Biweekly Book Review: Clone Wars: Stories of Light and Dark

New territory today! It’s time to tackle the anthologies, and hopefully be able to review From A Certain Point Of View: The Empire Strikes Back right when it comes out. Remember last time I set a goal for myself and I missed it by 4.5 months? Good times.

We’re going to have a bit of a format change too. I’ll summarize the premise of the collection, then dive into my top stories, in no particular order. I may wind up talking about all of them, but I don’t want to hold myself to it because when we get to FACPOV…40 stories is a lot.

Unlike before, we aren’t moving in a chronological order, since I want FACPOV:ESB to close off our look at anthologies. So although the order is a bit haphazard, we are still starting at the beginning with Clone Wars: Stories of Light and Dark.

*Spoilers Below*

The Premise

Stories of Light and Dark is a middle-grade anthology that retells certain episodes/arcs from The Clone Wars through the eyes of one character in particular.

My concern going in was that it would read like a junior novelization of the episodes in question. Not that that’s an inherently bad thing, but that’s not super interesting to me either. Fortunately, that wasn’t at all the case. The single point of view meant that all the stories I was already familiar with take on a far more personal tone, and I highly recommend this book if you’re a fan of the show.

The Story That Broke My Heart: Kenobi’s Shadow, by Greg van Eekhout

Yes, I’m sure your jaw hit the floor when you saw me list a Kenobi story first.

This one is based on the episode where Obi Wan goes to Mandalore to recuse Satine after she sends him a call for help. He winds up having to travel there covertly because the Jedi council won’t let him intervene, claiming the conflict on Mandalore is internal, and they won’t get involved anyway because they aren’t allied with the Republic (is it any wonder they fell, honestly).

Though the bulk of the story progresses the way the episode does, the best part of the whole thing is the moment when Obi Wan truly considers giving in to the Dark side. You see it a bit in the episode with the look on his face. But you know me, I love a deep dive into someone’s head. Moments after Satine is killed by Maul, Obi Wan is ready to go full Dark side and tear Maul limb from limb, before ultimately realizing that this is exactly what Maul wants. He decides not to react with anger in the end, which Maul dismisses as weakness, not realizing how much strength it actually took for him not to do anything. It wouldn’t be what Satine wanted after all.

Also shout out to the little callback we got to Obi Wan and Satine’s other big interaction in the series, where he tells her he would have left the Jedi Order if she’d asked him to. This story really came for my emotions.

The Stories That Surprised Me: The Shadow of Umbara by Yoon Ha Lee and Bane’s Story by Tom Angleberger

These two surprised me for different reasons.

With Shadow of Umbara, I knew exactly which arc of the show we were getting, and I was dreading it, because I find it frustrating and hard to watch. Which I suppose is the point. But the story focused the entire arc through Captain Rex’s point of view, which made it easier to take, though no less frustrating. Like Kenobi’s Shadow this wasn’t all that different from the episode, what elevated it and surprised me was the great, nuanced look into Rex and his feelings about Master Krell.

Bane’s Story surprised me in a whole different way. I was dreading this one because I cannot tell you how little I care about Cad Bane. I know he’s got a following, and I think that’s great. But personally, if I had to pick an over-the-top outlandish alien, I pick Hondo Onaka every time. I was totally prepared to skim this story. Then they had to go pick the one Cad Bane story I liked: the one where he competes in Dooku’s weird bounty hunter death box contest thing with an undercover Obi Wan who is disguised as a bounty hunter. The selection of this arc took the vaguely titled Bane’s Story from skippable too enjoyable.

The Story That Made Me Feel Gooey Inside: Hostage Crisis by Preeti Chhibber

Anakin Skywalker is an interesting guy.

In Episodes II and III, Hayden Christensen plays his extremes: a young Padawan on the verge of becoming a knight, and then a would-be Jedi Master about to fall to the Dark side. In The Clone Wars, Matt Lanter gets the chance to flesh him out a little, to play all the in-between and see how he gets from one extreme to the other. While I don’t fall in the camp that the prequels are made better because of the TV show (I think the movies stand up just fine on their own), I do like how the show elaborates on things the movies just don’t have time for. Things like Anakin and Padmé’s marriage.

