Heir to the Empire, Chapter 3

FV_GreenLightsaber_Will: Another week, another chapter of Heir to the Empire. And, appropriately, here’s where we meet the third side of the tripartite focus: the fringers, specifically Talon Karrde and Mara Jade. As Z did last week, I’m going to include a capsule summary as I go along.

Incidentally, how’s the weather where you are? Where I am is digging out of a nasty Nor’easter.

FV_BlueLightsaber_Z: We’re getting the edges and dredges of the more northern-Snowmageddon here.  I would describe the current snowfall as “lackadaisical.”  Not complaining too much, though, for obvious reasons.

FV_GreenLightsaber_Will: Truth be told, it was something of a letdown here, too. At least we’re not on Hoth. Anyway. Mealtime! Karrde has invited Mara for a meal. I love how Karrde is introduced. One of the first lines is “As always, his timing was perfect.” Specifically, his timing on pouring wine so that it greets Mara when she walks in. That really tells you all you need to know: even, or perhaps especially, for an unaffiliated smuggler/information broker/fringer, Karrde is a man of wealth and taste sophistication, with a gentlemanly manner and quick wit. (As reinforced by his line that being a smuggler doesn’t automatically make you a barbarian.)

FV_BlueLightsaber_Z: I think that someone who thinks “It’s perfect, as always” about his own timing is someone who’s basically begging to be taken down a peg, but that’s not really Karrde, is it?

FV_GreenLightsaber_Will: Karrde is always pictured (including in the old Decipher card game, where Zahn himself modeled) as having long flowing locks, but I never bought that. The trimmed goatee, absolutely, but if he does have long hair, I see it as tightly bound into a ponytail. Is that just me? Of course, it could be timing–at this point, he sticks with the tightly coiled image, but loosens up as a consequence of all the running around he’s about to do.

FV_BlueLightsaber_Z: No, not only you.  I always have pictured Karrde as suave and streamlined, too.  And… well, after I met Mr. Zahn I pictured him as Karrde, but in the “actor playing in the movie adaptation” sense.

FV_GreenLightsaber_Will: Anyway. After a brief interlude with the vornskrs Sturm and Drang–which shows that Zahn’s wit is akin to Karrde’s; the names sound very Star Wars-y, but they’re actually German–we get down to business: Karrde wants to make Mara his new second in command. She’s new to the organization, but she’s smart, talented, adaptable, and good at both taking and giving orders. (Go figure.)

Aside: I like that “the organization” (or “the group”) doesn’t have a “proper” name, like Black Sun. It’s the mafia thing. Outsiders and the public call it “the Mafia,” but internally, it’s just cosa nostra, “this thing of ours.” A name like “Black Sun” is a bit too grandiose and attention-getting for someone like Karrde, who prefers to stay quiet. So he just has “his people.” (It does make me wonder how org-structured he is, especially in regards to paying his people. But then, that is liable to be slapdash anyway, splitting the proceeds of success. I don’t think they’d have a grade-and-step system, here. Though the Golden Age of Piracy had something not unlike that…)

FV_BlueLightsaber_Z: My aside: In a margin note Zahn wryly notes that he didn’t get nearly as many people complaining about ”Sturm und Drang” as he did about hot chocolate, and theorizes that was because people who caught the reference were likely amused by it. I find it kind of ironic, therefore, that a reference to German classical literature in the GFFA bugged me far more when I first read this than hot chocolate did, but I can’t quite describe why…

FV_GreenLightsaber_Will: Then the Chimaera arrives, and here’s a nice hint how good Karrde’s people are: they know that that’s Grand Admiral Thrawn’s flagship. The New Republic doesn’t even know Thrawn exists beyond rumors, let alone his name and his command. Karrde is also quick enough on the uptake to know why the Chimaera is coming to Myrkr, How he knows what ysalamiri do is left as an exercise for the reader, but it hardly seems outside the realm of possibility that he learned about it before now.

