Image Courtesy of Vanity Fair
One of the strengths of the Star Wars universe is the diversity of its characters; if not in ethnicity and gender (though that’s improving), then in type of characters. You can tell a story about soldiers, pilots, Jedi, Sith, smugglers, bounty hunters, politicians, or any other number of professions and roles. When you combine those with the various genres of stories you can tell, you create a galaxy of endless options. It’s with this in mind that I say that I never thought I would read a murder mystery in which the cook in Maz Kanata’s castle tries to deduce who done it by having the suspects participate in a Iron Chef style cooking challenge. It’s this offbeat mixture of obscure alien and genre that I enjoyed about Landry Q. Walker’s anthology, Tales From a Galaxy Far, Far Away: Aliens Volume. 1.
The first story in the collection, titled “High Noon on Jakku,” takes us to the sandy streets of Nima Outpost. In this tale, Constable Zuvio comes out of hiding to take the center stage as he searches for the person, droid, or creature responsible for a bank robbery. This story finally gives you something to do with your Constable Zuvio action figure if you were one of the many collectors unlucky enough to bet that he was going to be a really important character in The Force Awakens. In this story, Zuvio fulfills the archetype of the town sheriff. He is honest and loyal to those he serves and protects, and he is tough as hell. He gets beat, cut, and caught in explosive blasts, but he doesn’t stop until he gets his criminal. The story would be enjoyable enough if it only justified Zuvio’s existence, but it also does a good job exploring the concept of what the life of a droid is like. Multiple droids are both victims and suspects of the heist, and Walker does a good job asking questions like “What would prompt a droid to steal?” and “Is a droid responsible for the deeds it commits while following its programming?” The whole story is framed by an old west shootout that is both tense and heartbreaking.
Cooking can be an art form. Each chef has their own technique and flourishes that distinguishes their work in much the same way that an artist’s brushstrokes or an author’s voice shows that a piece of work is theirs. Something as simple as a special sauce can act as a chef’s signature on a dish, and it is that concept that introduces the second short story in the collection, “A Recipe for Death.” In this story, Strono “Cookie” Tuggs discovers that his sous chef has been murdered for his recipe book. In order to suss out the culprit, Cookie holds a cooking contest because he suspects that the killer will have to use the stolen recipe book in order to win. I enjoyed the uniqueness of the premise of this mystery, and the various twists Cookie adds to each challenge, from cooking in zero gravity to cooking while taking fire from sentries firing stun blasts, only added to my interest. The reveal was worth the effort too because while many stories end with readers trying to solve the mystery of how the criminal could possibly be who the author claims, at this tale’s conclusion, I was actually surprised that I hadn’t guessed who it was sooner. This story ends up sharing many of the traits that “Cookie” Tuggs possesses; it is simple and straight-forward but surprising in its depth.
You know how in the Pokemon television series Ash determines the weaknesses of a specific Pokemon then summons the perfect creature whose skills are specifically suited to defeat whatever monster he finds himself pitted against? That’s kind of like what the third story, “All Creatures Great and Small” is like. After he and some townspeople are captured by Zygerrian pirates, the alien named Bobbajo the Creature Monger recounts the story of his imprisonment and escape from the Death Star that happened concurrently with Princess Leia’s rescue during A New Hope. As Bobbajo encounters different obstacles, he sends out one of his many creatures. During each of these sections, the point of view in the story then switches to that of the creature, so that each one develops a simplistic, but heart-warming, personality as they fight to help save their friend Bobbajo. By the end of the story, the calm, sage-like Bobbajo has not only helped assuage the fears of the townspeople but also reminded the reader of the power of stories and how they can be used to comfort and inspire hope in others. In many ways, “The Turkle’s Tale” (as we at Far, Far Away Radio might call it) represents in microcosm the power that Star Wars as a whole has to help us through our hard times and come out of them stronger than ever.