There are plenty of stories within the series that showcase their marriage, but you know why I like this one? This isn’t one where Anakin is feeling jealous or defensive. This is one where he unabashedly just loves his wife. And Preeti Chhibber uses a LOT of that kind of language. The story is in third person, but is still so much from Anakin’s point of view, that all we see is this young staring at and marvelling at the woman he was lucky enough to marry. It’s so ooey-gooey sweet I’m pretty sure it gave me a cavity.

The Stories That Did Things Right: Pursuit of Peace by Anne Ursu and The Lost Nightsister by Zoraida Cordova

I appreciate both of these stories (the first of which focuses on Padmé, while the second focuses on Asajj) because it would have been so easy to make both of these characters one dimensional. To make Padmé perfect, and make Asajj a quippy villain and not to go any further.

In Pursuit of Peace, Padmé has reached the end of her rope and is ready to bring the Clone Wars to an end. Tired of endless votes that do nothing but deregulate the banks, bankrupt the Republic and create more clones, she decides to reach out to her friend and former mentor Mina Bonteri, who is now a Separatist. The two of them come up with a plan to try and end the fighting, which of course goes awry. One of the more tragic things about this series is that no matter what Padmé tries in government, we know it’s going to end up with democracy dying with thunderous applause. But what makes her story compelling nonetheless is how hard she is willing to try, and how much she tries to balance in the name of doing the right thing. She doesn’t always get it right, but she always dusts herself off and tries again, and that’s admirable. I hope Anne Ursu gets the chance to write Padmé again, I appreciated her nuanced take on the character.

In The Lost Nightsister, we get possibly the best Asajj Ventress story we could hope to get in an anthology like this. She is usually playing the quippy villain opposite the Jedi, which is a ton of fun, but doesn’t leave a ton of room for anything else. But in this Asajj-focused story, she takes up with a crew of bounty hunters to deliver a mysterious package to a warlord. As soon as she realizes the package is actually a young, unwilling bride, she swaps the young girl out and delivers Boba Fett to him instead. This is the best story I think we could have had that showed Asajj’s heart and complexities. We’ve had excellent Asajj stories before, in Dark Disciple and Dooku: Jedi Lost, and this is another in that grand tradition.

The Story That Thrilled Me: Dark Vengeance by Rebecca Roanhorse

Some stories in the book are told in third person. Some are told in first person, where the character is sending a message or telling a story in universe. But this one?

In this one, Maul speaks directly to the reader.

Off to a chilling start.

This story is Maul telling you all about his first encounter with Obi Wan Kenobi after being brought back to some semblance of life by Mother Talzin. The story itself is not what I love, but rather the way it’s told.

The subtitle is “The true story of Darth Maule and his revenge against the Jedi known as Obi Wan Kenobi”. But the thing is, this story isn’t really about Maul’s revenge. It can’t be, because we know they’ll see each other again. Heck, they see each other later in this very book. But what’s important here, is that Maul wants you to believe that he’s won, that he got one over on Kenobi because by the end he decides to play the long game and make his revenge all the sweeter. The reader sees him lose, sees him lament that Kenobi got away, but he still devotes the next two pages to making you think he wanted to lose.

Can I just say that Rebecca Roanhorse is fantastic and I hope she gets more opportunities to write Star Wars in the future.

The Story That Did Something Different: Bug by E. Anne Convery

Unlike the other stories, Bug isn’t directly based on an episode of the show. It’s inspired by the episode where the witches of Dathomir are wiped out, but it isn’t set on Dathomir, or anywhere near it. It isn’t from the point of view of any of the witches. None of the characters are anyone we’ve seen before. That makes it all the more beautiful to me. It’s a story about mothers and daughters. It shows the consequences of this massive conflict across the far reaches of the galaxy. But not in the usual way, with the Separatists or the Republic not caring about the regular people. It takes on a more fantastical aspect by making it about the witches of Dathomir. Honestly, remove the Star Wars specific references and you’ve got the basis for a fantasy novel I would very much like to read.

Random Thoughts

The audiobook is read by the Clone Wars cast and I want it so badly. I don’t usually get audiobooks, but I will make an exception here.

Though Dooku’s story is just OK, I do love how he has absolutely no time for Anakin and Obi Wan, and makes his distain known often, both in dialogue and narration.

It’s suuuuuper weird Ahsoka didn’t get a story of her own. She’s featured heavily in one, but it’s from the point of view of a Padawan she’s leading on an adventure. I wonder why that is? I know she’s the main character, but it would be great to get inside her head properly.

Savage Opress was, and remains, the greatest name I have ever heard in Star Wars.

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