I have to confess that Canto Bight was a book that I was a little uncertain about. How wrong I was. By the time I had finished its 295 pages, and the four novellas contained therein, I was astounded by how much I enjoyed it. The book was a delight to read and brought me back to memories of devouring other collections of Star Wars stories such as Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina many years ago.
Only with a Star Wars book would you find yourself hooked on the adventures had in Canto Bight by the VaporTech Sales Person of the Year winner (Rules of the Game by Saladin Ahmed), a sommelier of galactic renown (The Wine in Dreams by Mira Grant), a high class masseuse with a shady history (Hear Nothing, See Nothing, Say Nothing by Rae Carson), and finally a “down on his luck” Casino employee (The Ride by John Jackson Miller).
Each of these novellas is gripping, and the integration across the four stories is nicely played in a very low key fashion. Every so often a character from one story will pop up, or be mentioned in, another. The characters all have one thing in common and that is that their world revolves around Canto Bight and the opportunities that the city affords them. The outside galaxy does not interest these characters; frankly from a reader’s perspective it was also refreshing to move away from the heavy political themes that have been prevalent in the new canon books to date. The characters in this book live in the Canto Bight bubble; it consumes them and drives all thought of the Resistance and First Order from their minds.
“Kal looked at him, “Ganz, when was the first time you were in a casino?”
Ganzer chortled, nearly choking. “Back before the Empire” he said when he had recovered. I was younger then for sure. Governments fall but I stick around”.
From, The Ride by John Jackson Miller
I suppose what it boils down to with this book is that – for me at least – Star Wars was always about the curious background characters, as well as the central players. Their mere presence in the background always gave those characters a strange mystique. Some people seem to be querying the plot necessity of the Canto Bight scenes in The Last Jedi. For me though, such scenes are every bit as essential to my enjoyment of a Star Wars film as lightsabers and space battles.
I am invested in this galaxy Lucas built because it is inhabited by this galactic cast of background extras, who make it feel alive and brimming with activity. Dex’s Diner, the Mos Eisley Cantina, Jabba’s Palace, Saw Gerrera’s hideout, Maz Kanata’s place – these locations bring the Star Wars saga to life. They teem with a vibrancy and fun and that is what makes Star Wars that little bit special. Canto Bight is now firmly established on that list, as we observe its high rollers at the Casino, and the gamblers at the fathier tracks.
A final note about this collection of novellas. If you extracted the characters and plot out of the Star Wars world, changed a few details and set them in Las Vegas or Los Angeles, the stories would work just as well. The strong characters and the very personal depictions rendered by these authors keep the reader gripped from start to finish.
If, like me, you are interested in those small details and intrigued by the background “common people” characters of Star Wars you will revel in Canto Bight. It reads like Elmore Leonard characters that have been transported to a galaxy far, far away. If that sounds like it would be fun to you then you’ve come to the right place. Welcome to Canto Bight!
Editor’s Note: Star Wars: Canto Bight (The Journey to Star Wars: The Last Jedi), by Saladin Ahmed, Rae Carson, Mira Grant and John Jackson Miller is published in the UK by Century and is available from all good book shops.
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