Heir to the Empire, Chapter 18

will: And we’re into Chapter Eighteen, which picks up on Luke’s story from the previous chapter, with less digression on our part. Maybe. It’s a much shorter chapter, anyway.

Artoo bleeps Luke awake, and while Luke knows it’s too soon for Artoo to be done wrapping wire, there must be a reason–hey, a ship! We’re saved! Or doomed.

At some point we’re going to want to talk about the galaxy, and how it’s mapped and defined. The nature of hyperdrive means that there wouldn’t be “unexplored space” the way there would be in, say, Mass Effect (where the existence and nature of mass relays defines the spread of civilizations), but space is far too big to patrol, so we can imagine that the space between star systems is basically empty.

z: That doesn’t require much imagination, actually, since space between star systems is basically empty. If you don’t count interstellar dust. And dark matter. And dark energy, which I’m even less inclined to count because whenever I ask a physicist what it is I get mumbles about the cosmological constant and universe expansion accelerating and nothing else.

Oh. We were supposed to digress less. Right. Gotcha. Sorry.

will: Well, it was a nice dream of focus, anyway…The downside being, if you’re in a ship too small to have spare parts, and something goes wrong…

For the first time, I think the Empire might have had a point by not equipping its fighters with hyperdrives. Sure, if the big ship goes down, the fighters aren’t escaping…but then, they can surrender–and at least not, you know, die alone and cold in the great emptiness of darkness.

z: Luke not panicking out of his mind in that situation is actually maybe the best description (in the show, not tell, sense of the word) of what Jedi serenity is about.

will: (TIEs not having shields is still dumb though.)

z: (But they are faster. Haven’t you ever played Rogue Squadron on the Nintendo 64?)

will: (I don’t care, the tradeoff is not worth it–focus, focus…) The point of all this being, either Luke’s situation is rare–say, if subspace communications and hyperdrives don’t fail unless you’ve done something so stupid, or desperate, that it’s worth the risk–or a lot of people probably die of asphyxiation in deep space.

Anyway. Luke starts the X-Wing’s main power, but he knows he’s a sitting duck if it comes to violence. The ship’s a standard Corellian bulk freighter, with no identifying markings, but an impressive set of engines, judging by its deceleration. Or it’s running empty. Maybe. Artoo and Luke are on their guard, even as the freighter (a “cool female voice,” but we’ll find out later, not Mara) hails Luke, identifying itself as the Wild Karrde and asking if everything’s all right?

Well, Luke admits, not so much. Not that Luke identifies himself by name, just as a New Republic X-Wing, but still. Any spare parts, he asks.

“No, but you’re welcome to come aboard.”

Luke can’t get a sense of deceit, “and even if there were, he had precious little choice,” so he agrees. He asks if they can take his X-Wing, but they say no, their holds are full.

Hmm, Luke muses. So the ship isn’t running empty. Smuggler, pirate, or warship, take your pick…

z: I found Zahn’s margin note here very amusing: He remarks that if Karrde were to pick a 21st-century Earth car to drive, it would be an unremarkable family car, say a Toyota or a Ford, sedan or minivan… with a Lamborghini v-12 engine.

will: Unfortunately the point about Luke having no choice remains. Luke doesn’t explicitly put his trust in the Force, but as I’ve said before, the Jedi way does appear to be big on letting the consequences flow from action, facing challenge as it approaches.

Anyway, Luke tries to ask how the Wild Karrde found him, but they don’t answer that one, and Luke grabs what he needs for his trip over.

He arrives, reaches out with the Force, and…the aft sections remain dark. He can’t detect anything at all, but certainly no crew members.

We as the readers can know there must be ysalamiri aboard, but I can’t help but wonder how that would feel for Luke.

z: From the description, he feels certain that there is nothing alive in there (because he can’t sense anything) and he does get that something is weird (because he can’t sense anything) but attributes that to still being groggy from his hibernation, which makes sense because when you think about it, he’s never met any Force-empty space before. No wonder he can’t recognize it the first time through.

