Heir to the Empire, Chapter 29

will: Welcome one and all to the battle scene. It’s pretty short as these things go, but it has a kick.

z: We should say, to the ground battle scene.

will: Lando, Aves, and Karrde’s people watch as the stormtrooper procession gets toward their range, while Threepio tries urgently to get Lando’s attention.

z: Lando hopes that the stormtroopers did indeed disarm Chin and the others when they took over their “prisoner”, Han, because the weapons they were carrying were booby-trapped.

Nasty. Sneaky. And potentially very effective.

will: Aves prepares to trigger the attack when Lando hears that Threepio has a message from Luke, and listens. Aves balks at Luke’s plan: “we give them any chance at all at cover and they’ll cut us to pieces.” Lando sees that point, but the Imperials are pretty spread out, and besides, Luke’s a Jedi–Force or no Force.

By now, Aves and Lando are pointing their guns at each other, Aves still ready to trigger his transmitter and the attack. Finally, Aves turns to get things going, and Lando presses his gun right to Aves’s neck.

“I won’t forget this, Calrissian,” Aves says, and Lando plays the consummate gambler…

z: …and doubles down…

will: …inwardly hoping to hell that Luke is right.

Shift: Luke watches as they reach the archway and “four of the stromtroopers abruptly blew up,” followed by blaster fire. The surviving troopers are very well trained; and move to cover and begin firing back. Luke, Mara, and Han get chucked into a corner with four troopers on guard duty, and “looking small and helpless amid the deadly horizontal hail of blaster fire, Artoo was rolling toward them as fast as his little wheels could carry them.”

Meant to invoke the opening to Star Wars, one imagines, Threepio and Artoo through that hail of fire. (Which was another Kurosawa reference, namely Hidden Fortress.)

z: …oh.

OK, I knew that image was familiar, and yet until this moment I never connected out with the obvious. Is there a German word for the feeling you get when you finally see what was in front of your nose the whole time?!

will:  Probably, though I generally just go with “oh, duh.”

At any rate, Han is dubious, but Luke is committed to the plan. He asks Han to cause a distraction, and Han divests himself of his cuffs–they were gimmicked–and pops Luke’s with a pick. He’s all set to go, but Luke tells him to wait. There’s a Chariot assault vehicle nearby, and Mara (echoing Aves) warns that if it lands, the troopers will have all the cover they need. Luke, though, says he’s counting on that…

z: I should chime in and say that this is one of the cases where had this been a mystery novel, Zahn wouldn’t have been cheating a bit going up to the big reveal. All the pieces are there, Luke’s done everything but state his intention out loud with all the Imperials around them listening.  I should have been able to figure out what he was planning, as a first time reader, because Zahn didn’t hold any clues back.  I wasn’t.

will: Zahn doesn’t generally do mysteries, though his SF-suspense stuff (the Quadrail Series and The Icarus Hunt come to mind) does have mystery elements. Sometimes he does play fair. In other cases you’re not meant to be able to figure it out, because it’s about the process. At any rate, back to Lando and Aves. As the Chariot lands, Lando tries to say that they need to trust Luke, but he doesn’t make it through the sentence–he gets hit by a ricocheting blaster bolt. When his vision clears, he isn’t holding his gun on Aves–Aves is standing over him, death in his eyes. Lando tries to say that Luke can do this, but Aves isn’t listening.

“And, down deep, Lando couldn’t blame him. Lando Calrissian, the professional gambler, had gambled one last time. And he’d lost.
And the debt from that gamble–the last in a long line of such debts–had come through.”

I have to say, though Lando certainly isn’t happy about this, he does seem resigned. I guess that’s the gambler’s life: you’re aware that the debt can fall, and if you’re under it when it does, that’s just how things go. Even though Lando is more of the “business gambler” these days, he doesn’t lose his reflexes.

z: …and besides what is one more cliffhanger, at this point, everyone’s already dangling like clothes from a clothesline.

will: Back to Luke. The Chariot lands, and Luke has Han make his “distraction”–Han jumps the guards.

z: The group of guards standing in their side of the arch, the north-side, we’re told.

will: Han takes two down before the other two jump on him, and Luke has freedom of movement. Time for Jabba’s Palace Mark II: Artoo, with his mechanical precision, can easily land Luke’s saber exactly where he wants to, so even as the stormtroopers are re-subduing Han, Luke can get them with one green swing.

z: So Luke was waiting for two things: For the Chariot to land, because of reasons that’ll become clear in a moment, and Artoo to get a bit closer, to make the throw easier—he still doesn’t have the Force.

will: The troopers firing at Karrde’s people realize there’s another angle of attack, but Luke isn’t interested in dallying with them. He just cuts through the pillars holding up the ornate archway.

