Heir to the Empire, Chapter 6

z: This week, the DC area gets its second worth-mentioning snow of this season, and potentially the first serious one. In the meantime, I believe New England is making great strides for the next scenes on Hoth to be shot on location there, and I’m beyond worrying about where all that water will go once it melts. Right now the melting seems to be in question, unfortunately…

will: And with my day job giving me hell this week, Z will be doing the heavy lifting again. New York, incidentally, has been getting snow–but not anything like Boston, thankfully.

z: The Trio are together again and the chapter opens just as the—wait. Come to think of it, the only two times the Trio, all three, are together on a spaceship going somewhere on a Mission during the movies were the escape from Death Star I (which can only loosely be called a Mission) and on the way to Endor (which was on board a stolen Imperial shuttle.) So from whence does this sense come that this setup should be familiar? Partly from the previous chapter, and Han’s quip “just like old times…” Exactly like (once again Han’s) line from Empire about ”the bounty hunter they ran across at Ord Mantell” this effortlessly and successfully invites the reader to fill the years in between and since the movies with many more Trio-adventures. Once again, we’ve got the fan fiction writer’s paradise beckoning.

will: And the pro fiction writer, as any number of later-written and earlier-set books (including Zahn’s own) fill in that gap. Interestingly, the “old time” Zahn meant to evoke was the trip to Alderaan, which obviously didn’t have Leia on board.

z: —just as the Millennium Falcon is landing on Bimmisaari. Han snarks about the locals. Leia chides him. I laugh. Leia is a bit tense and does some mental Jedi exercises; Luke senses her tension and verbally reassures her; Han chides them since it’s “like listening to half a conversation;” I’m lost a bit in admiration since this is an amazingly economical way of pointing out some of the potential issues Han could be having married to someone with, well, Jedi powers, and hanging out a lot with someone else with, well, Jedi powers, and also his brother in law. That’s going to come into play a little more later, so we’ll touch upon it there.

will: The landing at Bimmisaari is a nice contrast to what I said in Chapter 2 about “why would Han be on Tatooine?” There, he had a justification. Here…Zahn had a choice. He could either use a place we know (though I can’t really think of where that could be; Corellia, maybe?), or evoke the feel of a big, lived-in universe, with a brief visit to a new planet, understood to exist and be a part of the universe but glossed over. He made the right choice. When people accuse him of reusing dialogue (again, see what I said in Chapter 2), I point to this as “no; the characters reuse dialogue.” See below.

And for all that Han may feel outgunned by Luke and Leia and all their amazingness, we’ll see how he holds his own.

z: He made absolutely the right choice, and kept making it, and others followed along in his footsteps, highlighting what (to me) is the most attractive aspect of the Star Wars Universe (or any well-constructed alternate universe), which you perfectly described as “the feel of a big, lived-in universe.”

For nearly the length of an entire page Mr. Zahn smashes at the fourth wall with the Hammer of Foreshadowing while they discuss security arrangements (Chewie doesn’t want to come along, which Han doesn’t like; Han will unobtrusively carry a comlink on direct line to Chewie, waiting within the Falcon) and step out to meet the aliens, with yet some more foreshadowing (they insist Han leave his blaster aboard, yet seem to regard Luke’s lightsaber as ceremonial or something and let it pass).

will: One aspect of a lot of science fiction is that it’s always extrapolating the present into the future. Something about the existence of comlinks as separate, independent pieces of technology, instead of integrated into other devices (look at what we call “phones” today), smacks of that. There’s something weirdly retro about Han’s whole “private communication trick,” inasmuch as it seems bloody obvious.

z: The landing area is a short walk away from the Tower of Law, where the talks are scheduled, and which is next to the multi-layer open-air marketplace.  The design of the marketplace as described invokes an amphitheater with wide walkways and stalls replacing the audience seats to my mind. Leia displays curiosity about the design and is told it’s a marketplace; Han snarks upon being offered a tour of the marketplace; Leia chides him; I laugh.

