Dark Force Rising, Chapter 3

will: Welcome to chapter 3 of Dark Force Rising, and shana tova again to all who observe. This week on Force Visions, Han Solo and Borsk Fey’lya-style politics, two great tastes–well, two tastes, anyway–that go awfully together. Apples and honey this ain’t, folks.

Normally, Z would say something here to provide counter-snark, but she’s off to the seaside with her family in the Mediterranean, so we’ll just seethe in jealousy and move on. She did provide commentary below the jump, after all.

*seethe*

will: Han is in a bad mood. He’s finally made it back to Coruscant, but even that isn’t helping, given the reason for his rush and the clouds overhead. Oh, and Threepio. Han grouses that he’d tried, he really had, for Leia’s sake if nothing else, and Threepio wasn’t all bad, but it was just the two of them for six days in hyperspace. First day they’d tried talking, second day Han had been letting Threepio talk while he worked…

By the afternoon of the third day, he’d banned the droid from his presence entirely.
Leia wouldn’t like it when she found out. But she’d have liked it even less if he’d given in to his original temptation and converted the droid into a set of backup alluvial dampers.

Always hurt the bird, huh?

z: Yeah, and, well, it’s just funny.

Han has a revealing thought about why Threepio sounds sulky, though–“the droid must still be nursing a wounded ego.  Or whatever it was that passed for ego in droids.”  Luke doesn’t have that kind of a distinction in his thinking about Artoo.  Hmmm.

will: Anyway, Han lands, and Leia’s there. Han hugs her, especially conscious of her pregnancy–

–you know, maybe it’s Z’s mention of the Vorkosigan saga last week, but I’m suddenly reminded that there are fully-functional cloning systems in this universe, which presumably include fetal-support systems, and yet people carry their pregnancies to term. How different would this trilogy have been, in so many ways, if Jacen and Jaina were in uterine replicators a la Miles? (Well, depending on the design, perhaps the Noghri would have just stolen them from the Imperial Palace. But you know what I mean.)

z: Huh.  I had not ever thought about that.

…aaand given things that I must be imagining because they never happened in the prequels because that would be just stupid if they had, I think I’m not going to think about it any more, either.

(Hey, Mr. Mouse, we’ve got your “legends” right here.)

will: Anyway. Han hugs her and thanks Chewie for looking after her, and gets a weird noncommital answer–I can’t tell if he’s embarrassed at his failures, or kind of pissed at Leia for what she’s been agreeing to, or both. Probably both.

z: I read it as something akin to innocent whistling, too.

will: They head inside and Leia gives an update: Ackbar’s under arrest, but Fey’lya isn’t pushing further. He’s now interim-directing some internal security (and acting like an interim director, not the New Bothan in Charge) and suggesting he could become Supreme Commander of the military–but he isn’t asking for it outright. Han and Leia agree that even Fey’lya knows better than to push too hard too fast, which gives them some time to react.

z: I read the words “internal security” and started twitching.

will: The details of the arrest are pretty straightforward: there was a hack “sophisticated electronic break-in” at the Coruscant Central Bank just before the Battle of Sluis Van, and Ackbar’s account was checked for problems, which is how they discovered a transfer from the Bank of Switzerland the Cayman Islands Palanhi.

z: Definitely Switzerland.  “Little crossroads planet with an overblown idea of their own importance,” “and the firm belief that if they can stay neutral enough they can play both sides of the war to their own profit.”

will: In fact, “arrested for treason” is a bit strong under the circumstances (as dramatic as it was), it’s more like “relieved of duty and placed under guard pending investigation.” Fey’lya was the first person to explicitly suggest a link between Ackbar getting a large untraceable amount of money and a near-disaster for the New Republic (which would have been successful but for a fluke), but he certainly wasn’t the only one thinking it.

Han spends a few moments trying to remember the Rebel Alliance’s rules on military prisoners, which he’d had to learn “back when he’d first let them slap an officer’s rank on him after the Battle of Yavin.”