FV_BlueLightsaber_Z: “If you don’t want to be noticed, you don’t use a Star Destroyer” still makes me giggle, but not as much as Karrde’s polite mouthing-off to Pellaeon: “Of course I know nothing about your ship, your top-secret commander, or your most recent military activities, nope, no sirree, not me.” That also takes guts to say, since if memory serves ISDs are capable of orbital bombardment.  Two minutes later, when Karrde reveals (from his point of view) or blabs about (from Pellaeon’s point of view) that he can deduce they’re after ysalamiri, the threat becomes well-nigh explicit.

FV_GreenLightsaber_Will: You’re right about the guts. One thing that Zahn did well was remind us that a Star Destroyer is to be feared. It’s sort of like his understanding of stellar scale (which we’ll see later in this book): thanks to the sort of tricks the Millennium Falcon got up to, we don’t really think of a single Star Destroyer as a harbinger of disaster…but unless you’re favored by the Force or you (ahem) have a lot of force, an Imperial Star Destroyer can seriously mess up your day. And your planet.

Back to the dinner party. Mara’s reaction to the Empire and to history is quite something. She’s frustrated with the Empire (“that’s about all the Empire really cares about these days, money”), she hates Luke Skywalker with, ahem, a fiery passion, and also Darth Vader (thanks, surely, to the garbled version of the story she got In Dying Color). I can’t for the life of me remember how I felt reading this at first; did people have suspicions who she had been?

FV_BlueLightsaber_Z: Coming to this fresh, Mara Jade’s emotional outburst reveals two intriguing things: She knows for sure that Vader is dead, and she hates Luke Skywalker. Putting two and two together, on page 39 of this hardback a first-time reader should think that she was a high-ranking Imperial… something-or-other, who was loyal to Vader, and who believes Luke killed him because who knows what the Kessel happened in that throne room anyway. That would have the correct coloring, but be wrong enough on every detail that it stays amusing and intriguing on subsequent readings. (I actually don’t see anything in these pages by themselves about Mara disliking Vader.  She’s just certain that he’s dead.)

FV_GreenLightsaber_Will: I don’t know. Her surety at Vader’s death carries with it a sense of “and good riddance,” at least in my reading. But I could be letting what I know color that. The next part is interesting: Karrde thinks “well, if the Grand Admiral has ysalamiri on his ships, so should we,” but it turns out that there aren’t going to be any. Temporarily for the Wayland arrival, sure, but the purpose of ysalamiri isn’t going to be shipboard, or even anti-Jedi defense, at all. (Which means this qualifies as the first hint toward Leia’s Eureka Moment in The Last Command. Nice!) And he sees a substantial profit in simply watching the Empire do something. A farsighted man, that.

FV_BlueLightsaber_Z: Karrde also reveals to the reader that he considers information to be currency, and that he (through his people and their observational skills) is very well-versed in the art of bartering for information even if the other party hasn’t explicitly been told that’s what they’re giving away in return. In short he demonstrates exactly the same kind of competence in his business activity as in his managerial skills, and I find myself liking that very much, too.

FV_GreenLightsaber_Will: And that’s pretty much it, except that Mara (for all that she’s been with Karrde for less than six months) apparently already knows a bunch of things that will improve the organization. Again, this isn’t a shock given her history. One thing I notice is that this chapter is shorter than Chapter 2. Chapter 1 was shorter, too. I figure that’s because 1 was the Empire in the person of Pellaeon (and Thrawn), 3 is the fringers with Karrde (and Mara), but 2 was Luke, Leia, and Han, with no characters relegated to parentheticals. So yeah, it would be several times as long.

What do you think, Z?

————–

FV_BlueLightsaber_Z: I think a sizable percentage of my comments this week work better as responses to your commentary, so I’m going to have asides here that I couldn’t fit up there.

I can never visualize… OK, ausualize… OK, you tell me what the word is… what the vornskr’s “cackle/purr” is supposed to sound like. I know exactly what the upcoming “snap/hiss” of lightsabers sound like, though, having heard them in the movies, and I think that’s pretty fair description of the sound, so I trust Zahn about the cackle/purr being fairly accurate too, I just don’t know accurate of what.

FV_GreenLightsaber_Will: Audialize, perhaps? Urban Dictionary has it, anyway. As to the sound, well, my cat purrs with a bit of an edge to her sound; if you add more edge to that, I can hear it as a cackle/purr.

