: Welcome again, gentlefolk. As we’re still in the “figure out how it works” stage, and as Will was at Arisia this weekend, we’re going to reverse our format: I will start, Will will respond, and I will respond to his responses. I will also recap the chapter as I go along this time.
: If you’re ever in the Boston area around this time of year, hie thee to Arisia, the SF con at the Westin Boston Waterfront. It’s a fantastic weekend of fun and geekiness. One downside: my Kindle broke! Woe and calamity! And no, I wasn’t throwing it against the wall. Anyway, I’ll be buying a new one soon (I want the fancy-pants Voyage, and they’re out of stock until next week), and in the meantime I’ll just use my phone, so it’ll work out. Oh, and full credit to Z for the new images indicating who’s speaking.
: Chapter 2 is where we catch up with The Trio. (Don’t need to define that, do we? Good.) In three ten-minutes-in-the-life vignettes, Zahn efficiently drops a boatload of exposition on where Luke, Leia and Han have been and what have they been doing: If you’ve been wondering, it’s five years after Return of the Jedi now and there’s a new baby government and it’s on where the old Imperial Center used to be; and yes, Leia and Han did get married and there are baby Skywalker-Solos on the way; look, other old friends are still around, and here are a couple more new people for you to meet.
I can’t help but think that this must have been a daunting chapter to write. Far more than Chapter 1, which is all Zahn—Pellaeon, Thrawn, Rukh and even Lieutenant Tschel are all his. The weight of the readers’ expectations, which must have been SSD-size, can be deflected a bit by the authorial right of doing what he pleases with his own characters. But this was the first new Star Wars story bearing the name in some years. You can delay what you know a significant portion of the audience is awaiting only for so long. So the first word is “Luke?”
: I’d never put that into so many words, but you’re right: Zahn was saying “And now, the moment you’ve been waiting for…” And I think you undersell by calling it “the first new Star Wars story in some years.” Zahn may say he was “just the first person to see if there was steam under the crust” in the intro to this 20th Anniversary Edition (and we should make sure to talk about the intro and the foreword and all after the book is done), but it was a lightning bolt at the time.
: Luke Skywalker is dreaming, except it is a Force vision. Obi-Wan Kenobi appears to him, as a ghost as dead Jedi are wont to do, and says that there is a limit to this method of post-mortem communication after all—it has been too long, and he must in essence move on. He loves his student, so wanted to say goodbye rather than leaving without closure. He cannot resist one final bit of advice, very reminiscent of Elrond’s advice to Frodo setting out on his Quest: You will find help unlooked for on your way. His very last words set up a significant chunk of the Expanded Universe plotlines: “Not the last of the old Jedi, Luke. The first of the new.”
I can’t help but think that this must have been a daunting chapter to write. Far more than Chapter 1, which after all does what all story hooks must do: Set up and resolve a small conflict to get the reader into the story and introduce the larger conflict to drive the longer work. Take out the keywords “Star Destroyer” and “Empire” and such, and Chapter 1 could be the opening of any galactic-scale space opera. But this was the first new Star Wars story bearing the name in some years, and it was the start of a planned continuity, where the hooks Zahn set were going to be hooks not for him alone.
: I know we’re shying away from discussing the prequels (if we can), but I have to mention that nobody at Lucasfilm objected to this, despite the stuff that would come later in the prequels about Qui-Gon Jinn’s pyre and learning that Qui-Gon becoming a Force ghost was a new development in Jedi science. The two takes don’t exactly conflict, but they do not quite mesh perfectly, and frankly I like Zahn’s take better. No shock.
: Keep the “I like Zahn’s take better” thought, folks, I sense it’s going to become… something of a theme, here.
Depressed and daunted by his sense of being left alone by all his teacher-figures, Luke climbs to the roof, looks over the Imperial Center, and basically tries to have a moment alone with his depression. (In a side-margin comment in the 20th Anniversary Edition, Zahn reminds the readers that Our Hero a) is human, b) has had a really tough life for our entertainment, and c) also has stare-at-the-ceiling, scared-of-life, 3-AM-painful-insomnia moments because of a) and b). This is a very Zahn thing to do, if I may be allowed a personal remark: He is a very warm and humane writer, which is also apparent in his non-SW work.) In his attempt to either soak in his angst or to deal with it he is defeated, nominally by C-3PO, but in reality by Leia Organa Solo sending Threepio over to check on Luke. She has sensed his distress strongly enough to be woken up by it herself. Luke’s heart is eased somewhat by the reminder that he is not alone. But now the insomnia is transferred to Leia, who has enough to worry about herself. It is in fact Luke who voices to Threepio what probably weighs on Leia most: “Putting together a real, functioning government is a lot harder than I expected.” (Another Zahn side note helpfully reminds the readers that Our Heroes have more “professional” responsibility on their not-yet-thirty shoulders than most people have had to carry all their lives, too.)
