Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina, edited by Kevin J. Anderson (1995, Bantam)
Have you ever watched the cantina scene from A New Hope and, in between debates over whether Han or Greedo shot first, wondered about all the aliens that populate that seedy establishment? Whether he shot first or not, who was Greedo? Who was that tall dude smoking a hookah at the bar? Who was that asshole with the Scottish accent that gave Luke such a hard time before Obi-Wan cut his friend’s arm off? And what about the band?
All of these questions and more are answered in Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina, an anthology of sixteen short stories by various science fiction writers, some of whom were regularly writing Star Wars fiction at this time (including the illustrious Timothy Zahn), and some for whom this was their first foray into that universe.
A few highlights:
In “Empire Blues: The Devarionian’s Tale,” by Daniel Keys Moran, we discover that Labria the Devaronian is a semi-reformed war criminal and music connoisseur hiding out on Tatooine. He’s stirred into some semblance of purpose when he hears that Firey Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes are on Tatooine.
In “Hammertong: The Tale of the ‘Tonnika Sisters,’” by Timothy Zahn, we’re told that the two sisters at the bar are actually operatives for a group of mercenaries known as the Mistryl. I would prefer not to spoil for you what “Hammertong” is, but I remember being blown away the first time I read this story.
“Soup’s On: The Pipe Smoker’s Tale,” by Jennifer Roberson is a dark vignette about Dannik Jerriko, a centuries-old vampiric sort of creature called an Anzati who works as an assassin, drinking beings’ brains, or “soup,” as he calls it. For one reason or another, the “soup” is more satisfying for Jerriko when it comes from individuals who are strong-willed and possess a high degree of “luck.” Covertly watching a certain young smuggler, Jerriko decides that his soup would be delicious.
And in “We Don’t Do Weddings: The Band’s Tale,” by Kathy Tyers, the band—Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes—gets caught in the middle of a rivalry between Jabba the Hutt and a rival gangster, forcing them to lie low in the cantina. A rough couple of days for a simple jizz band trying to eke out a living…
…You know what? Hold the phone; I need to talk about this. When I first read this book, I was young enough not to think anything of this unfortunate moniker of “jizz” for the type of music played by the cantina band. I correctly inferred that it was meant to be a Star Wars universe approximation of our world’s “jazz” music. Now, having lived another decade and having been exposed to far more vulgarity than I would prefer, I’m aware that “jizz” is a pretty commonly used slang term for male ejaculate.
I find this flub harmless and hilarious, but I can’t help but wonder, What were they thinking?! Granted, the term “jizz-wailer” first appeared in the Return of the Jedi novelization, but its context there didn’t demand that it be used here. I can’t imagine that nobody along the way—not Kathy Tyers, who wrote the story the term most frequently appeared in, not Kevin J. Anderson, the editor of the collection—nobody thought, “Hey, you know, maybe we shouldn’t use a word that means ‘semen’ here.”
Hasbro must have noticed. This Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes action figure set refers to the music scene of which the quintet is a part as “the Bith jazz sensation.” I can see why Hasbro didn’t want to print the words “Bith jizz.”
Of course, while there may be drawbacks to referring to the cantina musicians as a “jizz band,” there is certainly a benefit for Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes in that nobody can claim that a song by the Nodes is anything less than a seminal work.
I first read this book a year or two after it came out, before I was anywhere close to being a sophomore with accompanying sophomoric humor. It was one of the first Star Wars books I read, and while I had clear memories of it, I was somewhat afraid going into it over a decade later that I would find more flaws with it than I had noticed as an eleven or twelve year old.
On the contrary, I think that I enjoyed this collection more on this read-through. Each of these stories is a unique look at the Star Wars universe from the perspective of one of its (relatively) ordinary denizens. The stories are loosely connected; most of them show us Luke and Obi-Wan’s confrontation with Dr. Evazan and Ponda Baba from the perspective of other characters. This is often cited as a point of contention by fans, as they feel that this element becomes tiresome as it is repeated in nearly every story. It is my feeling, however, that there is an almost poetic quality to the continual revisitation of this one common experience in the lives of people with otherwise wildly divergent pasts and destinies.
Furthermore, almost every story is a well-crafted piece of prose. There are a few weak entries— the Evazan/Ponda Baba story involves some somewhat ridiculous Freaky Friday-type nonsense, and the Kevin J. Anderson Jawa joint isn’t bad, but it didn’t wow me— but as a whole it’s an excellent collection that I would recommend to even the most casual of Star Wars fans.