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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Kevin J. Anderson in the Mos Eisley Cantina

In the past few years, I’ve been yearning to revisit Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina, a Star Wars book I haven’t read since it came out in the mid '90s.  This inclination was strengthened when I recently found Star Wars Tales, a hardcover compilation of the three books in the series, which also includes Tales of the Bounty Hunters and Tales from Jabba’s Palace.  I can’t tell you exactly why I’ve wanted to revisit that first volume, as I don’t remember being overly impressed by the stories the first time around.  But for some reason, I decided to return to that noisy and crowded cantina on George Lucas’ desert world of Tatooine. 

Although I’m only a third of the way through Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina, the first thing I noticed was that these were really good stories.  Some of them resonated with me more powerfully than others, but I found most of them really satisfying.  The authors took the time to invest themselves in these aliens that a movie costumer or production designer threw together based on Lucas’ sparse description of what he wanted—basically, a bar full of exotic looking creatures—and imbued them with rich histories, involving plots, and interesting ideas.  Take for example the character of the “Hammerhead.”  From Dave Wolverton’s story, we learn that his name is Momaw Nadon, that he’s a master botanist who has developed farming ventures on hundreds of worlds, and that he was exiled from his home planet for protecting a species of sentient trees whose gestalt consciousness expands as the number of trees increase. 

The second thing I noticed was that these are far more than a collection of isolated stories.  Instead, they are interlinked, and one naturally follows another.  Sometimes, Kevin’s editing skills demonstrate this overtly, as the story by Kathy Tyers, “We Don’t Do Weddings: The Band’s Tale," ends with the sentences, “And every time we tune up, I check the crowd.  Just now, I spotted Jabba’s swivel-eared green Rodian…Greedo.  He’s not bright, but he’s armed.  I’m watching him.”  Her story is followed by “A Hunter’s Fate: Greedo’s Tale,” by Tom and Martha Vietch (the latter the one story that’s stuck with me over the years).  At other times, Kevin’s intentions are more subtle.  For example, “Play It Again, Figrin D’an: The Tale of Muftak and Kabe,” by A. C. Crispin, introduces us to the Yeti-like character of Muftak.  This story is placed directly before “The Sand Tender: The Hammerhead’s Tale,” wherein Muftak and Momah meet in the cantina.  Over drinks, Muftak tells his friend about something that occurred in Crispin's story, and this kicks Momaw Nadon’s (and Wolverton's) story into high gear.

The third thought that hit me was how Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina came about in the first place.  Kevin was doing another job for Lucasfilm, a much shorter and simpler writing assignment, when it struck him what a great idea it would be to delve into the history and lives of all these colorful characters.  Most of us get great ideas every day, but for whatever reason, we fail to act on them.  Unlike us, Kevin didn’t think about how busy he was, or how many story ideas of his own he wanted to flesh out, and decide to bank the idea for a while.  Instead, he immediately pitched it to Lucasfilm, and assured the staff that he could hand them a completed manuscript with no organizing effort on their part.  And thus, a new book was born, one that not only spawned a series, but (according to what I’ve been told) would go on to become the bestselling original paperback anthology of its time. 

"Star Wars" was the first movie I saw in a cinema, and it functioned as the key to unlock my love not just for movies, but also for Fantasy and Science Fiction literature.  Unlike most things in life, instead of dwindling in importance as I age (and hopefully, grow in knowledge and wisdom), Star Wars becomes increasingly important to me.  Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina reminds me how George Lucas’ simple story continues to spur on all of our imaginations.  It alerts me to talented authors I’ll have to take another look at.  And it underlines how important Kevin J. Anderson is the Science Fiction and Fantasy community.  I’ve long been impressed by the quantity and quality of Kevin's stories, and admired him for his business acumen.  But I didn’t know that he was also a great editor, which this anthology clearly demonstrates. 

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll duck back into the cantina again. Wuher the bartender just went inside, presumably to begin his shift, and I can't wait to learn more about him.    

Dragon Dave

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