– Spoiler Reviews –
UPDATED: The “Tales from/of” series has long been a stalwart of the literature arm of the Star Wars franchise, giving life to the background characters seen throughout the films. The tradition continues into the new canon with the newest iteration of the idea, written by Landry Q. Walker: Star Wars: Tales from a Galaxy Far, Far Away: Aliens (Volume 1), which is part of the “Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” line. Volume 1 originally released 4 stories as ebooks prior to the TFA‘s release, but they have since been collected, with two new stories, in a hardcover edition that released April 5. Below are reviews for all six Tales stories: 1) “All Creatures Great and Small”; 2) “The Face of Evil”; 3) “The Crimson Corsair and the Lost Treasure of Count Dooku”; 4) “High Noon on Jakku.”; 5) “A Recipe for Death”*; 6) “True Love”*
(The stories with an * next to them are the new ones released in the collected print edition)
“All Creatures Great and Small”
Out of the (first) four, this one was my favorite. It follows a day in the life of Bobbajo, a Nu-Cosian we were introduced to in the first Force For Change video. He’s a procurer of the strange and the wonderful in exotic species, travelling about Jakku to sell his curiosities and tell a tale or two. Just as he’s setting up shop for the day, a band of Zygerrian slavers (first seen a S4 arc from The Clone Wars) happens onto the little settlement and forces everyone into an old town hall. As a battle erupts outside, Bobbajo tells a story to calm the children…and maybe some of the adults too.
And what a tale it is! I’ve always been a fan of stories revolving around animals in the vein of The Rescuers, The Mouse and the Motorcycle, Homeward Bound, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, where they are anthropomorphized to some extent. While it’s to be expected and very common for creatures like that to exist all over the Star Wars galaxy, did you ever suspect a snake-like thing, a bird-type creature, and a mouse had a hand in destroying the first Death Star? Yes, Bobbajo’s story is how he and his band of creatures not only helped the Falcon escape the Death Star, because Obi-Wan missed another defensive measure to disable, but also that they caused the DS’s main weapon to misfire and blow itself up instead of Luke’s proton torpedoes. It might sound far-fetched, even for Star Wars’ standards, but it’s an absolute blast to read and see how the creatures intertwine with the story we all know so well.
When the battle outside the town hall ends and the only conscious things to emerge from its aftermath are Bobbajo’s scattered creatures, could his story really been true? The answer is probably no, but it all serves to set up a really good point some fans seem to forget sometime: stories can be as real as you want them to be, though they aren’t always the full truth and ultimately, whether they are true or not (Legends or canon) shouldn’t matter; Stories can just be for fun or even to help ease the minds of the scared.
And if it wasn’t the creatures who fought back the slavers, who did? Constable Zuvio (as seen in “High Noon on Jakku”)? Rey? Someone/something else? I hope in a way it’s never answered, so that even years later, we’re still questioning just how truthful Bobbajo’s tale really is. And hopefully by then, we’ll not care as much whether it is or isn’t real and just enjoy it for what it is: a story.
Here are a few other things:
- Tera Sinube, an old Jedi Master prominently seen in TCW episode, “Lightsaber Lost,” is a Cosian. Bobbajo is a Nu-Cosian, but I don’t know what exactly the difference is.
- Another Nu-Cosian can be seen in Marvel’s Star Wars #1, the kick-off issue for their return to making the comics. Landry Q. Walker admits that cameo of the creature is what sparked the idea for this story!
- The town the story takes place in on Jakku is Reestkii, which translates into basic as, “The Leftover.” Interesting name considering Rey, dropped off at age 5, could qualify as a leftover.
- No spoilers, but Bobbajo only gets a minor, minor cameo in The Force Awakens.
+ Engaging and funny spin on Ep. IV’s events
+ Deeper meaning about stories
“The Face of Evil”
This one comes into a close second favorite, mainly thanks to the short little devious fuzzballs known as Thromba and Laparo, members of the Frigosian species. These cryptosurgeons so gleefully carry out their sick, twisted work—in one of the towers of Maz Kanata’s castle on Takodana—it makes their methods and Walker’s descriptions of surgeries quite bearable, and dare I say it, exciting to read. Seriously, I want to see more of these little furries and what all insane manners of mischief they get up to, despite being totally freaked out by them now.
