Heir to the Empire, Chapter 5

z: And here we come to the first chapter that I have explicitly not been looking forward to. Why? That, my friends, I can tell you in one word: Politics!

When I read the Thrawn Trilogy as a teenager, the Fey’lya political machinations made me cringe with acute discomfort of the empathy-embarrassment type. Now I’m 37, I fully look forward to cringing with acute discomfort of the “angry, because I know full well there are actual people who actually think and behave that way in any establishment from the small company scale to the government scale” type. So let’s dive right in!

will: Of course, we’re talking about a certain furred finagler. And no, I don’t mean my cat.

It’s nice that this chapter is short, because as you read this I’m at Capricon, Chicago’s February science fiction convention, so I had limited time to prepare this week. In fact, if you’re here at Capricon (yeah, I know, not likely given our readership numbers), I’m on a panel at 11:30 AM on Friday (so, probably either right now or too late) about fanart and copyright.

In general, if you’re in the Chicagoland area, I recommend all of the local conventions, including Capricon, Windycon in November, FuMPFest in June (specifically for comedy music), and more besides. Chicago has a great fandom scene.

Oh, and technical note, I’ll try to remember to include link cuts and the like. Plus, I upped the icon size. So: Link cut!

z: The setting is the Council meeting to which Han is reporting the lukewarm reception of his “come ship for the New Republic” offer to the smuggler corps. Ackbar, because he doesn’t trust smugglers and because he has no political savvy, immediately reacts in the black of black-and-white and reminds everyone he was against the mission to begin which, which allows Fey’lya the choice of sniper targets, of which he picks the “Maybe the smugglers refused us because they know you’re behind the offer and know you don’t trust them so they don’t trust you,” option.

will: Two points here. First, the pre-memetic “the smugglers suspect a trap” with Ackbar saying “because of me” is chuckle-worthy in retrospect. Second and more significantly is what Zahn says about what Fey’lya is. What it comes down to is that Fey’lya is a Bothan, which means he’s a political creature. It’s another example of Zahn’s tendency to give his alien hats: he decided that Bothans are a species of political maneuverers. But we’ll see more of that later–I think it’s in Dark Force Rising.

z: Han tries to defend Ackbar and the mission both by explaining in technical terms why the smugglers wouldn’t have said yes immediately,  and Fey’lya ignores this in the time-honored infuriating ways of politicians everywhere ignoring experts, nuanced explanations or inconvenient facts while seeking to score the next point of of an opponent, and just as my discomfort cringe reaches bit-into-unripe-lemon levels, Mon Mothma intervenes with a diplomatic nothing that translates to “shut up, children.”

will: Getting out some frustration, huh Z?

z: I warned everyone at the beginning that I’d be reacting… poorly… to New Republic politicking, didn’t I?

will: I always thought it was interesting that Mon Mothma existed. We didn’t even know from the screen in  Return of the Jedi who she was–she’s given some more backstory in the novelization of Return, though. (Which–are we going to do those, Z?) And we’ll learn about that in Dark Force Rising too. But the point is, up until that scene, the Rebellion was always carried by Leia, somehow outside or above the chain of command, referred to not by a military title like the generals and admirals and commanders, but as “Princess.” So it’s weird to have this other person in charge now. That’s probably (in addition to setting up the conflict with Bel Iblis) why Zahn characterizes her as In Charge, and Don’t You Forget It.

Zahn’s footnote about canon welding doesn’t help. He has to explain away why Han gets to think “since they were getting out under the shadow of the Second Death Star,” obviously meant to refer to the briefing scene of Return, when he would later write Han with Mon Mothma in Allegiance, set right after Star Wars. It’s more frustrating to see him not just shrug and say “things change.”

His reference to his Tales from the Star Wars Cantina story, which I gather we’ll get to in that mythical Someday, was nice though, because it reinforces that even at the time of Star Wars, Death Star II was being built, or at least designed.

z: I read the A New Hope and Return of the Jedi novelizations once each, a long time ago, but I, um, had tried to translate The Empire Strikes Back.  (I was 12.  Which English-language books you could find in used bookstores around Ankara were a little bit luck-of-the-draw.)  I think it would be interesting to do the novelizations, though—on the one hand they are not, strictly speaking, of the EU; on the other hand, they are definitely “The Good Parts.”

This time around, I actually find myself a little bit irritated with Ackbar’s characterization instead of Fey’lya’s.  It is easy enough to explain his actions (mostly, reactions) throughout the Trilogy as his being fully a soldier at heart and very unsuited to politics. But just like I am drawn to competency, I’m thrown off by incompetency, and Ackbar making himself an easy target for Fey’lya does put my back up a bit.

will: A common trope in this sort of thing is that becoming a king is a lot easier than ruling, or in this case, toppling an Empire is a lot easier than setting yourself up as a New Republic. And as part of that, we get the trope that military commanders don’t do well in politics. They’re used to the black-and-white of combat, blah, blah, blah.

