Despite my National Lampoon: Vegas Vacation reference (which might likely fall through the cracks for younger readers but is not as bad as critics would have you believe!), Canto Bight is a fair comparison as the characters in Canto Bight face disastrous circumstances that often make you want to cover your eyes with angst.
If Canto Bight doesn’t sound familiar to you, here is a refresher: in The Last Jedi, it was the luxury coastal casino city on the planet Cantonica where Finn and Rose took a side trip to find the Master Codebreaker to disable a tracking beacon on the First Order Supremacy. If none of that sounds familiar to you, then you either took a restroom break during this plot point, or it was just that forgettable. The various species in the Canto Bight Casino were some of the most odd-looking, cartoonish designs I have ever seen in Star Wars (including the Prequels). But the great thing about Canto Bight, a novella collection of stories, is that it doubles down on those characters by putting them in the driver’s seat for four different narratives. So, whether you are on a beach somewhere or on your couch wishing you were on a beach somewhere, you can still enjoy watching other character’s vacations fall apart in the C&C recommend for July, Canto Bight.
The four stories are written by Saladin Ahmed (“Rules of the Game”), Rae Carson (“Hear Nothing, See Nothing, Say Nothing”), Mira Grant (“The Wine in Dreams”), and John Jackson Miller (“The Ride”).
“Rules of the Game” finds a worm-like creature named Kedpin Shoklop, out of his element in the desert planet, being used as a tool for an assassin, Anglang Lehet, to eliminate a target for a crime syndicate. Things just go wrong from the start for the salesman who won an all-expense-paid trip through his company. It’s easy to feel sorry for the guy, even though the way his character design is described might make you sick. Anglang also starts to feel sorry for Kedpin and the story progresses into a character study of both men whose lives seemingly couldn’t be different but might have more in common than they think. Saladin Ahmed’s story flies by and reminds me of a Disney-friendly version of Collateral (the Michael Mann film starring Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx).
Mira Grant’s “The Wine in Dreams” is my favorite of the four and toggles between a hospitality/indentured worker and the tastemakers of Canto Bight. At the center of everything are two mysterious, wealthy twins known only as the Grammus sisters who come from an unknown planet to sell a bottle of wine from their homeworld. Little is known about the twins’ species or their planet, making the wine a novelty. The sisters keep the demand high by only selling rarely, making the acquisition a bragging right. Promises are made by various parties to secure the purchase, leading to a tense showdown between the Grammus sisters, a sommelier, and a nightclub owner that confirms that a bottle of wine just might be worth killing for in this Star Wars story. The less known about this tale, the better, and who would have thought that a story centering around a bottle of wine could be as entertaining as playing the slots?
Rae Carson’s “Hear Nothing, See Nothing, Say Nothing” focuses the most on the lives of hospitality workers as a renowned masseuse has to delve into his shady past to retrieve something precious that a Mob boss has taken from him. Yes, it is similar to Taken but the masseuse, Lexo Sooger, finds himself having to outwit the gangster by making a more powerful friend in the Contessa Alissyndrex delga Cantonica Provincion. The heart of this story is about found family and the lengths someone will go to protect a loved one but there is also a substory of how the powerful use underlings as tools in their own cold wars.
“The Ride” is the longest story in the novella, and it feels like it. However, there are some captivating moments in this tale set during one evening as a gambler has a ticking clock on his life. Kal owes dangerous people money…and he has a short amount of time to make it. The long evening takes him to the casinos, the racetrack, and everywhere in between as people will bet on anything in Canto Bight. Helping him along the way, sometimes unknowingly, are “The Lucky Three” brothers who can’t seem to NOT hit a big score. This story will stress you out as it plays out the most like a roller coaster of highs and lows, which is probably the point since it involves high-stakes gambling. If you don’t play in that space in your real life you can certainly get your fill from reading Kal’s story, even if it might lose your attention before the conclusion.
Overall, Canto Bight has four delightful tales set against a resort city that develops some otherwise forgettable characters. And if you are worried about reading a sad ending for any of these characters like the ones you get in A Certain Point of View short stories, not to worry. Like the Griswold family in the Vacation films, things ultimately work out for these characters, even if the ride to the finish line is bumpy. And given that there is so much tragedy in Star Wars films and stories, those are pretty good odds.