: No kidding on that last point. We forget, I think, how old Luke and Leia are. Or aren’t. Much moreso than Han, who carries an element of “jaded traveler” to him, this is what, eight or nine years removed from the farmboy who tries to get accepted into the Academy?
: In an anti-parallel, when Threepio asks Luke what he’s worried about, he first mentions the government, then his personal worries; when Leia is asked what keeps her awake, her immediate response is Luke, and his worries; then she lies awake a little more worrying about Han, who is away; then she reviews how much is on her own shoulders. Of the Trio, she is the actual point person in that whole “build goverment” thing since she’s the one with training and experience.
There are a million lines I could write about Leia’s characterization, but I think I will keep them for later recaps. Here, I will reminisce that for someone who was introduced to the heroes as the damsel-in-distress, literal princess-to-save, it took approximately three seconds for her to make the dialogue take a sharp left turn. Luke’s very first words to her are as cliche’ as can be: “I’m here to save you.” Her first words to him, even though she thought she was addressing a stormtrooper, are snarky: “Aren’t you a little short for a stormtrooper?” Once outside the cell, I think it’s less than three minutes before she’s yanking the blaster out the rescuer’s hands and shooting an alternate route, too. Yes, OK, that whole rescue sequence was a formative experience for me, and I imprinted on Leia as a role model when I was very young. I could have had worse, is what I am saying. The way Zahn kept on writing her, I could have had a lot worse. More later.
: Zahn making Leia no less badass for being pregnant–with twins–is a serious point in his favor. And giving her fears on that score, too. One particularly springs to mind, which I’ll save for later.
: We also meet Winter, Leia’s companion and aide from Alderaan. Once again, with the mere presence of the new character, Zahn sets up entire plotlines involving Alderaanian Remnants which he will never touch himself.
I could think that this must have been a very daunting chapter to write, far more than Chapter 1, which after all only included new characters, and it’s not like Zahn had any choice there: Both the Big Bads were gone at the end of Return of the Jedi. But Zahn mentions that this was fun for him—introducing new characters on the good guys’ side, as he puts it. Also, Winter, Lt. Page and Dravis are not main characters. The new major characters are still to come.
Leia worries about Han and is sad that he had to take on responsibilities which took him away from her, again. We segue to Han and find him on Tatooine with Chewbacca, at Mos Eisley, trying to get in touch with his old smuggler contacts to provide shipping capacity to re-establish trade routes within the New Republic. Skirting around the huge economic and political theory questions way above my head about whether that is the best way to go on about this, said smugglers seem not very enthused about registering with a new government either. Go figure.
: I have no idea and no background to say whether this truly works economically either, but it sounds good and it works as a dramatic hook and scene-setter. And it’s interesting that Zahn is working with three sides, really: the New Republic, the Empire, and the unaffiliated fringers. Which is both a continuation of what used to be Han’s characterization, but also a fact that the New Republic would have to deal with: when they were relying on smugglers to get the weapons they needed to win the war, great! But now they’re the government, they’re providing protection and law and order and legitimacy. And that includes anti-smuggling efforts. I actually give the New Republic credit for saying “we would like to pass along legitimacy to you too” as opposed to “we’re going to turn on you completely and deny your role in our victory,” but it’s still a bit patronizing, even if Han sells it really well.
: The basic tensions are set for the Trio: Luke, the first of the “new Jedi,” and left without guidance as he sees it (which will make him vulnerable to C’baoth later on); Leia, facing motherhood and a government held together with hope and plasto-tape and the necessity to do without most of her support structure most of the time (oh will that ever come into play later on); Han, still a little bit “…it was just a chartered flight to Alderaan—what in the Galaxy just happened to me?” and a little bit “…neither this nor that any more, huh.” I do think his characterization is the weakest of the three, because by all rights he is due several identity crises in a row that he’s not going to get.
