Heir to the Empire, Chapter 25

will: Welcome back to Force Visions, where this chapter, we pivot away from one wooded planet to another. It’s time to find out what Leia is up to. Zahn opens this chapter apologizing (in his footnote) for giving Leia short shrift this book, but given the pivotal events of this chapter, I don’t think she was shortchanged at all.

Leia wakes up on Spoo Kashyyyk, wondering what woke her up. All she knows is that she doesn’t feel safe. After she spotted a Noghri that first day, the Wookiees were on high alert, but as days went by with no sightings, that tension uncoiled to the point that everything went back to normal…which Leia realizes was the ploy. Routine breaks alertness.

z: Smothers it, more like.

will: There are some interesting parallels discussed here to the Rebel Alliance’s past and the way that having fixed bases ended badly (most specifically on Hoth; the suggestion is that the Rebels let themselves get so dug in there that they were not ready to move when it was time). Leia realizes that she needs to go. It’s been too long, and she can’t maintain the heightened awareness of her surroundings that she needs to.

She prepares to move, and something grabs her wrist.

There was no time to think, but for that first half second there was no need.

That’s right, honored sentients, this princess knows how to fight. Her combat reflexes take over, and she kicks her attacker away, throws a pillow at it for a distraction, and fires up the lightsaber….

z: …and if I’m reading that passage right, cuts one Noghri almost diagonally in half.  But that one wasn’t alone:

will: It doesn’t work long term; the Noghri dodges, and as Leia reorients, the other one knocks her saber away. She’s toast and she knows it. In seconds an alien has her trussed up, hands immobilized, legs immobilized, its breath on her neck…

It’s gone.

z: This is all the creepy with a side of mashed creep with extra creep sauce.  Zahn makes sure to point out that once the lightsaber spins out of her grip, the room gets very dark again.  And you know what Leia doesn’t do all through this?

She does not scream.

will: Leia swivels, and the alien is just standing there, completely unarmed, arms spread. No aggressive moves whatsoever.

z: The alien murmurs a word–Mal’ary’ush–

will: –and Leia starts to consider escaping when Chewie bursts in the door and goes for the kill. At the last second Leia stops him, and he goes for a knockout.

z: Even Leia herself isn’t sure why she cut Chewie’s attack short, she “surprises even herself.”  The answer is with the Force again, of course.  See ahead.

will: Ralrra reports that the others are taken care of, but both he and Chewie are injured, and Salporin is dead, there’s a fire four houses over as a distraction, and they can’t trust any vehicle nearby. Only one option: rope. Time to go under the city to the Lady Luck. Leia tries to tell Chewie and Ralrra to get out of the way, but she doesn’t fool them for a second: she’s trying to do the noble sacrifice thing. That won’t fly with Wookiees. So away they all go.

Time to take a breath. We did that scene in a rush for a reason: it’s supposed to be fast. Instinct and reaction ruled the day–the closest thing to a coherent train of thought between “we’ve stayed too long” and “go under the city” is “don’t kill him,” and even that is instinctual. Though I take the point made in footnote 2 that Leia didn’t even spare a half second of thought for her unborn children; even if she was reacting, one of those reactions might have been “the kids?”

At any rate, I found this a well-written, tense sequence, punctuated with total confusion. We as readers have met Noghri by now, and we know how dangerous they are–so what the hell happened to stop this one? What, asks the first time reader, is “Mal’ary’ush“?

But Leia doesn’t have time to think of any of this. She and her Wookiee escorts make their way under the city, and start going hand-over-hand (climbing Wookiee bars?).

z: Leia in a kind of a harness strapped to Chewbacca’s chest, which is intended to give the “helpless like a baby out there” feeling some claws.  Speaking of claws, I love Zahn’s description of the Wookies’ mode of travel here:

The Wookies didn’t crawl across the tops of the plaited branches, the way she’d anticipated doing.  Instead, using the climbing claws she’d seen her first day here, they hung by all fours underneath the branches to travel.

And then they traveled.

You can feel it all: The raw strength, the speed, the acrophobia, the “nopenopenopeNOPE” feeling creeping on the reader.

will: Leia is almost paralyzed with fear, right up until they see a repulsorcraft sneaking up on them, though out of range for bowcasters. They’re somewhat pinned to a board, in this. Leia has a brainstorm, though, and arranges a remote-attack with her lightsaber. Without the Force, no less, just a rope and timing.

