– Spoiler Review –
Released at the beginning of December, as part of the “Journey to Star Wars: The Last Jedi” initiative, Canto Bight is a novella collection that gives readers a peek into the new casino location seen in the film. The four novellas, written by Saladin Ahmed, Mira Grant, Rae Carson, and John Jackson Miller, all paint the casino world of Cantonica as “Space Vegas,” in various thrilling, funny, and dark ways.
While there is plenty of ugliness to see in the city of Canto Bight, I feel like the book ends up painting a slightly more positive picture of the city than the film does. It’s understandable that The Last Jedi can’t spend tons of time there, considering how packed it is already, but Canto Bight adds nuance to the idea that everything is corrupt and everyone there is profiting from selling weapons to both sides of the war. From the well-mannered salesbeing of the year to the Lucky Three, there are many beings who visit the casinos as if this is Star Wars‘ version of Las Vegas, though the book doesn’t shy away from pointing out some of the nastier, seedier aspects of the experience. I don’t think this book diminishes the film’s point about the world, but it does make it seem like a place one might not mind visiting regardless. Here are my thoughts on each specific novella:
“Rules of the Game” by Saladin Ahmed
The story of Kedpin, vaporator salesbeing of the year, and Anglang, assassin out to make his retirement permanent with one more job, might be predictable and a slower start to the Canto Bight stories, but it does a great job of introducing readers to the casino city and specific locations we’ll see and visit in later stories.
“The Wine in Dreams” by Mira Grant
The more I think back on these four stories, this one really seems to be my favorite. Mira Grant’s writing is superb, as everything from conversations, descriptions, and characters’ observations are full of deeper meanings, insightful thoughts, produces vivid pictures, and is full of quotable ideas. Seriously, I’d love to have her back for more Star Wars because “The Wine in Dreams” is cerebral, entertaining, and a thrill to watch unfold. Almost like the Grammus sisters, potentially twins from another dimension, or so they like to say, who are selling an otherworldly wine Derla Pidys, a galactic sommelier, must add to her collection to stay relevant. The sisters are a breath of fresh air and they never become clearer even after the story is over, leaving some enticing and fun mysteries long after you’re done reading. And the conversations they have with Derla, and later Ubialla, a desperate club owner who needs the wine to pay off debts, is almost as exciting as any lightsaber battle; no joke. There are many lines I enjoyed, but this is my favorite: “A world that doesn’t want you back is a world that has been well and truly enjoyed.”
“Hear Nothing, See Nothing, Say Nothing” by Rae Carson
A noir-like vibe permeates the tale of a masseuse with a checkered past who sets out to rescue his daughter from the clutches of a local gangster that wants his particular talents. That the masseuse is a non-human and his daughter is adopted (but a human), provides some new flair for this familiar plot, and the schemes and lengths he goes to get her back, and how he judges and realizes how far he’s gone, adds morality to a delectable effect. While it ranks number three on my list of stories, it’s much better than that arbitrary number suggests.
“The Ride” by John Jackson Miller
Take this story’s title suggestion and enjoy the ride, as “The Ride” is one well-worth taking! Dodi, Wodi, and Thodi, The Lucky Three, are a hurricane of who- knows-what type of luck that leads a down-on-his-luck Kal on the ride of his life over the course of one crazy night. The ups and downs, and the insanity of the Lucky Three’s approach to gambling, provides endless entertainment and humor, so much so I didn’t quite want this story to end and have to leave the Lucky Three. While following their example in Las Vegas might not be a great idea, it would sure make the experience a whole lot more fun, and with “The Ride,” Canto Bight at least goes out in fun and style!
Here are a few other things:
- Having read this prior to seeing The Last Jedi, and now reviewing after seeing it, Canto Bight‘s description of the casino city gave it a much different look and feel than what we see in the film. I pictured a bigger, flatter city supporting the casinos, not the multi-layered depiction we got in the film, but this is such a minor thing it doesn’t ruin the experience for the book after seeing the film or the scene in the film if you read it before seeing it.
- Another big plus from “The Wine in Dreams?” I don’t believe there was a single male character in the entire story, or at least a talking one, outside of a Wookiee. I didn’t notice it until after I finished reading it, but it’s refreshing once you realize it as Grant makes it look easy to do (because it is) and makes it feel natural (because it is), but unfortunately it hasn’t quite worked out that way, as Eleven-Thirty Eight’s diversity report can attest to every year so far.
- “The Ride” brings back Pazaak and I didn’t realize how much I missed that wonderfully simply, but complex game of chance until now. Where’s the mobile game for that??
- If you want to see what most of these characters look like, dive down the specific appearance tabs for each story on Wookieepedia. Many of them did not look like how I guessed, while some don’t get much description so it was cool to have realized I saw the character in the film without realizing it initially.
- Besides the unnamed Clerk in “The Wine in Dreams” all the story’s main characters were aliens, which is a nice touch, and also could’ve made this the second volume of the “Tales of a Galaxy Far, Far Away” started in 2015.
Canto Bight breathes life into the casinos of the GFFA with plenty of humor, excitement, and nuance, making this another strong collection of shorter stories that have been popular of late in Star Wars publishing.
+ “The Wine in Dreams” and “The Ride”
+ Dives into the Las Vegas of Star Wars, showing the fun and seedier aspects of it
+ Good variety of stories
– Opens a little weak
The Last Jedi (Reviews by Ryan and Chris)
CANON NOVEL REVIEWS:
From a Certain Point of View
Aftermath | Aftermath: Life Debt | Aftermath: Empire’s End
Battlefront: Twilight Company | Battlefront II: Inferno Squad
Lords of the Sith
A New Dawn
Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel
Heir to the Jedi
CANON YOUNG ADULT NOVEL REVIEWS:
Moving Target: A Princess Leia Adventure
Smuggler’s Run: A Han Solo & Chewbacca Adventure
The Weapon of a Jedi: A Luke Skywalker Adventure
Before the Awakening
Guardians of the Whills