The Saga Continues is a post series that explores the Star Wars new canon. Canto Bight is a small anthology of four stories set within the casino city of Canto Bight on the planet Cantonica. It forms part of the Journey to The Last Jedi series and seeks to add depth to one of the most interesting new planets in the new canon. I had hoped to find more from this collection than simply, “Las Vegas in space,” but sadly it didn’t quite live up to that promise.
The first story in Canto Bight is “Rules of The Game” by Saladin Ahmed. In this book opener, Kedpin Shoklop is visiting Canto Bight for the first time. Shoklop is on the vacation of a lifetime after winning Vaporator Salesbeing of The Year at the company where he has worked for over 100 years but he is a rube and as far from streetwise as it’s possible to get, making him a perfect target for the criminal element of Canto Bight. Enter Anglang Lehet. Lehet is a career criminal getting ready to retire but he has one final job to complete before he can disappear into the sunset. For this, he needs a mark, and Shoklop is exactly the kind of easily manipulated Canto Bight newbie that is perfect for the task. Only things don’t go exactly to plan and we soon learn that perhaps we shouldn’t judge everyone on first impressions.
Story two, “The Wine in Dreams” by Mira Grant, is probably the weirdest of the bunch and this story is also told from multiple points of view. Derla Pidys is one of the galaxy’s finest sommeliers and is heading to Canto Bight to meet a client, the Grammus sisters are beings who might come from the other side of hyperspace (or perhaps that’s just the aura of mystery they enjoy cloaking themselves in), and Calla is one of many indentured servants in Canto Bight who finds herself with new employers whose motives in claiming her she does not understand. All of them find their lives twisted together as a deal over a priceless bottle of wine becomes far more dangerous than any normal business transaction.
The third story was easily my favorite. “Hear Nothing, See Nothing, Say Nothing” by Rae Carson is a single-person narrative told from the perspective of Lexo Sooger, a Dor Namethian who works as a high-end masseuse in one of Canto Bight’s most luxurious spas. Lexo’s career allows him access to many secrets, secrets he has done his best to ignore until a local gangster kidnaps his adopted human daughter and threatens her life unless Lexo agrees to work for him as an information broker. Lexo calls upon skills from the life he hoped he had left behind, and the secrets he had until now kept hidden, in order to embark upon a rescue mission to reunite his family.
Finally, there’s “The Ride” by John Jackson Miller, a regular writer from the Star Wars universe. This last story follows Canto Bight casino player Kaljack Somni. Kal has been honing his zinbiddle skills for years in the hopes of winning the legendary progressive bonus, and on the night it seems he might finally strike it big, his plans are disrupted by three of the luckiest (and sometimes unluckiest) beings in the galaxy. Only Kal has just learned that the money he was loaned by a mysterious benefactor actually came from a gangster and now that gangster wants to be paid back by sunrise, so he has a single night to come up with 800,000 credits. Teaming up with the trio who cost him his winnings, Kal embarks upon a crazy night of gambling and learning to see the galaxy in a whole new light.
Canto Bight is an odd mixture of stories, and very different from any of the Star Wars books I have read so far. Part of that comes from the fact that, as far as I could tell, not a single existing character appears at any point in the book. In fact, if it weren’t for a handful of casual references to familiar planets and galactic politics, this might not be a Star Wars book at all. On the one hand, that’s great. It’s always nice to take a look at the wider galaxy away from the Skywalker lineage and their decades-long trail of destruction. On the other, it’s hard to slot Canto Bight into our wider knowledge of the galaxy far, far away and I found myself wanting more links to that universe I know and love. It was even difficult to place the book in the Star Wars timeline but it appears to be very close to The Last Jedi based on a couple of throwaway comments.
Canto Bight isn’t helped by the fact that out of the four stories, only two are particularly good. There’s nothing wrong with the first offering per se, only that it becomes increasingly ridiculous as it progresses and the ending is nothing short of ludicrous which put me off the rest of the book from that point. This feeling was exacerbated by “The Wine in Dreams” which I still don’t understand the plot or point of—it took me a long time to force myself to finish that one off and I found myself wishing I had spent my time elsewhere. The quality picked up notably at the halfway point, but even the third tale didn’t have much of a Star Wars feel to it which was disappointing from a Star Wars novel, and neither did the finale.
There were several things I liked about Canto Bight, of course. All four of the stories take place over the same day and characters and locations from each one appear briefly in the others. If I were to read it again, I know I would spot references to the later stories in the earlier ones that I didn’t spot the first time around. When you stop to consider that the four stories were each written by a different author, this is an extremely impressive achievement, especially considering that none of these inter-story links feel at all forced. The variety of characters was great to see as well, with a good amount of diversity in both the characters themselves and their stories. In a city that is essentially Space Vegas, it would be easy to just write four stories about gamblers and gangsters, instead we get stories featuring sommeliers, tourists, masseuses, servants, business owners, and more as well which helps paint a more detailed picture of Canto Bight than the brief glimpse we got in The Last Jedi. I found the poor, working characters to be the most interesting after the hints in The Last Jedi that it will be these “nobodies” with whom the future of the Resistance and the Jedi will lie, but these characters didn’t get nearly enough page time.
That being said, across the four stories I felt that I didn’t learn anything new about Canto Bight that I didn’t already know from Rose’s brief comments in The Last Jedi and the film’s brief scenes in the city. Many of the characters from the book appear in the film, however, these are such blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moments that it took me a few watches of the Canto Bight scenes to spot them, and several are missing entirely because they only showed up in one deleted scene. If you hadn’t both read this book AND looked up photos of the characters in order to specifically look out for them, you’d never know that they were anything more than extras.
Overall, Canto Bight offers nothing that really adds to our wider vision of the Star Wars galaxy and it won’t imbue your future viewings of The Last Jedi with any deeper meaning. What it does well is to build the world of Canto Bight, introducing us to the people who live there from the wealthy gangsters and casino owners, to the indentured servants tending the fathiers and manning the reception desks. It’s just a shame that the whole thing could be summed up with the single sentence: “Las Vegas in space.”
GeekMom received this book for review purposes.