REVIEW: From A Certain Point of View: The Empire Strikes Back
Updated: Nov 5, 2020
Star Wars fans have a long history of hungering for detailed background information about the saga's most obscure creatures and characters. From as far back as the “Tales From…” series of books in the 1990s, which provided a collection of backstories for the denizens of the famous cantina and the populace of Jabba's palace, die-hards have demonstrated a desire to fill in the wide-open spaces of the Star Wars films. From a Certain Point of View: The Empire Strikes Back continues the tradition as an anthology of forty short stories featuring seemingly minor events and characters that may have appeared on screen for only a few moments (if at all!) to tell the story of the film from their perspective. This is the same recipe as 2017's From a Certain Point of View, featuring stories related to A New Hope, and, like its predecessor, it is a lot of fun for every level of fan - from the deeply entrenched Star Wars scholar to the casual movie-goer.
The 550-page tome adds color to every aspect of the film: from the marquis characters and key plot points (The evil Emperor Palpatine, the wise Obi-Wan Kenobi, and the dreaded bounty hunter Boba Fett) to the obscure (the guy who walked between Han and Leia as they argued on Hoth, a soldier in trenches, some alien workers on Bespin’s Cloud City to name a few). The attraction of this book to some readers will be where it provides more canon for some of the fandom’s most cherished “cult” characters like blink-and-you-miss-him Willrow Hood, Jaxxon the cocky green rabbit creature made infamous in early Star Wars comics and Admiral Ozzel – the Imperial officer who is “as clumsy as he is stupid.”
The remarkable part of this book is that each of the forty stories is written by a different author. Familiar A-list writers like Cavan Scott, Jason Fry, and Delilah Dawson bring their wealth of Star Wars knowledge and experience to the collection while a host of fresh voices bring their perspective to some of the most compelling tales.
A few favorite moments come from authors that haven’t published a Star Wars story before. “Disturbance” by Mike Chen shares the moment The Emperor feels the presence and importance of Luke Skywalker before bringing it to Vader’s attention. The way Chen brings a vision in the Force to life is effortless and seamlessly captures the fluidity these premonitions might have. Brittany N. Williams’ “Faith in an Old Friend” tells the story of L-337’s interaction with C-3PO aboard the Millennium Falcon, providing more context to a throw-away line from The Empire Strikes Back (“I don’t know where your ship learned to communicate …”) that took on new meaning after the release of Solo: A Star Wars Story. The insight to what happens when a droid is “hooked up” to a spaceship’s computer (and consciousness) is fun and 3-PO’s depiction would make Anthony Daniels proud.
Of course, this collection faces some challenges. It is never easy to revisit famous characters without running the risk of altering their story or changing the “head canon” fans bring to them. “There is Always Another,” by McKenzie Lee walks a very fine line when telling the story of Obi-Wan Kenobi’s internal dialog as Luke prepares to abandon his training with Yoda on Dagobah. This story is rich with Star Wars lore and callbacks to the Clone Wars TV series, the Prequel films and more, but, to some it may paint the Force ghost Kenobi in a pessimistic light that feels slightly out of character.
“Wait For It,” by Zoraida Cordova may be many fans’ favorite as it features Boba Fett in a now timely look (thanks to the Disney+ show, The Mandalorian) at what receiving the order for a bounty is like and follows a classic “honor among thieves” narrative that is paced and sized perfectly for this compilation.
From a Certain Point of View: The Empire Strikes Back is at times laugh-out-loud funny and at others heart wrenching. Often named the best Star Wars movie, Episode V has many fans that would love to revisit that time and place in the galaxy far, far away. For the canon junkies, this book provides pages of new lore to sink their teeth into – and many factoids to add to their Wookieepedia entries. For the casual Star Wars reader, the stories are accessible as fun tales from a favorite film. For all fans, it is a terrific introduction to some extremely talented authors whose individual styles are on display on every page. Most of the stories are the perfect length to pick up and read one or two at a time when you have a moment while the flow (following the timeline of events of the movie) also allows the reader to sit down and digest all 40 stories in a sitting. Every one of the tales will make you want to revisit The Empire Strikes Back and look at some scenes a little differently. You may even feel a twinge of sadness for the tauntaun that gave its life to keep Luke Skywalker alive through the brutal Hoth winter night.
Of note, all participating authors have generously agreed to forego any compensation for their contribution and donate the proceeds to First Book, a non-profit providing essential materials to educators and organizations serving children in need. From a Certain Point of View: The Empire Strikes Back is available from Del Rey beginning November 10, 2020. Order it from Amazon or wherever you buy books.