One of the final offerings to quench the excitement prior to the release of Episode VIII, and part of Disney/Lucasfilm’s “Journey to The Last Jedi” Del Rey has released what seems to be the weakest attempt at a Star Wars novel that has passed over my desk. Star Wars: Canto Bight is by and large the worst contribution to what has been an exciting and compelling series. Earlier novels, like Phasma, Leia: Princess of Alderaan and even the Battlefront 2 spin-off story Inferno Squad were able to quickly pull readers into the world of Star Wars and thus tell stories about established and new characters that expanded on the mythology of the saga. Canto Bight falls flat from the beginning, though it does redeem its second half with two stories that may be worth your time, as long as you understand that they will add nothing to your enjoyment of Star Wars.
The concept of the novel is this: allow four recognized, sci-fi/fantasy authors to expand upon the new and potentially delightful casino city, Canto Bight. Then introduce backstories to the characters, flesh out their experiences on the planet, and allow fans to feel more connected to it. You know, like Tales from Jabbas Palace or Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina. The problem, as I see it, is that those books were written years after their inspiration; the time in between filled with questions and inquiries from fans. They answered a legitimate concern held by fans about the originality and creativity of those characters’ appearances in the films. The cantina scene in A New Hope was so quirky and curious, fans were demanding more answers. But after two viewings of The Last Jedi, I can safely say that no one wanted Canto Bight in the first place, and no one cares about any of the characters that flashed across the screen is such rapid succession that we could barely understand what we were seeing. So a book based on these characters seems to me to be as unwanted as it is unnecessary.
From my “Is It Star Wars?” graphic, you can see that the book does not pull readers into the well-established galaxy of Star Wars. The characters are all new, and what’s worse is that none of them appear to be relevant to the events of The Last Jedi. Sure they peppered the screen during the movie, they were original and colorful, but who are they? From the book’s cover art, you can see that Del Rey didn’t even throw us a visual bone to chase—I have no idea what the new, odd characters look like, and thus have no way of connecting them to the very visual film I’ve just seen. (And go see The Last Jedi, of course. It was amazing.)
Four short stories tell the tale of these new characters, each penned by a different author. “Rules of the Game” by Saladin Ahmed, “The Wine in Dreams” by Mira Grant, “Hear Nothing, See Nothing, Say Nothing” by Rae Carson, and “The Ride” by John Jackson Miller tell the tale of, respectively, a rube, a sommelier, a masseuse and a gambler. One of those sounds kind of close to Star Wars, yes? Each story delves into the underworld of the casino city, and that rings familiar to fans, but the lack of recognizable characters truly hurts. This isn’t the blame of the authors; they did the best they could, given what must have been very strict guidelines from Lucasfilm.
“Rules” follows a non-human experiencing Canto Bight for the first time, who is quickly robbed, jailed and almost killed. “The Wine” is a caper story…something I generally enjoy, but in this go around too formulaic to really catch my interest. “Hear Nothing…” comes heavy with multiple references to aliens that kept my brain spinning with each new inclusion, but entered “page-turner” territory once a kidnapping and family drama plot allowed me to connect with the protagonist. The final story is by far the best. “The Ride” used familiar gambling lingo and trope to take me down a fun and twisty path. The Lucky Three, brothers who have learned to enjoy the game rather than the outcome, were so flighty and joyful that I couldn’t help but follow their antics to the end of the book.
But how can you have a Star Wars story without the things we love about the franchise—Jedi, Empire, lightsabers, the Force? I tried to keep count, and in the entire 295 pages, the words Alderaan, Jedi, and First Order are mentioned twice each. Add some references to sabaac and the Old Republic (esoteric references at that), and you don’t even come close to courting the typical Star Wars reader. Yes, hardcore bibliophiles will recognize the terms, but only if they haven’t already put the book down and walked away. And at nearly $30…I feel that we can realistically expect more from a Star Wars book.
I credit Del Rey with going out on a limb with Canto Bight, but if I wanted quirky sci-fi, I’d just go read quirky sci-fi. When I pick up a Star Wars novel, you know what I want. We’ll never know for sure why Canto Bight had to pop-up in Episode VIII. I just wish that its novel form had done more to expand on the story of The Last Jedi rather than cash in on its fans’ curiosity.
Author, podcaster, costumer and maker, Ryan has been enjoying Disney, Marvel and Star Wars since his first years of life and is thrilled to be able to pass that passion along to a new audience on LaughingPlace. Check out his award winning novels “The Pirate Bride” & “The Lost Crew” in bookstore nationwide.