Heir to the Empire, Chapter 7

z: Welcome, gentlebeings, and here we go with Chapter 7 of Heir to the Empire.  I’m typing this from under my comforter as the space heater goes full-tilt, because this week has been the Polar Vortex reminding everyone on the Eastern Seaboard that yes, it is still here, it has never really gone away, and it may only have snowed twice around DC but we can forget about a thaw until mid-March earlier, so have fun parallel parking between other cars and ice buttresses.

will: And, of course, the people who don’t know how to drive on the Beltway. The problems with DC are it’s a churning city (lots of new people pretty much all the time), and also, it’s far south enough that it doesn’t prepare for snow…but far north that it gets it. But I digress.

z: But on the other hand, we can get in our cars.  Pictures from Boston are rapidly reaching disaster movie levels of ridiculousness, so this isn’t really complaining, here.

We start this chapter pretty much in media res.  At the end of last chapter, Leia had tried to reach out to Luke through the Force for help and found out that Luke had similar troubles of his own.  The chapter rewinds a few seconds from her statement to that effect to Luke sensing her call, dashing to help, and running headlong into another commando group of Noghri—Our Heroes do not know the species name yet, but we do, so I’ll save myself the typing here.

will: There’s something to be said for the way, in this chapter and last, we are given Noghri descriptions. Here, they’re simply “silent gray figures,” and last chapter they were “short aliens…with steel-gray skin, large dark eyes, and protruding jaws.” Zahn says in a footnote somewhere that they were designed to resemble Darth Vader’s mask (and would have been the retroactive inspiration for same, before canon went wonky). I don’t have a particularly visual imagination, so it really took me seeing them in comics to get a handle on what they look like.

z: Something I had not noticed before is that the first five or so pages of this chapter are the first time we encounter a bona fide action scene—stuff that would have taken thirty seconds on screen takes five pages here, while moving along at a goodly, non-boring pace, and revealing the action (at least to me) clearly enough that I can visualize every move.  There is no dialogue once the real action starts either—in the beginning Luke tries a few “can we talk about this” lines, but once it’s clear to him that there will be no reply it’s all quiet motion.  We follow Luke’s rapid reasoning and resulting actions, and it’s eerie and gripping.

will: Note also that Luke isn’t just talking for talking’s sake, or just as diplomacy. His line about “none of you has to be hurt” is, first, a perfect Jedi not-cocky-just-serene line that you can imagine Obi-Wan using: he’s surrounded, outnumbered and outgunned, and honestly worried about hurting his opponents because he’d rather avoid it if possible…and second, a way to learn that the unfamiliar weapons are thumb-triggered, which he uses shortly thereafter to create confusion.

z: That is so true.  And I’m trying to think of other instances in fiction where similar things happen: I’ve got this feeling that I should remember more, but the only one I can think of is Carrot and Angua in the Discworld (even then, it’s Carrot saying “no one has to get hurt” but Angua’s the one about to lay down the hurtin’ if robbers or whatever don’t clean up their act).

A few more things to note here, all three based on Zahn’s margin comments.  First, about how to write the sound of an igniting lightsaber, Zahn simply says “I thought long and hard about [this]. I finally went with snap-hiss,” and I add that he absolutely made the right call in that little bit of onomatopoeia if we can call it that.  (Will?)

will: Yup. And yup.

z: Second, during the action, the Noghri’s sticky-web-shooter weapons reminds Luke of Boba-Fett’s “smart-rope” as Zahn had to name it since it previously had no name (this name makes sense and is simply descriptive) which apparently later got renamed to “fibercord whip” in one bit of Lucasfilm canon or another (this name doesn’t make as much sense and is deceptively descriptive); Zahn comments about the resulting retconning justification of “maybe Fibercord Whip was a trademark name etc etc.” as “Back in my physics days, we used to call this procedure hand-waving. I’ll be using more of it as we go along,” to which nothing else needs to be said.

will: Given my day job (intellectual property attorney), I’ll mostly avoid commenting on this, though I’m amused at Z’s feelings about the two terms–because “deceptively misdescriptive” is a professional term in trademark law…which, come to think, Z might have known.

