Dark Force Rising, Chapter 7

will: Welcome, welcome, one and all, to another chapter of Dark Force Rising, where Leia gets melancholy, Luke gets responsibility, and Han gets outsmarted. Poor guy.

But before we dive into this, complete with some epic digressing on my part, in the words of the marvelous Ursula Vernon on her hilarious podcast Kevin and Ursula Eat Cheap, “How are you, Internet?” I’m pretty busy, myself, work and life moving very fast as it’s wont to do once October arrives, but fret not, I’ll do everything in my power to carve out the time for these weekly analyses.

z: So back when my sister was three, four, we had this thing where I’d tickle her a lot, then stop tickling and move away, and just had to wiggle my fingers at her for her to go off in peals of laughter again.

I’m bringing this up, because now I’m wondering if the somewhat obscure pun in Will’s last sentence there was intentional, or the only reason I’ve even registered it as a pun is because Will has hyper-sensitized me, and now has me reacting even when there’s no contact, so to speak.

send help

will: I ain’t telling.

But for now, let’s jump back into the Galaxy Far, Far Away, as we arrive at one of the most important, and yet not busy, places in explored space…

will: Chewie “delicately” settles the Millennium Falcon into a parking orbit over the Sanctuary Moon of Endor, the main engines go into standby, and Leia realizes she’s basically in a horror flick: nobody’s in-system. Which is odd; you’d think the New Republic would have set up some sort of listening post or Ewok monitoring station or something. I mean, practically speaking, a star system is huge. But Lucas set up the universe to run on Planetville (you know where that link leads, be warned), so there you are.

z: Oh, I don’t know, I wouldn’t want to blame them if they slapped a “Ewok Land, Stay Away” sign on star system maps and then, well, stayed away.  I mean, if the planet doesn’t have any serious natural resources, why bother?  It’s not like there are… uh… tons of capital-ship raw material nevermind whatever’s left of the Death Star superstructure… er… floating around to be reclaimed or anything….

…right?

will: Oh, and by the way, since I know I have friends who will bring this up if I don’t forestall it? We are not rehashing the “Endor Holocaust” controversy.

Except…now that I said that I need to at least mention it, don’t I? After all we’re here to talk about the history of the Star Wars Expanded Universe and this, and that goddamned Star Wars Technical Commentaries is undoubtedly part of that…

z: <glare>
<cross arms>
<glare some more>

will: OK, here goes. We all know that the Star Wars universe is future fantasy, where the science and technology serve the world, as opposed to a hard-SF universe where the world grows out of the science and technology, right? (There’s a fantastic video by the guys at Extra Credits about technobabble and how it relates to this.) Well, not everybody apparently got that memo. And I don’t just mean prequel-era Lucas, whom you’ll have gotten an earful about if you watched that video.

During the height of the Expanded Universe–we’re talking late ‘90s, around the Special Editions, between the Thrawn Trilogy’s relaunch of the universe and then Lucas coming back and creating the prequels–there was a subset of fans that tried to figure out how the technology worked, from a harder science perspective. And one of the more frustrating missed-the-point diversions they went down (besides a really annoying habit of using nomenclature that they said was “just as accurate” by a reading of sources but failed the “people understanding what the hell you’re talking about” test, like “Imperator-class” for an Imperial Star Destroyer) was deciding that the destruction of the Second Death Star would have wrought major havoc on Endor. Debris, radiation, the works. A lot of this was detailed at a web site called the “Star Wars Technical Commentaries,” hosted on theforce.net (TF.N having been one of the central clearinghouses of the World Wide Web for Star Wars, back when the World Wide Web had central clearinghouses). It’s still there, in fact; last updated 2006.

A lot of people jumped on that bandwagon because they hated the Ewoks and liked the thought that they’d have been hit with an Extinction-Level Event–which, I’ll be fair, the original SWTC people didn’t have that motivation, they were just lost in a technological navel-gaze–and it became a strain of Star Wars fandom for about a decade in there. Supporters had a habit of reading between the lines for references to the “Endor Holocaust,” and I’ll forgive the word choice as poor phrasing without malice, and then as Star Wars fandom became more of a thing, later authors would occasionally throw references to it into the story as things like “the Imperial propaganda that blamed the Rebels for an entirely made-up razing of the surface of Endor.” And I know I have friends who were, and probably still are, SWTC loyalists.