Which is almost hilarious when you remember that the Rebel Alliance started out as an underground resistance movement and their response to suspicion of this sort of thing likely would have been a blaster bolt (it’s not like they had space for prisons anyway). Back to The Revolution Will Not Be Vilified territory, here.

z: Given the personalities involved from the beginning–Mon Mothma and Leia not the least–I wouldn’t be surprised that they did try to create formal rules.  How much of it would have stuck is of course another question.

will: Plus, wait, what? Han had an officer’s rank as of Yavin? I figured he was “Captain” by virtue of owning and captaining the Millennium Falcon and didn’t have a Rebel Alliance rank until he was “General Solo” for the Endor insertion. Probably a bit more “what we understood to be the case in 1992 isn’t what it later turned out to always have been” to go along with the tropes.

z: I could never keep track of any of that either.  I know that Luke was a “Commander” at Hoth, because I remember the novelization, but it’s not like I could figure out the rank structure, so I don’t know…

will: And finally, it’s been five years, wouldn’t the New Republic have come up with something better than the Rebel Alliance’s cobbled-together system…

z: <raises a finger, reaches for the keyboard with the other hand>

will: *remembers his Con Law class and some of the things that happened in the first few years post-American Revolution*

z: <lowers finger>

will: *remembers discussions of any modern country that tries to implement a legal system overhaul*

z: <draws hand back from keyboard>

will: Withdrawn, your honor.

z: Oh, good.

will: At any rate, if Han remembers correctly, he figures he should be able to get in to see Ackbar with a minimum of paperwork “datawork.”

Next question: who does Fey’lya have in his pocket? Leia says only a couple guaranteed, but the leaners, you’ll see in a minute.

That’s when Han realizes they aren’t going to their apartment or anything: they’re going to the Council itself, because Han is the first witness to the Battle of Sluis Van they have access to. (One imagines that he left Sluis Van for Coruscant as soon as Artoo was off the Falcon.)

What fresh hell is this, I think; the guy just arrived from a six-day trip and now he has to report to the government. And it’s a surprise.

z: It makes sense, and yes, it is hellish.  Also making him speak to the Council immediately, instead of, I don’t know, a formal debriefing with intelligence or military people–that feels quite a bit like “Look we’re on it we’re doing something look we’re on top of it” to me.

Which is to say, exactly what I would expect them to do.

will: They’re in the Grand Corridor as they speak, the space between the “Council chamber” (read: inner, central people and main business) and the “Assemblage auditorium” (which will probably get a rename to “Senate Chamber” soon). Han scowls at the ornate ceiling, carvings and windows, the greenish-purple trees…he hates this space, and the fact that the Emperor reportedly designed it himself doesn’t help.

Trees, huh? Interesting color.

z: Is it bad that I’ve always been able to visualize those trees from the first?

will: Anyway. Leia tells him to buck up, soldier, and Chewie, please wait outside, and in they go.

z: Han isn’t the only one who should buck up.  *braces herself*

will: A brief digression, here: Zahn mentioned last book that he kept the details of the New Republic’s governmental structure vague, because right now it seems to be running on “everyone agrees these people are in charge.” Eventually it’ll get codified better, and my mental comparison (as I think I said before) is the pre-Civil War United States, the EU, or maybe the UN with more teeth: every member entity has a lot of local control and a local government (and even perhaps a local military force), and internationally (for values of “nation” equivalent, generally, to “planet or star system”), each member sends representatives to the federal government who handles wider issues (and fights wars with other similar polities), and there you go.

Given the names, I’m willing to bet the UN was Zahn’s model, with the Inner Council taking the place of the Security Council and the Assemblage Commons being the General Assembly.

Not sure what being a Councillor means at the moment, though. For example, Ackbar is a Councillor by virtue of being Supreme Commander, one assumes. Well, whatever; it’ll eventually get sorted out somewhat better, and Zahn keeps things vague enough to be safe.

Anyway, the Council chamber (as distinct from the Inner Council room, which is distinct from the Assemblage Commons; I have to say how glad I am that these names get changed) has been rearranged; instead of a scaled-up conference table that the UN Security Council comparison imagines and that Han was expecting, it’s more like a scaled-down Assemblage. Each Councillor has a little area with aides and assistants, not unlike the boxes we will later remember (erm, something like that) from The Phantom Menace, with Mon Mothma as the central figure. Han sets up at the witness’s position next to Mon Mothma, while Leia explains that Fey’lya would have probably arranged the change to, 1: emphasize that Mon Mothma is In Charge and Fey’lya isn’t interested in that (not that he isn’t, he just isn’t about to jump for it right now); 2: isolate Councillors and therefore keep them from uniting against him.

z: Since Han said it best, I’m not going to try to top that: “Slippery little fuzzball, isn’t he?”

will: At any rate, Han sits down and starts to give, if not testimony (there’s no swearing in or anything), a report. Han notices that the seating arrangement keeps Ackbar’s seat from being empty, then jumps in. They arrived just ahead of the Star Destroyers, they got a report from “Wedge–that’s Wing Commander Wedge Antilles of Rogue Squadron,” another statement that probably would be irrelevant at this point in the timeline–you know, after the Rogues have captured Coruscant and broken the Bacta Cartel almost singlehandedly.