“The Face of Evil,” is horror-story without the jump scares, instead going for the psychological terror that’ll keep you thinking for a long, long time. But unlike most mainstream horror films or stories where at least a few characters are redeemable or good, there’s not a single “good” person in the short and no one really gets a happy ending, reminding me of something written by Chuck Palahniuk or Stephen King. This is what the “Tales” series has been good for in the past and I’m happy to see these darker slices of the galaxy explored every once in a while.
The plot revolves around Ryn Biggleston, a woman who has no qualms killing, stealing, and is completely dishonest, who betrays and murders her partner in crime. Her partner, a Balosar named Beelee (also a murderer and thief), manages to broadcast all the dirt she has on Ryn to the local networks before being killed, causing Ryn to become one of the most wanted beings in the sector. Unable to find passage off Takodana due to being on every screen on the planet, Ryn takes advantage of Maz Kanata’s one free night in the castle deal, no questions asked. She meets Drix, a somewhat mindless Snivvian who works for the Frigosians, and he mentions their skills and how they could make her into an a completely different person. Things don’t go according to plan for anyone, besides Thromba and Laparo, as they get Ryn to spill her secrets while she’s under for the surgery and give her what she rightly deserves for her treachery and murderous ways. They aren’t much better being themselves, but at least they’re cute and in a way I was happy they messed up Ryn’s life…until it’s revealed they’re now working on poor, hapless Drix.
UPDATE: Without spoilers, a Frigosian can be seen when the entirety of Maz’s castle empties to look at the sky in The Force Awakens. Keep your eyes peeled somewhere in the back.
+ The Frigosian
+ No happy ending…besides for the Frigosians
– Slightly predictable
“The Crimson Corsair and the Lost Treasure of Count Dooku”
If you were to walk into a port back in the early 1700’s, you could expect to hear a tale along the lines of “The Crimson Corsair and the Lost Treasure of Count Dooku.” It’s quite the epic yarn, as pirates race across a deadly stretch of sea-like sand, where mother nature fights them as much as they fight each other, and where death comes quick, furious, and without remorse. Sand worms replace krakens, sail barges and skiffs replace old wooden ships, and sand replaces water in one of the most curious and obstacle filled stories I’ve yet to read in Star Wars. Even when the main crew makes it to the downed Clone Wars-era Separatist ship, things get worse in a seemingly never ending carnival of destruction thanks to deadly gas, reawakening battle droids, and a ready to explode ship. The destruction, and how frequent and uncaring it takes out each new character, ends up becoming quite humorous and makes this one the least predictable stories of them all.
Crimson Corsair refers to Sidon Ithano, who wears a Kaleesh mask (General Grievous’ species before he became more machine than man) and is Captain of a motely group of pirates aboard the Meson Martinet: Quiggold, a Gabdorin who is a trusted first mate; Pendewqell, an Ishi Tib who uncovers the Separatist ship’s old homing beacon, convincing them to go on the crazy mission; Reeg Brosna, an Arcona; a red-skinned female Twi’lek, Reveth; and Squeaky, your friendly neighborhood Gamorrean pirate. The Corsair is a cool customer, speaking only when absolutely necessary, and is an understanding, but deadly Captain one would be a fool to cross. How he manages to return at the end of the story is beyond me, but much like the question about Bobbajo’s stories, I hope it never really gets answered.
Besides mother nature and the battle droids, the Corsair’s group must contend with tons of other pirates who hear the same signal once Pendewqell cracks it: Scorza, a Weequay who worked with Ithano before betraying their entire crew; the Gray Gundarks, a biker gang (haven’t seen one of those since Shadows of the Empire, it seems); and One-Eye, an Ortolan with a war-rigged sandcrawler (!). Most of them meet their deaths in a series of Russian nesting doll-type deaths, each one rolling into the other, besides Scorza. The Weequay believes he’s Ithano’s main nemesis, so it’s hilarious that the first time Ithano speaks it’s to Scorza and he doesn’t even know/remember the Weequay in the first place.