: I don’t know. Han isn’t as young as the others; I kind of feel like he had his identity crises, and now, he’s just doing his damn job, whatever that may be. (We’ll talk a lot more about that when we encounter Han’s backstory, in Crispin’s Han Solo Trilogy.) He has the life experience to say “roll with the universe or get rolled over.” I don’t think his characterization is weak, just less inclined to angst. And I think Zahn agrees. Note that most of Han’s issues throughout this trilogy are worrying for his family, external danger, and not being where he thinks he belongs, namely with his family. Even with Chewie as a surrogate, it’s frustrating.
: You’re right about that; “weak” is the wrong word to use—Han has had his crises, probably, so he will not have the same story motivator structure as the Skywalkers.
Also we meet Lt. Page, another to-be-recurring new character, and another old friend—Wedge Antilles! Wedge Wedge Wedge! Yay!
(Yes, Will, I am ruthlessly going to leave it for you to explain that reaction.)
: *grumble* See below.
: We also get to, not meet, but hear about the current big player in the smuggler circles through Dravis—guy’s named Karrde.
One final note from my part: Dravis, the smuggler contract representative, is careful that Han and Chewie both have their hands all visible on the table before he consents to talk with them, and that even though he knows they’ve got (presumably armed) backup. Zahn’s margin comment merely says that people thereabouts “remember Greedo’s carelessness,” which:
Yup. Han shot first.
: Damn straight. Though as Page points out, Dravis really did trust Han and Chewie. No backup, no weapons but the ubiquitous blaster…he’s not stupid but he doesn’t believe it was a trap. For fringers, that’s trust.
My turn, then. Zahn talking about his use of movie quotes (“strong am I in the Force…”) is interesting. We’re saving the full discussion on that for a later chapter (and I know exactly which one), but I like the idea that Luke will never forget watching his master die–both of them, really–and will remember what they said, and feel resonances to it later.
And here is where we get introduced to Coruscant. Zahn has stated more than once that he didn’t invent the galactic capital being a planetwide city, George Lucas did, and it was in the West End Games material that Zahn was working with. Zahn did, however, name it Coruscant. (You’ve no idea how much I cheered inside–and maybe outside, I don’t remember–when that appeared in Episode I.)
: Seconded, there.
: I feel like Luke, or Zahn, I don’t know which, is being naive about symbolism–the symbolism of being the reborn Republic would require setting up shop where the Republic was, even if the Empire was there in the interim. Though Zahn’s suggestion that Luke’s unease was due to things like Thrawn knowing some hidden passages, and the existence of Delta Source (as I read his footnote) does add a dimension I hadn’t considered.
: I’d say it’s Luke. Farmboy from the place farthest from the bright shining center of the galaxy, in his own words, can be excused if he does not have exactly the best grasp of social psychology. I am also completely on board with him just sensing the residual Wrong from the Dark Side, though.
: I absolutely love the lesson Threepio (or Ben) teaches Luke here, one that I think not enough people–fans and writers both–understand. Being a Jedi does not exempt Luke from being kind to, or caring about, individual people. Exactly the opposite: every person is important, and being a Jedi means that Luke needs to be more aware of that, not less. And frankly, it’s the major theme of the Thrawn Trilogy, a sort of galactic-scale representation of the “Nice to the Waiter” principle. Mara and Luke dance that dance a lot, straight up to Nirauan ten story-years later, and of course Thrawn plays with it too, because he isn’t. (One word: Noghri.) Maybe that’s why I won’t accept his “redemption,” that he was doing everything in service of the greater good…because there can be no greater good born out of oppression and evil.
: In a comment thread, I’d post here an upwards-pointing arrow and say “This.” In a USENET thread, I’d reply and add “AOL.” If you got that one… well, we are reading a book with the words “twentieth anniversary edition” stamped on the cover.
: Luke and hot chocolate: I side with Zahn. Maybe it’s just because of what Mara says at the end of Visions of the Future, that it’s the perfect drink for Luke, but it has a wonderful resonance. Pilots (and politicians) drink coffee–er, “caf”–and smugglers drink booze, but Luke? Drinks liquid hominess. (Incidentally, I drink tea. So does Z.)
: Not exclusively, but I’m from Turkey. The day-cycle or relax-with drink there is tea, not coffee. Back on topic, AOL again, and I’m not even going to be bothered with “why didn’t he ‘caf’ it, or make up a name as they do with the booze?” Because if you spend a few too many brain cycles on it, to keep the homey/cozy/warm/sweet connotation without putting in a long description that would scream “cacao” at everyone would be calling it something cutesy and recognizable, “xococ” or I don’t even know, and I don’t see that that is any better. “Caf” invokes “caffeine” directly, and we make the assumption that anything called “brandy” involves ethanol; did we really want to read about Luke drinking hot theobrom?