A nice note is that now that she can do something, Leia is less afraid, even though the number of things to be afraid of has actually increased. Passivity, powerlesness, is a major fear for her. No shock there.

z: The only thing we have to fear is fear itself, indeed.

will: Props to her, by the way. I’m sure if I’d tried that I would have missed. One imagines that part of sharpshooter training, and remember that Leia is a pretty damn good shot, is learning to accurately judge distance.

z: …which is critical, because what she does is essentially arranging a pendulum by using the lightsaber as the weight, and places things so that she is at one peak of the arc and the hovercraft will be at the other peak.

Luke would have just guided the saber with the Force (this forest is A-OK for that, and we saw him do the same thing to take out seven Noghri with one throw when he first met the species); Leia uses a somewhat more fundamental force.

Look, Will, you ain’t the one with the bad puns this week.

will: I’m so proud. *sniff*

Leia’s lightsaber swing took out the craft, and they figure that was the last of the aliens, so they decide to head back up to the city proper. Ralrra asks, time to leave?

Yes, Leia says. “Back to the ship…but not directly.”

This scene, I glossed over, because it was almost unnecessary. More Leia cleverness, sure, and Zahn showing off his creativity in inventing and extricating from situations. But really, the chapter is about this next scene.

So let’s get this out of the way: yes, the Noghri have similarities to the Ewoks, by design, in that they are a clan-based race with low technology, except the Noghri aren’t cute at all. There’s a bias against cute in certain areas of science fiction and its neighbors–the teddy bear from Babylon 5 springs to mind–but as much as I know the weight of the “they were so cute it was hard to take them seriously” argument, the simple fact is that that’s a valid way to get your opponents to underestimate you.

Blaming Ewoks for being cute and therefore hard to take seriously is like blaming someone for wearing camouflage, which looks ridiculous in a city, and sneaking up on you in the jungle.

By contrast, Noghri look dangerous. Only Imperial overconfidence would have created the situation where stormtroopers get slaughtered by Noghri thinking them easy targets.

z: Frankly, until I read the margin notes here, it hadn’t occurred to me to consider any similarities in design between the Noghri and the Ewoks.  Also, it might have been because I was very young when I first saw Return of the Jedi, but I never thought Ewoks were just cute.  A couple of them, I even found disconcerting.

will: The parallel is made explicit in The Last Command, but we can discuss that later. Leia goes with Chewie and Ralrra to the police station where the alien who attacked her, the one Chewie didn’t kill, is in lockup, waiting with infinite patience. He’s asked to see Leia, and she reluctantly goes in, not entirely sure why (mercy, curiosity, the feeling that there is something good in him)–and remember the first rule: when a Force-sensitive can’t identify a reason for an action, blame the Force–anyway she goes in, lightsaber belted on.

The alien, still unnamed and for that matter un-speciesed, asks for her hand, and smells it, as Leia realizes that she’s just put a lot of trust in him–at that range, already gripping her hand, if he was willing to die to complete his mission, he could definitely kill her–and once he does, he drops completely to his knees, hands splayed in clear supplication. He begs her forgiveness, saying he didn’t know who she is.

Leia asks whether he knows now, and he clearly does:

You are the Mal’ary’ush. The daughter and heir of the Lord Darth Vader. He who was our master.

Leia tries to get her balance and asks for more explanation, and the alien replies that Vader saved his people.

Leia can’t really cope with all of this.

z: No joke, because…

will: I’m going to pause here for a second and point out that even after five years, Leia being Darth Vader’s daughter is something she has to struggle with. Later authors will elaborate on this–Tatooine Ghost is largely about that, and after all Leia names her third child Anakin–but at this point in this timeline, we’ve never really gotten a sense of how Leia feels about her biological father.

Even if we can’t resolve how Leia can possibly have memories of her mother when she apparently died giving birth, Leia had a father–and lost him, for that matter. We never knew Leia to be curious about her natural parentage, even if she was aware (as we figure she was) that she was adopted. Unlike Luke, for whom his unknown parentage (being raised by an uncle and aunt) was part of his core curiosity (remember how he reacts to any scrap of information about his father), she was contented.

But to learn your father is the one who tortured you? And now to be pregnant? I didn’t entirely like Tatooine Ghost in no small part because I didn’t think it did a good job of dealing with that question, but at least it tried to.

z: I haven’t read Tatooine Ghost–a lot of the EU actually tumbled out of my continuity grasp at some point–but The Truce at Bakura, set approximately fifteen minutes after Endor give or take, basically has Leia fighting through rage about what she just learned, once it’s sunk in.  I really would have liked fiction that addressed that whole question of how did she learn to accept this, as well as the other one Will is going to bring up shortly.

will: All of this makes for a good reason why Leia feels that she’s in a confusing whirlwind right now…but there’s one thing she can cling to:

The alien prostrating himself before her was prepared to treat her as royalty. And she knew how to behave like royalty.

