Heir to the Empire, Chapter 19

z: Welcome, gentlebeings, to Chapter 19.

This one might have been a difficult commentary for me to write. My remembered impression of the scenes to come, especially the initial private one between Luke and Mara, was that they made me intensely uncomfortable. Now with the vantage point of multiple years in between, I still… cringe, but I can now trace it to somewhere maybe more in the vein that Zahn intended, rather than in the more immature “why are the good guys fighting? 😦 😦 😦 ” feeling I vaguely remember attributing my discomfort to earlier.

Yes, right now I do not have exactly a scintillating opinion of my emotional maturity from years ago. Go figure.

will: Who does, really.

But yes, you’re supposed to come out not just “cringing at the good guys fighting,” but sympathetic to why they are. Even if you don’t know why yet, you feel it.

z: This is getting way too deep for not even having started the recap yet, so I’ll get a move on.

will: Yeah, this is going to be looooong…

z: In another direct transition from the end of the previous chapter, Luke wakes up. Sort of. Groggily, he thinks he’s been out of it for much longer than a stun gun should have caused, so he must have been drugged too, but that’s not a problem because he knows a way to use the Force to detox himself and clear his mind.

So he gets that going.

Absolutely nothing happens except him going unconscious again.

Well.

Some more time later, he wakes up more for-reals this time, and hears a woman by him say “so you’re awake.” No, of course it must be something like an intercom next to the bed, he’d have sensed a human that close, no way. He turns his head; she is sitting right there.  He can’t sense her.  She responds to his visible confusion with “Welcome back to the world of mere mortals,” and my hackles start to rise. No, he can’t sense her. Or anything in the forest he can see from the window.   Or, well, anything.  His shock is described in terms incisive enough (“It was like suddenly going blind.”) that this was the point that started my full-blown discomfort, and it wasn’t even the worry that Our Hero is in a fix.

will: Though that isn’t nothing. Luke’s serenity frequently comes by knowing that he’s never alone, never completely outmatched (“my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is”). I’d half-expect total gibbering. And many books later, we will see that Force-users can react…much less serenely to a loss like this. Probably helps that Luke wasn’t consciously using the Force until, basically, adulthood. (Which will be brought up in said many books later.)

z: It was how Mara mocks him in the very next breath, reading what must be plain in his face: “Don’t like it, do you? It’s not easy to suddenly lose everything that once made you special, is it?”

With my added years, I can now deduce what I must have felt like saying the first time I read that: Now, lady, wait a minute. That’s not fair.

…but why isn’t it?

will: Well, it’s not supposed to be, for sure. And it’s Mara venting her frustration at what she lost. But more to the point…

z: Because Luke isn’t going around strutting and claiming he’s special; at this point we don’t even know Jedi arrogance as a thing because we haven’t seen the Sith being as arrogant as you please, but not the Jedi… OK, well, how Luke comported himself during that whole Jabba’s Palace rescue thingy was a bit cocky… And one might consider Obi-Wan’s and even Yoda’s control and even manipulation of information about the Skywalkers as arrogance, you know, from a certain point of view… So why do I immediately feel, strongly, like telling Mara that that’s not fair, that Luke never sees himself above “mere mortals” or thinks or acts that way?

Because Tim Zahn hasn’t written and doesn’t ever write him that way.

Chapter 2, scene 1: Luke has an epiphany about valuing every individual, including droids, as individuals and describes it in as many words.  Chapter something: Luke sees that it’s inevitable he’ll have to kill the attacking Noghri and is saddened by it.  Chapter something and something else: Luke is extremely, nearly debilitatingly worried about his ability to train new Jedi properly, especially Leia and her children, also his blood.  Chapter all-over-the-place: Luke talks to Artoo, reacts to Artoo, and pays attention to Artoo’s likes and dislikes and thoughts and feelings, without pausing to even think about what “feelings” may mean in that context. We’re only 220 pages into this particular hardback and have spent maybe one fifth of that in Luke’s head, and if we’d never seen the original trilogy, we’d go through nearly the entire adjective department of the English vocabulary store before we even thought of checking “arrogant” for a fit for Luke.