I…don’t buy that. It’s a bigger problem than Zahn, but I’m not quite sure I believe that a fleet admiral would be so uncreative and ineffectual in the political arena. The US had its fair share of warriors-turned-politicians–look at General and President George Washington, who was also a spymaster. (The Culper Ring.) I have to believe that anybody who can visualize and direct interstellar battles has some concept of leaving your flank open, by words or by troops. OK, so he might lose to the politically brilliant (if amoral) Fey’lya, but still. Z’s right. This isn’t just being outclassed, it’s incompetence.

z: The meeting is adjourned, but just as Han and Leia head out, Mon Mothma catches up to them and asks Leia if she’s had a chance to ask Luke about a diplomatic mission to Bimmisaari yet.  Seems the Bimms asked for Jedi presence in particular and, well, at least this means they get to spend some time together, so yay. Just like old times.

Even though Zahn doesn’t explicitly say it, you don’t have to read very deeply between the lines to remember the “old times” usually end up with someone getting shot at. I find that bit very amusing. Han actually explicitly thinks of how boring diplomatic negotiations are likely to be, thereby violating several laws of Narrative Perversity at once. Poor baby.

will: Genre-savviness wasn’t quite as robust in the Nineties as in these cynical Teens, I guess. On the other hand, Zahn’s editor has a great note about the efficiency of saying “like old times” and leaping straight to the landing, in effect telling us, “you guys know how this would have gone down.”

Bet Artoo whupped Chewie at dejarik again.

z: I’m not even considering taking that bet, because yup.

There’s an interlude there where Leia’s conflicting responsibilities between training as a Jedi and doing diplomatic everything are discussed, but I’ll leave commentary about that to Will, and sign off the main body of my commentary about this actually rather short chapter…

will: I think we can save a lot of that for later, because of how it informs what I’ve started saying about Mon Mothma and Bel Iblis–control issues, trust issues, authority issues. It is nice that Han is so supportive, I have to say–he wants Leia to be a Jedi, because it’s what she wants. (What she is, I guess.)

z: That I had not cottoned on to, because of course it felt natural, but you’re right; it’s nice.

will: I wasn’t kidding when I talked about genre savviness and the difference between Nineties (especially early Nineties before the rise of the antihero) storytelling and these days. One thing that I think the Thrawn Trilogy does well is set a proper tone. Not just in the characters’ dialogue (which is coming up again in the next few chapters), but that knowledge that this is in many ways a Flash Gordon-style swashbuckling universe. Yes, Zahn adds complexity and politics, but it’s the good kind of complexity: the kind that feels appropriate to the universe.

This is still a tale of Chosen Ones, Destiny, dashing heroics and last-minute saves, adventure, excitement, and really wild things (Yoda Beeblebrox?). One thing I think the universe lost as it went Darker and Edgier (and can I get proper thanks for not linking the Great Timesink on that one) was that sense of adventure and wonder and Thirties throwback space opera. And one thing Thirties space opera didn’t have was characters knowing they’re in a space opera. Our Heroes are smart enough to not be split up, but they don’t cheat. They don’t know there will be conflict because we’re done with the introductions and entering the rising action phase, they suspect there will be conflict because of the last-minute changes in plans and attempts to divide them.

That’s probably why it feels so real to me, and draws me in. No character ever says “we’re in a story,” they just act the way you expect them to based on their characterization and personality. There’s a place for fourth-wall breaks and genre savviness and that sort of storytelling, sure. But not here.

z: That is something I had not considered in relation to Star Wars per se—but you are completely right.  And it wasn’t only storytelling that was not-as-genre-savvy back then: Neither was I.  (I didn’t gain most of those skills until halfway into my twenties and all the way through the Wheel of Time series, or at least all the way through the part of the series that had been written by then.  Thank you, rec.arts.sf.written.robert-jordan, for teaching me story analysis without realizing that was what you were teaching me.)

will: And that’s about it. I’ll probably prevail upon Z to take the lead next week, too (which I guess means “I’m your wing, Z”), as I have a convention to enjoy, so look forward to more of her summarization skills.

z: …that gives me an idea for different icons when we get to the appropriate books.  <grin>

will: Ooh, I like it. And–

Hey, do I get to say it this week? Cool!


See you next week, and may the Force be with you.


One thought on “Heir to the Empire, Chapter 5

  1. Washington is pretty close to the platonic ideal of a general-turned-politician (compare pretty much anyone else who attempted it in the Americas for the next century or so). and historically close to sui generis, so I don’t blame Ackbar for not meeting that standard. US Grant might be a decent analog, for example: an honest man and a great general who was completely pwned by the corrupt forces within or using his administration. Civilian politics is a different game.

    And besides, somebody probably has to be bad at politics to keep setting up the Republic from being too softball. Leia’s defined as really good at it, and so is Mon Mothma, (Though by now the latter is probably thinking “Not enough Bothans died to bring us this information.”) Ackbar’s most memorable appearance in the movies is in stating the obvious, so…

    Bet Artoo whupped Chewie at dejarik again.

    One nice understated visual joke in SWTOR; in one of the cantinas, there’s a game board with a Wookiee seated on one side, a 3POish droid on the other… and its arms on the floor nearby. (It’s never referenced in dialog– just a background detail.)

    (Have fun at Capricon! We were at Windy, but will have to miss this one.)


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