z: {enigmatic smile}

Third, in the last comment of this action scene, Zahn points out that a writer “absolutely has to make his villains clever and competent.”  It is true that, by and large, Zahn’s “villains” don’t have much to learn from the Evil Overlord List (although it would be too much to ask that they should need none of it).  The glaring exception is C’baoth, but C’baoth has Justifications.  However, the pawn-level opponents of Our Heroes here are absolutely competent and, if I may use an old-fashioned term, worthy opponents.  Far from becoming a TV Tropes trope namer (“Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy”), the Noghri manage to almost trap Luke and to not fall into a trap which only a Jedi could have set up and activated: Luke attempts to tangle them in a heavy wall-size tapestry that he yanks from the wall above the door they rush in through with the Force; all seven Noghri dodge it and then immediately use the web from their stokhli sticks to stick every tapestry in the place to the walls and, for one of them, to the floor so that Luke can’t repeat the attempt.  In fact, it is made clear that Luke has “kill them” as the only option to get away—which he is reluctant to do, but he must help Leia.  So he does something that would look absolutely terribly beautiful on screen (tosses the locked-on lightsaber and guides it remotely to cut through seven opponents, who can’t dodge that, in rapid succession) and runs out to help.

will: As I said–Luke knew how this could end, and he wanted to avoid it. A Jedi, properly written, really does embody the “surrounded means you have them right where you want them” archetype.

z: I think I have missed reading about that level of cool, so I’m glad we’re doing this.

will: The Noghri’s competence, while cool, is another Planet of Hats thing–Noghri are the Species of Commandos. It gets fleshed out when we get to Honoghr, but it puts me in mind of any number of “kid rejects family tradition” stories: “I don’t want to be a natural born killer, I want to be a baker!” (Or whatever.) That said, the competence is cool: they manage to avoid the falling tapestry, and everything else Luke does, except the flying homing glowy death blade. Which…eh, can’t blame ‘em.

z: We cut back to Han and Leia.  She hears Luke’s call immediately after he starts running, and informs Han that help is on the way.  But the Noghri are too close.  For what comes next, Zahn might as well have put in the instructions “The words `HAN IS A TRICKSTER FIGURE’ in 60-point font” to the typesetters, but I am glad he did not because this way is more fun.  He tells Leia to grab some jewelry off of a nearby stand with the Force and “hand” it to him; when Leia performs, a great number of Bimms basically leap on him American football-style and become enough of a shield that he can reach his comlink and call Chewie in the Falcon without getting hit by the Noghri weapons.

will: The thing I had to realize to make this scene work for me was that the Noghri’s approach was so unobtrusive that most people didn’t notice. My instinct would be that the aliens with weaponry show up and all the Bimms scurry away, leaving empty space. What actually happened was that the Bimms didn’t realize that anything was amiss, so the “robbery” was the first event that would cause them to react.

z: Luke hears the shriek of the “robbed” stall keeper and the resulting din, and gives up on the idea of running down to the Tower’s ground floor and back up the marketplace levels.  Instead, he goes to one of the windows overlooking the marketplace and uses one of his fallen foes’ stokhli sticks to shoot at the marketplace’s partial roof; creates a rope, and Tarzans across.  Zahn comments that “Lucas loves a good, Errol Flynn-style swashbuckling adventure.  Luckily, so do I.” Yup.  Luke keeps in character, however, and there’s no yelling.  (Han would have yelled.)

will: Ahem. Indiana Joneses across, thank you.

z: I preferred an allusion there.

will: No, seriously, even louder than the music cue for, say, Luke and Leia swinging across the Death Star chasm, this scene needs a few lines of the Raiders March. (Aside: John Williams, man. When Epic Rap Battles of History: Spielberg versus Hitchcock included the line “Half your billions should go to John Williams,” it was a bit of a cheap shot…which doesn’t make it entirely wrong.)

z: Half of Lucas’, definitely.  Maybe a third of Spielberg’s, too.

will: Errol Flynn and Douglas Fairbanks were definitely all over this scene, as well as later ones (such as one in The Last Command where Luke approximates the famous Douglas Fairbanks sword sail ride). Zahn’s fondness for that style and era of movies, along with others, shows up in his non-secondary-world stories, too. See the Quadrail series.

z: Just as Luke lands, the Millenium Falcon roars overhead.  A bit of comic relief is injected by Luke being startled enough by the sound not to land with Jedi-like grace, but to hit rolling and bowl several Bimms over. Heh.  But the Falcon’s arrival has created a great distraction; it’s got a swivel blaster; the Noghri aren’t quite aware that Luke is among them with a lightsaber… it all ends quickly, and we switch to a dialogue scene on board the Falcon.

I will leave the dialogue analysis to Will, since {{Jedi Handwave}} this is the chapter he has been waiting for.  I’ll instead do plot analysis, first continuing with the recap.  There’s a bit of comic relief which reveals that the Artoo-Threepio Bickering Couple Dynamic is still in place as well, and thank the Force for that.  Leia wants to get back down, apologize, smooth things over and go on with the mission.  The conversation reveals that (luckily, something the Trio acknowledges) no Bimms were hurt during the shootout, that it was one Bimm who (probably) poisoned the chief negotiator and was bribed to split them up and lead Leia to the marketplace, and that the Bimms acknowledge that one’s responsibility while avowing they do not have any as a government.  Han does not care much either way, and he also is not about to discuss tactics.  Using his captain’s prerogative, he has set course back to Coruscant without consulting anyone and plans to come back with backup, if at all.

will: I’ll pull my language analysis into my section at the bottom, but I’ll say here that I love the politics of “lone maverick”–likely true in this case, but it’s very “the Secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions.”