We’ve seen a lot of sides of Leia since the book began. Politician, peace-maker, warrior, trickster, sideways thinker. She’s been a spy, a scout, a refugee…

Hello, Princess Leia. Haven’t seen you in a while.

z: *wide happy smile* Indeed.

will: Leia falls back instinctively into her Alderaanian Court mode of thinking, and learns that the alien is named Khabarakh, of the Noghri. Who is confused that Leia doesn’t know what he was. But after all, Leia points out, Vader had secrets.

I laugh.

z: I join in.

will: By the way, there’s going to be a question down the line about whether the Galaxy at large knows the connection between Anakin Skywalker and Darth Vader, and therefore Luke and Leia and Vader; my take has always been that the official line was admitting that Luke and Leia were Anakin Skywalker’s natural children, but that there’s no mention of the relationship between Anakin and Vader; officially, as the Empire would have had the records say, Anakin died during the Clone Wars. (Have we discussed that yet? I thought we had but I can’t find any reference to it.)

z: We have not, and since a big part of the canon that did pass me by is the Clone Wars TV series, I am all with the confusion about that one.  I wasn’t aware that the Empire officially had it put out that Anakin had died on… Mustafar, was it?  Which, seriously, Lucas, my cousin once removed is called Mustafa which is a fairly common name so thank you, thank you ever so much–but at any rate, that makes sense.

…insert here another huge rant titled “Theme and Variations on ‘Seriously, Obi-Wan? Seriously, You’re Going to Leave Him Alive Like That?  Which One of You Is Supposed to Be a Sith Apprentice, Again’?” *sits on hands*

will: I suspect that the Empire mostly just deleted records of Anakin (Luke knew nothing about him, after all), but Obi-Wan’s “truth” was probably more than just his. Anyway.

Leia gets the backstory out of Khabarakh: there was a battle fought in orbit of the Noghri homeworld–we don’t know the name yet but I’m going to write Honoghr, that’s what it is–and when it was done, the planet was poisoned.

z: The Noghri weren’t even aware of the concept of “orbit” at that point; all they saw was massive fighting in the sky.  At this point, we aren’t given any details from this battle to “…and when the battle was over, our land was devastated.”

will: Leia winces at the reminder that the Rebellion to Restore the Republic was not always a clean war. This was 1992, so we don’t get Battlestar Galactica-level stuff like the ostensible heroes as literal suicide bombers, but they were a guerilla resistance. There was not going to be perfect innocence.

z: And that is one theme that all the EU writers (to my knowledge) always skirted around because of (my guess only) editorial fiat.  Just think of what Allston could have done with a true anti-hero story? And then when they decided to go all grown up and dark, they decided this meant dropping a moon on [spoiler elided] and then the argh gah *sits on hands*

will: Don’t mind her, we all get like that on that particular topic. At any rate, after the battle, the Noghri agreed to serve the Emperor (well, Vader, and through Vader his master the Emperor, and now Vader’s designated successor) in exchange for their help. Leia, rather stung, says that “we” would have helped had they known, and asks to be told where the Noghri come from. Khabarakh refuses, saying she would finish destroying their home…

Leia pushes her status as the heir of Vader, revising herself to emphasize that the Emperor could have lied to Vader. But a master doesn’t lie to his servants, Khabarakh counters.

I laugh.

z: I facepalm.

I also realize for the first time that this whole Vader’s heirs business must have been an example of the Law of Unintended Consequences in action from the viewpoint of the Empire, or even of Palpatine himself–Palpatine didn’t know of Vader’s “heirs,” what Vader himself knew when is one of those things that I never learned, though he definitely knew of a birth but not two by the time of The Empire Strikes Back, and even if they did, I would bet that they would not have thought the Noghri would have transferred their loyalty to Vader’s descendants simply because their own society functions somewhat that way.

will: Leia doesn’t laugh, but presses the point. What about whoever rules the Noghri now? Has he ever lied to them? He didn’t mention I was the Mal’ary’ush, did he?

Not, I think, that Thrawn actually knew that. His ignorance of the Skywalker-Vader connection, along with Luke’s of course, is the chief evidence in my mind for the fact that it was not public information by the time of Star Wars. And as I’ve said before, I like how Thrawn, the master of information, effectively loses to better-kept secrets.

