: Hello, gentlebeings, and welcome to the second chapter of Dark Force Rising. There has been quite a bit of traveling and conference prep and similar things around here lately, and I expect that to keep up throughout the month of September. But hopefully we won’t be too distracted to keep up.
: Stay on target…stay on target. Why is it that having days off of work only leads to falling further behind, instead of being able to catch up?
: We open the Chapter 2 of Dark Force Rising, just like we opened Chapter 2 of Heir to the Empire, with a Luke point-of-view. He’s on the comm to Wedge, and through their conversation we learn that:
- Luke’s X-Wing, which had lost hyperdrive capability, is still not fixed because all the ship mechanics in Sluis Van are tied up on fixing the local defense ships that were damaged in the recent Imperial attack,
- Lando, who had gotten hurt by shrapnel on Myrkr, is still not fixed because all the medical personnel/droids in Sluis Van are tied up on fixing the local defense people ibid.,
- Luke and Wedge are still stuck in Sluis Van, and this is frustrating to Luke because he wants to get back to Coruscant to prevent the “forces trying to oust Admiral Ackbar” from “consolidating their power,”
- Wedge has no doubts about where he stands because he offers to give his own X-Wing to Luke, which could mean a court-martial since Luke is technically a civilian and that would be surrendering important military equipment.
: We also know it’s been four hours of waiting, which makes this one of those things that feels like an eternity but really isn’t. There’s a six-day flight, after all, will four hours make that much of a difference?
Note also that Wedge is described as “someone as relatively low in rank as a starfighter wing commander,” whom Fey’lya might or might not ignore. This doesn’t quite fit with the whole “Rogue Squadron, the retakers of Coruscant” thing, let alone the “once resigned the New Republic to prosecute a war on their own” part. On the one hand, that was written later (the Doylist explanation), but one could argue that (to be Watsonian for a moment) it ties into the sense of the Galaxy Far Far Away having a very short attention span, a fast reversion to yesterday’s-hero syndrome (hence the Jedi going from living legends to distant myths in less than twenty years), not to mention how they never seem to catch a break.
But really, it’s the first one.
: Also interesting to note is that Luke doesn’t even consider pulling a “You can <handwave> fix my ship first, it’s all right” on the nearest mechanic, even when the word “Jedi” comes up in the conversation. I know Obi-Wan departed, but I can’t help hoping that he was watching that.
: I wonder whether Luke would have done that if he’d been able to. Trying to influence all the mechanics, techs, and support to get his X-Wing repaired without going up the chain to the “data pusher” who ordered the priorities would have been difficult, but if Luke had gotten to that aforesaid pusher, would he have been able to resist the handwave?
: OK, that is a good question. I think a lot of what would stop Luke would be the sense that the mechanic would be getting in trouble for it later (anyone has any illusions about what happened to those stormtroopers in Mos Eisley back in A New Hope afterwards? No? Good), but if he got to someone who could plausibly have had the authority to rearrange work orders and would not get in trouble for that…
On his way back to Lando, Luke considers asking the mechanics of the New Republic military ships present for a favor (“Hey dude, long time no see, remember that time I killed a Death Star? Fun times, fun times. It was this very X-Wing, too. Look, could you do me a solid and swap in a couple of new hyperdrive motivator casings in there? Much obliged and all.”), considers calling Mon Mothma in Coruscant directly and pulling strings that way (since for all we can tell, Mon Mothma is the current head of government, this thought reveals that Luke really has very little idea about how to pull any strings at any of the levels between “spanner in hand” and “President of Everything Ever,” which is hilarious and makes one grateful for Wedge’s presence), wonders whether asking for help at all that way would be construed as weakness as his current political opponents (and this shows that he’s still trying to get used to the idea of having political opponents, which, poor little Jedi), and gets frustrated because he can’t tell and “that’s why he tried to leave politics to Leia.” Heh.
: That Luke thinks of himself as a “former officer” who might get a favor is a nice bit there, too. Luke is a Hero of the Rebellion, the Last of the Jedi, the Blade Striking Down Evil–but he wonders if being a former commander is what will convince the New Republic mechanics to help him?