As surprising as all the ways beings die suddenly and out-of-nowhere in the story, the true surprise lies in what exactly the Lost Treasure of Count Dooku is: a clone named Kix (a member of the 501st), held under cryo-stasis all these years, who was captured by the Separatists after he uncovered the plot behind Order 66 thanks to fellow 501st clone trooper Fives, as seen in the “Order 66” arc for TCW S6 (Rex tells Kix what Fives told him). I was totally expecting it to be literal treasure and wealth, so it was a nice surprise for it be something as unexpected as a clone trooper. With his war long gone, and the Empire who replaced his Republic in the dust as well, what purpose does he have left? He finds it in a stolen data cube from the Separatist ship, detailing previously unknown bases left ripe for the plundering, which Kix is more than happy to help them raid. As cool as Ithano may be, the story of Kix seems way more interesting to me.
Here are a few other things:
- This one starts with a quote from “The Book of Hondo” and I want to read that, stat! Please?!
- No spoilers for The Force Awakens, but Maz suggests the Crimson Corsair as a viable means of transport for one of the main characters.
+ Feels like a pirate yarn of old
+ Anything that can go wrong, will
“High Noon on Jakku”
Take out the droids and the aliens, “High Noon on Jakku” might as well be a western your grandparents read in one of those dime novels back in the day. It follows what was once a quiet day for Constable Zuvio, a Kyuzo (like Embo from TCW), that quickly turns into one of the busiest and possibly deadliest days of his life. A banking transport ship (which gets a great in-universe explanation for existing due to needing to make secure broadcasts to banking servers because there’s no other trustworthy signal on the backwater planet) gets blown open and the data swiped. All the evidence initially points to a droid, but CZ isn’t any normal droid, he’s a trusted member of Niima Outpost who even does volunteer work, and Zuvio suspects something is going wrong with his longtime friend.
You’ll see the true culprit the moment he’s first introduced, but this tale is so full of western staples like shootouts, Mexican standoffs, and it even has a Clint Eastwood/John Wayne surrogate in Zuvio, making it quite the blast to read through to the end. The Legends novel Kenobi did Westerns justice already for Star Wars, but “High Noon on Jakku” brings it back swinging.
Here are a few other things:
- Lovas reportedly owes the Irving Boys some credits, a name we’ve heard in the “JtTFA” initiative before in Smuggler’s Run. Wonder if and how they’ll pop up in TFA. UPDATE: The Millennium Falcon changed a few hands, including the Irving Boys’ it seems.
- The multi droid attack on Zuvio is exhilarating…how about that suicide bombing gonk droid!!? Didn’t see that coming.
- Jakku has gotten a lot of exposure leading up to TFA and all signs point to it being a planet so terribly forgotten and uncivilized, it makes Tatooine look like Naboo. Aftermath had an Interlude set there, Lost Star reveals the Battle of Jakku, and now we’ve seen how mundane and rough of a life most Jakku-ians have, setting up Rey to be quite the tough one and believably shocked and excited by all the new things she’ll see traveling the galaxy.
- Zuvio gets the smallest appearance of them all, but I guess he was in one The Force Awakens scene for a quick moment, per Lucasfilm Story Group member Pablo Hildalgo.
+ Western feel
– A little too predictable
“A Recipe For Death”*
Murder-mysteries and whodunits aren’t usually my genre of choice, unless it happens to be comedic in tone. I’m a fan of the TV show Castle, which is a procedural of the week with lots of charm and humor (mostly thanks to name most sci-fi fans should recognize: Nathan Fillon), and really enjoyed films like Clue and the earlier Pink Panther series (the ones with Peter Sellers). “A Recipe for Death” is right up that alley, as Maz’s castle cook Strono “Cookie” Tuggs finds the top Sous-Chef dead and his recipe book missing, so to figure out the identity of the murderer he stages a cook-off to replace the now vacant position. It that sounds both insane and funny to you, let me tell you, it certainly is a bit of both, but mainly funny. Cookie’s reasoning is the killer must’ve taken out Robbs, the Sous-Chef, and stolen his highly coveted recipe book because they wanted the job and would likely use recipes from the book to win the position. Besides limiting the possible suspects’ time in each round of the cook-off, Cookie raises the stakes in hilarious ways, like randomly firing blasters and zero-g conditions! Did I mention this one was just as crazy as the other stories?