This is also the first time of a bunch that someone says “we’ve been meaning to do a thing for a while,” like Luke thinking about asking what the “committee” line refers to, and later them working out a private code with Winter…and I like how it points out in one of many subtle ways that the Trio are very busy people, with very long lists of Things to Do.

z: In explaining his reasoning, Han brings up his adult fear that now shapes his life and actions to a great degree: “The people I’m protecting [include] your sister, your niece and your nephew,” he points out to Luke, to which Luke can only reply “Touche.”

Then Han brings up a topic that touches directly upon something that will put Luke in conflict with himself and trouble him probably all the way through the Extended Universe from here on.  Han says it’s time Leia went back to a bit more intensive Jedi training, maybe made her own lightsaber.  Leia sighs because there are only so many hours in the day, but does acknowledge it is important.  Luke reacts in a very “…yeah… train her more… yes… that’s what I wanted… exactly” way, and—

—-I can’t recap it better than Zahn put it, so I shouldn’t even try:

Leaning back in his chair, Luke watched her […], a familiar hollow pain in the pit of his stomach.  I took it upon myself, Ben Kenobi had said about Darth Vader, to train him as a Jedi.  I thought that I could instruct him just as well as Yoda.

I was wrong.

The words echoed through Luke’s mind, all the way back to Coruscant.

So, let’s talk about teaching.

“Doing” and “teaching” are completely different things.  I will hasten to add that I am not referring to the old silly chestnut “those who can’t do, teach” here—as I grew older and lost my tolerance for mental vacuity, that statement has started to draw my ire ever faster and more strongly.  In a single word, it is wrong. End of that discussion.

But neither being good at something practical nor understanding something comprehensively are guarantees of being able to teach it well.  Teaching may require another level of understanding, one that may in fact be only gained by preparations to teach.  At the very least, teaching a skill requires one to deeply analyze what it is that makes one successful in said skill; you can’t teach what you instinctively know how to do without dragging that instinct all the way up into the sunlight and breaking it down to its components.  Teaching knowledge-based things (say, physics) well also requires the teacher to work out how she or he acquired their own understanding and knowledge in the first place, to develop a narrative, to figure out the angles of entry and progression for the newcomer.

will: I don’t know any teacher on the face of the earth that hasn’t benefited, in terms of her own understanding of a given subject, from teaching that subject. I think it’s in the Dresden Files that the main character says that he himself learned more from a few months of teaching a subject to someone else than he had in the prior five years; this is also why a lot of martial arts, as I understand it, link black belts (and advancements within black belt rankings) to instructing others.

This applies to other aspects of the Star Wars universe too. In Rogue Squadron we’ll learn that a fighter squad’s XO has the job of helping his squadron commander teach and train and lead–well, duh–and an instinctive pilot like Aril Nunb, who never really trained, would be a great Rogue…but an awful Rogue Two. By comparison, a certain pilot who went through a training academy would be much better at training others.

z: I am not armchair-philosophizing here: This is some of that fifteen more years of life experience, which we were talking about when we first started this blog, coming up.  I have taught semiconductor electronics for a few semesters, and I would do it again at the drop of a hat; I love teaching and I may have a knack for that type of it going by the student reception.  On the other hand, I have been playing the piano for more than a quarter of a century and I have never attempted, nor would ever attempt to teach it.  Music theory, yes; interpretation, mayyybe, fingers on keys, nope.  I have it all in muscle memory and it had sunk in many years before I started learning how to meta-analyze my own movements.  I could teach the basics of dancing a little bit, since I was an adult and knew how I learned by the time I studied it, but not piano-playing.

And if someone asked Luke whether he wanted to teach, at this point he would probably answer “Force telekinesis and lightsaber fighting, absolutely, ethics of Force use, mayyybe, philosophical underpinnings of the Force, nope.”

will: In the later-written, earlier-set Courtship of Princess Leia, Luke encounters a cache of, basically, Jedi training videos and textbooks, and at some point he also comes across the Jedi Holocron. Still, there is no substitute for doing the job, and none of that is helpful regarding the philosophical aspects either. As much as Mara will, ten in-story years later, tell Luke off for his failings in the teaching department (part of their detente/reconciliation/final courtship and it’s about damn time, in Visions of the Future), there was probably no other way to do it than to fail until you get it right. And Luke’s own experiences in the next ten will (would, in a universe not ruled by marketing considerations) help him get better at it. Like I said, you learn by teaching.