Of course he does…he was a flyboy and then a fighter jock before he was a Jedi. (Zahn shows us this side of Luke a lot, in fact.)
: Approaching Lando, Luke senses that his friend’s sense is hovering between boredom and impatience. Lando is still in a bit of pain, in a sickbed, and is grumbling because the price of something he’s been stockpiling is dropping instead of rising.
: Which Luke chuckles at. Lando is “respectable” and legitimate, and all, sure, but as with Nomad City on the whole, he’s merely shifted his gambling instincts from sabacc and shady deals to investments and market manipulation.
Speaking of which: “hfredium”? Sounds like a Tuckerization (“Fred H”) to me.
: You’re probably right, but I always figured it had something to do with hafnium (Hf).
Luke gives Lando the good news that the mole miners the Imperials used in the attack and then abandoned are now in New Republic jurisdiction, so recovering them is a matter of going through the New Republic bureaucracy, not Sluissi–which also makes the point that the New Republic really hasn’t done this “consolidate power” thing, even for their allies.
: The structure of government is one of those things that the Star Wars EU will play with a lot. The New Republic, on the whole, is a loosely-federated system, not unlike the United States was originally envisioned (or like the EU, meaning the European Union for once); the Old Republic felt more like a tightly-federated one akin to the modern US. The Empire was, well, a fascist dictatorship.
Generally speaking, governments with so much travel time between member entities, and different modes of thinking especially across species lines, almost have to be loose federations (again, see the EU. where the issue isn’t even different species), unless they go the subjugation/standardization route (like the Empire).
: To go take care of submitting the forms for the mole miners, Luke reaches for the data pad he’d lent Lando to check stock prices on….
Lando starts sniffing Luke’s sleeve, then urgently asks where Luke had been, just then. On learning that Luke was at a public comm station, he identifies the smell he caught, which is apparently a fairly distinctive scent of a type of tobacc–sorry, tabac, mixed with some “armudu spice.”
(“Armut” means “pear.” Turkish has lenition, which turns t’s to d’s if a vowel follows them. So I have a good idea what that tobacco smells like now, thanks Mr. Zahn.)
: I wonder whether “carababba” is meant to evoke “Caribbean,” similarly.
: Lando isn’t interested in the tabac smell as much as his own recognition of who smokes that kind of tabac. He’s alarmed, because apparently that’s the trademark of one Niles Ferrier, famed ship thief. Who is right now in the middle of a shipyard, that is full of semi-damaged, semi-guarded ships, and that is in a state of semi-confusion. Uh-oh. Lando describes the guy to Luke, who remembers where he’d seen him earlier with some help from the Force, and they determine Ferrier was heading into Corridor Six, which is on the way to a repair staging area–uh oh. Instead of calling security and trying to get through the chaos, Luke and Lando set out themselves after Ferrier “before he palms a Corellian gunship or something and flies off with it.”
: The short-term memory enhancement is very cool. I like how we don’t get told exactly how it is done, but we get the evocative word “flow.”
: They get to Corridor Six, and find it semi-deserted. That’s not good. Luke stretches out with the Force and finds that the offices etc. around them are operational, but empty. Lando asks if Luke has a spare blaster. Luke replies that he doesn’t carry a blaster any more. Heh. Luke asks if they should call security now, and Lando says that Ferrier is by now surely monitoring communications and he’ll take right off if they alert security, and they–Lando and Luke–should find out what he’s up to instead.
: There’s two sides to this: wouldn’t it be enough if they got Ferrier to leave without stealing something? But also, Lando is probably curious why Ferrier is here in the first place; messy shipyard or not, this is a huge risk.
: In fact, Lando is sure Ferrier’s messed with the work orders to route everyone out of the area he’s planning to purloin a ship from. Luke reaches out with the Force again and detects six humans and two aliens ahead of them, and gives a great big clue on how some of his Force senses work when he says that he hasn’t met either alien species before. Then he suggests that Lando stays behind, unhooking his lightsaber, because he isn’t certain how well he can protect his already-injured friend in a fight. Lando thinks he should take his chances and stop it from becoming a fight at all, figuring that he’s got a chance because Ferrier knows him. And he “has an idea [he wants] to try.”
