Heir to the Empire, Chapter 11

z: Welcome once again, gentlebeings, to Force Visions, for a chapter that makes the blog title very descriptive.

will: Meantime, if the blog title were “Exhausted Lawyer,” it would be descriptive of me. Actually, it might be descriptive after all. You know, so exhausted that my brain is filing for bankruptcy, Chapter Elev–nevermind.

Anyway, I’ll mostly be over here making Statler and Waldorf jokes while Z does the work this week.

z: This chapter is entirely Luke; his inner monologue mixed with him talking to Artoo. Luke’s descending towards Dagobah as we find him, and immediately, in a margin note, there is a bit of retroactive plot hole closing by Zahn. A planet is a big place. How did Luke land within walking distance if Yoda’s house the first time he got there?  Dual answers as far as I’m concerned: There are no coincidences with the Force, and it was Yoda’s doing.

will: Which, for a Jedi Master, is the same answer, really. I also like that Zahn points out that affecting all of Luke’s instrumentation would be a lot harder than affecting Luke’s perception. Other Jedi will use that trick at various times, too.

z: They land, Luke not really paying attention just where (beyond ”sort of solid ground,”) and Luke realizes that he has landed right next to the Dark Side Cave (™).

will: Or tree! Or both.

z: This creeps Luke out.  But initially he does not pay it much mind.  Instead, he starts trekking towards Yoda’s house, bringing Artoo along because Artoo really does not like being left alone.

Hang on.  Did that last phrase sound weird to anyone?  You know, the one where I talked about how something that has the silhouette of a mobile trash can and only communicates in beeps “really does not like being left alone?”  No?  Good; of course not.

will: Anthropomorphism FTW!

z: There are some things the original Star Wars movies got right in characterization (she said, magnanimously).  Artoo-Detoo is one of them.  I wrote about Artoo’s cunning in first assessing Luke, then enlisting his aid, all the way back in A New Hope a couple of recaps ago.   After a while you don’t even need Threepio to translate for Artoo, and in fact there is only one situation in all three movies, that I remember, that Luke uses the X-Wing’s computer as a translator (“no, we’re going to the Dagobah system… no, I’m quite well, thank you”).  That much personality in his beeps and whistles is a triumph for Ben Burtt, who not only did the sound design for Star Wars, but also actually voiced Artoo.

will: Well, FSVO “voiced.” And the implication is that Luke used his computer’s translation a few other times, but yeah, Artoo is damn good at making sure his desires are understood. Having a droid must be a lot like owning a cat in that way.

z: As far as the translation to the written word goes, I have to say that Zahn continued that triumph.  In a margin note, he self-deprecatingly says (paraphrased) “I didn’t want to write ‘beeped’ all the time, so I sat down one day and amassed a collection of alternatives… it’s amazing what one can achieve with a thesaurus in an hour.”  But then one has to successfully choose between those alternatives.  And just as the “spoken dialogue” between Artoo and anyone in the movies never felt any less like a dialogue, the written “dialogue” between Artoo and anyone (especially Luke) in the books never feels any less like a dialogue compared to the fully verbal ones, either.  Zahn obviously did right.

will: Yeah. Back to understanding dialogue…

z: Moving on—Luke and Artoo get to where Luke remembers Yoda’s place to be, and the desert-boy gets a rapid biology/ecology lesson: After five years in a rainforest-feeling-swamp, unmaintained structures don’t stay as structures.  Luke is understandably sad, but he also feels left afloat a little—why did he come to Dagobah, after all, just because Leia mentioned a Dark Jedi coming as far as here, what did he expect to find?

will: Which answer is, of course, “if you knew, you’d have found it.” In truth, it wasn’t the Jedi training manuals Luke talks about. He doesn’t even really know why he came. Which might as well be a neon sign that he is here for Something Important.

z: He pokes around in what’s left of Yoda’s dwelling, hoping to find some electronic Jedi training materials as he puts it, but nothing is there.  He asks Artoo to scan for the presence of electronics. Artoo does, and points back the way they came.  Luke feels a sudden dread, but they trudge back.  There’s a hilarious exchange where Luke asks “you aren’t detecting our own ship, right?” and I can pretty much hear Artoo’s response as an indignant ‘blart.’  Then Artoo points at the cave.

will: Dun dun dun! (Don’t we have any other colors?)

z: *stare*  OK, you really are not well.  Get some rest this weekend.

Very, very personal interlude coming up.  Well, two very personal interludes.  One that belongs to Luke is going to be pretty much the rest of the recap, but the first one belongs to me.

When I was… Hrm.  Movies did not come to Turkey for sometimes nearly a year after they were released, back in the early eighties.  But I don’t think I was older than four, so this is one of my earliest memories.  For some weekdays, I used to stay with my grandparents.  My parents would come pick me up after work to go home.  I knew the car route by heart; I would read the shop names in one street in particular night after night as I was just learning how to read.  But sometimes we’d take an alternate route—to get ice cream (yay).  That one night, we took an alternate route again, but didn’t go for ice cream, and when I asked, my father said it’s a surprise.

It was the first time I ever attended the in-theater showing of a movie.  (Yes, I was younger than four; yes, it was a soiree. I know how this sounds, but I was really a preternaturally quiet child.  I also attended my first symphony orchestra concert not long after that.)  But even though I always remembered that “it’s a surprise” sequence in the car, most of the rest of the evening is blank, as is the case for many early childhood memories.

