From A Certain Point of View: A New Hope was actually the first Star Wars audiobook I listened to in the new canon. I had no idea what to expect when I pushed play but was pleasantly surprised (for the most part) with the stories of both familiar and obscure Star Wars Universe characters circling around the events of A New Hope.
With the sequel, A Certain Point of View: The Empire Strikes Back, I was more prepared for what I was about to hear: stories of characters I had seen, characters I had read about, characters I had never heard of, characters I didn’t even think about existing in this universe but make sense, bittersweet stories, silly stories, odd stories and poignant stories that add meaningful depth to the canon. A few standouts for me were The Red One by Rae Carson, where we learn that R5-D5 exploded himself due to a pleading R2-D2 in service to the Rebellion, Master and Apprentice by Claudia Gray, which was a precursor to her excellent novel of the same name, and Eclipse by Madelaine Roux, which describes the last moments of Breha and Bail Organa before their planet is destroyed by the Death Star.
None of these authors return for Empire but we have a handful of high-profile new authors, including R.F. Kuang and Martha Wells. Some of the same issues that were present with the first collection of short stories are present here: even though there are many different points of view, they are around the same event, which gets repetitive, especially since the stories are grouped by sequential events in The Empire Strikes Back. The events/locations that are covered in this collection are 1) Escape from Hoth, 2) The Search for the Millennium Falcon, 3) Luke’s time on Dagobah, and 4) Cloud City. Also, some of the humor in certain stories seem out of touch with the character and situations and out of touch with Star Wars humor. This comes with the territory of having different voices writing, some authors just get it and fit the perfect tone for Star Wars, and some don’t. There’s more good than bad here and even some outstanding additions to the canon. Here are my top ten best character stories from A Certain Point of View: The Empire Strikes Back in order of event sequence.
Escape from Hoth
Many iconic things in Star Wars are introduced to us when we first visit Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back: the icy landscape, the uniquely designed probe droids, AT-ATs, and creatures. All play a part in the stories in the first half of A Certain Point of View and one of the most compelling stories involves a Wampa. The protagonist in Hunger is an unnamed Wampa who bears the responsibility of keeping his clan safe and flourishing in the unforgiving Hoth environment and faces the harsh reality that he is not the most threatening creature on the planet when the Rebellion decides to set up base in his territory. Such is the case when animals, living their lives, get caught in the crossfire of colonization and wars. And Hunger is a reminder that creatures in the Star Wars universe struggle with the light side and the dark side as the Wampa warrior goes through hunger for sustainability and hunger for revenge.
Thoughts from the Wampa before learning that Luke Skywalker is a more than capable opponent. The thoughts of a creature fighting a war that he is destined to lose. But, if you have seen The Empire Strikes Back (I’m not sure why you are here if you haven’t), you could say that the Empire’s discovery of the Rebel base leaves a shred of hope for the Wampa and his place in the Hoth food chain.
She Will Keep Them Warm
Oh boy, it’s the Tauntaun’s turn. Nothing good happens to Tauntauns in the film so there is a heavy sense of dread reading She Will Keep Them Warm by Delilah S. Dawson and the story of Mura, the Tauntaun that accompanies Han Solo to search for Luke at the beginning of the film. But the beautiful writing by Dawson in describing the anxieties, loyalty, and desires of this Tauntaun leader and mother who tries to keep her herd together even in captivity is quite inspiring. The story chooses not to focus on the tragedy but doesn’t shy away from portraying the trauma of Mura having to spend her life, bear her cubs, and be constrained to a small space at the will of the Rebels. The story tries to paint Leia, and even Han, in a positive light but they are still keeping animals that were not born in captivity in cages. Mura becomes anxious when her daughter Riba, taken by Luke Skywalker, does not return from a mission. So, she is relieved when she is chosen to take Han Solo out in the icy wilderness to search for Riba, promising to do fulfill her duty as a leader and as a mother to keep her safe. Both of these early stories highlight how creative freedoms can be taken in interesting ways on the page that cannot be conveyed on the screen.
It’s the end of Admiral Ozzel’s life at the beginning of Kendal by Charles Yu. As the first victim of Darth Vader’s choking spree in Empire, Ozzel flashes through different moments of his life trying to remember one thing: What was the little boy’s name who he was acquainted with in his youth? Through these moments we learn he was engaged, and that he had a choice between the Empire and the Rebellion, we see memories of his mother, of his homeworld Carida. Kendal is a life flashing before your eyes, it is 13 minutes of a man slowly dying, losing his senses, and traveling through time. Ozzel does remember the answer to his question he poses at the beginning of the story in his final moment. Kendal is a touching point of view of a man who has probably committed many atrocities for the Empire but can still be afforded a great story on the way out.