FV_BlueLightsaber_Z: In two pages and some change (the meal, before- and after-interruption) Karrde shows himself to be the best kind of manager—someone who can tell when one of his people is not being utilized to her full potential, willing to take a risk on them expanding into areas of activity they haven’t necessarily been a part of before, and willing to take input on a systemic level (the “organizational details” they end up talking about) from someone he has judged as capable.  And able to appreciate the importance of setting the proper atmosphere when discussing employment situations. So he’s becoming a big player according to Dravis. Go figure.

And here we are with the ysalamiri, but although Zahn reveals here in a margin note what they’ll be used for, I think I’ll prefer to discuss that in the chapter they become relevant.

FV_GreenLightsaber_Will: Well, Zahn reveals what they can do. We still have a long time before we find out what they’re ultimately for.

FV_BlueLightsaber_Z: Given Karrde’s attraction to information, although it isn’t mentioned explicitly in his thoughts you just know he’s veeeery interested in knowing how Mara is so certain of Vader’s death as well.  (Or maybe that’s me, projecting.  How people know what they know, especially in the off-screen parts of wide-ranging stories like Star Wars, has always been a focus of interest to me.  And to thousands of fan-fiction writers.)

Overall, what Will calls the third side of the play is introduced by telling of a few of the key players’ characteristics, but very efficiently showing the majority, and the last hooks are set: What’s up with Mara, what will Karrde do next, and what does Thrawn want half-meter long docile tree-snakes for anyway? (And why does Mara seem to maybe not like the idea of having them on their own ships, while we’re at it? Questions, questions—though I can’t believe Karrde didn’t deduce that last one.)

FV_GreenLightsaber_Will: He figures it out in due course, mostly at the start of Dark Force Rising, of course. And with reason–and it feeds into the vornskr/ysalamiri story. Though truth be told I’m not sure that Mara doesn’t want them as much as that she doesn’t see the point.

FV_BlueLightsaber_Z: We’re about to get an answer of sorts to the question about Thrawn right next chapter, next week. Until then, may the Force be with you…

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4 thoughts on “Heir to the Empire, Chapter 3

  1. One thing I find interesting as (more or less) a new reader is the way Thrawn and Karde are clearly a commentary on Vader and Jabba, respectively: “here’s how you run an Imperial counterinsurgency/smuggling ring: with quiet competence, recognition and reward of promising talent, and a minimum of wasteful displays of power”.

    From my limited experience of the EU, I get the impression that making things more sensible than they sometimes appear in the movies isn’t an uncommon motivation for its writers. (Though this is somewhat tough with something like KotOR/SWtoR’s Sith Empire, a massive interstellar polity whose domestic and foreign policies are fundamentally based on mustache-twirling villainy. “Yes, it’s lovely that increases cortosis production by 3% per annum, but is there some way it could also be powered by the soul of a forsaken child?” Here, it probably helps that– at least at this point in Heir to the Empire– the Force-based conflict is subordinated to Thrawn’s grand strategy.)

    Since Luke, Han, and Leia are still here, I don’t know if Zahn (or anyone else) creates separate characters as comparable commentary on them later. But obviously he’s trying to fill in what it is to actually embody the roles that we really only get as descriptions in the movies: Luke as Jedi, Leia as diplomat and politician, Han as, if not a smuggler anymore, the entree into that world for the New Republic.

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    1. …you know, I never quite considered how the in general evil and neutral characters are meant as counterpoint to the (as to perfectly put it) mustache-twirling villainy, but it is a good point.

      And yes, rethinking aspects of the movie plots (or thinking about implications at all) did spark quite a bit if the EA. It’s going to come up with respect to the Force and with respect to government systems and even with respect to secondary characters quite a bit. It was, of course, awesome from the writers’ point of view that they got to play with things that simply would not work in a movie, I should think.

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  2. Batya always heard the voice of David Xanatos coming from Karrde, so naturally she cast Jonathan Frakes.

    But when I re-read it, I made the effort to see him a very unremarkable man. slight and bald and invisible unless he wants you to see him.

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