I have a mental image of what that feels like to him, but I’ll keep that for when he’s in the middle of a forest-sized instance.

will: Luke is escorted to the captain’s office. Karrde identifies himself, and is given a description that, like Pellaeon’s clean-shaven face, was quickly superseded by artistic choices. Karrde then names Luke, who is taken aback by the fact that Karrde recognizes him. To which I say, “Really?”

z: Karrde’s response to Luke’s surprise there is one of the funniest dry lines I’ve read: “With a lightsaber attached to your belt? You’re either Luke Skywalker, Jedi, or else someone with a taste for antiques and an insufferably high opinion of his swordsmanship.”

Indeed.

will: There are several points in this trilogy where Luke seems to not realize that being the first of the New Jedi and a Hero of the Rebellion might mean his face is known. This isn’t hiding in plain sight, even, it’s just not knowing you’re not anonymous anymore. (Later authors would do more interesting things with that, such as pretending to be impersonators, which works a lot better for this.)

It’s a big galaxy, I guess. Still, though.

z: I don’t remember—does he ever, like, hide his lightsaber when he doesn’t want to be recognized? I guess he must have, at some point…

will: Luke tells Karrde about his Imperial entanglement, and Karrde tells Luke that they can tow his X-Wing. Luke says thank you, and they trade gentle informational probes–such as how Karrde knew who Luke was (the lightsaber), and for that matter how they knew Luke was there. Karrde explains that his associate Mara knew, which gets Luke curious: knowing where to find him, at a distance? Maybe he’s found another Force-sensitive! So Luke looks around on the bridge, and when he senses her:

It took Luke another second to find his voice. Never before, not even from the Emperor, had he ever felt such a black and bitter hatred.

z: From Karrde’s calm response, it must have been a large enough shock to be reflected in Luke’s face. Which… If you suddenly know without doubt that someone you’ve never even met before would like your guts for garters, I bet even Jedi serenity would falter for moment.

will: Karrde offhandedly confirms that yes, he knows that Mara hates Luke (as we found out fifteen chapters ago), but wonders if Luke knows why. He doesn’t–they’ve never met–and Karrde shrugs. And apologizes…and, somehow, impossibly–where is the Force, the ultimate early warning system?–someone stuns Luke from behind.

Fade to black, indeed.

After last week’s megachapter, this is much shorter and to the point: Luke is rescued, Karrde has him stunned. We as readers know how that was managed, but Luke doesn’t. We as first-time readers still don’t know why Mara hates Luke, but at least Luke doesn’t either. I feel like this chapter and the next are mostly separated because of the drama of the cliffhanger, and the sense that a chapter should be contiguous: if Luke sleeps or is stunned, might as well drop a chapter break. So there isn’t much for me to pick apart here, beyond what I already did.

Z?

z: This isn’t something I would have picked up in a first read-through, but now I think it’s apparent when Karrde says they will tow Luke’s X-Wing that he doesn’t intend to immediately hand Luke over to the Empire: They don’t want to abandon the empty X-Wing where someone might come across it and wonder where the pilot and the astromech droid have gone, and since the reward is only for the pilot, why would they drag along a shiny starfighter to be immediately grabbed by the Imperials as well, when there could later be salvage to be had instead? No, the plan is obviously initially to disappear Luke without a trace.

The description of Mara’s hatred manages to convey ”oh, it’s so personal” without using the word itself, which I like, stylistically.

Is there a name for phrases like ”Luke wondered how in the worlds Karrde has done this” instead of ”how in the world…”? I want to say ‘localization,’ and of course that’s a software term, not a literature term.

will: “Localization” is also a term for the translation of media (video games, say) between languages, which sometimes also entails translating cultural references, so that may be the closest match. Zahn’s pretty consistent in using “in the worlds” throughout both his own work and his tie-in work, and we’ll see a bunch of others as we go along.

z: As we dangle from that cliff this week, may the Force be with you.

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