And so even having seen the original trilogy a few too many times by that point, I was still struck by “Unfair.” Well-played, Mr. Zahn.  Everyone else, pay attention: This is how you do character development integrated with “show, not tell.”

will: Without meaning to jump up and down on the works we aren’t covering,  not too forcefully or with cleats on or anything, anyway, this contrast–Luke as a scared, confused, polite, remorseful, human character, instead of a god made flesh–is what makes other works where Luke isn’t so human so frustrating. The point in I, Jedi where Corran responds to Luke’s attitude, and by extension the attitude of the Jedi Academy Trilogy, is probably the most important example, here. And Zahn’s eventual explanation for how all that happened in the Hand duology was a good way of wrapping things up.

z: Before we move on, another thing I hadn’t noticed before this read-through, Luke’s initial impression at his very first glimpse of Mara:

She was sitting in a high-backed chair, her arms draped loosely over the arms in a posture that seemed strangely familiar…

Did it, now. ISWYDT, Mr. Zahn.

Moving on.  Luke slowly gets up.  Mara snarks that Luke’s “remarkable powers of recuperation [won’t be impressing her].” Luke calmly replies that the intention wasn’t to impress her, but to, like, stand up and such.  Then he does stare at her directly, wondering if it will intimidate her (but, at least in my reading, not really trying to or expecting to), and isn’t surprised when she just glares right back.

will: I don’t think he was trying to, either. But he wanted to confirm that she wouldn’t flinch. Even without the Force, Luke has quite the reputation. Most people would probably not be entirely comfortable meeting his eyes. (Karrde, for example, we will later learn, was sweating bullets–blaster bolts?–when he stunned Luke, ysalamiri or no.)

z: The rest of this scene could be read as some flavor of “Mara’s striking out like a child and Luke’s reacting or deflecting like an adult.” Exhibit A:

“Don’t tell me, let me guess.  You’re Mara Jade.”

“That doesn’t impress me either, Karrde [told me he’d told you my name.]”

Yeah, well, what should impress her is not that Luke remembered the name, but how he could attach the name to her at that point—unless Karrde told Mara “I also told him about your red hair and green eyes,” he’s never seen or heard her before, she knows he can’t sense her so he can’t have recognized how she feels in the Force, and in fact he is going solely by his remembrance of the hatred he felt in the Wild Karrde and adding that up to how she’s had all her thorns out from moment one here.

will: Well, there’s a sense of “who else?” I think the point is that Karrde wouldn’t tell Luke about Mara and then have anybody else near him, under the circumstances.

z: Exhibit B:

“He also told me that you were the one who found my X-Wing. Thank you.”

Her eyes flashed. “Save your gratitude,” she bit out. “As far as I’m concerned, the only question left is whether we turn you over to the Imperials or kill you ourselves.”

Uhhhhh… I think you might have mispronounced “You’re welcome,” there, ma’am.

will: I doubt he expected welcome. That didn’t absolve his responsibility to say thanks, really…

z: Yes, he was fishing about her Jedi abilities there, especially since right after that she stands up and orders him out to see Karrde, and he notices—Exhibit C:

…he noticed… that Mara had attached his lightsaber to her own belt.

And then he wonders if she might be who’s blocking his access to the Force.  But he doesn’t comment about either, even though there’s a lingering feeling that a  lightsaber is a very personal possession, and then there’s Karrde’s hilarious remark on high opinions of one’s own swordsmanship from the previous chapter.

will: We’ll see even more about the personal nature of lightsabers down the line: how they’re made, their relationship between the Jedi and the saber…and, of course, a certain trophy/heirloom/gift.

z: On the other hand, by this point Luke’s obviously come to some conclusions about how even his breathing might actually count as a provocation to her, which is hammered home right afterwards—Exhibit D:

“There’s one other [option.]” She took half a step forward, moving close enough that he could have reached out and touched her. Lifting the blaster, she pointed it directly at his face.  “You try to escape… and I kill you right here and now.”