: And there’s that, too. Lando and gambling…
: We don’t read about Luke getting a sense of foreboding, either from the Force or from hearing those words. Our Jedi isn’t genre-savvy.
About twenty meters left in their approach to the group, Luke senses that the humans have spotted their visitors, although the corridor ahead of them still seems deserted. While they are considering getting a little closer, Luke gets an alert from the Force, makes Lando duck and blocks a blaster shot with his lightsaber. And another, and another. He’s concentrating on this Force-based form of defense, while his eyes constantly scan the corridor back and forth, and–
He was looking directly at the odd shadow when it detached itself from the wall and started forward.
: Zahn does well giving us a good balance of how the Force feels to Luke without getting lost in it; Luke is mentally bifurcated, part of him attuned with the Force and moving his lightsaber, the other part is detached, watching his hands and saber move while scanning the room with his eyes. He also feels his Force awareness focus on the blaster shots, which is why he uses his eyes to scan the room. That’s how he sees the shadow.
: Luke has trouble believing his eyes, since from the description what he sees is a moving shadow, nothing else: “There was no texture or detail to the shadow; nothing but a slightly fluid shape and nearly absolute blackness.” Erm. I’ve got nothing either; I’m having trouble visualizing it myself, a bit. Luke calls out to Lando, who’s all “nope, I’ve never seen its like, retreat now, Y/Y?” Luke shifts a portion of his concentration towards the shadow and identifies it as one of the two alien minds he’d sensed earlier, probably working for Ferrier, and changes tactics. Telling Lando to keep close behind, he heads towards the shadow.
This seems to surprise the alien, and while he’s hesitating, Luke’s got close enough that one group of people shooting at him have to stop or risk hitting their ally. He changes his angle slightly so that the alien also blocks the second group’s line of sight, so they stop firing altogether. Lando is impressed by this geometrical tactical thinking, but doesn’t waste much time with praises. Instead he calls to Ferrier, identifying himself, and advising Ferrier had better call his “pal” off if he’d like the “pal” to stay in one piece: “This is Luke Skywalker, Jedi Knight.” (One has to assume that the lightsaber would have been a giveaway, as it was for Karrde, but well, almost by definition not everyone is as well-informed as Karrde is.) Lando continues “…The guy who took down Darth Vader.”
Please stand-by for the synchronized wincing… three… two… one… <wince>
: Once again, the debate of how recognizable Luke is. As a general rule I think a green-bladed lightsaber, especially at this point in the timeline, should be a universal (ahem) identifier, so I imagine Lando isn’t really saying anything that Ferrier and crew don’t know, it’s just the thinking through the implications…
: Luke (slightly disconcertingly and slightly hilariously) is trying to justify Lando’s statement to himself (“well I didn’t kill Vader but I did defeat him in our last duel uh let’s forget about that whole giving in to anger bit”), but no matter, as he also senses that the people ahead have got the idea of Trouble with a capital T coming to knock. They apparently decide to talk and ask for Lando’s name again. Lando repeats it and mentions a Noodle Incident for good measure, which their correspondent apparently does remember.
: Ah, the Noodle Incident Game. As I’ve said before, that’s better than actually explaining anything, from the lived-in-universe perspective.
: Lando wants to offer a deal. The guy, still smoking the cigarra, steps out from behind cover. Lando goes “oh come on, tell everyone to come out, it’s not like Luke doesn’t know exactly how many there are where.” Point. Everyone steps out. The other alien present is an insectoid alien that Lando identifies as a Verpine, which name Luke recognizes; they are apparently very good at fixing high-tech devices, and are even rumored to have helped Ackbar design the B-Wing.
: At a couple of points, Lando gets to play the average human role, and show off some average-human prejudices. In this case, it’s his use of “tame” to describe the Verpine. Just worth noting that the Verpine is, after all, a fully sentient individual…
: Lando interprets the Verpine’s presence in Ferrier’s crew as “well, someone needs to help you palm the ships and then fix them enough so that you can fly them away, right?” Ferrier is not interested in chitchat and asks, what about this deal of yours, then?