Fey’lya “smoothly” interrupts to ask who “we” is, and Han snarks off at him.

z: Suddenly I’m thinking of the word “catharsis,” can’t imagine why.

will: Han continues, there were TIEs and mole miners, so they stopped them. Fey’lya puts the credit on him for stopping the theft, and Han gets defensive, expecting to be attacked for wrecking so many capital warships.

But to Han’s surprise, Fey’lya compliments him and says that he did incredible work given the lack of resources, the surprise factor, and that he had one modified freighter and that’s it. As Han wonders why he isn’t being attacked more, Fey’lya points out that the fact that the Empire almost got away with this is a problem, all right, and suggests either misjudgment on the part of the military command…or treason.

Fey’lya hadn’t changed his stripes; he’d simply decided not to waste a golden opportunity like this on a nobody like Han.

Calling Han Solo a “nobody” has to be some sort of in-joke about character perspectives, but from Fey’lya’s angle, it makes sense: Han has no position of power to be usurped. Technically, and from Fey’lya’s Bothan perspective and definition of power, he’s just a ship captain who happens to be married to a senior Councillor (and who happens to have been a General who fought at Yavin, Hoth, and Endor and happens to be the best person to undertake certain deals like convincing smugglers to join up…).

z: Yeah yeah yeah wake Fey’lya up when Han’s in charge of the intelligence infrastructure or something similar.

will: Exactly.

Han tries to argue that it wasn’t Ackbar’s fault (semi-true: it wasn’t, but he is the Supreme Commander of the military, so it’s his responsibility), but Fey’lya cuts him off pointing out that Ackbar was using stripped-down capital ships as cargo haulers; Han comes back with the Empire having “a tap into our communications,” which Fey’lya (again not wrongly) points out is Ackbar’s department.

Finally Han’s had it.

Well, then, you find the leak. And while you’re at it, I’d like to see how well you would do up against an Imperial Grand Admiral.

That shuts the room up.

(Incidentally, just as Fey’lya wasn’t wrong in what he said, just annoying in the effect, Han was wrong, even if morally vindicated. You don’t have to be a military commander to have the authority to say “you’re failing as a military commander,” and Han’s “let’s see you do better” is almost never a proper response in an argument. That’s what makes Fey’lya so hateable as a character.)

z: You’ve said it, brother.

will: Mon Mothma asks Han to please say that again, and Han curses (he’d been hoping to check the archives himself first), but repeats himself: he’s seen it, the Empire is being led by a Grand Admiral.

Mon Mothma tries to say they accounted for all the Grand Admirals, but Han insists. He saw the white uniform, Han’s contact said he was a Grand Admiral. He was non-human, which Mon Mothma reminds us is against the Empire’s prejudices, so Fey’lya suggests it was a self-granted promotion (we’ll see that with Zsinj, not to mention the Lusaknya‘s captain at the end of the Bacta War, who goes from Captain to Grand Admiral to smoking corpse in the space of about three seconds). At any rate, Mon Mothma puts Council Research on the matter, to see if they might have missed one, and asks Leia to begin a more thorough questioning.

Scene.

Next thing we see, Han and Leia have gotten in to talk to Ackbar. He seems taken aback by the news of a Grand Admiral, but says it explains a lot. Leia tries to be the voice of skepticism, but even she admits to herself that she knows better. Ackbar explains that all there was in the Imperial records about Grand Admirals was a list of names and “a little about their assignments” (which themselves might have been false, thus explaining why “Thrawn: dispatched to Unknown Regions” might not have raised eyebrows, or species equivalents, and also calling into question just why they thought they’d accounted for them all; was it just that five years had gone by without a peep?). Leia points out that this isn’t a shock; the idea of the Grand Admirals was for the Emperor be even more personally in charge of everything, so until they were established, they’d be a secret.

How they know even this much is left as an exercise for the reader. (It’s also, once again, a bit contrary to later-established future history, but whatever.)