For a long moment they stood there, frozen. The bitter hatred was blazing again in those eyes… but [Luke saw] something else along with the anger.  Something that looked like a deep and lingering pain.

He stood quietly, not moving; and almost reluctantly, she lowered the weapon. “Move. Karrde’s waiting.”

I’m actually having a collision in the possible remarks queue here:

  • Hooo boy.
    • will: You can almost hear the “please” there, the “if the universe was kind to me I would have an excuse to burn you to ashes.”
  • Um, who said anything about escaping, or even indicated anything about escaping?  Can we not be so blatant about the casting-around-for-excuses please?  Also, in the immortal words of someone else we know, point that thing somewhere else?
    • will: Eh. The first duty of a prisoner, and all. She was preempting his thought process. And remember…he does escape.
  • Hoooooooo boy.
  • Wow, that is actually a damn powerful image there, and one which has stayed engraved in my mind.
  • Hoooooooooooo boy.
  • Luke did actually notice something beyond the hatred before, again nearly in his first glimpse: He describes her smile that goes along with the “mere mortals” remark as having bitterness as well as malice.

So overall, yes, it’s possible to read all of this as Mara being childishly vicious and Luke acting the grown-up. But it doesn’t come across exactly that way.

will: Vicious, yes, childish, no, is my feeling. “Lashing out” is the word. And children do that…but usually without cause. Mara has cause.

z: Our previous glimpses into what’s going on in her head were slightly annoyingly mysterious (Karrde wondering without much context why she hates Luke, her thinking she isn’t quite ready for…something unpleasant involving Luke,  Luke staggered by the naked brutal personal loathing he senses in her when he first encounters her within the Force), but now we see her a) as “mere mortals” would see her, no omniscient-author or Jedi-sense glimpses into her psyche, we only go by her words and expressions, and b) all that, we get through the eyes of someone who’s apparently learned to be perceptive about others’ feelings even without the Force, and who’s compassionate enough to feel sorrow at killing those who obviously mean him or his sister harm, enough to worry about leaving a little droid alone in a swamp for even an hour because he knows the droid hates to be left alone.

And if you can’t understand why someone who is in that much pain is going to be lashing out even, yes, childishly, all I can say is that you’ve been very lucky and I hope you stay that way. I didn’t, when I was younger; hence my discomfort at the time. It seems that Luke does understand.

will: Luke is no stranger to pain and loss either, as we recall from his first appearance in this book. In a way, this is the story of two multiple-orphans.

z: This is a longish chapter, actually, ten pages in the hardback Anniversary Edition.  But I’ve written so much about and directly quoted so much from… only the first three pages of it.  Because those pages are that full, because they do in fact represent the culmination of Luke’s character development/presentation so far, because they bear remembrances of or open other unanswered questions, and, well, because they are so momentous:  It is the first time Luke Skywalker and  Mara Jade have a conversation.

Hindsight is 20/20 and all, but I’ve purposefully tried to stick to what we would have seen so far by that point in the continuity in the commentary up there.  And. Look. Seriously. I’m not a professional writer. What writing I have done extensively, it wasn’t fiction.  Nor was it literary analysis, nor am I trained in that.  And even I can see that the density of this scene screams “these two characters’ interaction is significant.” At the risk of spoiling something about this trilogy, yes, Zahn will leave the relationship ambiguous at the end.  (I bet that he must have had executive direction to that effect, come to think of it.).

will: Almost certainly, especially in 1992.

z: And there can be some valid criticism raised about “why must be any woman in Luke’s life automatically be a romantic interest?”  But I can’t for the life of me fathom how someone, say anyone else tasked to write in the same continuity and therefore presumably someone who understands how fiction structure works, could have read this scene (never mind the rest of the trilogy) and somehow come away with the idea that Mara Jade is not a significant person for Luke.  And yet that’s how we ended up with ten years, story-time, of meandering.

will: Exactly. And I thought my “the first thing my wife ever said to me was ‘shut up!’” story was good…

z: It looks like I got carried away again, but this time it wasn’t Engineering Shiny, and I’m not going to apologize, as per the above. It was that important. But I will move along a big faster.