z: <still glaring, just mutters “as the EU grew, the authors became more and more cognizant of fan discussions and major points of contention and sometimes obliquely took sides,” and shuts her mouth again>

will: The point is, to me the SWTC and everything that came out of it tripped on two things right out of the gate. One was comprehensible–a lack of understanding what they’re looking at, that they decided to impose hard-SF rules on a “fantasy story in space” universe. The other was deciding they were right, everybody else was wrong, and they were going to be petty dicks about it, which they did in spades. That second one was really the problem…

Back on topic, he said, grabbing the metaphorical wheel and pulling hard left. Leia and Chewie are early, Chewie is basically paranoid with cause. Threepio gets him to come down and look at “the fault in the Carbanti countermeasures package” (Tuckerization spike detected!) With some commentary on how Threepio is actually getting better as a repair droid, though Chewie’s pride disagrees, Chewie heads out, and Leia watches Endor below. She looks down on the planet, and addresses her unborn children merrily kicking away:

“That’s Endor. Where the Rebel Alliance finally triumphed over the Empire, and the New Republic began.”

Not counting the five years of “mopping-up action” that could last another twenty, anyway, she muses tiredly, and still wonders why she’d picked Endor. True, everybody knows where it is, and yet it’s also quiet, but it was definitely a Force push, she doesn’t actually say.

Chewie asks her to look at something, and she checks the main pilot’s board–

“And abruptly, without any warning, a black curtain seemed to drop across her vision…”

A few minutes later she wakes up, having screamed for help and basically had something like a seizure in the interim. She had felt menace, despair, rage, hatred…and then has Chewie confirm that she felt it when she passed through the position that the second Death Star had when it blew up.

I’m not touching the whole “what do you mean, the position, it was in orbit and planets move.” It was the same geosynchronous orbital location, and that’s good enough for me. And for the Force, it seems.

z: TheForceIsGeneratedByLivingThings SoTheForceFieldTakesItsShapefromConcentrationsofLifeNearby SoSameGeosynchronousOrbitalLocationIsFine moving on now.

will: Leia compares it to what Luke told her about his time in the Dark Side cave/tree on Dagobah, and she’s sure what it is, and she’s OK now, please leave her alone. Chewie and Threepio reluctantly leave, and Leia announces she will not be intimidated by a dead man, but at the same time, she adjusts the Falcon‘s orbit. No point being stupid.

Speaking of being stupid! OK, not fair.

Lando and Han are landing the Lady Luck in Ilic, a domed city (one of a half dozen or more) on New Cov, through a vent. New Cov is a booming world thanks to its plant life and “the exotic biomolecules that could be harvested from them,” which apparently makes up for the plant life being very dangerous to humans, hence the dome.

Han itches to backseat fly, but Lando is actually a decent pilot (this gets more amusing in light of the fact, as revealed in Crispin’s Han Solo Trilogy, that Han taught Lando how to fly) and lands just fine. They get “officially welcomed to Ilic by a professional greeter with a professional smile” and sent on their way, confirm they’re meeting Luke in one of the more well known tap-cafes in the city, and Lando asks for the hook. As in, what’s Han going to use to convince Lando to go with him and help out more than just dropping him off like this.

By the way, I just got the term “tap-cafe.” I was too young to drink beer when I first read this, which is my excuse for not realizing that it was another way of saying “taproom,” read: “bar.” More examples in the vein of “hit-and-fade.”

Lando won’t even listen to Han’s protests, so Han doesn’t drag it out: “You might be able to work a deal here to unload any spare metals you had lying around. Like, oh, a stockpile of hfredium or something.”

Lando’s going to strangle Luke, he hisses–remember, Lando was grousing to Luke about the price dropping? But Han (unconvincingly) calls this a brief diversion: Lando helps out, he gets something out of it, he gets to go back to his life. Lando finally just surrenders, as was always thus.

I know a lot of people give Lando a lot of grief for Bespin, and I’m not saying he doesn’t deserve it, but Lando and Han are a very well done pair of old friends. Just saying.

z: Besides, given that Luke of all people is fine with Lando now, I don’t think any of us have cause to grumble.  And for that matter, even when I was ten I never blamed Lando.  He was doing the best he could, let’s see how well the complainers do with Darth Vader looming over them in person.

will: Han starts to explain, again, why he thinks Fey’lya has a connection here when proof wanders through the room: one of Fey’lya’s top aides is walking a level down from him. Tav Breil’lya, which actually suggests he’s some sort of family member of Fey’lya‘s. That’s a trick Zahn would later use with Chiss names, not that all the other authors would figure that out…”Shawnkyr Nuruodo” may be the most perfect example of authors mining what came before them without actually bothering to understand it. (A trend that I hear may be continuing, depending on how much slack I want to cut Chuck Wendig, but I admit that amount is, for the moment, high, and definitely outside the scope of this blog.)

