STAR WARS: CANTO BIGHT; written by Saladin Ahmed, Rae Carson, Mira Grant, and John Jackson Miller. 295 pages. From Del Rey publishing. Released 12/5/17.
Canto Bight tells four different tales across a new world that will be introduced to the Star Wars universe in The Last Jedi. Billed as a book in the "Journey to Star Wars: The Last Jedi" series, it seems as though the location might be the only common denominator between the film and these stories. But that's okay!
This particular collection of stories hearkens back to the glory days of the Star Wars Expanded Universe, where the most minor characters had their stories explained and unfold in short bites. This evokes almost instantly the Tales series of books, including Tales of the Mos Eisley Cantina. Each of the four stories in this collection follows a particular set of characters on a very tight, novella-length adventure. Each is as different as can be and they intersect in small ways, whether those are common locations or characters appearing throughout different stories here and there.
The book was fun and everything I loved about those old snippets of random characters in the Legends universe. There is no indication that any of these characters will have any impact on The Last Jedi, but learning their stories and how they weave through the location of Canto Bight is fascinating, fun, and refreshing.
Which is to say that Canto Bight is, itself, the character from the movie we're learning about. And there is a lot to learn here. Canto Bight feels like the galactic equivalent of Vegas. There's a simulated elegance to everything, plopped on the middle of a desert world that was largely uninhabited before someone decided it could be a gambler's paradise. It is full of excess, whether that's from the galaxy's largest artificial ocean, or the extremely high stakes gambling going on, or even the hints at sex work going on just around the corner.
For the naive heading to Canto Bight (like Kedpin Shoklop in the first story, by Saladin Ahmed), Canto Bight can be a place where the rules don't make sense any longer and everyone is looking to take advantage of you. It's a dangerous place under these circumstances and people just might not seem to care enough to help you. There's an entire underworld full of people looking to rook the tourists and it's dangerous.
For others, like Derla Pidys, the greatest sommelier in the galaxy, Canto Bight is a place where great wine can be traded, sold, or acquired. Canto Bight is an environment to manipulated and navigated like an ancient, booby-trapped temple, a place where one must be careful, lest you fall right into one of those traps and lose your life.
The other two stories follow beings who live on Canto Bight, a masseuse and a gambler, respectively, and show how even the lowliest life forms on the planet can get into trouble if they're looking in the wrong direction.
This is the sort of expansion the Star Wars galaxy needed and offers a fascinating window into a new world. Canto Bight feels like what I always sort of assumed Coruscant's level 1313 would be like. It's dark and seedy, but there's still fun to be had there. I never understood the allure of Vegas, but this book helped me understand the allure of Canto Bight. And I want nothing more than to see it on the big screen as fast as I possibly can.
The stories were each very well-written and were a breeze to get through. In fact, the book was over before I realized it and I could have used four more stories. It's even hard picking a favorite because they all work so well for different reasons, which means it was a very well-selected grouping of stories. The first, by Ahmed, was fun in that it took the view of an outsider trying to learn the ins and outs of Canto Bight alongside the reader. The second one, by Mira Grant, was fascinating in how it smuggled science fiction aspects into what felt like the plot of an unheard of William Goldman movie (Year of the Comet, look it up). How would fine alcohol react to different species? Sommeliers would need to learn all the biological quirks of each species it dealt with to make sure that the wine for one species wasn't poison for another. The third story, this one from Rae Carson, gave me some of that hero's journey adventure in an underworld setting from the point of view of one of the lowliest but capable beings on Canto Bight. It felt very much like if George Lucas had crossed the seediest parts of Star Wars with Charlie Chaplin's The Kid. The fourth story, by Jonathan Jackson Miller, was just fun. It was about the allure of gambling in a world where the Force is a thing and the odds don't always add up.
This book is worth your time. It's not terribly impactful on the overall mythos, but all the stories are very good and it was a much-needed breath of fresh air right before we head into The Last Jedi, which comes out in 10 short days.
Canto Bight came out today. Get it from your local retailer or order it on Amazon now.
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