Even if you are not into Star Wars books, this one may be worth a try.
“Star Wars From A Certain Point of View: The Empire Strikes Back” is a collection of forty short stories set around the time of Episode V (released to celebrate the film’s 40th anniversary). As the title implies, the entire point is to show the familiar events or their surrounding circumstances from a different angle than the films do.
Imperials, Tauntauns, Or A Cave
There are stories from Hoth narrated by random Rebels, and not just soldiers but also technicians or workers who move around the tauntaun pens. Later we read stories from the perspective of Imperial officers and bounty hunters searching for the Millennium Falcon in the asteroid field, both low-class miners and high-class citizens in the Cloud City. Some of the most fantastic stories are told from the point of view of animals: the Wampa that attacks Luke, the tauntaun that Han rides, the space slug in the asteroid field, whose story may be the most bizarre of the entire book, but also the most artistically creative, really getting out of the frame of the basic Star Wars storytelling. There is also a story from the perspective of the medical droid that treats Luke after the loss of his hand or from the collective consciousness of the Millennium Falcon (represented, among others, by Lando’s former L3 droid). And one story told by a place – the dark cave on Dagobah that shows Luke his greatest fear.
You would not find a story told by any of the major characters – Luke, Leia, Han, Vader, Chewie… They get enough space in the films. There is however a story from the perspective of Yoda just before he meets Luke for the first time, and a similar story from the point of view of the ghost Obi-Wan. The Emperor gets his own story, too, showing the moment when he realises who “young Skywalker” really is, and decides to call Vader.
Some of the “minor” point of view characters are recognisable or identifiable in the films. There is the bounty hunter Bossk, Captain Ozzel (the entire story takes place in his head in the final minute of his life as he’s being choked for his incompetence), out of the Rebel pilots there is Rogue Two (who finds Han and Luke after their night on Hoth) and Dak (Luke’s poor gunner who gets shot). Even less known, but still identifiable characters include for example the Imperial captain whose ships gets blown up by an asteroid in the middle of a call (in the film, his hologram just flickers out of existence), or the famous man with the “ice cream maker” running through Cloud City’s corridors during the evacuation scene.
Variety Of Genres
The entire compilation is very well done. The stories vary in tone and their protagonists are different enough that there is no chance the reading would get boring. Most of the stories are fairly Star Wars-y, showing some action and/or emphasising some “classic Star Wars values” like hope or the feeling of empathy with others. There are a couple that even go somewhat deeper and philosophical – such as Yoda’s story or the one told by the dark cave on Dagobah.
Some of the tales are indeed based on showing familiar events from someone else’s angle, where the protagonist may have a completely different perception of the events than the films show – such as the poor starving Wampa who was chased out by humans out of its natural habitat. Other stories “merely” show some common folk or support troops as complex characters with their own normal life problems while the “big stuff” happens around them. Most have a conventional narrative, however there are exceptions – for example, the story “STET!” is written as a newspaper article interviewing the bounty hunters 4-LOM and Zuckuss, complete with the editor’s comments in the margins.
Even For Casual Audience
I was rather glad that in 99% of the cases the authors are not delving too deep into the extended lore. Indeed one of the best things about the book is that majority of the stories are low-threshold and anyone who has seen the films once can read them and know what they are about. The few that do not fit the bill or that heavily referrence some events that take place only in Star Wars books or other media are also mostly easily accessible or can be skipped.
The only downside I found about the book is that if you are reading it cover-to-cover, it proceeds chronologically and therefore you may become tired with reading the n-th story set on Hoth (and narrated by a random Rebel). However thankfully nothing prevents you from skipping ahead to read something else and then going back to continue reading where you left. In fact, I wholeheartedly recommend this approach.
What Does Vader Eat?
The main advantage of the book lies in the fact that no matter what you are into, you are bound to find some story that you like. I, personally, appreciated for example the creativity of the animal-point of view stories or the different angle provided by some of the Imperial characters. Another example of building a story based on a minor detail from the films is for example the story titled “But What Does He Eat?”. It is told by a professional, high-class chef residing in the Cloud City who is suddenly asked by Lando Calrissian to quickly prepare a fancy dinner for Lord Vader and his “guests”.
Many of the writers are well-known established sci-fi authors, and while there are a couple that have also written Star Wars novels, the majority are actually “externists”, which is a good thing. At the same time even though those authors are not part of the Star Wars “household”, they clearly had done their research, so if you are a canon pedant, you need not fear.
“From A Certain Point of View: The Empire Strikes Back” is one of the best Star Wars books out there, and I can only recommend it. The fact that the proceeds of the book are donated to a nonprofit organisation that provides books and other learning materials for children in need is only a nice bonus.