Most of it: For years and years, I remembered just one scene, a brief sequence really, of the first movie I ever saw in a movie theater.  It’s dark.  Something rolls on the ground.  It’s a helmet.  It breaks open and shows a face.

Yep.  That.  But  I was nearly ten when I finally found a copy of The Empire Strikes Back, and abruptly recognized what the shadowy movie of my childhood scene-memory had been.  (Preternaturally quiet or not, it is really no wonder that as a four-year old, I remembered that part most indelibly and completely missed out on one of the greatest spoilers in movie history.)

will: Wow. That must have been a moment of serious shock, six years later.

z: My interlude over; Luke’s is coming up.  Luke doesn’t want to enter the cave again.  Luke really doesn’t want to enter the cave again.  He has a bad feeling about this, and since he’s a Jedi he knows of bad feelings.  As per my memory above, I completely empathize.  But he’s also curious.

Showing his usual economy of phrase, Zahn beautifully crams entire treatises on philosophy and the human condition into a 2.25 line paragraph:

Fear and anger, Yoda had often warned [Luke], were the slaves of the dark side.  Vaguely, Luke wondered which side curiosity served.

(Margin-note-Zahn says depending on why and about what one is curious, he suspects it can serve both sides.  That also unpacks to quite a bit of human nature.)

will: I agree that it’s a function of why you’re curious–there is a difference between academic curiosity, greedy curiosity, and innocent inquisitiveness. Among others.

And I like that though Luke doesn’t want to enter the cave, but he also does, and he further knows he must. Not just for the electronic signal, but, well. The Force is being rather unsubtle on this front.

z: Luke is curious because, after all, Leia mentioned a Dark Jedi visiting here and the cave has always felt this evil to him–could it be something that person left behind, what Artoo is detecting?  He grips his lightsaber and starts in.  When he gets to the place of his original vision he is very tense, but nothing happens and he relaxes—it’s OK, no phantom fathers are coming to confront him; he’s already faced that challenge and defeated it; let’s pull out our comlink and ask Artoo how much farther we have to– “…the haze of the cave abruptly coalesced around him into a flickering, surreal vision.”

After the initial disorientation Luke remembers this vision as another challenge he faced and defeated–it’s towards the end of the gang’s rescue of Han from Jabba’s palace, when they are taken to the Sarlacc Pit, and he’s about to be thrown in.  He tries to resist the vision, even saying out loud that this is past and done, but nothing doing.  They jab him off the plank, he Cirque-de-Soleils back onto the barge, Artoo launches the lightsaber hidden inside his dome, Luke reaches for it—and a woman on an upper deck of Jabba’s Barge reaches out with the Force and pulls the lightsaber to herself, leaving Luke weaponless and helpless. The sun is behind her; he can’t see her face, but can hear her mocking laughter.

Insert creepy violins here.  And ominous horns, by Will’s request.

will: Dun dun dun…dun dun dun, dun dun dun…

z: Luke shouts “No,” and the vision vanishes.   He’s soaked with sweat, clawing at his lightsaber to reassure himself that it’s still there, and Artoo’s scared out of his tiny dome head and screaming at him through the comlink.  He quiets Artoo down along with himself and moves forward to find the electronic thing.  It’s a small cylinder with buttons.  He has no bad feelings about it, in fact, no feelings other than “that’s it?!”.  The cave throws nothing else at him, and he climbs back out.

Artoo is waiting for him (“…the little droid rocking back and forth like a nervous child,” which, 1. Awww, 2. Tell me you don’t recognize that instantly).  Artoo does not recognize the cylinder or any of the markings on it, but as they fly away, the X-Wing’s computer translating, mentions that he’s seen Lando showing General Madine something very like it before.  OK, Luke says, let’s go see Lando, at his mining operation, on Nkllon. He’s been bugging me to go visit him anyway.  (The planet name is a Tuckerism and also goes on my list of “vowels, for the love of the Force, vowels.”)

will: Maybe there was an outbreak of really nasty vowel movem–sorry, that joke is too awful even for me.

z: Oh, look, there are limits, folks.

Luke has not thought on the dream/vision/whatever it was yet, but plans to do so during the journey.

One comment I can make about the vision is fairly spoilerish (as it echoes a conclusion Luke will come to), so I’ll skip that.  And I don’t think I have anything extra to say this week.  Will?

will: I like Zahn admitting that the entire point of the little electronic device was to get Luke to Lando, but that eventually it will tie into the history of Dagobah, the cave, Yoda, and in many ways the entire GFFA. But it will be many, many chapters before we talk about that.

Zahn also plays a great trick (and reveals it in the footnote), by using the reference to Cloud City and its aftermath (“Yeah, I was busy…”) to position the gun on the mantelpiece concerning Luke’s artificial hand.

And of course, Luke’s hope of enlightenment…which will eventually be given to him, though not as he expects. He may think this trip was a waste of time, but the reader, the writer, and the universe disagree.

And now, I’m going to sleep. May the Force be with you.


3 thoughts on “Heir to the Empire, Chapter 11

  1. _There are no coincidences with the Force_

    Isn’t it an old Star Wars truism that you can pretty much replace the words “the Force” with “the Plot” and have everything make perfect sense? 🙂


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