Where’s that metaphorical wheel again…

z: Wait, wait, I want to get in on the digression this time too.

I like Chuck Wendig.  I like him a lot.  I read his self-published novel Blackbirds a few years ago because he was nominated for a Campbell.  I enjoy his style, I enjoy his sharpness, I sometimes read his blog and like his opinions.

So I felt mildly bad when I realized that I didn’t intend to read the book which might quite conceivably make him “NYT best-selling author Chuck Wendig.”  I may change my mind about that later, but…

Aaaanyhow.  Will, the wheel’s here.

will: Han calls an audible, telling Lando to go meet Luke, and he, Han, will tail Breil’lya, and call back. Don’t call him, he’ll call us, he wouldn’t want the noise. This being before the days of vibration mode cellphones, again.

At any rate, Han follows Breil’lya, who looks completely clueless, and heads into a warehouse district. Han notes the name, gets the location, reaches for his comlink to call Lando and tell him to check the map—and the trap closes. A woman, maybe ten years Han’s senior, has him dead to rights. Han turns on his comlink as he puts it down, hoping she won’t notice. She does, calling that “the oldest trick on the list” again, and herds Han inside.

z: Han, ever the gentleman, and trying to keep a little dignity, apologizes for the staleness of the trick: “I didn’t have time to come up with any new ones.”

Heh.

will: Luke’s turn here. Remember how Han was at the cantina in Mos Eisley back in Heir and felt it was all the same as oh so many years ago? This time, Luke feels the big difference is himself. People are giving him lots of room at the bar…

Luke sips his peppermint mocha “local variant of hot chocolate, with mint” as he looks around, hoping Han and Lando will arrive soon…and a fight breaks out. Luke spins, saber in hand but inactive. A Barabel and a Rodian have their blasters drawn. The inevitable “No blasters! No blasters!” from a servant droid ends with a destroyed droid, the bartender yells at the Barabel for doing it, the Barabel blames the Rodian, saying the Rodian will pay the bartender after he pays whatever he allegedly owes the Barabel himself.  Everybody’s tense, and then the Barabel makes a pronouncement.

“I call on Jedi for judgment.”

The music would already have been stopped when the fight broke out, but I want a record needle scratch or something here. Everybody swivels to look at Luke, and the bartender confirms that you, with the lightsaber, you’re the Jedi, right? Well?

z: Luke also notes that the bartender is immediately relieved once the idea is floated.

will: Luke’s about to say “I’m sorry, I don’t have any authority to settle disputes,” when he sees it in the bartender’s eyes, and everybody else’s too: they want him to decide this. He doesn’t need legal authority, if everybody is agreeing that he gets to judge this.

z:  Will, give me a hand here, the cover of this entire huge box of worms just sprang open—

will: If Luke was worried about the idea of teaching his niece and nephew, because he hadn’t really been taught in a way that emphasized those skills, he’s feeling even more over his head here.

z: —aaaaand then there’s that too.

will: But, well.

Luke stands between the two angry aliens and, with a bit of lightsaber emphasis, gets them both to disarm. He then has the Barabel give his side first. Turns out the Rodian hired the Barabel for a job, and paid in what another patron identifies as Imperial scrip, which the Rodian hadn’t mentioned he would.

Lando arrives just in time to serve as a translator, thus saving Luke the face of having to ask, and the Rodian explains that he himself was paid in that, and he argued about it, but got nowhere. Someone confirms that’s how the Empire is doing business (the Barabel snarls that only the Jedi should give judgment–what, never heard of witnesses?), and Lando and the Rodian explain that there’s no official exchange rate.

Luke “hadn’t been born yesterday,” and asks what the unofficial exchange rate is.

z: Awww lookit the widdle Jedi, all grown up corrupted by Han grown up.

will: Lando doesn’t know, and asks if anybody here does Imperial business?

Lando, our Jedi friend just had his lightsaber ignited and has a roomful of people looking to him like a hero. Really? Yeah, that goes as well as you’d expect.

z: Presumably, what Pratchett would call “synchronized floor and ceiling tiles inspection practice” ensues.

will: Luke tries to get a sense of if the Rodian is lying, using the Force to enhance his senses…and smells a familiar scent: carababba tabac and armudu spice.