Like any good murder-mystery, it’ll definitely keep you guessing till the end and I’ll honestly admit I didn’t see the truth coming. It ends up being just as bizarre as the rest of these tales, but in the best way possible. “A Recipe for Death” resolves with probably the only ‘happy’ ending in this Aliens volume and overall, I’d call it my favorite out of the six.
+ Keeps you guessing till the end
+ A cook-off set in the Star Wars galaxy…what more do you want?
Out of all the characters in Volume 1, Unkar Plutt has the biggest role of TFA (Crimson Corsair in a distant second), as he’s the junk lord of Niima Outpost through which Rey, and the rest of Jakku it seems, earns vital supplies for scrap from the ship graveyards that litter the planet. “True Love” revolves around two of Unkar’s less useful henchmen, Igo (a Trandoshan) and Scoggan (a human), who hatch a plan to get Unkar to reveal the source of his hidden stash of wealth after the junk boss denies their request for a pay raise (which comes in water/food, not credits). Having seen the film will tell you all you need to know about how Unkar will respond to this betrayal, but you’ll find yourself re-evaluating the grumpy Unkar as the story plays with your expectations and saves some of the best surprises for last. His punishment for betrayal reveals whether the title of this story is irony or not.
You’ll definitely kick yourself in the end for letting certain parts of the story dupe you, but it’s a testament to how well Walker wrote this that it so easily will catch you off guard. One of the biggest advantages he has is that he was able to develop Unkar’s backstory and species, whereas the movie doesn’t cover those details, and he uses that lack of knowledge (in a fun way) against the reader.
Here are a few other things:
- Igo and Scoggan’s plan involves using an AI program that was rumored to have been used by smugglers against the Empire or even in the earliest days by the “old” Rebellion. Considering it’s a self aware program that strings along a target by acting as a match on a dating service, consider me interested to learn about who in the Empire the Rebellion might have targeted through such methods. Overall, the AI’s loyalties were a fun surprise throughout.
- Unkar seems to imply he was the mastermind whose behind-the-scenes work forced the culprit in “High Noon on Jakku” to commit the bank robbery. Didn’t expect these stories to overlap, but this was a neat little connection.
- I had kind of hoped this story might have some hints about why Rey was given to Unkar, which it didn’t, but in the end I’m happier with what he got.
+ Finding out what Unkar’s True Love really is
For both “High Noon on Jakku” and “The Face of Evil,” I felt they were both predictable and it’s partly due to the length of a short story. In novel-length fiction, one can mask storytelling conventions and signposts amongst tons of red herrings and long passages, but short stories don’t allow for as much freedom or hiding room, making it easy to read between the lines regarding the plot…if you know where to look. These stories are so much fun to read though, much like “The Perfect Weapon,” that figuring them out yourself actually adds to the enjoyment.
My favorite aspect of these short stories is how Walker manages to make each one feel utterly distinct with both its characters and tone, yet somehow all feel very Star Wars; It’s masterful work and it frequently made me forget only one person was writing each story. Just like many of the authors working on Star Wars fiction these days, this is Walker’s first steps into the GFFA and just like all the other new authors so far, I look forward to his return for any and all future work. He was interviewed over at the official site when the print edition released, where he covers which three characters he picked and which three the Story Group picked for him, what music he listened to while writing the tales, and little details on how he went about creating the story for each character despite not seeing the movie yet.
These Tales are well worth your time, despite not revealing anything big about The Force Awakens, but they do help flesh out the galaxy around its time period a little bit. And while Aliens (Volume 1) won’t change your enjoyment of the film, picking this up is a must for any fan, especially those who have been waiting for Tales-like stories to make it to canon.
Episode VII: The Force Awakens
CANON NOVEL REVIEWS:
Battlefront: Twilight Company
Lords of the Sith
A New Dawn
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
Adventures in Wild Space series reviews (by Chris)
JOURNEY TO STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS SHORT STORY REVIEWS:
The Perfect Weapon