From the beginning of the timeline, we’re now jumping all the way to the end. I wish there was some kind of cool meta reason for it, but honestly it’s just because of the anthologies remaining, this was the shortest. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth visiting!
The lousy, beautiful town of Canto Bight takes centre stage in this short anthology that gives more life and context to the planet visited oh, so briefly in The Last Jedi. But because it’s set before Finn and Rose ever showed up and rode fathiers through the casino, there’s virtually no crossover with any existing canon. Take out the one reference to the Resistance and First Order and this could be set virtually anytime within the canon. But I digress. Let’s dive in: this is Canto Bight
The anthology is set over what feels like one long day and night in Canto Bight, and the four stories show all aspects of life there, from many points of view: the tourist, the deal brokers, the powerful, the powerless, the staff, the gamblers. As a whole it paints a very vivid picture of Canto Bight. Though I haven’t been to Las Vegas, I feel like that’s the general vibe they’re going for. I will say, it actually reminded me a lot of Dubai (which I have been to) in both the wonderful and the not so wonderful. That said, I can absolutely see why Rose wants to put her fist right through it. I kind of do as well.
My Favourite Story: The Ride by John Jackson Miller
“The Ride” tells the story of Kal, a down on his luck gambler who’s gotten so in debt with a local mob boss that he only has to the end of the night to pay him back. Things are going poorly, but they go from bad to worse when three bumbling brothers with a bizarre lucky streak enter the casino and completely clean him out. Figuring there must be a trick to their luck, he takes what little money he has left and follows them around for the rest of the night, befriending them and trying to learn their secrets.
I loved this story because it felt the most complete overall, and it also felt the most like a movie I’d like to watch. Not even a Star Wars movie, just strip all the alien details, make it Vegas rather than Canto Bight and attach some middle aged heartthrob to play the lead (FWIW I choose Nathan Fillion just because). If you’re only going to read one story in this anthology, make it this one.
The Story I Wanted To Put In The Freezer: Rules of the Game by Saladin Ahmed
You know that episode of Friends, when Joey is reading Little Women and it upsets him so much he puts it in the freezer? That’s how this story made me feel. Not because it’s a bad story, or poorly written, but because if it was physically possible I would have read it while staring out through my fingers screaming “no, no, noooo”.
The story is about a being named Kedpin, who wins a corporate prize of a two week, all-expenses paid trip to Canto Bight. This naive little fellow, in his effort to bring his salesbeing affability into his every day life, is taken advantage of by anyone and everyone from the word go. Even when he knows its a scam, he sometimes goes along with it. He is so naive, he gets targeted by an assassin named Anglang Lehet, who wants to use him to smuggle explosives into the vicinity of his real target. I spent the whole story wishing this poor idiot would grow a spine, and was relived to see by the end that he had. But man. What a stressful ride this one is.
The Story That Could Have Tied In To TLJ: Hear Nothing, See Nothing, Say Nothing by Rae Carson
Though the main character of this story is a masseur at the top spa on Canto Bight, the entire plot revolves around him fighting to get his daughter back from the gangster who kidnapped her for leverage. So how could this tie into TLJ?
The daughter is a stablehand in the fathier stables.
I know it ends with her training to become a jockey instead, but how cool would it be to show her with the three little kiddos we do see in the movie? I know there’s a fatigue of having everyone in the galaxy know each other. I definitely have that fatigue too. But in a book that is thoroughly devoid of any other kind of connection (even the offhand references are few) I think we could have allowed it. Even without, the story is tight, well paced, and I really enjoyed it.
The Story That Had Potential To Go Longer: The Wine in Dreams, by Mira Grant
Let me start by saying that I’m relived they kept this to four short stories and didn’t try for some High Republic style publishing program. The book is fine the way it is, and didn’t need to be four full-length novels.
That said, if any of them were to extend that long, the one that could do it most successfully is The Wine in Dreams. While the other three stories focus on a single character, this one focuses on several: a wine broker, a club owner, a pair of mysterious sisters who are possibly from another dimension, and a hotel clerk. The story was good, but I kept finding myself wanting to know more about the people involved, and more about what their deal was. Specifically the hotel clerk, who is from Naboo but stranded on Canto Bight due to gambling debts. I could have easily spent an entire novel in this glittery, seedy, heartbreaking world.
The Wine in Dreams features two characters, the Grammus sisters. Their names are Rhomby and Parallela, and it wasn’t till I said “Parallela Grammus out loud that I let out the sigh I usually reserve for dad jokes.
Today in the weirdest “well, actually” I’ve ever read: Did you know that if you made alcohol out of blood it would be considered a mead because it’s distilled from organic sugars?
As shady and sad and stressful as these stories are, I’m pleased to report every single one ends well. It felt like a breath of fresh air each time.