You know, it’s interesting–in a weird way–the sort of things that one sees here, which wouldn’t have even existed when the novel was new. I don’t mean to harp, it’s just fascinating.

z: No, please keep on harping.  It is fascinating, and actually part of the point of this whole exercise for me.

will: Anyway. With history out, they have to look to current events. Leia asks Han about his contact, but Han is playing that close to the chest, both because he wants some leverage, and because it doesn’t matter. Han has the only lead (the impounded ship), he’ll follow up.

z: Zahn reminds us of other aspects to the story when Leia tries to read the sense behind her husband’s poker sabacc face with the Force and fails, lamenting to herself that she doesn’t have enough time to practice.

will: Ackbar then asks about “Councillor Organa Solo’s brother,” which is a weird way to say “Jedi Skywalker,” but whatever; Han says Luke should be here soon, and also, the Lady Luck needs to get to Sluis Van. Ackbar says they’ll need to get testimony from Luke, Lando, and Wedge, especially on the issue of how the TIEs and mole miners got into the shipyards. Leia explains that the freighter was registering empty, and Ackbar, no fool, figures it out: that means a cloak.

z: And if Leia hadn’t been in my list of role models already, she would have gotten on there by not going the “I don’t want this to be true, therefore it isn’t true” kind of denial route that many other people/characters would have taken by now.

will: Leia thinks that this must be a test, or they’d have just sent in a cloaked fleet, but Ackbar explains the double-blind cloak limitation, explaining that he’d heard about the Empire’s efforts to develop a working cloak, and had been thinking a lot about what it could mean.

But what counts is clearing Ackbar, because Fey’lya really isn’t up to this. The guard droid comes in to say time’s up, and Han and Leia leave. Ackbar says goodbye to Leia, and then has to steel himself to thank Han, which Han notes once they’re out of the room. They debate Ackbar’s feelings on Han and Lando, viz-a-viz their resigning their commissions (I’m not 100% clear on what “persecution complexes” Leia is thinking about; the Calamari feelings on smugglers, perhaps?). Leia points out that Ackbar might have a weird sort of guilt that he’s still fighting, given the Calamari weren’t warlike before the Empire showed up.

z: I read that as something much simpler; Leia thinks Han might have a persecution complex about Ackbar treating him and Lando coldly–but it’s a reflexive thought and even she doesn’t believe it.

will: The brief digression about wishing there was another way and Leia’s joining the Rebellion is a nice sentiment–and I think it is a bit of foreshadowing/setup for Han’s story here, given the mentions of Bail Organa and Mon Mothma.

Anyway, Han then asks why Leia is back from Kashyyyyk. Leia decides that in public is not the time to bring up the Noghri, so she simply says there was another attack–“What?” “Don’t worry, we fought it off”–and she’s made arrangements that should keep her safe, and let’s talk somewhere private, huh?

Han admits that last point, and limits himself to “I hope you know what you’re doing,” which has to be ironic from Han to Leia, and Leia, frightened, says she does, too.

And that’s that.

This is Chapter 3, so it’s the rest of the major perspectives, just as in Heir. We had Mara and Thrawn already, and we had Luke, now we have Han and Leia. And we get the political situation on Coruscant that will inform Han’s plotline in this book–surprisingly, perhaps, as it seems like Leia’s bailiwick, but that’s the joy of subverted expectations–along with some tantalizing hints at the future (like the trees and the Imperial communications tap, to name, ahem, two). As much as I harped this chapter on the differences between what this book sets up and what we will eventually know to be true (and just wait until Chapter 4, where Luke looks in the archives), looked at through the lens of what existed at the time, it’s a lot of well-done worldbuilding and educated guessing, and enough shadows and holes to make the universe feel lived-in. As I’ve said before, I’d rather have this than some of the squaring-off we got later.

Z?

z: Nothing much else to add on my part, actually.  Being uncertain of history coming out of a major civil war which itself followed a major coup is much more realistic that everyone knowing everything perfectly; it’s a big galaxy, records get scattered, and neither the Old Council library nor the Jedi order are around any more, after all.  So I like that better than the alternative, too.

Next week we’ll be diving into Chapter 4, and start reading an encyclopedia. Yay? Until then, may the Force be with you.

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One thought on “Dark Force Rising, Chapter 3

  1. As a side note, one has to love the term “alluvial dampers”.

    For quite a while I thought that was just another example of bad technobabble, ’cause what do rich, fertile soil deposits possibly have to do with, y’know, spaceship parts. Enh, said I, and also meh.

    Then it occurred to me that the word “alluvial” is actually derived from the Latin for “to wash against”, because it’s talking about the results of sediment deposited by rivers and streams.

    And then I realized: he’s talking about sci-fi windshield wipers.

    Well played, Mr. Zahn, well played.

    Like

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