The Search for the Millennium Falcon
Rendezvous Point by Jason Fry is one of the longer stories in A Certain Point of View and covers an important question of war: What happens if your most high-profile leaders suddenly disappear? Wedge Antilles faces this when Luke, Leia, Han, and Chewie do not rendezvous with the Rebellion after the evacuation of Echo Base, he has to learn to become one of those leaders. Mourning the loss of members in his squadron, Wedge refuses to believe that Luke and Leia are lost as well. The Contessa, who we first meet in Lost Stars, gives him an unfortunate dose of reality: that they need to be prepared to move on. The Contessa is an interesting character that has plenty of room to explore in her own story and hopefully, she will get one in Return of the Jedi’s collection. Here, she serves as a mentor to Wedge as he must mentor and rebuild his squadron with new fighters, some willing and some not so willing. One of these new fighters is Sila Kott who we see in live-action in Return of the Jedi. Rendezvous Point does a great job at connecting Wedge to other pilots and leaders we will see in the future (Mon Mothma makes an appearance as well). This is an important story in Wedge’s life and growth as a leader and I almost want to see a live-action adaptation. Wedge has always been a secondary character in the films and treated as a secondary leader within the Rebellion but Rendezvous Point puts him front and center and reminds us that Wedge can carry, and is deserving of, his own story.
The Final Order
From A Certain Point of View shines the most when it takes blink-and-you’ll-miss-them characters from the film and gives them a story so poignant that you’ll wish you had more time with them, even when you know you don’t. The focus of The Final Order by Seth Dickinson is an Imperial Bridge Office we learn to be Captain Canonhaus. And you could certainly miss this character in Empire if you blink. The Imperial Fleet is stationed outside of an asteroid field where they have traced the Millennium Falcon and are losing ships to asteroids and debris. Canonhaus is the officer that is on a hologram with Vader and is killed by an asteroid that hits his command deck…and Vader and the other officers just keep talking, not even acknowledging Canonhaus’s death. In The Final Order, we see the time right before that communication when Canonhaus is mostly involved in a conversation about the Empire with his subordinate, a young promising Cadet. The story is a mixture of what he wants to say to this young leader and what he actually says: part of which is understanding the difference between the idealism the Empire presents itself to be, and the reality of what it is. What exactly is it? Canonhaus believes it is a tool to enable people like Darth Vader to do anything they want. He gives the Cadet an example of his part in destroying an Alderaanian refuge convoy and purposely misfiling paperwork. No one cared or ever said anything because the Empire doesn’t care about rationalizing evil acts.
“In the end, the Empire would not be about tactics and procedures and logic. It would be about the empty cruelty of men like Vader. It would be fear for fear’s sake. Power without purpose. Symbol without meaning. Nothingness. Nonsense.”– Canonhaus thinks to himself
Canonhaus looks to the future and retiring from The Empire before he takes that hologram communication with Vader and after reading, you won’t be able to help but wonder…what if more leaders like Canonhaus were around after the fall of the Empire?
Luke’s Time on Dagobah
Vergence by Tracy Deonn is probably my favorite story in From A Certain Point of View, which I would never expect to say about a story that revolves around the Cave of Evil on Dagobah. We are given very little information about it in Empire Strikes Back, though we do see it in The Clone Wars as Yoda meets it for the first time. But here, we get its’ thoughts as it evolves through time and interacts with our main characters from the film. The Cave of Evil is an entity that is at least a thousand years old and chapters its’ evolution as Understandings (there are five Understandings total). It is quite similar to an AI’s journey to self-actualization, through interaction with beings like Qui-Gon, Yoda, and Luke. Because the Cave is a dark side entity, this allows for insight into Yoda’s thoughts and his dance with the dark side, his shame and regrets from his time on the Jedi Council. The Cave of Evil is on the list of these almost ethereal force beings, along with the Bendu from Rebels and The Priestesses from The Clone Wars. Characters that have a lot of questions surrounding their existence and are perfect for these types of short stories.
There is Always Another
It must be frustrating being a force ghost in the Star Wars Universe and even more so if you are Obi-Wan Kenobi. Having lived through watching the fall of your close friend to the dark side, thinking of all the signs you missed and watching his son make the same mistakes, wondering if you will have to watch it all over again. There is Always Another by Mackenzi Lee sees Obi-Wan watching Luke recall his vision of Han and Leia in trouble on Bespin and deciding to leave to help them. Both Yoda and Obi-Wan know the direness of this situation: Luke, having only just begun his training is going to face a man, who Yoda and Obi-Wan know to be his father. Obi-Wan goes back and forth comparing Luke to Anakin, who was also said to be the “chosen one” but given impossible standards and obstacles from the Jedi Council. It is Obi-Wan criticizing the institution he followed blindly during his time as padawan for Qui-Gon and rarely questioned during his time as Anakin’s master. He sees Luke forming the same attachments that Anakin held onto so dearly and lost one by one (Ahsoka is mentioned as one of those attachments).
In the end, Obi-Wan comes to the realization that little Anakin, who was pulled out of slavery and taken from his mother “was the chosen one, without any choices of his own.” But he also realizes that Luke is not Anakin and he must forge his own path. Knowing that there is an Obi-Wan series coming to Disney+, it will be interesting to see if he comes to these conclusions with all that time spent on Tatooine watching over another Skywalker.
