Heir to the Empire, Chapter 32

z: Hello, gentlebeings, and welcome to Chapter 32, the last chapter of Heir to the Empire.  Honestly, ”chapter” is a stretch, because it’s less than four pages of text in the hardback, and I can summarize it with ”Wait, wait, can’t leave it with a New Republic victory (or at least non-defeat), must have cliffhanger!”  But that would be unfair to you, dear readers, and to Will, and to the characters about to be caught in said cliffhanger too, so here goes.

will: Thus showing you the critical difference between a planned trilogy and a more organic one; this book, unlike, say, the first Star Wars movie, does not stand alone at all.

z: We open with a one-paragraph description of the mop-up action fought after the Star Destroyers leave, which mostly serves to emphasize one point:  Them space-troopers are Trouble with a capital T.

will: And that rhymes with P!

Ahem.

z: Wh… you know what nevermind.

And when the last of the troopers are taken care of, the Sluis Van shipyards are still in major chaos, and there are many severely damaged capital ships left lying around.

Every named New Republic character present at the battle, except Lando who is probably under medical care, have gathered on the bridge of the Larkhess, Captain Afyon’s ship (which Wedge had been lounging about drinking tea on the bridge of escorting before the attack).  Afyon points out the empty part of the glass (many capital ships are very badly damaged indeed and aren’t going anywhere for months); Han retorts with the full part (if they could go anywhere, they would have been gone with the Imperials).  Afyon says that he knows, he’s just being clairvoyant about (sigh) what “others will say”, i.e., (sigh) Fey’lya.

Did I mention how much politicking by the disingenuous pretension of not understanding the reality of a situation makes me want to scream and throw things? I did? Fine, fine.

will: You did, but it bears repeating. A lot of the thing about Bothans will be how they use bad fortune as an excuse to attack their own side, politically, which is frustrating–and becomes a point of xenopsychology, in fact.

We don’t really see a lot of xenopsych in this universe, Thrawn’s art trick being one of the largest exceptions. We rarely really examine aliens, at least “normal” commonplace aliens (as opposed to the “weird” aliens that appear more rarely or are more isolated conceptually), as beings with radically different thought processes and dominant psychologies–we frequently judge them as we would as humans. Zahn is the author who is most willing to examine the question, and it’s prevalent in his original fiction too.

z: I will have you know that while that was an important and great thing to point out, it almost launched another full-page digression on Mass Effect.

OK, you know what?  I’m going to stop resisting, and put a comparative study of the two space operas which most influenced me in the list of “Stuff What We Should Maybe Write About.”  I need to narrow the approach angle a bit more, though.

(There are actually three such influential space operas—the Vorkosigan series being the third—but the focal points and structure and plotlines are so different that a comparison would not make sense.  Also, as it pertains to the particular item here, there are no aliens in the Vorkosigan universe; quaddies explicitly aren’t aliens, neither is Taura.)

Back to the Larkhess’ bridge, Wedge echoes Afyon’s reading of how Fey’lya will try to use this “incident,” which by the way strikes me as a hilariously inappropriate choice of word. An “incident” is when someone blows a tire on the Beltway and induces an at-least-three-miles-long parking lot.  An “incident” is when frat boys get rambunctious and try to take down the fence of the frat house next door over.  A raid on a major spaceport with five Star Destroyers, umpteen TIE-fighter squads and thirty-four mole miners for good measure is a bit bigger than an “incident.”

But what do I know. If Afyon calls this an “incident” (and he does) and none of Wedge, Han or Luke react to that as weird (and they don’t), that probably means that their incident-meter has been seriously recalibrated during the Rebellion and in the five years since. Which, we’ll find out, is actually the case.

will: “Incident” is, in the words of Edna Krabbapel, a perfectly cromulent word. (I’m on a Simpsons kick lately, which is interesting, because I don’t actually like the show.)

z: Anyway, Wedge shares Afyon’s worry, and right then they get a message. Routed from Coruscant, for Captain Solo.  It’s Leia.  There’s a tiny “awwww” moment which also doubles as a character moment:

“Leia!” Han said, feeling a delighted and probably slightly foolish-looking grin spread across his face.