Within the Tower of Law they find that the scheduled negotiator, oops, is rather sick. Threepio, translating, manages to suggest serious digestive trouble without saying so. Leia goes, oh well, why don’t we wait aboard our ship then, but one of the Bimms suggests taking Leia on a tour of the marketplace during the wait. Sure, why not? The Bimm then suggests something that even the Trio, as genre-unsavvy as they have been presented to be so far, cannot help but be alarmed at. Ah, but Luke and Han might rather like to visit some museum on an upper floor of the Tower instead, no?  Leia explicitly wonders if they are being split up. Han snarks darkly in a note-perfect Han line (as the editor also points out in a margin comment): “I like marketplaces. I like ’em a lot.” Leia doesn’t chide him. I laugh anyway.

will: Genre-unsavvy, yes; situation-unsavvy, no. The setup is suspicious–sudden illness, sudden change of plans, sudden attempts to divide the party. They don’t go “wow, this has to be a setup,” they say “this is suspicious and we should be on our guard.” And they divide themselves into workable teams: Leia, who is far and away the most important person (diplomat, political representative, Flame of the Rebellion, and also somewhat limited in her ability to fight back by her condition–she may be a pregnant badass but she’s still pregnant), gets the escort of a capable improviser and crack shot, while Luke, who has the best danger sense and Force support, can go independently.

The explanation that Leia figures it’s the Bimms playing politics rings true as well. They’re suspicious, but they aren’t PCs in a D&D game; their universe has things happen that aren’t plot significant. (Even if this one is.)

z: Luke tries to get a sense of the Bimms through the Force, but can’t pinpoint anything except what seems like political duplicity to him.  Leia then accepts the market tour, Han tagging along and Luke going to the museum not to offend anybody.

This is a really good place to pause a bit and talk about what Force abilities entail. A really powerful Jedi like Anakin Skywalker, facing a half-trained Luke, could read what was in the younger person’s mind almost up to the exact words (“… Your sister!? Obi-Wan never told me you had a sister! ” That also lends itself to a nice bit of retconning: Obi-Wan’s last act was to fight Vader, too, yet he hadn’t been broadcasting his thoughts, we’re invited to notice). Anyway, at the risk of spoiling about five pages ahead, at least one Bimm has kidnapping in mind, which does seem to go beyond regular political chicanery a bit. Even if they didn’t know what their Noghri collaborators’ exact plans, they were told to separate Leia from these others and had to suspect that the Noghri’s intentions didn’t involve crumpets and tea, or their planetary equivalents.  Yet Luke doesn’t pick this up. How much of it is attributable to an alien mind structure (I’m willing to say “a lot,” actually) and how much to his inexperience? I don’t exactly remember any more how his further growth in the Force is handled throughout the EU, but I’ll be on the lookout, as it were.

will: I go with “alien mind structure,” especially by comparison to father-and-son. Not to mention the difference between strong emotion (love, family, friendship) and impersonal, mercenary greed. The former strikes me as much stronger and easier to pick up. If this Bimm had been acting out of fear for his family or life, I bet Luke would have felt it like a beacon. Instead, all he can get is “they have diverse agendas.” Which is true by definition.

z: Fair point, guv’nor.

Long review, and we’re only now hitting the meat of the action. We first follow Han and Leia to the marketplace.  The first time I read this, I remember getting disappointed as a teenager SF reader and SensaWunda (© Leigh Butler) seeker that Zahn did not spend more time describing the market and the stuff sold there, although of course that would have been a terrible breach of pacing protocol.  But what can I say?   I always want to see more such things.  All of a sudden their guide gives them the slip and Leia says it: “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”  They turn to try to get back to the Tower and find that their way is blocked by a group of aliens, species unfamiliar to them, with stokhli sticks in their hands.

I’d like to pause here and point out that a) this is the first time we’ve seen the word, b) that was the first time the word had appeared anywhere, c) no immediate description is necessary because you think of shock sticks and police batons and the tone of the moment, as it is, is set.  SF, gentlebeings.

will: Back up a bit, because the part where Han rattles off what other species he sees in the marketplace is important too. Zahn talks about the freedom of a book’s lack of SFX budget, but also, he gets to play with what exists. I wonder which undefined species were Zahn’s invention (Yuzzumi, I suspect; I bet he likes those sounds in his aliens’ names) and which were West End Games’s material (Ishi Tibs for sure, maybe Baradas and Paonnids too).

One thing Zahn screws up is the use of “human” as a non-proper noun. He gets better later, but there are basically two ways to go that work for me: every species name is a proper noun, including Humans (what Star Wars eventually settles on); or none of them are (see Mass Effect, where turian, krogan, human, asari and geth are all uncapitalized). Mixing them, capitalizing Wookiee but not human, elevates humanity in a universe where that shouldn’t be the case–not on a linguistic level, anyway.

