t’s one of the questions Star Wars fans love and hate the most.
What’s your favorite Star Wars movie?
Such a seemingly innocent question can provide anything from an innocent response to a torrential spin down the mental rabbit hole. And if you ask enough fans, you’ll eventually hear every film mentioned at least once. Some folks are addicted to the podracing of The Phantom Menace, others are forever enraptured with the original magic of A New Hope. The song goes on and on.
But even if it’s not the unanimous favorite, it’s hard to deny one simple truth. Everyone. Loves. Empire.
2020 marks the 40th anniversary of the landmark sequel, The Empire Strikes Back, and just as they did three years ago with the 40th celebration of Luke Skywalker’s first trek across the stars, Del Rey has published a collection of 40 short stories celebrating characters in the film that may have slipped right past you during the first watch.
From a Certain Point of View: The Empire Strikes Back collects 40 of the brightest stars in the publishing world to tell the 40 tales of what was really happening from the Attack on Hoth through the Escape from Bespin. Featuring a score of voices new to Star Wars publishing, the hereafter abbreviated FACPOV: ESB celebrates the incredible variety and vastness of storytelling that is possible in our favorite galaxy far, far away.
While the overall plot structure of The Empire Strikes Back is decently familiar to most people picking up this collection, FACPOV: ESB keeps the reader’s attention beautifully by staying faithful to the original story beats while simultaneously adding in brilliant shades of color.
The order of the stories follows the general outline of the film, and you’ll find yourself hitting familiar landmarks like Hoth, Dagobah, and Bespin as you go. Some of the stories will feature characters interacting directly with major story characters like “Rogue Two,” Gary Whitta’s tale of Zev Senesca and Rogue Squadron, while others will showcase entirely new characters and plot points like Sarwat Chadda’s “Standard Imperial Procedure.”
While every entry into this collection is unique in its own way, I found myself enjoying the stories that introduced new characters and voices much more than those with which I may have been previously familiar. We often talk about freedom in writing as a key to an author’s success in Star Wars publishing, and FACPOV is no different. Without the pre-existing constraints of an established character, a writer can feel free to truly expand the scenes they write about -- which was the beauty of both the first From a Certain Point of View as well as this successor.
This encompasses the main strength of FACPOV: ESB’s plot, and that is its ability to enhance its source material unlike any other type of novel. With 40 separate stories and scenes to work with, this book can’t help but make me consider parts of one of my favorite movies of all time that I had never before thought about.
Do I know now what Bossk was up to before he met up with Vader? Yup.
Do I know the history of the exogorth species in the time before it ate the Millennium Falcon? Yup.
Do I know why Willrow Hood was running so fast? Okay...so I’ve definitely wondered that before, but nonetheless...yup.
The first From a Certain Point of View novel was heralded for its ability to reshape key moments in A New Hope, and after paging through the tome of FACPOV: ESB, I can confidently say that this sequel follows through on that promise with results that even manage to outshine its predecessor.
When this project was first announced, Del Rey Publishing was very frank about the insanity of the character selection process amongst its chosen authors. Evidently, a giant Google Doc was created, and at the same time, every writer pounced in order to lay a claim on their favorite background character.
Did Christie Golden throw a haymaker at John Jackson Miller? Did Tracey Deonn sweep Daniel José Older’s leg? Was Marc Thompson eagerly eating popcorn in the corner as the chaos unfolded around him? We can never truly know.
We can, however, see which character pairings proved to be the most successful, and after reading through the entirety of FACPOV: ESB, there’s not exactly a golden rule. Above, I noted that the original character stories occasionally brought me more joy and interest, but I was nonetheless blown away by the character complexity added to Admiral Ozzel and Dak Ralter by Charles Yu and RF Kuang, respectively.
The characters within this collection are the bridge between the reader and the rich existence of The Empire Strikes back and, for the most part, this book nails a wonderful balance of classic tone and new voices. Personally, I found that this book worked the best when it chose to expand the background of a singular character whether preexisting or original.
