Book Review: “Dark Legends” (Mann/Griffin)

Today’s the release day for Star Wars: Dark Legends, a new short story collection by author George Mann and illustrator Grant Griffin, and I so enjoyed a read-through of it that I decided to write a little review!

WARNING: I think I allude to some spoiler details in this review, so if you haven’t read the book yet and want to avoid them, come back after you’ve had a chance to check it out!

As already said above, I enjoyed the book–a lot! So no delay or obfuscation there: I think it’s good, and definitely recommend it. It was a quick read, too–I bought the book earlier today and read it in a couple of hours.

Front cover with bitchin’ Vader art!

Dark Legends is a follow-up to 2019’s Myths & Fables, another short story collection also by Mann and Griffin; it bears some similarity to 2017’s The Legends of Luke Skywalker, written by Ken Liu and illustrated by J.G. Jones, as well. These books all present stories from the Star Wars galaxy as in-universe stories, using a style that’s not unlike folklore collections from our own galaxy. The stories in the book can (most likely) be assumed to have occurred mostly “as-is” for any Canon-minded enthusiasts looking to expand their knowledge of the GFFA, but the phrasing and structure of the text imbue it with the sense that these stories have been passed down over time, that these are renditions of the events as opposed to exact historical record; this also means that the stories might have been embellished or mythologized.

I know this may make some bristle at a seemingly “ambiguous approach” to canonicity in stories like these, but the way authors like Mann and Liu use these real-world storytelling techniques and traditions make it feel (in my opinion) alive and so much more real. We know a great deal of our history here on Earth, but there are still parts of our historical record that are greatly informed by stories and traditions, usually written down long after the fact. I can easily imagine the stories in Dark Legends being told, first by one person to another, changing over time, growing, becoming something more than just a repetition of fact, taking on parabolic attributes and eventually being copied down–much in the same way that epic poems like The Odyssey or B√©owulf were based on probable historical events, performed orally for many years, and eventually copied down and codified in the texts we have preserved today. The stories in Dark Legends are probably a bit less mythologized than my real-world examples, but the process would still be relatively the same.

In case it hasn’t dawned on you: That’s big praise! I really enjoy the sense of history books like these give to the GFFA. It’s not only the exposition of a character’s history or an event’s having taken place, but the idea that the galaxy is full of beings who may hear about these people or things and pass their stories on to others. You actually see some of the fruits of this living universe of stories onscreen in the Star Wars films, as the heroes and protagonists of the Original and Sequel trilogies reflect back on the deeds of their own heroes and figures they considered more fiction than fact; perhaps most directly, you see the transmission and power of (specifically oral) storytelling at the end of 2017’s The Last Jedi, when stable-boy Temiri Blagg hears the story of Luke Skywalker’s last stand on Crait and, inspired, looks to the sky as he feels the Force flow through him. Stories are powerful creative endeavours that impart tangible things to people. That’s what Star Wars as a whole is about, and that’s something I think Dark Legends engages with very well.

I enjoyed all the stories in the book, which have a sort of running theme: In some of the stories, such as “The Orphanage” or “The Dark Mirror,” the characters aren’t meant to be bad people–in these cases, they’re orphaned children and Jedi paragons–whereas in others, such as “Buyer Beward” or “A Life Immortal (about an overambitious politician and a Sith) the characters are downright evil; in all of the stories, however, the didactic “horror” element that gives the book its Dark Legends moniker is a result of the characters’ failures to follow the better judgment of their hearts or heed warnings they are given by others. I don’t actually want to give away too much about these stories because you should read them for yourself, but it’s fascinating to me how many times the darkness at the heart of these tales could have been avoided if the characters had just opened themselves up and listened, either to themselves or to others. Ultimately, then, the book is an appeal to act not only with best intentions, but to truly have an awareness of yourself and what’s happening around you so that you can make the best and most informed decisions.

Perhaps the most complex tale of the bunch is “The Dark Mirror,” which depicts the dangers of subsuming oneself in the Light–or rather, denying one’s own Dark Side exists. The story itself functions very similarly to The Clone Wars season six episode “Destiny,” where Yoda, driven on his quest to solve the mystery of the war and understand some of the deeper secrets of the Force, is made to face his own internalized dark side. The TV series has this manifest rather literally in a strikingly Gremlins-like apparition that taunts and assaults Yoda; in “The Dark Mirror,” there is an even darker version of this that explores a critique of the Jedi Order in an honestly amazing way. Star Wars by-and-large depicts the Dark Side of the Force as a real danger and an awful, destructive force in the galaxy–but the reality for so many living beings is to feel the negative emotions and desires associated with the Dark Side. That’s part of life! So, what is one to do? This is the complex question the story tackles, and I think it does so brilliantly. I’ll leave it there to preserve the actual story in case someone carelessly avoided my previous warning, but the fact that the book deals with a complex more topic like this was something that made me very happy.

For the Canon-minded folk I mentioned above, and/or anyone interesting in more information on the Sith lore introduced by The Rise of Skywalker, the final story, “A Life Immortal,” is probably the most interesting–and perhaps the most confusing. I think it has some pretty interesting implications, but…I’ll wait to see what others thing. I hope it’s explore more later; maybe I’ll do a separate review/write-up entirely about “A Life Immortal.” Who knows!

Grant Griffin’s art in Dark Legends, by the way, is awesome! My favourite pieces in the book are from “The Predecessor,” “The Orphanage,” and “Blood Moon.” There’s something in particular about the art to “The Predecessor,” featuring the protagonist of the story reflected in Vader’s evil visage, that I just adore. It perfectly captures the sense of terror that the Sith Lord has represented for over forty years. Clearly someone else agreed, too, because it’s also the cover art to the entire collection! The art as a whole does an excellent job of making the book feel like a true collection of in-universe folklore–especially the Grand Inquisitor-as-Nosferatu that accompanies “The Orphanage,” that’s like something out of an old Romanian vampire anthology or something!

I hope you haven’t found this too rambling. I think Dark Legends is a welcome addition to the Star Wars Canon, and I can’t wait to get a physical copy to grace my bookshelf!