Let’s not go into where humans came from to the Galaxy Far Far Away. They exist. (That appears to be the official word, if the Wookieepedia is to be trusted; maybe Coruscant, maybe not, but it’s so long in prehistory and records are so scattered, and it might even have been transplants from, say, Earth. We don’t care.)

z: This is where I wish I was actually better read in SF than I am, because I think it would be interesting to point to the general shift towards the obviously correct consistent-capitalization approach (if there was one) or mention that such-and-such a writer had been ahead of his time, or that there was a regression to human-special capitalization during some period of time which then shifted back, or whatever it was that really happened.  But I am really not that well-versed in SF history.  In fact, the first time I  noticed that as being A Thing was in Mass Effect.  To be fair, Mass Effect had plot-related reasons to be emphatic about that.

As to where humans came from to the GFFA, my baseline always was “they aren’t humans, but where would Lucas have found the proper-species actors to cast and how would he train the audience to read their facial-or-equivalent expressions,” whenever I cared about the question, which also wasn’t and continues not to be too often.

will: And then, Leia picks up on Han being impressed at how crowded the marketplace is, by a bunch of different species, and as a function of that, how much the world is valuable as a trade partner and member of the fledgling New Republic. Leia doesn’t need Jedi skills to pick up on that, either, just marriage skills.

But back to the stokhli sticks. The other part I like is that it’s Han’s point of view. He doesn’t say in internal monologue what stokhli sticks do, so we don’t find out until he’s telling someone, because he knows. It’s an economy of storytelling that mixes information in with action and dialogue and character, instead of dropping information like a lead weight in the middle.

z: They realize that they are in fact surrounded by said aliens.  Then Han does describe what stokhli sticks are to Leia and the reader (which, as you’ve pointed out, is the best way to handle exposition since there’s no danger of as-you-know-Leia here): They are Spiderman’s net-shooter on steroids.  The sticky substance they shoot stuns as well as entangles the victim.  As the aliens seem intent on grabbing the couple (and, presumably, Threepio) without panicking the crowd, they try to direct them towards the ramp by tightening their circle, and Threepio says it: “We’re doomed.”  Han’s comlink turns out to be not so inconspicuous after all and he asks Leia to try to contact Luke through the Force.  But Leia has already tried, and has sensed that Luke is in the same kind of trouble.

Aaaaand scene.

will: A perfect transition.

z: This is a good place to start talking about how the dialogue sounds wonderfully like the movie dialogue (without the clunkiness).  I had the good fortune to meet Mr. Zahn at several conventions.  In one of them, on a panel, he was talking about how when his son was young, on long car trips they would have “books on tape” which were actually the sound of the Star Wars movies recorded on tape.  Listen to those a few hundred times, and you get a perfect ear for crafting that dialogue, it turns out.  As for the cliché phrases of some characters, they stick out because they are instantly recognized, but they are not in fact incessantly repeated.  There’s one “I’ve got a bad feeling about this” per book, if memory serves, which, well, it’s tradition, isn’t it?

And with that, on to you, Will.

will: One more chapter and I will finally get to really discuss the use of dialogue and movie lines. Zahn talks about it in Chapter 7, so shall I. But yes–I got that story from Zahn too. The setup was, he and his wife would record the vocal track to an audio cassette, and their kid would be in the backseat with his Star Wars figures and the audio, so Zahn heard the characters much more than he watched the movie.

Zahn does more planet-of-hats stuff here, especially with the yellow clothing, but then, maybe  that’s just fashion.

One thing he does better than a lot of other writers is the issue of scale, and he’ll do better still later, but something about the way the marketplace and Tower of Law are described suffers, to me, from planet-is-a-city syndrome. It’s like the entire diverse planet of Bimmisaari is valuable by this one marketplace; it doesn’t feel true even as a representation.

z: That’s funny, I didn’t get that vibe at all.  Maybe because they say that “this marketplace has been here for centuries”—it’s one of the oldest such places on the planet—and that aspect reminded me instantly of the Grand Bazaar in İstanbul… and I really do not have it in my mental makeup that the Grand Bazaar is representative of even just that city at large, so I didn’t read anything into it beyond “This is the first (and turns out, the only) place they get to see outside of diplomatic negotiation rooms.”

will: Another point Z didn’t mention was the way Chewie communicates. In a later annotation, Zahn says that he had a whole list of synonyms for Artoo’s whistling and beeping, but I also like how Leia gets to be straining to hear a growled (literally and figuratively, given the big guy’s attitude) reply that evokes what Wookiees sound like without having to deal with writing out “grarrrgh” a lot.

And my job is still kicking me around, so I’ll leave this as the end. See you next week, and once again, may the Force be with you.

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4 thoughts on “Heir to the Empire, Chapter 6

  1. There’s something weirdly retro about Han’s whole “private communication trick,” inasmuch as it seems bloody obvious.

    Though right at the moment, it’s harder to be sure that it could stay private. At the very least, the fact that traffic was going between Han and the Falcon should be very detectable, and it’s hard to know where things will end in the encryption/eavesdropping arms race.