C.B. Lee’s “A Good Kiss” took us through the day of a man we’ve never met just trying to escape Hoth while also dealing with the daily pressures of an unspoken crush. Christie Golden’s “The Truest Duty” brings us inside the mind of General Veers as he ponders the impact of his coming assault and the legacy of his career. And S.A. Chakraborty’s “But What Does He Eat?” asks us to consider the responsibilities we have to our careers, our survival, and the galaxy as a whole.
While naming every single story that focuses on a singular point of view would make this review arduous at best, there are so many that really allow us to see inside the moment to moment decisions that craft the world of The Empire Strikes Back, and that personal touch puts some of these character moments up there with the best of the new Canon.
For a book that takes place entirely within the confines of a known film, FACPOV: ESB adds a remarkable amount of original lore to the history of the Star Wars universe.
Without spoiling too much, you’ll learn about the history of Rogue Squadron’s callsigns, the protocols of an Imperial waste manager, the history of the exogorth species, the gambling underbelly of Bespin, the depressing depths of Yoda’s exile, and more. Every addition and enhancement to Star Wars lore feels organic, and upon your next watch of Empire, you’ll be hard pressed not to mentally input the lessons that you’ve learned from the pages of FACPOV: ESB.
“Oh hey! I know the guy who looks after those tauntauns.”
*bursts into tears when The Millennium Falcon chooses Cloud City*
It’s these types of additions that can only be found in short story collections like FACPOV: ESB and its predecessor, and at their core, they represent the purest enhancements to the Star Wars universe. Sure -- as an adult, you may eagerly devour the latest Thrawn novel (and believe you, we did), but when you first watched a Star Wars movie as a kid, your mind was filled with possibilities about the little things whirring by the screen.
Additionally, this novel wonderfully increases the amount of LGBTQ+ representation in the Star Wars galaxy. Obviously, the racial and sexual politics of the original films were not quite as inclusive as they could have been, but this collection turns that on its head by introducing a multitude of queer characters that, as of now, were actually there the whole time.
The continued effort to include these types of people and life experiences in the pages of Star Wars is forever welcome, and knowing that queer creators got to write folks that have lived their own experiences is pretty damn special.
Finally, while this book may not fill the Star Wars universe with additional galaxies and political hierarchies like recent Canon additions, it does add naturalists, chefs, Force visions, and Wampa families...and I’ll put my name right up on Rogue Squadron’s betting board if that doesn’t bring a smile to your face.
What. A. Lineup.
FACPOV: ESB features a collection of authors that all bring something unique and beautiful to the table. More races, gender identities, sexualities, religious backgrounds, and more are represented on the brilliantly designed cover of this book, and the result is a group of stories that sound and feel as diverse as the folks who wrote them.
As you read through each chapter, you’ll experience a variety of tenses, character types, and even poetics from time to time. I have never witnessed such a vast collection of tones and styles in a Star Wars book, and because of that intense variation, it is quite unlikely that readers will love every single story in this collection.
But that’s the beauty of it! From a purely writing standpoint, FACPOV: ESB appears to represent the future of Star Wars publishing, and that future is not a straight line, but a singular force that branches into multiple galaxies, timelines, and more.
Tracey Deonn’s psychological description of the mentality of the Dagobah belongs in Star Wars.
Cavan Scott’s unabashed love of Jaxxon belongs in Star Wars.
Daniel José Older’s hilarious inside jokes about the publishing system belong in Star Wars.
Are there stories that feel a little off to me regarding my particular style of reading? Sure. Are there chapters that introduced me to a style of storytelling I had never before experienced? Absolutely. Are there authors I had never read before that I now wish to support in everything they do? BETTER BELIEVE IT.
And therein lies the beauty of such a large collection of creators folded within one collection. Most of the writers of FACPOV: ESB have published other full-length works, and what better way to meet your new favorite writer than by meeting them within the confines of Star Wars?
Remember the thrill of watching The Empire Strikes Back for the first time? Or the 40th time? Great. Now expand that over almost 600 pages, and you’re in for a pretty good time, right?
