Fraction’s “The Kloo Horn Cantina Caper”, a wacky set of hijinks surrounding late rent and a famous Kloo horn.
“The Secrets of Long Snoot,” by Delilah S. Dawson, is a great look inside the mind of an alien spy, someone who has only a momentary connection to the main story. I absolutely love this character, and this story serves as an excellent example of how to get inside an alien mind. Daniel Jose Older’s “Born in the Storm” is an incident report filed by a stormtrooper who’s, well, off his freaking rocker, frankly. It’s absolutely hilarious and terribly fun to read.
I was curious to read Wil Wheaton’s “Laina”, because while I love reading some of the stuff he posts online, I’ve never had the chance to read his fiction before now. His tale is of a rebel named Ryland who’s sending his toddler daughter off to safety as the Empire nears. It’s positively heart-breaking.
Another fun story is Mallory Ortberg’s “An Incident Report,” in which Admiral Motti files a complaint about getting Force-choked by Vader in the Joint Chiefs meeting. It’s hilarious to read his impassioned defense of keeping morale up among the troops and his dismay over having Vader’s religion shoved on him. Same with Glen Weldon’s “Of MSE-6 and Men,” a tale of the stormtrooper whose armor Luke stole on the Death Star, and his relationship with one of the officers, told via the little droid who was the stormtrooper’s companion. It’s cheeky and fun despite the sad notes.
Nnedi Okorafor’s “The Baptist” is hands-down the most surprising, unusual, and original tale in here, told from the point of view of the beast that our heroes encounter in the trash compactor. It’s absolutely fantastic, and I’ll avoid saying anything else so I don’t give anything away. All four tales that most closely cover the run on the Death Star’s exhaust port are among the best in here, authored by Paul S. Kemp, Jason Fry, Pierce Brown, and Greg Rucka. All four of them are gripping and emotional. Given how familiar we all are with the events in these stories, it’s pretty amazing how exciting and powerful these authors made their tales. From Kemp’s “Sparks”:
Someone had to be the hero.
Like every anthology, some stories aren’t quite as good as others. Mind you, in this case the overall quality is remarkably high. I think only one story merited a “meh” as far as I was concerned (a weird Boba Fett stream-of-consciousness thing), and a few just weren’t quite as good as others. And of course each reader will have their own favorites and least favorites. But as these things go, I can recommend this book to fans with all confidence. It’s a great read and I really enjoyed it.