The latest release from Del Rey’s line of Star Wars novels is a quartet of short stories by Landry Q. Walker collected under the more-than-slightly cumbersome heading of Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens: Tales From a Galaxy Far, Far Away. I will call them Tales for ease of reading. The quartet is available only in e-book format, look for it online from your e-book seller of choice.
Each story in the collection features characters from the imminently released film. What’s fun and interesting in this selection of stories is the wide variety of genres on display. Walker’s four tales rely on and reference wildly different sets of tropes, from horror to Western.
The collective title, Tales From a Galaxy Far, Far Away, is a nice nod to the short story collections released around key locations in the original trilogy. Fans loved these books nearly twenty years ago because they fleshed out background characters and added to the lived-in, used future feeling of Star Wars. Watching the films you get the sense that the universe is larger than what’s on camera. Tales From the Mos Eisley Cantina gave backstories to many of the creatures in Wuher’s bar. Tales from Jabba’s Palace expanded on the scum and villainy of the Hutt’s entourage — but gives special credence to the backstory of Max Rebo, everyone’s favorite Ortolan organist. Tales From the Empire and Tales From the New Republic followed extraordinary people from those political factions. But perhaps the most popular and influential — also the most ridiculous — collection of tales is Tales of the Bounty Hunters which follows the five hunters seen in Empire Strikes Back who are not Boba Fett. And one of them takes over/becomes the second Death Star while another droid tries to learn the ways of the Force.
I am so glad the EU got scrapped.
High Noon on Jakku
Jakku is, of course, the new desert planet that is featured in The Force Awakens. This Tale is equal parts Western and pulp detective story. We follow constable Zuvio, a “gray skinned Kyuzo,” during the most action-packed day of his tenure as the law. Like any good action-packed Western, there’s a bank heist and plenty of shootouts. Along the way we see the rapid-fire analysis and deduction of the good constable. It wraps up with suitably poetic justice.
High Noon on Jakku is important because it gives us the first good look at life on Jakku before the film releases in a week. We’ve seen it already in Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath and Claudia Grey’s Lost Stars but only ever in brief. High Noon gives us the perspective of the being in the street. It is a dusty, poor, grimy, crime-ridden street worthy of a Sergio Leone frontier town or A New Hope. It also introduces us to several new species and fleshes out some technology explicitly.
The Crimson Corsair and the Lost Treasure of Count Dooku
The award for the longest and most awkward title of the year goes to: Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakes: Tales From a Galaxy Far, Far Away: The Crimson Corsair and the Lost Treasure of Count Dooku. It’s got two colons, for Sith’s sake. And I can’t tell if “Aliens” should be in there somewhere. Maybe with another colon.
Anyway, this is a rip-roaring adventure yarn that starts with a bang and doesn’t let up until the end. If you’re a fan of the old Flash Gordon serials and/or the non-stop action of Mad Max: Fury Road, check this one out. You can tell from the abbreviated title, with its “…and the Lost Treasure of…,” that this is an homage to the pulp serials. The titular Crimson Corsair is actually Sidon Ithano, a being of indeterminate species and captain of the Shrike. He is an enigmatic figure, rarely speaking and always masked. The story mostly follows Quiggold, the Corsair’s Gabdorin first mate, as they go in search of a decades-crashed Separatist cruiser rumored to carry a fabulous treasure. The crew of the Shrike race across the desert, fighting rival gangs and the elements themselves to find the treasure. Several twists and dramatic reveals near the end of the story keep the pulp vibe going strong. One will also tug at the heart strings of fans of The Clone Wars.
All Creatures Great and Small
This is the story I enjoyed the least. It follows Bobbajo, the creature we first glimpsed as part of JJ Abrams’ Force for Change announcement a year and a half ago. In it, Bobbajo is a wandering storyteller who happens into a small settlement on Jakku just before it is attacked by Zygerrian slavers (another nod to The Clone Wars). He keeps the people of Reetskii calm during the attack by telling them a tale. The tale-within-a-Tale is a fable about how the small creatures in Bobbajo’s managerie are heroic. Even the smallest, most inconsequential beings can be brave and have a positive impact on the galaxy.
I didn’t particularly care for this story as I read it because it calls into question what really happened in the original trilogy. It is by the end, of course, filtered through the old “certain point of view” lens that is so famous in Star Wars but the revisionist nature of the fable constantly pulled me out of the story.
The Face of Evil
The final story in the collection is a loving homage to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Or, rather, more an homage to the cheap cinema Frankenstein has inspired in the last 200 years. It tells the tale of a thief and murderer, Ryn Biggleston, who finds herself stranded on the planet Takodana. She bargains for safe harbor in Maz Kanata’s palace for only a single, dark, and stormy night.
This story is dark and moody, filled with tropes. There’s a hunchbacked assistant, mad scientists, a terrible monstrosity, and several dark, creepy, horrific endings that are fairly poetic in nature. Even if those horrific endings are telegraphed, they are well executed and realized.
I highly recommend this set of stories. At two bucks a pop, each is well worth the fun. Any one of them can be read on a lunch break; two of them if you’re a fast reader. The stories are intricately woven, often cutting back and forth between multiple perspectives and characters. Walker’s prose is quick and punchy, snapping back and forth. His execution of the four different genres is also notable. He maintained a distinctive voice while adjusting the narrative and tropes for different effect.
In the end, the best thing is the density of setting in the Tales that makes them a meaty selection for the Star Wars aficionado — new species and planets galore. I plan on rereading them just to flag the new items.