Heir to the Empire, Chapter 10

will: And we’re up for the next chapter, which features Wedge in his role as Normal Guy, another round of Noghri, and the Light Side deciding to castle long. (Chess joke. Please disregard.)

z: Please note that this is my turn for having A Week at work, so my contribution will be on the light si—wait, that’s an unintentional pun.  My contribution will be kind of sparse.  Yeah.  That works.

will: I’m rubbing off on her, folks.

will: Speaking of Wedge, while we don’t normally concern ourselves with Star Wars outside of the traditional EU (or “Legends,” as it’s now known), we here at Force Visions would just like to take a moment to be quite pleased indeed that the first spinoff movie (that is, not the sequel trilogy) will be named Rogue One. The implication is clear…and a Wedge-centric movie, even if it does upset the canon applecart somewhat, would be quite welcome.

z: You are way, way more optimistic about this than I am.  You might know more, because I have not read literally a single thing that people have linked to.  Frankly, I am bracing for “Wedge, who’s Wedge? Never heard of him” levels of canon-applecart-upsetting… which means that I will either disregard the movie(s) completely or shrug and mutter about alternate universes.  But we digress.

will: But I digress.

z: Right, that’s what I’m saying.

I am short on sleep, folks.

will: We open on Bpfassh, with Wedge serving as rubble tour guide. Han and Leia are showing the flag after the Imperial triple-ripple attack, and Wedge walks them through the damaged areas. There is a fair amount of confusion as to why Bpfassh: the Sluis sector has any number of higher-profile targets. Han, Leia, and Wedge debate the leading theory: it was a test of the Empire’s new communications system. Which is correct, as it happens, but neither Wedge (showing the healthy skepticism he needs) nor Han (who is sure it exists) can explain it.

z: Although I don’t for a minute doubt that Thrawn took the extra three seconds during mission planning to be sure and pick the most inexplicable harmless worthless targets from the candidate pool offered by galactic topology and mission parameters, because “confusion to the enemy” is one of his guiding principles, and anything that leads to increased confusion (and, eventually, paranoia) is good in his book.

will: Leia, however, does remember that the Force sometimes allows long-distance communication/visions (though as Zahn points out, Luke probably fudged when he told her what he experienced and when, because you have to account for travel time, and he wanted to be vague–another reason that Leia naming “Dagobah” felt so off last chapter), and wonders whether the Empire might have found another Dark Jedi.

This leads to a fantastic pivot: Wedge hears only “Jedi” and says, “are you talking about the rumor of Joruus C’baoth popping up on Jomark?” We the readers know that in fact Leia is; but the characters think it’s a change of topic, from “the Empire might have a Dark Jedi” to “Jedi? Speaking of Jedi, there’s this Jedi who showed up…” Because the Jedi on Jomark can’t be the same one as the Dark Jedi, the Jomark Jedi just appeared recently, after all. Well played, Zahn. They shake off both topics, but make a note to bring up the latter to Luke back on Coruscant.

z: One: Huh, I had not actually noticed that bit of legerdemain.  I was quite possibly not thinking in terms of “what the reader knows” vs “what the characters know.”  Nice one indeed. Two: It does bug me a bit that this is the first Leia has heard about this, just at this moment; but Wedge has probably had boots on the ground (as much as he hates being on the ground) and ear closer to the level where the Empire started to percolate their targeted rumors. So I’ll take it.

will: Yeah, if it went straight to Leia it wouldn’t have the right authenticity of true rumor. A moment for a Wedge line: “I just report ‘em, General. I don’t make ‘em up.” This sums up Wedge’s character very well: he does his job, he hears things, he passes news and reports up the chain of command. Even his referring to them as “Princess” and “General” (despite knowing the two of them for a decade or so at this point and being another of the Old Guard of Rebels, not to mention Han’s resignation) makes sense: they’re there on official business. When they’re sitting around getting drunk, maybe, they’d be “Wedge” and “Han” and “Leia”–but when he’s Cmdr. Wedge Antilles, Rogue Squadron, they’re Gen. Han Solo, and Princess-and-Councilor Leia Organa Solo.

z: Actually his particular choice of formality is even a bit touching. You already pointed out Han’s resignation, and Leia is a Princess of the Royal House of… currently… well, you know.  Technically at this point she would have been “Councillor;” that’s the title Ackbar uses formally a little later in the chapter.  But no, Wedge met Princess Leia, so it is Princess.  Wedge flew under Generals Solo and Calrissian, it is General.   (I’m bothered about what he would call Luke, though. “Red Five” probably isn’t it, and Luke would become one with the floor out of embarrassment if called “Master”. Luke is probably Luke, as much as Wedge may respect him for other reasons.)

will: Oh yeah, he’s “Luke,” no question. Like you said, he met Princess Leia, he flew under General Solo…but he flew alongside a kid named Luke.