The fourth story, “The Face of Evil,” features two creatures from Maz Kanata’s castle who resemble furry versions of the minions of Despicable Me in physical appearance, but in personality are more more like Victor Frankenstein. It’s this dichotomy between fluffy and mad scientist that the main character, thief Ryn Biggleston, finds herself in. After having her identity broadcast over the holonet, Ryn needs help avoiding unwanted attention, and the two fuzzy Frigosian crytosurgeons are only to happy to comply. As Ryn searches for ways to escape the attention she has called down on herself, she reveals deeper and deeper depths of depravity, so when she steps into Maz Kanata’s it almost feels as sacrilegious as a murderer stepping into a church. By the end of the story, I was rooting for her to get exactly what she deserved. While I won’t reveal whether she does or not, I will say that I found the ending to this story a little telegraphed. I knew where it would end right after Ryn committed her first crime. On the other hand, my wife read the story and suspected nothing; either way, in Ryn Biggleston, Landry Walker create a villain that readers will love to hate, and most will likely feel satisfied by her fate.
The sweaty, bulbous, revolting junk dealer Unkar Plutt takes center stage in the fifth story, “True Love,” which revolves around the topic I would have considered him least likely to address: love. When two of Unkar’s thugs get it into their head that they deserve more than he is giving them, one of them comes up with a plan to swindle him using an artificially intelligent dating simulation. As Unkar converses with the program that he believes to be a real Crolute female, the reader wonders just how far he will fall into the trap that is being set for him. As a result, the reader may feel some real sympathy for Unkar Plutt as he reveals the loneliness beneath his cruel exterior. Everyone can relate to the desire to be with someone, and as this story winds its way to its conclusion, Unkar reveals whether he is as cold and hard as the junk he deals or as soft as his blobfish flesh. It’s up to the reader to evaluate the truth of this revelation and decide for themselves which Unkar, if any, is the true one. This was probably my least favorite of the stories included in this volume. While I enjoyed the depth it added to Unkar Plutt, I found his character hard to care about. It may be because of all the different interpretations of his cruel acts from The Force Awakens that I’ve experienced, but I found it hard to care about him despite the sympathy Walker was able to imbue in him.
The final short story in the anthology, “The Crimson Corsair and the Lost Treasure of Count Dooku,” takes the adventure serial feeling of the saga that inspired George Lucas to create Star Wars and combines it with the desert, death races of Mad Max: Fury Road. The story follows the pirate captain Sidono Ithano and his first mate, Quiggold as they race across the deserts of the planet Ponemah in search of a treasure lost in the hold of a sunken ship belonging to the Separatist leader, Count Dooku. Little do they know that others are looking for the treasure as well, and soon a biker gang, a rival pirate crew, and other miscreants are racing to reach the treasure before Captain Ithano and his band. The tone of this story is one of pure, unadulterated joy at replicating the feeling of an old school pirate movie. There are swashbuckling swordfights and naval battles given a Star Wars flair, and it all is just really fun. Captain Ithano stands in contrast to the swaggering pirates of most modern “pirate” captains like Captain Jack and Starlord because he displays a quiet lag of swagger. He hardly speaks and the reader mostly learns of his deadly skills because of the reactions of his crew and his rivals. It’s refreshing to have a character who lets his actions speak rather than his words. It reminds me of Boba Fett, who despite his lack of dialogue in The Empire Strikes Back, was able to become a fan favorite because of the coolness of his appearance and his cunning, relentless pursuit of the Millennium Falcon to Cloud City. With any luck, perhaps Captain Ithano, The Crimson Corsair (which is a cooler nickname than any Boba had) will eventually find his own way to be a legend in the heart of fandom.
Prior to the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, a call rang out across the internet: “Star Wars is for everyone.” Tales from a Galaxy Far, Far Away: Aliens Volume. 1 is proof of this. Within its pages is at least one short story that will appeal to everyone. There is a western and a mystery, a serial and a heist, and stories of hope and of heartache. I hope we get more anthologies like this one in the future because its tales remind us that each of us has our own favorite Star Wars character, creature, planet, and alien, and there are plenty of tales to be told with each one.
What character do you wish would get their own short story? Share your wishes with us at @farfarawayradio and @mapplebee7567 on Twitter!