The recently published Star Wars: The Clone Wars - Stories of Light and Dark is a collection of eleven short stories inspired by and adapting events from the Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated TV series. Each story focuses on the perspective of a key character in the show. The stories span anywhere from one to four episodes and give the listener a “behind-the-scenes” look into to the given character’s experience. For example, in the story “The Shadow of Umbara,” we are led by Commander Rex through his memory of the events in the episodes from “Darkness on Umbara” all the way through to “Carnage of Krell.” The final story in the collection, titled “Bug,” the only original narrative in the anthology, is inspired by the aftermath of Count Dooku’s attack on the Nightsisters of Dathomir in the Season 4 episode, “Massacre.”
As might be expected, Disney Publishing takes full advantage of the voice acting talent from The Clone Wars cast list for this production, including James Arnold Taylor, Corey Burton, Nika Futterman, Sam Witwer, and more. These are performers with long histories with the characters they portray, and that intimate knowledge is very apparent to the listener. The production additionally makes very good use of sound effects and music (which can easily overshadow actual narration, but doesn’t in this case), making each chapter feel very true to the TV series.
The publisher’s description of Stories of Light and Dark makes a point of noting that the authors included in this anthology are all fans of The Clone Wars and Star Wars in general. We find several familiar names from the Disney Publishing roster of writers (including Tom Angleberger, Rebecca Roanhorse, and Jason Fry), as well as a number of authors new to the franchise (such as Anne Ursu, Greg Van Eekhout, and Yoon Ha Lee). Regardless of their experience level, it is evident that they are working within a canon and story universe that has been well mapped out in advance of their contribution.
Where the anthology suffers is in the varied points-of-view offered from story to story. Because these are all stories about events that have already been told (with the exception, to a certain degree, of “Bug”), the authors suffer somewhat from their challenge to make their versions feel new and relevant. In those stories told from the third person point-of-view, we lose this moment-to-moment connection with the character, and the story reverts back to a mere retelling of events. The action sequences in these third-person accounts are frequently weighed down by a need to recount every little detail, instead of keeping us engaged in what the character is directly thinking and feeling.
The best stories in the collection are the ones that offer an intimate first-person point-of-view, a direct window into the mind of the character. In Rebecca Roanhorse’s “Dark Vengeance,” we feel like we’re sitting in a therapy session with Darth Maul as he recounts the trauma and disorientation he experienced after his run in with Obi-Wan Kenobi on Naboo. Sam Witwer’s narration in this chapter is a slithering whisper, eerily calm and filled with rage at the same time. In Lou Ander’s “Dooku Captured,” we hear the account of Dooku’s run-ins with Obi-Wan, Anakin, and the pirate Hondo as a carefully crafted recorded transmission intended for his master. Corey Burton’s narration brings to life the narcissistic grandstanding in Dooku’s demeanor, all while trying to make his failures seem like triumphs.
When we step outside of the first-person narrative, the best moments are still those where the audience is being treated to a character’s internal conflict. In Zoraida Córdova’s “The Lost Nightsister,” we witness Asajj Ventress’ battle with the opposing forces of protective self-interest and empathy for another person. In Anne Ursu’s “Pursuit of Peace,” we agonize along with Padme over how to best represent her constituents and successfully wield influence in the political structure of The Republic, goals which seem diametrically opposed. In both cases, the mental struggle is far more engaging that any action sequence the story has to offer.
Stories of Light and Dark is, in any case, an extremely entertaining audiobook. It elevates much-loved characters by illuminating their psyches and emotions. We hear directly from them through the voices best able to tell their stories. It is an
excellent companion to The Clone Wars saga for veterans and newcomers to the story alike.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars - Stories of Light and Dark is currently available in hardcover, digital, and audiobook formats.