As the topic closes, Leia’s Force danger sense, which has been bothering her for the last page, flares, and the Noghri appear. Han pulls Leia into cover, and Wedge ends up crashing into Leia as he dives behind (a semi-comical image, especially as Wedge immediately apologizes). They are trapped, and as Han quickly realizes, cut off (no comms). This time, the Noghri have blasters, too.

z: I’m actually a bit grateful for that semi-comical moment.  Diving into cover in action sequences always goes without a hitch.  Except there’s a little rock and three adults, even if Leia is on the petite side; they are diving headfirst, of course the last one in will slam into whoever’s already occupying the space.  The jostling gives me a better sense of need-cover-flustered-immediate-danger.

The immediate apologizing is funny, though.

will: A moment of foreshadowing as Leia’s hand “reaches automatically for her stomach.” The Good Guys haven’t specifically stated that they know the Noghris’ true target (though we do), but clearly they’re figuring it out. Leia considers using her new lightsaber (which, we are given to understand, was built by Luke; this clearly isn’t the part-of-her-arm that a Jedi’s lightsaber will later be represented as, and Leia isn’t really skilled enough to have her own; this is the equivalent of Luke using Anakin’s), but then they hear repulsorlifts. Chewie and the Falcon! Rescue is…

Leia stops. Something’s wrong. “Right,” Wedge snarks, “we’re getting shot at.” (Heh! Though really, Wedge, for you guys, a day without blaster fire is the unusual type.) But Leia means, something else is wrong. She can’t sense Chewie onboard. Wedge, again, is the practical one; he may be close friends with the last of the Jedi, but he’s more comfortable with what he sees and feels. She’s probably just too far away, and distracted. (He doesn’t specifically say that Leia also isn’t that good with the Force, but one imagines he may be thinking it.)

Han, though, knows enough to trust Leia’s instincts, and besides, it’s not like Chewie’s in any danger, he can always…

…why isn’t he already blasting the Noghri with that underside blaster? (Side note for more “Zahn uses a term that works no matter what the make and model is,” a la the smart rope.)

Han takes another look: that’s a Corellian YT-1300 freighter, all right, but it’s not the Millennium Falcon. (How rare such freighters are is an open question; Zahn originally thought they were rare, but maybe they aren’t. Whatever.) Of course, this is the same trick that Han himself used during the hunt for Warlord Zsinj, but cut him some slack, that hadn’t been written yet. And he only got fooled for a few seconds. Would have been enough, if not for Leia…

z: So I did not interject anything into Will’s description of this sequence, because I was sitting back and enjoying it again, just as I sat back and enjoyed it when I reread the chapter just now.  I loved the fake-Falcon trick from the start.  I loved the implications of Han’s “they went into trouble to dig out another working one.”  (As far as I’m concerned, what Han says settles the rarity question, by the way.)  I think I mentioned I like competency?  The Noghri, they are competent.  Very much so.

Wedge’s snark about getting shot at…. sure he’s used to it, but—

…[Colon] whispered.  “And what’s the most important thing a professional soldier wants not to happen to him?”

“Not getting stabbed and shot,” said Nobby automatically.

Jingo, Terry Pratchett

Wedge is a consummate soldier if nothing else.  Colon and Nobby actually emphatically aren’t, but they talk the talk well, so the example works.

will: Now what? Our heroes are trapped, and as soon as it’s clear that they won’t walk into the Fakeon (I can’t say the Falsehood, under the circumstances), the perimeter Noghri will charge. So, the only option is to disable the ship so it can’t provide air support. Which can easily be done inside a ship, less so outside. Unless you have a convenient lightsaber.

Since it’s clear the Noghri want someone alive, but not quite clear who, they stick together, making it look like they’re going for the ship, right until they dodge under it instead. Han, lightsaber in hand, goes for something in the engine, while Leia and Wedge provide covering fire.

z: Even though there was no time for fine points of discussion, I think at this point Leia knew damn well who among the three of them present there the Noghri wanted to take alive, and she was making sure to be the human shield to the other two as they ran.  Because, when push comes to shove, why would they want Han?  (“Leverage on his wife” makes no sense when his wife herself is as available a target as he is).  And even more, why in the Galaxy would they want semi-anonymous-X-Wing-pilot?  (Yeah, yeah, tell that to TIE pilots, I know.) Actually it’s obvious they don’t want the pilot, since he wasn’t present in the first attack.  So Leia insists that they all run together, while what she means is “I absolutely need to be with you.”

