Tales from the Empire edited by Peter Schweighofer (1997, Bantam)
During the late eighties and throughout most of the nineties, West End Games was the publisher of Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game, until they went bankrupt and Wizards of the Coast, that Galactus of the RPG and hobby world, came along and devoured the license. From 1994 to 1997, West End was publishing a quarterly magazine/anthology called the Star Wars Adventure Journal.
The Journal was a combination roleplaying sourcebook/ fan magazine/ short story anthology. It included modules for the roleplaying game, interviews with authors, and short stories from both established and new writers. It seems like it was pretty much the best thing ever. I say “seems like” because I unfortunately didn’t become aware of the Star Wars Adventure Journal’s existence until the publication of Tales from the Empire, an anthology of stories gleaned from the Journal released in the same month as the fifteenth and final issue. It’s an ambition of mine to collect all of these (and review them, of course) sometime before I die, so if you own one or more issues and would be willing to sell them to me, do let me know.
Tales from the Empire collects ten stories from the Star Wars Adventure Journal, including a four part novella by Timothy Zahn and Michael Stackpole originally serialized in issues twelve and thirteen, along with stories by several authors who I think are fairly talented but unfortunately don’t appear to have done much writing beyond the Journal. The title of this collection seems to just be an attempt to be consistent with previous short story collections and doesn’t have all that much bearing on its content. In fact, the placement of Boba Fett on the cover was likely an attempt to boost the book’s sales, since Fett doesn’t appear in any of these stories (apologies to any of my readers who may have become unduly excited upon seeing the cover image).
The collection opens with “First Contact,” in which Timothy Zahn gives us the details of how Talon Karrde and Mara Jade, who first appeared in Zahn’s Heir to the Empire, met. Jade’s identity is a reveal at the end, and Karrde is the main focus of this tale. It’s his sardonic wit combined with a curious passion for puns that make this otherwise fairly standard story as enjoyable as it is.
In “Tinian on Trial,” Kathy Tyers details the beginning of the Rebel career of Tinian I’att, the principal character in the author’s later story for Tales of the Bounty Hunters. These events are touched on briefly in that story, but the Empire’s apparent destruction and murder of everything and everyone Tinian knows and loves nevertheless makes for a moving tale.
Patricia A. Jackson’s “The Final Exit” is perhaps my favorite entry in this collection. It follows Adalric Brandl, a semi-reformed Dark Jedi and ex-Imperial Inquisitor (Palpatine, as frequent expanded universe readers know, didn’t give a pile of dewback dung about the Sith “Rule of Two” instituted by Darth Bane). Prior to this, Brandl had been an actor. In this story, he returns to his home planet after leaving the Emperor’s service for a pair of encounters with the people he left behind.
Brandl bears a marked similarity to Ethan Brand, the title character from the great Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story, “Ethan Brand—A Chapter from an Abortive Romance,” and the story itself bears a tone that is somewhat similar to Hawthorne’s moody morality tales. This, combined with several oblique references to classical theater, puts “The Final Exit” right in my wheelhouse; it’s Star Wars for English majors.
“Missed Chance” is actually the first appearance of my boy, Corran Horn. Michael A. Stackpole sets this story not long before the events of the X-wing books, and clues us in as to the events that prompted Corran, who had previously written the Rebellion off as a band of criminals, to join the New Republic. The story involves a great deal of clever subterfuge on Corran’s part, an impressive turn by his R2 unit, Whistler, as the leader of a covert rebel cell, and, of course, one of Stackpole’s signature space dogfights.
In “Retreat from Coruscant,” Laurie Burns does something that is done far too infrequently these days in Star Wars fiction: she tells a story from the perspective of the average citizen. Taryn Clancy and her partner, Del, are employees of a courier service that serves the Core Worlds.
Taryn and Del nevertheless run into trouble when, before they can leave Coruscant for their next delivery, an Imperial fleet shows up, intent on retaking the capital world (see Dark Empire for details). The Republic commandeers Taryn’s ship and her services to get word of what’s happened to the fleet at large. What follows is a tense tale of regular folks forced into a catastrophic situation.
In a similar vein, Charlene Newcomb’s “A Certain Point of View” has as its protagonist Lieutenant Celia Durasha, the navigator of a luxury starliner called the Kuari Princess. When an old lover boards the ship sporting an Imperial officer’s uniform and a guard of stormtroopers, it isn’t long before shit hits the fan. Newcomb does a great job of tugging on the heartstrings in this tragic love story.
Tony Russo’s “Blaze of Glory” is the story of a group of mercenaries on a mission to break up a ring of slavers. The story is entertaining enough; its characters have good dynamics and it seems as if it would have made for a really fun gaming session. As a prose narrative, however, it doesn’t reach beyond adequacy.
By way of contrast, Angela Philips offers quite a bit of interest with “Slaying Dragons,” a story about a young girl equally enamored of old Jedi legends and computer slicing (that’s what they call hacking in the Star Wars universe). When her Rebel cousin shows up, she gets caught in a philosophical conflict between the newly returned relative and her parents—and the much larger struggle between Rebellion and Empire. With a story-within-a-story about a Jedi Knight and a dragon, this is one of the more stylistically interesting entries collected here.
Erin Endom’s “Do No Harm,” as its title implies, is about a doctor forced into an ethical quandary. As a part of a Rebel infiltration team, she must help the sick prisoner the team plans to rescue… or end the prisoner’s life. World-weary first person narration draws the reader into its protagonist’s plight, and the final paragraphs left me feeling her hollow angst.
“Side Trip” features Zahn and Stackpole’s respective pet characters, Thrawn and Corran. The novella is set during the Trilogy, so Corran’s dad is still alive and the two are working as partners to take down Zekka Thyne, kingpin of the Black Sun criminal organization’s operations of Corellia. Thrawn, as part of an elaborate plan to track down the location of a Rebel base, gets involved, masquerading as Jodo Kast, a bounty hunter known for masquerading as Boba Fett (Still with me? Maybe this is the justification for Fett’s presence on the cover).
The plot is full of twists and reversals, but the best things about “Side Trip” are the opportunity to read more about some great characters as written by their creators, and to see the authors’ similar, but unique, styles complimenting one another.
This collection and its companion, Tales from the New Republic, are different from Kevin J. Anderson’s Tales collections in structure and conceit, but are quite similar in what they provide: a collection of stories about characters from all walks of galactic life that serves to greatly expand the Star Wars universe.