Back to the cell. Khabarakh says he is just a soldier, and he needs to follow all his orders…and Leia realizes what the one order he still has must be, and urges him not to commit suicide–after all, he knows what no other Noghri knows.

Khabarakh takes her knowing his intention as further proof that she is Vader’s heir. Leia simply says that he is needed, by the Noghri and by her–they need to know who she is, and she needs to know where they live. But Khabarakh won’t budge.

Well, says Leia, take me there.

“I can’t,” Khabarakh practically wails.

Leia leans heavily on the “I am your lord’s heir” button and asks, what danger could one human pose?

“You’d come alone to people who have been trying to capture you?”

Leia falters briefly, realizing how much the Force has been guiding her steps and suddenly hoping it’ll keep it up; she answers yes, and if he’s amenable, meet in orbit of Endor in a month. She promises to come alone, and turns to leave.

“Farewell…Lady Vader.”

They let Khabarakh go, which on the one hand is a chance to stop the Noghri attacks, but on the other, has everybody on edge, especially Chewie. He and his team killed Salporin, don’t forget.

Chewie is caught within his various honor-bindings–his friend, his life-debt, his pride no doubt–and stalks off to cope, then it’s time for the memorial service for Salporin. It’s private, Wookiees only–I wonder if that would have meant Han couldn’t attend?–and Leia heads to the Lady Luck to prepare to leave. Safety or not, she needs to do some research and get back in touch. Bleakly, feeling the pressure of the last ten years of war, she heads to go.

z: I am pretty certain it means Han couldn’t attend either.  Wasn’t there something about the life debt being transferred to Leia and the children directly?

will: Not yet, I think, but it does happen.

I cannot for the life of me remember in my own instance, but man, how weird must it have been to read “Darth Vader, our savior and master” for the first time? How far sideways did that pull people?

z: Sideways and with a 125-degree roll to boot.  I was completely in the “dog with head tilted” mode.

will: As I said, the action setpieces before, and even the denouement after, are all window dressing around the core of this chapter: the conversation–I can’t call it an interrogation–between Leia and Khabarakh. The discovery by the New Republic, in the person of Leia, who the Noghri are and why they serve the Empire, and most centrally, that this is tied up in her history.

It was interesting to see Leia fall back into the persona of the Princess and Senator–she probably even had the slightly British (well, Coruscanti, or maybe Alderaanian) accent she had at the start of Star Wars.

(You all hear that, right? Compare “Governor Tarkin…I should have expected to find you holding Vader’s leash” to, say, “Into the garbage chute, flyboy,” let alone “Someone who loves you,” and it’s like Carrie Fisher developed Foreign Accent Syndrome from British to American a third of the way though the first movie.

Yes, Foreign Accent Syndrome is a real thing. One hopes it was a conscious decision in the movie. But I digress once again.)

And we get the plot for Leia for the next book: the Noghri. Zahn’s comment about her being shortchanged this book (which, as I said, I don’t believe she was) ends promising more next book, and boy do we get it…and this is where we find out what we’re getting. One woman (with, eventually, a Wookiee and a droid), armed only (well, she has a lightsaber for what good it will do) with her wits and a claim to be their hereditary ruler through a natural father who was her sworn enemy…against a planet of commandos.

Place yer bets, people.


z: No bets here.  We’re talking about my first role model, remember?   I feel like I’ve said this before and I will no doubt say it again, but I am forever grateful to Zahn for keeping Leia even more Leia.  So much so that I never realized how much until we started analyzing these books, would you believe it?

Khabarakh does try to make it clear to Leia that at the end of this conversation, he is as far out of his depth as Ghent was of his in the previous chapter.  “I am but a simple soldier, my Lady–” in other words, I just learned something stupendously important and now you’re asking me to make decisions that may risk my entire planet, or not, and I don’t dare not risk it either because stupendously important, and… well, Leia isn’t the only one who can’t cope, and Khabarakh has no Auto-Princess Mode(™) to fall back to.  But Leia understands that, which is why she recommends he discuss this with his elders and people he trusts before making his decision on whether to take Leia to Honoghr or not.

will: Right. Leia struck a fair bargain by asking Khabarakh not to act now, but to figure it out and check in later.

z: The touch of old pain, and anticipation of new pain to come, at the end of the chapter is characteristically beautifully done.  (“And [she] wondered if this war would ever truly be over.”) Yet another friend lost, and this one has touched Leia even more than most because Salporin directly sacrificed his life for her safety.

A glass in his memory.  And until we meet again, back on Myrkr, may the Force be with you.


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