(Will, if you think I am purposefully ignoring your pun-baits there, you are absolutely right.  Here, though, have a glare.)

will: Heh. Anyway. Han cuts the engine’s coolant lines, releasing pressurized korfaise gas, which plumes upward (being lighter than air), stops the Noghri in the ship from attacking (it’s poisonous, so they bail out using a modified escape pod), and also alerts everyone else that there’s trouble–three Rogues blast overhead, on full alert. “Why just disable a ship when you can disable it and send up a distress signal at the same time?” Han preens, feeling quite proud of himself.

z: “Preens”: Good word choice.

will: One scene change later, Han is very angrily and pointedly asking why nobody has done anything about these ambushes yet, as Ackbar plays customer service rep (as it were), trying (and failing) to placate–but he’s also Supreme Commander, and when Han points out that Coruscant might not be any safer, Ackbar doesn’t take that well. (It doesn’t help that Han is probably sounding a lot like Fey’lya has been.) He signs off brusquely, and Han’s paranoia flowers for a while–he almost draws his blaster on Leia.

z: So there’s no “let me talk to your supervisor” in this case.  One of the more infuriating aspects of the Fey’lya style of being is that it’s not Han that sounds like Fey’lya here, in all fairness, it’s always Fey’lya who makes sure to sound like an angry Han with reason—when he has no personal stake whatsoever.  Grr.  Argh.

I am still not commenting on the “Fey’lya supports the troops and is in touch with the common folk” angle, isn’t that lovely of him, argh argh argh.

will: The trip to Bpfassh is done, and it’s time to return to Coruscant and send in the New Republic’s equivalent of FEMA. But Han has an idea: why not go into hiding instead? Leia can’t believe what she’s hearing–for one, she has commitments, and for another, she’s part of the legitimate government now, she doesn’t have to sneak. But they compromise on finding a quiet out-of-the-way diplomatic station, so Leia can stay in touch with Coruscant news, not even letting the local ambassador know about her presence. All they need is a diplomatic receiver (the Falcon has one) and the local encryption codes, which Leia thinks are unbreakable. Han laughs. So do I, these days, thinking about government encryption…

They need a slicer, and Han knows a few–but then, his contacts are probably at least potentially burned, so they need someone else’s. Han calls Wedge to say they’re leaving, but keep it quiet, and Wedge (no fool) immediately offers to send along a couple of trusted people. (Tycho, Wes, and Hobbie, one imagines? We’ll meet Hobbie and Wes later, though Tycho hasn’t been invented yet.) But no, they want to go on their own, and Han knows exactly who to go to…Lando Calrissian.

Han: “Upstanding businessman, former war hero, honest businessman. Of course he’ll have slicer contacts.”

Leia: “Why do I suddenly have a bad feeling about this?”

And we’re out.

z: I’ll take my turn to comment about the Zahn-term here, “slicer,” which still feels very nice and appropriate to me even after playing Bioshock, and that’s saying something.

will: That’s “splicer,” with a P…nevermind. This chapter has a lot to it: the C’baoth plot is working, more great Solo Duo (heh) teamwork, with bonus Rogue backup, the tension between Ackbar and Fey’lya, and the difference between an enemy you know and an ally you can’t trust. Leia’s comment about Fey’lya being dangerous might be intended to hint that he’s actually a spy or mole (maybe he’s the leak?) but I like that for all his myriad faults, he’s not that.

Zahn also takes some time to point out a few Tuckerizations, writing real people/people’s names into the universe. I find interesting that Sluis Van is one of them, as that system will be picked up by other writers too. Amazing how little things become lasting.

Anything further, Z?

z: Reading about sending the NR’s equivalent of FEMA, a third reason for picking absolutely-no-threat-target Bpfassh occurs to me: Everyone from the Center to the Rim who has anything more strategically important than, say, the apparently unremarkable power plant whose wreckage our heroes were trudging through will be screaming for protection once news of this spreads.  I wonder if Calamari have stomachs of the kind that gets ulcers.  I  would have.

will: Good point.

z: Other than that, we get confirmation that Lando is still around (Luke thought about him in the second chapter) and is apparently somewhere he can be visited at.

The beginning sort of misdirection of “maybe… spy… Fey’lya… maybe?” never had an effect stronger than “halfhearted” on me, so we can comment on that further when it comes up again.

And with that I am out as well.  Hopefully next week I will have more working brain cells when writing this; my apologies.  And may the Force be with you.

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