The problem is that Luke’s alone–nobody else can step in and help when he makes mistakes in teaching. And boy howdy does he do that.

z: For one thing, Luke has next-to-no training and absolutely no one to guide him about the latter.  (That was part of the reason why Zahn withdrew Kenobi’s guidance from Luke at the very start, after all.)  For another, as we shall see, he’s still figuring out said ethics himself, too.  In teaching Leia, he has an undeniable advantage there: One could argue that when it comes to moral philosophy, Leia has a headstart over him anyway.  So he does not need to worry much about losing her to the Dark Side… which he will probably figure out himself.

The tabulae rasae on their way, the twins, are a completely different matter.

The tragedy is that they do not have to be.  Luke doesn’t know this (because Zahn didn’t at that point), but part of the reason he probably does not have to worry about Leia’s moral leanings is the inverse of why Obi-Wan should have been more wary of taking on the ten-year-old Anakin’s training: Her moral development is pretty much complete by the time she starts noticing her Force sensitivity, as opposed to Anakin’s, who… his mother calls him a good boy and he’s supposed to display a kind heart, but he hasn’t been through his teenage formation years yet under his mother’s undeniably selfless, giving and peaceful influence.  We now know that the Old Republic’s Jedi preferred to get them while they are young and (theoretically) impart all that moral underpinning themselves. I would strongly suggest that they have only partially been successful in this.

will: Understatement of the solar year…but as I recall, Luke is already much more worried about the twins than Leia. I believe he says that when he talks with C’baoth.

z: When you consider the “with great power comes great responsibility” angle, to borrow from another universe’s Theory of Superhero Ethics, the whole Jedi institution raises a massive host of questions.  There’s going to be a lot of ink used on a lot of paper by EU authors exploring some of them.  It is kind of darkly hilarious that this universe’s Uncle Ben never put it that simply to his young protégé.  For now, chalk that up among the list of “stuff that GL did not think through deeply.”

Yeah, I said it.  Again.

Going back to Luke and in particular his character arc in this trilogy, his fears about being unqualified to teach (and a priori he has no reason to believe he is a competent teacher) and of losing first Leia, then the twins to the Dark Side as a result are going to be a big part of what makes him vulnerable to C’baoth.  That plot angle is also now set in motion.

On to you, Will.

will: Here we go, at last–dialogue.

Zahn said he got flak from people for reusing dialogue. The “committee” scene shows that it’s not Zahn doing the reusing at all. As Luke (the POV for this, appropriately) observes, the space slug adventure becomes something of a war story in-joke for Han and Leia, so what Han says “no time to discuss it in committee,” what he’s really saying is “I made the call, and you know what? I was right,” in a way that also says “trust me,” and “I love you.” And Leia’s answer, translated from the Organa-Soloese, is “…yeah, you were. Love you too.”

This is perfect. Later authors would, with far more hamhandedness, cram in referential lines that end up being winks not to the characters, but only to the reader–which really goes to show the value of being steeped in a work when building on it. You want to be able to create new dialogue that fits into the original, not merely parrot the original without understanding it. Zahn was a master of figuring out, from what the characters did say, what else the characters would say, which is why his Luke sounds like Luke, his Han sounds like Han, and so on, whether they’re repeating  lines or saying new things.

And for all my setting this up, I think that’s really all that needs to be said. This is one of the biggest success-or-failure points for any book like this: making sure the characters sound right, sound like themselves. And Zahn succeeds expertly.

z: I think the setup was fine, because this needed to be pointed out and you’ve put your finger on it.  So, folks, What He Said.

will: Hmm, what’s left…well, for one thing, I like that Leia is a bit uncomfortable with a lightsaber at first, until it’s pointed out (and will be reinforced by all sorts of other sources) that a lightsaber isn’t simply a weapon, it’s a symbol of office. The saber is made by a Jedi as part of the training (Luke builds his from Obi-Wan’s journal, and Corran Horn gives us a very up-close perspective on this in I, Jedi), and it carries a lot of meaning. See also, the significance of Anakin’s lightsaber later in this trilogy, and who carries it.

That’s about it. I think I’ll be sufficiently dug out from under my job that I can take the lead next week, but we’ll see. In the meantime, may the Force be with you.

(PS: Thanks to Alistair Young of the Eldraeverse for Emergency Midnight Latin Declension Check Services.)


2 thoughts on “Heir to the Empire, Chapter 7

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