Yes, it takes longer in the text. Luke cuts two pillars, they start shifting, Luke chucks his lightsaber at the other two, Han and Mara scramble away… but the upshot is the downfall.

And scene.

z: {small glare} I saw that.  And it was bad.

Anyway. It takes much longer in the text. This is what happened: Han charged, stormtroopers charged him, Artoo launched the lightsaber, Luke got the lightsaber, cut down Han’s attackers, the troopers at the other end by the Chariot noticed something was up and started to turn blasters back into the arch, but before they could start shooting Luke cut through the pillars on his own side and threw the locked-on lightsaber at the pillars on the troopers’ side. Then he just leaped clear after Han and Mara, and the arch came down on all the Imperials on the south side who were now hemmed in by the Chariot. Given the stormtroopers couldn’t have taken more than half a second to turn and start shooting…

…yup. Force access or not, still a Jedi.

will: It doesn’t take long to recap action scenes, but even for that, this is short. The setup was all in the previous chapters, especially the last. The interesting thing here is Lando and Aves, really; one has to wonder whether either will bear a grudge. Probably not–it all worked out, and Lando was right, and nobody did anything irreversible.

Also, nobody apparently thought of the idea of using the arches as a weapon. Of course they didn’t–lightsabers aren’t typical weapons anymore, after all. Luke may think about their effects on combat, but most others don’t. So while everybody else saw the Chariot and the arches as a defensible position, Luke saw an environmental hazard ripe for the triggering.

z: Heh. “Environmental hazard.” Indeed.

will: Reminds me of when the party does something particularly clever, and the DM watches as his brilliant encounter just evaporates. (Doesn’t everybody have a story like that? I do.)

That’s about all for me. The aftermath is next chapter, from all three sides, as we move to the next sequence, the last big one in the book.

Z?

z: I will point out one thing I did notice at the first reading: Luke came up with the entirety of his plan only in the time since he first saw the arch ahead of them in the plaza.  Putting the lightsaber in Artoo’s compartment was a simple combination of hiding it and being ready for every eventuality, not for this particular eventuality, since he didn’t know about the arch and in fact explicitly didn’t expect anything like that in such a small city.  He couldn’t have planned for Han at all, and he deduced that an ambush was ahead of them as soon as Han appeared in the prisoner guise.  He figured out how to use the Artoo/Threepio duo to set the time of the ambush to suit him immediately once he learned 3PO was around. As soon as he saw the Chariot he knew how the Imperials would use it as cover, and factored that in.  He didn’t know Han had trick restraints, so he literally expected to carry out that plan with his hands tied, but welcomed and then effectively used the distraction.

…yup. Force access or not, still Luke.  Adaptable, quick-witted in tactical thinking, resourceful and competent.

It strikes me that this is what Lando probably meant when he insisted to Aves that Luke was still a Jedi, Force or not.  But Lando isn’t exactly right, in my opinion.  Some of this is definitely honed thanks to Luke’s Jedi training, sure, but I still think that while his speed in action might be entirely that training, his speed in planning and adapting is innately him.

Or, well, I may be splitting semantic hairs. Them’s the breaks.  But next week we’ll see that I’m not the only one impressed by Luke.  Until then, may the Force be with you.

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2 thoughts on “Heir to the Empire, Chapter 29

  1. And another of Thrawn’s master plans fails in the face of random shit happening.

    If he was really the unbeatable mastermind everybody in the books thinks he is, he’d put less faith in the mean and pay more attention to the variance. I don’t remember all the details of the story, but IIRC he never does figure out that Jedi are, like, a 6-standard-error deviation from the mean.

    Like

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