Lando isn’t about to start negotiating with someone who might have been in on the Imperial attack from the beginning–“if you’re working for the Empire, we can’t deal.” It’s not like you can have much of a poker face while talking to a Jedi without a ysalamiri around, but one of Ferrier’s men fails at it utterly anyway, grasping his blaster tightly and taking a deep breath and everything. Ferrier, possibly rolling his eyes, lets Lando know that the Empire has put out a call for “warships in particular,” with a sizeable bonus on their cash value. So yeah, he was here to steal ships to sell to the Empire, but he wasn’t working with the Empire, if you get his drift.
: Thus suggesting who the “groups” were last chapter: people like Ferrier, more fringer dealings.
: Lando wonders if the Empire lost a shipyard of their own or something; Ferrier wasn’t about to ask, the customer gets what the customer wants, now about that deal of yours?
Lando points out that Ferrier’s as good as apprehended red-handed trying to steal New Republic ships. The “You and what army?” “Um, no army, one Jedi” conversation happens, with Lando conceding that himself might not survive the fight, but it’d be bad for a businessman such as Ferrier anyway.
: Strictly speaking, Lando preempts the what-army point, just saying “Luke can contain you” and jumping ahead…nice economy.
: So here’s the deal: Ferrier heads out now and Lando won’t alert the authorities. Ferrier can’t believe that Lando doesn’t want anything else–a bribe or a cut or something–but Lando’s all gone respectable now. And I don’t mean that sarcastically. He just wants Ferrier away from the New Republic ships.
Ferrier says that taking this deal would cost them a lot of money. Dude’s got… uh, I think Will has more of a right to use the word I’m thinking about.
: In the words of George Carlin, “Sometimes I sit for hours weighing the fine distinctions among the words spunk, pluck, nerve, chutzpah, gall and moxie.” In this case, “chutzpah” is the one Z was thinking of.
: Got it in one.
: Speaking of which, l’shana tova and may you have a good and sweet year, as Rosh Hashanah starts this week.
: Lando actually apologizes for that, which, heh, but the New Republic really can’t afford to lose any more ships of their own–but hey, you know that Amorris system? I’ve heard that there is a pirate gang there you may raid instead.
: Whoa, nice seed there. Ten years story-time from now, the Cavrilhu pirate gang is going to be important. Tuckerization, Zahn picking up more of his own pieces, both? Can’t be a coincidence…
: That was something that J.K. Rowling was undoubtedly good at, by the way–throw around random bits of worldbuilding, then pick them up five books later when she needed something else. It really helps with the big-universe-with-history sense.
Lando suggests Ferrier and co. could infiltrate the pirate gang posing as mechanics and, glancing at the shadow, “extra muscle.” Ferrier, sounding like a proud owner of a pedigree dog, asks if they like “his Wraith.” Apparently, the species call themselves Defel, but Ferrier likes “wraith.” “Their bodies absorb all visible light–some sort of evolved survival mechanism.”
<head tilt to one side>
<head tilt to the other side>
<calculate calculate physics calculate>
…OK I’ll buy it, sure. Not an evolutionary biologist.
: And Ferrier gets in on the human-superiority prejudice game.
The evolution explanation is like the vornskr/ysalamiri thing; it’s just plausible enough in a big enough galaxy, let’s not go poking at it.
: Ferrier then wants to know what Luke, “enforcer of law and justice that you are,” thinks about this deal which would let them go free, which, dude, you’ve really got serious insert-word-here.
: It’s all in the throat. You have to start the word like you’re about to spit phlegm.
: Luke amuses me a lot by asking if they have broken any other laws in the Sluis Van jurisdiction. Ferrier amuses me even more by pointing out that they were just now shooting at “a couple of bizits who were poking their noses in where they shouldn’t have.” Luke wins the amusement contest by saying that that doesn’t count, since Ferrier’s crew couldn’t hit them.