On to Cloud City and many versions of Lando Calrissian’s “Attention, the Empire has taken control of the city…” announcements. Seriously, it is in every story revolving around Cloud City, though it is fun listening to the audio and each narrator’s interpretation of the announcement. Bespin Escape by Martha Wells is the fifth story from Cloud City and the first to focus on Ugnaughts. Those who read canon materials know that the species, which has seen more mainstream recognition from The Mandalorian, had large populations living in Cloud City so it was likely we would get a story from one’s perspective. In this story, it is from the perspective of Lanasti (not sure if that is the correct spelling as I listened to the audiobook) who is awaken by a family member to the realization that the Empire has taken control over Cloud City. Lanasti has predicted this outcome, having intercepted Lando’s personal communications, and had tried to warn her family that they needed an exit plan but her family refused to listen. Even when the moment to make a decision has fallen upon this family (which includes uncles, aunts, and cousins) they are still brushing off Lanasti’s advice. It is a family argument with the highest stakes and might mirror many arguments that have occurred in history at the moment when families have decided to leave their homeland for another. Bespin Escape is a reminder that the Empire invading Cloud City has dire consequences for certain species and, for the Ugnaughts, that consequence is slavery. And because of that, you are more invested in their escape and curse the obstacles that get in their way. I know Martha Wells wrote the legends novel Empire and Rebellion: Razor’s Edge and has the popular The Murderbot Diaries series but would love for her to write another novel focusing on species like Ugnaughts navigating Imperial rule.
Faith in an Old Friend
There was something particularly tragic about L3-37’s fate in Solo: A Star Wars Story. A droid who was so confident and unwavering in her rights as a droid, as a sentient being, that she “died” trying to bring about a droid revolution. Died in a sense that her autonomy was sacrificed so that her brain (and her navigational knowledge) could live on in the Millennium Falcon, which was still owned by Lando Calrissian. It becomes apparent very quickly in Faith in an Old Friend by Brittany N. Williams that L3 still has some thoughts about existing as part of the Millennium Falcon. First, she is not the only droid brain downloaded into the Falcon, she is one of three, along with V5-T, a transport droid, and ED-4, an espionage/splice droid. They call themselves the Millennium Collective named by L3, with the idea that the trio could still maintain their own identities while working as one unit. And it does work. The three are all very different but have a good repertoire and bond over their frustrations with C-3P0 and respect for R2-D2. But L3 still misses Lando and misses her ability to just exist as a physical being, and she’s hurt that she seemingly meant so little to Lando that he would bet the Falcon (and her) away to Han Solo. Anyone who knows someone who gambles regularly could have told L3-37, gamblers are going to gamble but nonetheless, she harbors deep anger over the fact. We learn that it’s L3 that pushes Han and Leia to seek out Lando in the Anoit System for a chance to see him again and we know from the events of the film that she does. It is another story around self-actualization and what identity means to a droid. We have seen that organic beings have attachments to their droids (Anakin and R2, Luke and R2, someone to C-3P0) but rarely do we get inside the mind of a droid to understand their attachments to both organic beings and to each other. A common theme in Star Wars is what you become can be bigger than what you were born into (in this case created) and that you can overcome the prejudices that arise from that situation. Droids are a big part of the Star Wars Universe and the ones that are loved strive to be more than just automated property but sentient-beings who make decisions on their own, so it is nice to have a character in L3-37 that is such a big representation of that back in a compelling story.
The longest escape from Bespin and the last on the list. The plot in The Witness by Adam Christopher is similar to many short stories in the A Certain Point of View collections and even other canon material: An Imperial worker disillusioned with the cruelty of the Empire plans to defect, but things go horribly wrong. The difference with this story is that the “horribly wrong” is the would-be defector, a Stormtrooper by the name Deena Lorn (designated TK-27342), gets lost on her way to the exit and ends up as a witness to the fight between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. When she hears Darth Vader speaking to Luke on the hanger, she tries to hear if there is anything that she could leverage to escape. I’ll let you read the story to see whether she hears the BIG thing, but it is a fun read and a nice spin on a familiar trope within Star Wars.
Against All Odds by R. F. Kuang for a compelling portrayal of a character learning to let go and give in to the afterlife, Tooth and Claw by Michael Kogge provide an interesting back story to Bossk and Right-Hand Man by Lydia Kang, where a medical droid gives Luke some very heartfelt advice while treating him for a new hand post-Vader fight are gems as well. Rae Sloane gets her own story but I hope that she gets another one for The Return of the Jedi as I think that would be a more interesting period in her life and career.
Two down, one to go with the Original Trilogy. After A Certain Point of View: The Return of the Jedi, I wonder if we are going to have to wait 40 years after The Phantom Menace to start getting Prequel anthologies…
Time will tell, but until then, happy reading and let me know your thoughts on the stories below!