It’s clear from the start that FACPOV: ESB was written for people who love Star Wars by people who love Star Wars, and that obvious passion positively bleeds entertainment value. Because every author was given the ability to pick their own character focus, it’s clear to see that the authors chose to write their own particular strengths, and the results benefit across the board.
Some writers take us through thrilling ground assaults and space battles, others focus on the excitement of new romance and clandestine meetings, and others still can’t get enough of the sly smugglers that pepper themselves all around our favorite galaxy. Each story reads as so intensely personal that it’s easy to be entertained not only by the subject matter, itself, but also by the image of each writer creating the settings and circumstances playing out on the page.
For my own money, I found myself to be slightly more entertained by the stories that were on the shorter side. In such a massive collection, it’s hard to escape the desire to know which character is coming next, and with some of the longer entries, it became decently hard to focus on the current story as it entered yet another scene.
Were some of these writers somewhat auditioning for their own full length entries in the Star Wars Canon? Absolutely -- that’s their job, after all. But the most entertaining entries were most definitely self contained tales rather than a single chapter in a hopefully future novel.
On the whole, FACPOV: ESB blends the nostalgia of the film with the bright new horizons of the current world of Star Wars publishing to create a book that traverses the brilliant highs and lows of the emotional spectrum in a way that is thrilling, entertaining, and immensely satisfying.
The first From a Certain Point of View audiobook sits at the top of our Best Star Wars Audiobooks list for good reason. It employed a stellar lineup of narrators that were able to breathe life into a multitude of different characters, story types, and settings, and the result was an astonishingly well crafted piece of media that would impress even the harshest critics.
Well. They’ve done it again.
FACPOV: ESB once more brings together a mindblowing good stable of narrators and voice actors to create a product that may even eclipse its prequel. Jonathan Davis, Sean Elias-Reyes, Dion Graham, Jon Hamm, January LaVoy, Soneela Nankani, Marc Thompson, Sam Witwer and Emily Woo Zeller unite as a Vultron of talent to breathe life into characters old and new, and the results very simply took my breath away multiple times.
Whether it’s embodying the soul of an ancient Jedi master, personifying the thoughts of an ancient space slug, or describing the burgeoning romances in the cold depths of Echo base, every narrator is perfectly tailored to their specific stories, and variety in voices keep each story fresh and exciting as you go to the next track in sequence.
Additional recognition must be awarded to the technical creators at Penguin Random House Audio, because just like the first entry in this series, they were tasked with recording, editing, and producing 40 separate stories with unique locations, background noise, and soundtracks.
The amount of effort that requires can easily be taken for granted, but every listener is essentially getting 40 fully produced Star Wars films in one box, and my mind starts to melt the moment I attempt to rationalize how much work that must have taken during a pandemic.
This past year has been particularly good to Star Wars audio with the success of Doctor Aphra earlier this year, and seeing rising Star Wars audio drama stars like Emily Woo Zeller and Sean Elias-Reyes join classic voices like Marc Thompson, January LaVoy, and Jonathan Davis and welcome relative Star Wars newcomers like Soneela Nankani and Dion Graham speaks to the wondrous stable of talent Star Wars is assembling in every corner of its creative empire.
And then there’s Jon Hamm and Sam Witwer. Let’s see...what’s the most appropriate way to describe the impact of their voices on my soul, body, and mind? Let’s go with: they’re allowed to narrate anything they want. Forever. For all time.
Yeah that’ll work.
From a Certain Point of View: The Empire Strikes Back follows through on the expansive promise of the original book but increases its effectiveness tenfold by employing the talents of the most diverse group of writers Star Wars has ever seen. While not every story will thrill every single consumer, the vast assortment of tales will surely entertain every type of reader from the newest Empire fan to those who waited in line to discover Luke’s secret origin back in 1980.
If this collection is any indication for the future of the Star Wars publishing universe, then we could not be in better hands. These authors should all be proud of the work they’ve put in to creatively enhance one of the most beloved media properties in the history of the franchise, and in three years time, we can only hope to get something as wonderful, different, and exciting for Return of the Jedi.