: Huh. I just read that as “Since you didn’t actually hit them, I won’t worry about it,” as distinct from a slam at their competence, but OK.
: Lando says that that’s really all they are asking for, for Ferrier to go away, in return for not turning them in–oh, one last thing, he wants Ferrier’s slicer access codes.
Yet again, heh.
Ferrier directs the Verpine to surrender two data cards to Lando, who then says Ferrier can have an hour’s head start, bye, let’s not see you later. Ferrier, a little bit ungratefully in my opinion, says “So good to see you, Calrissian. Maybe next time I can do you a favor,” and they head out.
: Exit recurring, dangling, useful plot thread, stage left.
: Luke asks if telling Ferrier about the Amorris system pirates was a good idea, since that’ll probably net the Empire a couple of patrol ships; Lando points out the obvious with “would you rather they got a Calamarian Star Cruiser instead?”
: A nice reference to how skilled Ferrier could be. Shipjacking a massive capital warship is no mean feat.
: Yes, and a nice showing-not-telling. But Lando’s mind is elsewhere: Why are the Empire looking to pay for ships instead of making them anyway? Luke highlights the nature of the hint about the Mount Tantiss project by theorizing that maybe they lost a Star Destroyer but managed to get all the crew out so they need ships for that number of people faster than they can make them? Lando can’t see what kind of accident would do that, but anyway, he’d rather send word back to Coruscant and let Intelligence worry about it. Luke is worried in his turn that Intelligence may also be too busy playing politics.
Fey’lya, if I ever get my hands on your little furry head…
: Playing politics or being played, either of which can mess with your ability to do your job. We’ve all seen what happens when Intelligence apparati are told what results to come up with instead of to look at the raw data, in fiction and reality.
: Luke asks if they’ll really give Ferrier an hour, then turn the slicer codes over to the Sluis Van authorities. If Lando had lived in another galaxy in another time, and read certain books, his response would probably have been “oh, my sweet summer child,” or “you know nothing, Luke Snow.” The hour yes, the slicer codes, well, Ferrier used those to mess with work orders to clear the coast, and didn’t Luke have a ship that needed to be bumped to the head of the repair queue or something? Luke has Jedi-qualms about the marginal legality of that, but wisely doesn’t say anything, so Lando doesn’t have to add sprained eyeroll muscles to his other injuries. Lando is also audibly (and Jedi-sensibly) relieved that Luke doesn’t bring the issue up. Of course they’ll turn them over to the Sluissi, after Luke’s repairs are underway.
: Thus does urgency make rule-benders of us all.
: And scene.
This is a compact chapter, staying entirely in the Luke PoV, and recapping things from the New Republic side: The Sluis Van shipyards have very recently been attacked with some sort of attack that used Lando’s mole miners; there’s political trouble back at home and the military personnel seem to be taking sides, which is worrying; and they didn’t know that the Empire was out to buy warships instead of continuing to make them, but they know now. We aren’t fully up to date on all our protagonists yet, but that’s coming shortly enough. Will?
: The pairing of Luke and Lando is an interesting one; in many ways Lando is even more of a contrast to Luke than Han is. Han, after all, has all the hallmarks (and, eventually, backstory elements) of a fallen idealist, so his contrast to Luke is rediscovering his idealism. Lando isn’t really an idealist, he’s a loyal pragmatist. He won’t deal with the Empire, because that’s a bridge too far, but anything up to that, he’s just a businessman, a wheeler-dealer with an adrenaline habit to boot. And his prejudices (a bit of human-superiority, and he will later be shown to have a deep dislike of clones) are the sort of thing that Luke, Leia, and Han should generally be above, but that are believable, and remind the reader that not everybody who fought for the Rebellion was a paragon.
Beyond that, setting up Luke’s perspective with his interesting bunch of characters, giving us more of a look at how the Force works through Luke from a less mystical, more practical angle, and showing us, instead of just telling us, how much Luke is itching to go help where he’s needed, nicely done and quick to boot.
Once again, l’shana tova, and we’ll see you next week. Until then, may the Force be with you.