will: Eh, it takes as long as it takes.

z: Mara takes Luke to Karrde; on the way Luke spies the nose of his X-Wing among a small fleet of other mid- and small-size ships, considers asking Mara about Artoo, and rejects the idea. (Heh.)  They arrive at what Mara calls the “greatroom,” which as per a margin note is a scene straight out of Norse legend: Massive hall-like room with an ancient tree growing right through the center. Not like the delicate saplings which line one of the hallways in the Imperial Palace either. Oh, I often mention those saplings for no reason, don’t mind me.

will: Heh.

z: In the Galaxy Far Far away, apparently some of the legends and childhood stories Luke recalls about fortresses with trees growing in the middle are ominous–

will: And they’re not here? I mean, yes, Yggdrasil isn’t ominous, exactly, but still, it’s not entirely a comforting image…and, of course, Odin was apparently fond of spot-checking his worshippers’ adherence to guest right.

z: –so Luke is unnerved a bit when he approaches Karrde sitting right underneath the tree. Karrde is polite and hospitable (how else),  but his vornskrs, whom we have meet but Luke hasn’t, are very aggressive towards Luke, prompting Karrde to send them away and apologize to Luke with some perplexity: “They are usually better behaved than that with guests.”

will: Speaking of guest right. Along with another hint as to the nature of the Force and the ysalamiri.

z: Another bout of verbal sparring begins, this one lacking in the raw painful emotions department and is therefore much more comfortable to follow.

will: Less so when you put it into one big paragraph, so let’s go with some colorful text…

z: Can I see my droid? We can arrange that after we’ve figured out what to do with you. About that, you do know the New Republic would be willing to pay you twice what the Empire had offered for me, right? Sure, but the Empire would be very cross with us if they found out we did that. Well, the Republic would be just as cross the other way around. But your radio is damaged, so the Republic has no idea what happened to you, but the Empire already knows. They offered $NICESUM, which has put a lot of operators on your tail right now, which I find amusing because I bet none of them have any idea how to hold on to a Jedi if they got you. Ah, but you did know how? Obviously, you’re standing there, but that would be telling unless you paid me extra, or told me something equally valuable.

(Karrde isn’t even metaphorical about information being currency in his world.)

For instance, why is the Empire suddenly explicitly after you? Uh, no idea, why not ask them? Heh, pull the other one, and anyway we told them we were too busy to join the hunt. You weren’t searching for me? No, Mara just happened to drop us out of hyperspace completely coincidentally right on top of you for a nav reading.

will: Cough, cough. Neither one of them, nor the reader, completely buys that one.

z: Not so lucky for us either, because right now we’re in the conundrum I just described. Look, OK, then, let me go and I’ll not tell anyone anything. Heh, the Empire would find out anyway

“Their new commander is extremely good at piecing bits of information together.”

Now, how does Karrde know that? The same way he knows Thrawn’s identity, we’re invited to deduce: Off-screen sources.

will: Like senses like, as well.

z: Negotiation continues:  Look, if you tell me what the Empire wants with you maybe we can find a compromise, let you go but give them what they want of you? Unfortunately I really don’t know, but come to think of it they want my sister too, and they’ve been trying to kidnap rather than kill her. Oh, to catch another Jedi-in-training, so that’s why they just, um, mumble—aaanyway, if they wanted your Provisional Council access and related information, maybe we could have given them your droid for debriefing instead…

Luke’s visceral reaction to this suggestion is of the sort often represented by the nopetopus.gif on the Earth Internet nowadays. He actually thinks of it as “Imperial slavery,” and is too rattled to realize Karrde is talking in a what-if.