: Actually, that would have been cool…but you’re right, it wouldn’t have worked. Zahn’s next footnote is something I disagree with, about the effects of being in the Imperial Palace contributing to Jacen’s fall to the Dark Side. It may be odd, but I think of the Palace as representing more the Lawful side of the Empire than the Evil, despite the Emperor being there. Most of the people in Imperial Center were bureaucrats, functionaries, and people trying, in their way, to keep civilization alive. Petty evils, maybe, but not Capital-E Evil. And I believe Zahn truly agrees with me–this is the explanation for why Mara herself never fell to the Dark Side. The Emperor’s private chambers probably need a plasma cleaning cycle, but the Senate chambers and the offices and everything? No.
(And given that we’ve relegated Jacen’s fall, along with a lot of the material leading up to it, to the fires of Hell No, I’m comfortable with that.)
: Spoiler warning, dude!
…no, not really. I do remember Jacen’s fall. Vaguely. And that whole storyline, thankfully still way far in our future and not being considered for commentary, was very non-coincidentally where I started to drift away from the EU.
: Leia gets a lot of her character arcs defined here: her growth in the Force (compare her failing to turn on the light switch to the climax of Dark Force Rising), her frustration at the government and the politicking (no politician can afford to believe that half a victory is half a defeat, not and expect to make progress at all–and no, that does not conflict with what I said about the greater good; there’s a difference between “you do whatever you can manage” and “the ends justify the means”), her pregnancy, being apart from her husband, and her crush of responsibility as a trained stateswoman, the symbolic flame of the Rebellion, and a Jedi in training.
In many ways that’s both a lot of character arcs and a single one, come to think of it: Leia as the fulcrum of the galaxy. It would drive me to drink. Or worse.
: (…and let’s not forget that the strongest thing she can drink for about six more months is warm milk, folks.)
: Winter (about whom Z has said all there needs to be said, for now) nails it when she points out that Han can help Luke, and Leia, with their funks. The three of them do work best when they’re together. If I wanted, I could layer a whole lot of armchair psychology on top here (Han the id, Leia the super-ego, and Luke the ego?) but I am so not a shrink. But there is something to be said for how Han’s “yes, the universe sucks, now are you going to grouse about it or do your job?” attitude, and when Leia thinks that Han secretly believes everyone is slightly nuts, well, she’s right. Himself included. There’s a reason he’s the most well-adjusted of the three…
Speaking of the man himself: Han’s presence on Tatooine feels, at first glance, somewhat odd: why is Tatooine important? But then you remember, and get told, that Tatooine was the operating base of Jabba the Hutt, the first among the crime lords (Black Sun was invented later). So Han, in reaching out to a smuggler contact, would naturally think of Chalmun’s Cantina.
I like how the half-pejorative term smugglers use for what happened to Han is “gone respectable,” just like Han sniped at Lando (“Look at you, a general…you’re the respectable one, remember?” Of course, he was already General Solo, he just hadn’t admitted it to anyone).
As I said above, credit to the New Republic for giving the smugglers an honest business proposition: you can make an honest profit, have repair resources, and for that matter not get shot at. Adrenaline is a hard habit to kick…but you either kick it or you kick off, eventually. (Miles Vorkosigan as a smuggler…which, actually, he was for about fifteen seconds there, wasn’t he? But I digress.)
And then, Wedge. I should save some of this for where Zahn talks about why Wedge is in the books at all, but here we go anyway. Z and I first met online in a USENET newsgroup (wow, dating ourselves much?) dedicated specifically to Wedge and generally to the X-Wing series. The fighter-pilot facet of the universe, the Battle of Yavin sequence-type (maybe I should say the Dam Busters-type?) material, is something we both latched on to, and Wedge is the ultimate expression of that form. And the fact that he appeared here showed that the normal person (not a Jedi, not possessing the fastest ship in the galaxy, not a Chosen One), the average guy representing all the average guys who made the Rebellion, wasn’t going to be lost in the big struggle. Like I said above: everybody matters, not just Important People. (Rogue Squadron occupies an interesting position in that regard, really. It’s Normal, but it’s also Elite. We’ll talk about that a lot more later.)
: Remember when I was waxing rhapsodic about being drawn to competency in the previous entry? Wedge is a perfect embodiment. But, again, later.
: And that’s the chapter. We’ll keep experimenting with format and structure, I’m sure, but we’d love to hear your thoughts as well. Comment!