Can’t you just picture it.  (My own picture is from that moment on Endor when Leia tells Han that Luke is her brother.). D’aww, he’s still in love. So much so that—waitwaitwhat is Leia doing at Coruscant!?

will: There’s definitely an element of “oh, right, Leia was supposed to be in hiding” after that many chapters of Luke and Mara and Han and Imperials…

z: Leia says that she’s taken care of their other problem.  For the time being. She thinks. Well, that clears Han and Luke’s worries right up. But she insists that “that” (defined as: being chased by unknown mysterious assassin-kidnappers all over the galaxy while pregnant with twins) isn’t important right now. She’s upset, and not just a little either.  Han asks what’s happened, probably expecting an answer of “all the planet-city’s on fire” at the least, and gets something that is pretty much equivalent:

“Admiral Ackbar has been arrested and removed from command. On charges of treason.”
The room abruptly filled with a brittle silence.

will: According to the editorial notes, this was the part (as I read it) that was in the original outline. One wonders how the justification went without the rather Pyrrhic victory of Sluis Van to justify the charge.

z: No, Z. Don’t throw your nice 10-inch tablet across the room, Z. You need it to read music on, this weekend.  Really.

(“Treason!?”  You flea-bitten… scummy… politician, have you any idea what that kind of a charge can lead to?  That’s not removing an obstacle on the way to your power, that’s…  OK, OK, I’m calm now.)

will: Uh-huh. Right.

z: Han replies that he and Luke are on their way, as there doesn’t seem to be anything else to say.  Wedge reassures Luke that Luke’s X-Wing will be ready in the next two hours, even if he has to rip the motivators out of his own fighter for it.  Luke rushes off with Han to get Artoo back from the Falcon, and Afyon wishes them luck.

On the way out, Han and Luke reveal that they are thinking along the same lines that almost caused a tablet-launch here:  Whatever Fey’lya thinks he’s doing, this sort of thing is how civil wars start.

will: Especially for a young, fledgling government trying to be legitimate–splintering among the high-ups doesn’t end well. And don’t forget the “dangers of democracy” thing we were talking about the last time we had a run-in with Fey’lya…

z: The problem is not merely splintering among the high-ups when one of the high-ups in question is a military commander.  It’s a very quick path from there to “these units side with him, these units side against him,” when mid- and low-level commanders suddenly lose their neutrality with respect to the orders they receive because they suddenly feel they can’t trust said orders any more. (See also, Afyon’s and Wedge’s reactions here.)  And then they clash.

I’m not speaking hypothetically, by the way.  The last time there was a military coup in my country was in 1980.  There was a long list of them leading all the way to the early days of the nineteenth century.  That is how things go down, under the right (or rather, wrong) conditions:  One side tries to arrest the military commander they perceive as being on the other side, some units stay loyal to the arrested commander, and, well.

Going back to the Galaxy Far Far Away, Han says that they won’t let that happen. Luke: “How are we going to stop him?” Han: “We’ll think of something.”

And scene.

And book.

The teenage first-time reader I was had been only mostly irritated at Fey’lya because you know why, and worried about Ackbar because he’s a known character. Adult me remembers that conversation that Wedge had with a random military mechanic, hears Wedge take sides to the point where he’s ready to remove parts off of his own (official, military) ship to get Luke where Luke can make a stand, hears another commander of some higher rank—Afyon—also take sides to the point of openly wishing Han and Luke luck in that stand, remembers the military history she’s read and heard about in between, and starts sweating laser beams.  So I think that as far as plotting goes, this was a maneuver which worked on multiple levels.

Well-played, Mr. Zahn.

Will?

will: I’m glad there isn’t a lot this week, because I’m here at Sasquan, but this is definitely a strong ending, in the sense of “now I want to read the sequel.” Which, as I recall, had about a year’s wait…

I did like that Afyon was included in the post-battle; it emphasizes the difference between Fey’lya, of the “everything is an angle” school, and soldiers like Wedge (and Afyon) who can gripe and moan, but lose that attitude as soon as something serious happens.

And that’s about it. Next week we’ll finish up Heir with the 20th Anniversary’s introduction, foreword, and the like. Until then, may the Force be with you.

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