No, Artoo doesn’t know anything. Don’t worry, obviously they don’t want information, they want Jedi.  Where did they try to catch you? Bimmisaari and Bpfassh. We’ve got contacts on Bpfassh, we might be able to figure out something starting there; in the meantime, be our guest, we insist.

will: Put our service to the test, indeed.

z: Luke points out that in the long term, the New Republic is likely to come out on top. Karrde is skeptical; Mara is all “not if you and Leia aren’t supporting Mon Mothma.”

will: Does this qualify as foreshadowing the various politics of the Council, especially bel Iblis? I wonder.

z: Karrde actually thanks Luke for his time. I laugh. Luke says don’t hurry for a decision, this seems like a pretty world.

will: I laugh.

z: Karrde warns him not to believe the appearances: His pet vornskrs have wild relatives in the forest PS if you’re thinking about losing yourself in there or something you won’t be able to defend yourself with the Force. There are more ysalamiri in the forest, too.

Luke is understandably “more who to the what now?”

Karrde points out the ysalamiri draped over the ominous tree and explains what he believes their effect is: They push back the Force, creating bubbles around themselves and reinforcing the effect if there is more than one.

By the way, remember how much we will not be discussing relativistic physics vis a vis Star Wars?  Take that and multiply it by 24.682; that’s how much we won’t be discussing the ysalamiri/Force biology mechanics.  Square that and multiply it by 2e8, and that gets into the ballpark of how much I dislike where their existence led in the New Jedi Order.

will: Well, I already touched on them way back when we first talked about them, as part of the whole “don’t square all the circles” debate. And–where’d you pull those numbers, Z? Just curious.

z: I ran some simulations to fit the parameters on my nopenopenope vs. subjectmatter curve.

Luke is skeptical because he’s never heard of these creatures, and neither Yoda nor Ben ever told him about those.  Over my incredulous stare at his thinking that may indicate anything one way or another, Karrde points out that whatever the Old Republic Jedi knew, they wouldn’t be telling because seriously now.

will: It goes back to what Thrawn said, too–the Jedi avoided it and wouldn’t really say why. But also, yeah, Yoda and Ben were tight-lipped, but this reinforces that they were the only sources Luke had. Even if they were being straight with him, there were things they didn’t know.

z: Then he admits he had them aboard the Wild Karrde, just by chance, and there’s a moment where he glances at Mara and says… OK, maybe not all just by chance.  Would Luke be interested in doing some experimentation later to determine the range of their effect?  The dryness of Luke’s response would have made Han proud:  Sure I’ll help you do Science if, you know, I have any reason to feel kindly towards you at that time.

will: He’ll be doing Science if he’s still alive?

z: Exactly.

By the way, you may not regret it if you come down to the DC area for a concert on June 6th.  Just saying.

Karrde, once again the gracious host, says he’ll have Luke’s things sent from the cargo compartment of the X-Wing. Luke gives one last try: OK, take us back in the middle of nowhere and leave us exactly as you found us?  Karrde will keep the option in mind.

Mara escorts Luke back to his, er, guestroom.  Luke asks about food and thanks Mara when she snarls something could be brought, then gingerly attempts a palpation:

Luke took a careful breath. “I don’t know why you dislike me so much—”

“Shut up,” she cut him off. “Just shut up.”

So Luke does.  Attempt: Denied.  But I read her unadorned, non-snarky, immediate, all-power-to-deflection-shields response as the first time she’s showing the real strain of carrying such a hate on top of interacting with the object of said hate. The first crack in the façade. Of course, immediately afterwards she gains back her ground by taunting Luke once more by telling him to oh please try to escape please, and leaves.

will: Like I said, it’s basically Dirty Harry: “Go ahead. Make my day.” But yes, it’s harder to hate someone who’s being polite and non-confrontational even in the face of confrontation.

z: Luke notes that he’s being confined away from the main population there too; Karrde is keeping him under wraps even from his own people, which makes his situation more perilous.  He feels afraid, and helpless; and Jedi to the hilt, the chapter closes as he pushes down those emotions and prepares to watch for his opportunity, and survive until then.

I will shut up now before Will takes a train down here to chase me around the National Mall whacking me over the head with  the very hardback I’m using. But I regret nothing.

will: Nah, I’m off to Kansas City (in fact, I’m already there) for ConQuest this weekend. Everything’s up to date there, so they say.

Though I certainly don’t have much to add, after this.  May the Force be with you…

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