    Re species names in SF history: Doc Smith’s Lensman series (Golden Age multispecies galactic space opera featuring an order of specially endowed, psi-empowered folks who all carry a particular object as tool, focus, and identifying symbol, does this remind you of anything?) didn’t capitalize “human”. But that looks to be because “human” was a generic in that universe, like “reptilian” or “frigid-worlder”.

    ostly people are identified by their planet or their planet of species origin, so we’re “Tellurians” the same as other species are Rigellians or Palainians or Ploorans. There are also non-Tellurian humans, because life in that universe has a common origin and a tendency to converge on certain forms, but also more seriously alien sorts. (E.g., multiple species who live in cryogenic, Pluto-like conditions, all of which– necessarily to that sort of biology, we’re told– possess a fourth-dimensional extension into hyperspace.) The technically inlcined in that universe use a letter code that supposedly specifies particulars of atmosphere, temperature, biology, etc. Granted, we devised it, so humans are “AAAAAA”.

    James White changed that part when he adapted a similar system for his Sector General space hospital stories written from the 50s to the 90s. (We’re DBGB.) *Those* stories are very insistent (as in, the dialog is repeated in just about every one) that *all* species call their own people “human”, so you’d really better be more specific so that we can start to diagnose your medical emergency properly. (Especially since for some species, treatment with hydrochloric acid or lead-melting heat is called for.)

    I do assume that SW humans are humans with no connection to Earth, for much the same reason that humans in secondary world fantasy are human despite having no connection whatsoever to our evolutionary history. Even in SF several Mohs-scale steps up in hardness from Star Wars, convergent evolution is a Thing. (I don’t believe in it in reality– converging to broadly similar forms like birds and bats or fish and cetaceans, sure, but not converging to genetically compatible or visually indistinguishable ones.) But I’m willing to buy it as part of the bit.

    his son was young, on long car trips they would have “books on tape” which were actually the sound of the Star Wars movies recorded on tape.

    That brings back memories. Star Wars wasn’t out on home video yet when I did that, but I would put a cassette recorder up to the TV speaker to record episodes of Battlestar Galactica and the like for long car trips to Florida. And yeah, when I’ve watched the series on Netflix more recently, I remember a remarkable amount of the specifics of the dialog too many decades later. 🙂

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    1. Yes, I know, the Lensman sound like the Green Lantern Corps, eventually DC named two Lanterns “Arisia” and “Eddore” as an acknowledgement.

      (OK, OK, no more fooling, yes, Lensman was an influence on George as well.)

      But given that Doc was writing in the Golden Age and many of those writers (himself included) still had hangups about treating women like “people,” I’ll give most of them a pass on more elaborate concept like “humanity” not being Speshul. (“Homo Sol” springs to mind…)

      (Ditto White; as I understand he tended to have a dim view of women’s capabilities as doctors, especially in his earlier books in Sector General.)

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      1. I’d say that Smith was better than White on women, though both got better over time. Smith, in particular, tied his own hands pretty early: the first book, Galactic Patrol, established the Lensman (introduced already generations or centuries old) as a standard all-male military.

        He then added Clarissa MacDougal, and gave her a Lens. (And she’s eventually one of five second-stage Lensmen.) But of course that necessitated her being an unprecedented special case.

        (Her first mission involves a matriarchal world, but it’s stated that either sex being in charge is a sign of Boskonian influence. In Civilization, the sexes are equal. Not true: the sex roles aren’t much changed from the mid-century US. But the intent was there.)

        By the time he had to go back and do the Corps origin in First Lensman, he had a couple of kickass women characters and the men are expecting at least one of them to get a Lens when they go to Arisia. Hence the whole introduction of a fundamental sex-based compatibility, to explain why there weren’t any female Lensmen before Clarissa. (Who’s definitionally as special as series hero Kim Kinnison, since they’re the penultimate results of the same breeding program. If either hadn’t been sufficiently awesome, they’d have been kept apart like the other presumed second-stage couples.)

        When Smith finally moved forward, with the Children of the Lens (1954), four of the five people in all of Civilization capable of making the jump to third-stage entity are women.

        Humans Are Special, of course, was John W. Campbell’s particular hobbyhorse, so that even writers who weren’t fans had to pay acknowledgment. (As you’re likely aware, Asimov cited it as his reason for a human-only galaxy in the Foundation books.) I’d say humans are at least less special in the Lensman books than in most contemporary SF, or in Smith’s own previous Skylark series.

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