Today saw the release of the new short-story anthology Star Wars: Return of the Jedi – From a Certain Point of View, which follows up on previous releases for the original Star Wars film and The Empire Strikes Back in celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Original Trilogy by collecting 40 new tales by 40 different authors about ancillary and background characters from the movies. I recently received advance copies of the book in both print and audiobook formats for review, and below are my thoughts.
Regular readers of my Star Wars review here at Laughing Place (or listeners to our Star Wars podcast “Who’s the Bossk?”) will know that I’ve struggled with these From a Certain Point of View collections in the past. It’s a solid concept, and one that has definitely worked before– see the Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina, Tales of the Bounty Hunters, and Tales from Jabba’s Palace anthologies from the Legends era. But I think the bottom line here is that 40 stories are just too many to cram into one book, especially considering the free rein the authors are evidently given with their lengths. The audio edition of the new Return of the Jedi volume is roughly 20 hours long… that’s an average of half an hour per story, for those keeping track at home, though a few are very short and a couple actually reach up over an hour. It’s honestly something I would probably enjoy a lot more if I were to take my time with it, but for the purposes of these reviews I’ve had to shotgun them over the course of a couple days, and I think it’s fair to say I was left wanting less. That’s not to say there isn’t a tremendous amount of talent represented in these pages– at the very least I enjoyed seeing what authors like Mike Chen (Star Wars: Brotherhood), Sarah Kuhn (Star Wars: Doctor Aphra – An Audiobook Original), Phil Szostak (The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens), Alyssa Wong (Star Wars: Doctor Aphra), Adam Christopher (Star Wars: Shadow of the Sith), and Kristin Baver (Skywalker: A Family at War) came up with in terms of their ideas for this premise.
Some examples include a peek into the mind of Moff Jerjerrod– the Imperial officer overseeing construction of the second Death Star– as he almost perversely imagines being Force-choked by Darth Vader, a slapstick-comedy misadventure in the life of Ortolan keyboardist Max Rebo just before he goes to work for Jabba the Hutt, a recontextualization of the Sarlacc monster as a vegetarian who despises the idea of humanoids regularly force-feeding each other to it, Mon Mothma retrieving the information supplied by the Bothan spies she refers to in the movie’s rebel briefing, and at least a few individual Ewoks giving their own unique perspectives on the Battle of Endor. Some of these premises are very clever and others less so, with the overall execution being just as much of a mixed bag. My own personal taste would have preferred the authors steer away from comedy as a fallback– one of the stories is about a Death Star gunner on the verge of retirement, whose plan is to go into business selling safety railings to the Empire, raking in billions of credits… it’s a four-decade-plus-old joke, and it just stretches on for way, way too long. My personal favorites among the bunch tend to be the ones that took themselves a little more seriously, like Luke Skywalker having an existential conversation with the Imperial commander to whom he surrendered on Endor, and the above-mentioned Adam Christopher’s deep-dive into the pre-First Order life of Enric Pryde, the scene-stealing character played by actor Richard E. Grant in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
The audiobook version is fitfully entertaining as well, with celebrity guests like Mad Men’s Jon Hamm reading the Boba Fett story, voice actor Sam Witwer (Star Wars: The Clone Wars) giving us his best Emperor Palpatine, and Adam Scott from Parks and Recreation relating the story, told through a series of log entries, of a stormtrooper who has had about as much as he can take of the drudgeries of Imperial life. There’s also Star Wars audiobook heavy-hitter Marc Thompson– who probably does the most convincing C-3PO impression I’ve ever heard outside of Anthony Daniels– joining a number of other readers into bringing these 40 tales to listeners’ ears. But on the whole my advice for the audio would be the same for the printed version: take your time getting through it. Maybe limit yourself to one or two stories a week and savor them without rushing through the collection like I did, because I feel like that leads to frustration with how often these tales overlap and contradict each other. The Max Rebo story even goes against what we just learned a few weeks ago in that character’s Marvel Comics one-shot (Max seems pretty content living and working at Jabba’s Palace, which conflicts with him trying to assassinate the Hutt by poisoning him in the comic). I get that we aren’t necessarily supposed to take these stories at face value, and that the implication of the title is that these are just varying perspectives on the events of Return of the Jedi, but I still found myself clamoring for some consistency.
I also wish that Lucasfilm Publishing would rely more on tried-and-true Star Wars authors for these anthologies. There are a handful represented here (mostly the ones I listed above) but by and large the writers are newcomers to A Galaxy Far, Far Away. I did learn via a recent interview with Adam Christopher that the company has used From a Certain Point of View as something of a proving ground for future Star Wars novelists, and that may help them out in the long run, but to myself as the reader many of the stories often felt like they were penned by people with only a cursory understanding of my favorite franchise. Maybe in a couple years we’ll get From a Certain Point of View: The Force Awakens and it will only have ten stories, or even 30 stories might work for The Phantom Menace in 2029, but for now I’d say 40 is just too many to get through. Over these three volumes it’s become tougher and tougher to weed out the gems from among the more disposable tales, and ultimately the From a Certain Point of View series has given me something I haven’t experienced very much of in my lifetime as a fan: Star Wars fatigue.
Star Wars: Return of the Jedi – From a Certain Point of View is available now wherever books are sold.