It has been a long time since I first saw what has been retroactively titled Star Wars: A New Hope, but at the time I saw it in a small one-screen cinema in coastal Ballina, NSW (Australia) was simply good old Star Wars, and you would think by now that I have come across, deliberately or accidentally, almost everything there is to know about this most extraordinary of films.
And yet as I dived into five selected stories from Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View (40 stories celebrating 40 years of Star Wars) by various authors, it become crystal clear once again just how I still have to learn, and how much of a joy it is to find myself in this position.
As I immersed myself in stories by Chuck Wendig (“We Don’t Serve Their Kind Here”), Mur Lafferty (“Not For Nothing”), Delilah S. Dawson (“The Secrets of Long Snoot”), Gary Whitta (“Raymus”) and Pierce Brown (“Desert Son”), it became almost exhilarating to have parts of a story I know so well became even bigger, more fascinating and expansively emotionally resonant.
Each of these beautifully well-told stories focuses on characters who, in the film at least, didn’t amount to much more than background players, but who, in the hands of skilled storytellers like the five authors chosen, come alive in surprisingly affecting ways that add impressive layers to a story already rich in humanity and epic scope.
Take “Raymus” which focuses on Captain Raymus Antilles, loyal servant to the Alderaan House of Organa, a man so committed to his cause that he sacrifices everything including his own life in what we all know, thanks to the gripping opening scene of A New Hope in which Leia Organa’s CR90 corvette Tantive IV is captured by a Star Destroyer as they race to the relative safety and anonymity of Tatooine.
“‘What is it they sent us?’
Captain Raymond Antilles watched as Princess Leia Organa of Alderaan turned away from him, holding the data card he had handed to her. The data card for which almost the entire military might of the Rebel Alliance, both on the ground and in orbit above the planet Scarif, had just risked everything to steal it from the one of the most secure Imperial strongholds in the galaxy.
‘Hope’ she replied as she looked ahead, through the forward viewport of the Tantive IV‘s cockpit, to the limitless ocean of stars beyond.” (“Raymus” by Gary Whitta)
In a sense you could argue that the scene as it stands in the film doesn’t need any further fleshing out; it is dramatic and full of tension so profoundly think you could carve it with a light sabre.
It is also intensely character-driven, despite all the action that accompanies what turns out to be ultimately futile resistance to entrapment of Tantive IV by the Destroyer and its all-but-inevitable boarding by an Imperial boarding party among whose number is the fearsome Darth Vader.
In the film we see Leia desperately loading the plans to the Death Star onto R2-D2 who leaves the ship with a resistant C-3PO in an escape pod, the brave members of the rebel Alliance doing their best to keep the Imperial boarders at bay and the escape pod releasing and whistling frantically down to nearby Tatooine as Princess Leia stands fiercely against the frightening impassivity of the Empire’s most feared enforcer.
That’s a lot of character-driven story in a short amount of time but Whitta’s story adds even more to this tale, making us privy to Raymus’ turmoil and angst as he realises that this is the end of the road for him and that he will never see his wife and daughters again.
It is intensely sobering but it is also inspiring as he tells Leia to escape and live to fight another day – “The war will go on without me. It won’t without you.” – a sensible entreaty she resists because she is badass like that and isn’t going to be cowed by a helmet-wearing man in villain-cliched black. (For the record I love Darth Vader’s but he is, you must admit, in regular bad guy colours.)
Whitta deftly and impressively adds even more depth and emotional resonance to scenes already rich in them, a masterful piece of work that speaks to the quality of his writing but also the capacity of the amazing universe of Star Wars to continue to surprise you at every turn.
Even more surprises are in store for you at the Mos Eisley Cantina, which surprise surprise (to me, at least), is officially known as Chalmun’s Spaceport Cantina, a pivotal Wookiee-owned stage to which Luke arrives, newly-initiated to the fight against the Empire, and in the company of hermitic Jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi and two droids, R2-D2 and C-3PO, who are forced to wait outside the social hub of Mos Eisley Spaceport which Keonobi famously describes to his new charge thus -“You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.”
The events at the Cantina are key to the ongoing story of A New Hope in many ways but most particularly because it is here that we and Luke and the gang meet Han Solo who turns out to be reasonably important member of the resultant titanic battle against the Empire.
His shooting of Greedo, a male Rodian bounty hunter, attracts a lot of attention in the Cantina, well for a nanosecond at least, as does Kenobi’s defense of Luke when two disreputable patrons try to accost Luke, and they add colour and flavour to the already-pronounced Wild West vibe infusing this part of the first film (but later moved to fourth position in the now nin-episode Skywalker Saga).
Again, do we need to know more any more about the bit players in a scene already full-to-bursting with character and narrative exposition?
It turns out we do, and thanks to Dawson’s character study of Long-Snoot aka Garindan, famed as the greatest spy in Mos Eisley and an Imperial informant with a lot more humanity to him that you might otherwise suspect, Wendig’s in-his-head portrayal of Cantina bartender Wuher (who famously asks the droids to leave) and the illuminating background story of the Cantina band, Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes, these pivotal scenes in the bar come alive like never before.
“As if the day wasn’t bad enough, the gods-blamed droid detector wasn’t working right again. Because who just walked in, but a couple of gods-blamed droids. One was a rickety old protocol droid, tarnished and sand-scoured. The other a blue-topped astromech. Both probably came offa some Jawa sandcrawler—each probably half a circuit shy of a proper droid. A coupla junk-bots that’ll just wreck the place, like droids do. They got no hearts. They got no soul. And now they were in his cantina.” (“We Don’t Serve Their Kind Here” by Chuck Wendig)
Going too-indepth in the film would simply have slowed down what is by any estimation and perfectly-unfurled narrative and so it makes sense that Wuher, Long-Snoot, bar troublemaker and Luke accosters Cornelius Evazan aka Doctor Evazan and Ponda Baba and Ickabel G’ont and his fellow band members really didn’t get a lot of screentime or fleshing out as characters.
But in the three stories which feature them, directly or indirectly, we get to know them better in ways that enrich the scene, which is exactly what a short story collection like From a Certain Point of View should do; we want more stories sure and they should be as imaginative as possible (and they are) but they should also add to what we already know which they do in ways that make the original material come even more alive, if that is even possible.
This very much holds true with the final of the five series, “Desert Son” by Pierce Brown where we get to see the final run on the Death Star, the one where Luke has to use the Force when all his usual technological aides fail him, through the eyes of fellow Alliance pilot and childhood friend Biggs Darklighter who gives us a perspective on one of the key heroes of the franchise.
It fleshes out Luke and his place in the pantheon of rebel fighters but also gives a whole other dimension to that fateful trip down the Death Star trench as well as poignancy as Biggs doesn’t survive the final run, killed by Darth Vader.
The story ends with a great amount of sadness but also great peace as Biggs bids farewell to his life with the calm certainty that he has helped his friend, furthered the idealistic aims of the Rebel Alliance and does his part to bring freedom to a galaxy very much under the heel of authoritarianism.
Having now read these five uniformly great short stories, it’s hard to imagine the Star Wars saga without them, especially because they enrich and advance still further an epic tale that was already brilliantly good to begin with, but also because they confirm once again that this is a franchise with an endless capacity for expansion, for rich, involving storytelling and for a deeply human and emotional resonant take on the fight for freedom and justice without which we would be all the poorer.