“Niles Ferrier, will you step forward, please.”

Lando blinks in surprise as Ferrier appears, and Luke asks for the unofficial exchange rate.

Ferrier’s attempt to stay out of matters gets crowd-grumbled away, and he says it’s five-to-four in favor of the Republic. The catch? The Rodian doesn’t have (or claims not to have) enough in Republic currency. The Barabel thinks it’s a lie, Lando agrees, and Luke dodges artfully: he tells Ferrier to make the exchange.

Ferrier refuses more forcefully, but the Barabel (whose species Lando notes as “always having a soft spot for Jedi”) and the crowd won’t let him, and Ferrier realizes his contempt for Luke is not universally shared.

Ferrier folds, but says it’ll have to be a five-to-three exchange. The Barabel isn’t happy, and Luke agrees he’s getting screwed… but offers a counterpoint: the Rodian can now be on a Barabel blacklist. The Barabel laughs at that.

One more thing, though. The Rodian didn’t shoot that servant droid. The Rodian isn’t paying for it. Guess who is?

The Barabel stares at Luke, who stares back, but the Barabel is a decent being, and eventually accepts this as fair. Luke declares the matter closed and the crowd breaks up.

Lando compliments Luke, but Luke isn’t so sanguine. Leia or Han both have far more experience at this sort of thing, and Luke hasn’t ever realized that this was part and parcel of the Jedi package. Well, time to think about that more.

z: Will the worms are all getting away—

will: At any rate, Lando starts to bring Luke up to speed on the Han Plan, but they’re interrupted by warning sirens. It’s an Imperial raid.

Lando and Luke exit, stage left.

But nobody’s worried! (Even the ones who know Luke Skywalker, Jedi and Imperial Prime Target, is around? Weird.) Lando speculates that New Cov has a deal with the Empire–they will occasionally lose some stocks in a “raid” that amounts to an under-the-table tax to stay on the Empire’s good side.

But it won’t go so smoothly this time when the Empire notices Han, Lando, and Luke are on planet.

Lando prepares to call Han… but Luke points out that this could be a problem if Han is still tailing Breil’lya. So Luke sends Lando back to the landing area to scout and maybe clear their records–Artoo can help–while he goes after Han. Oh, and as a way of reminding us about slave-rigging, Luke and Lando confirm that the Lady Luck isn’t slave-rigged with anything more than a homing signal that wouldn’t be much good, especially in a domed city with only the vents in or out.

Luke and Lando break, and we’re out.

In retrospect, this may be one of the more important chapters of the book. I know the negotiation scene is one that stuck with me, and in terms of worldbuilding, may be more significant than the rest of the trilogy.

z: Yup.  There be the worms.

will: After all, we’ve heard about Jedi settling disputes–C’baoth did that on Alderaan–but Luke hadn’t ever realized that went for him, too. (I do have to wonder how he made it five years without that, but such is the universe structure.) And the moment where Luke saw the entire room of patrons trusting in Luke’s judgment because he’s a Jedi is powerful, and reaffirms why Luke needs to train more Jedi.

z: But then, and I don’t remember if Luke will ever think about this beyond that one moment of “uh, but I don’t have any legal authority—” he had here, who died and made the Jedi, a council answerable only to themselves, the arbiters—and if that was the way things were set up, fine, but what kind of heritage does Luke claim all by his lonesome?

So maybe Zahn did think that through.  Because it’s very explicitly and insistently the public in the tapcafe that give him his authority, after calling on him to arbitrate in the first place.

will: Exactly. Come to think, it arguably is legal authority, inasmuch as the community as a whole chose to vest the authority in him. What could be more in keeping with the principles of freedom and all that.

And the question of what authority, including moral, comes with being a Jedi will definitely come back, in Zahn and others.

Beyond that, setting up Leia at Endor is a nice way of exploring the idea of the Emperor’s legacy, as we’ll need that later, and everybody gets a reminder that this galaxy has been at war for a long time and will continue to be so. And it’s amazingly entertaining to read.

Z?

z: In a way, it’s a bit of a pity that Leia’s scene is left behind at the beginning of the chapter, because the latter parts have the reader think about very different things.  But that’s important, too.  The idea that it might have been a Force nudge that made her suggest Endor for the rendezvous, then her high sensitivity to the place of the Emperor’s death…  So far, just like Luke’s fears about not being a competent teacher, Leia’s own worries about not having the time to practice and not growing her Jedi skills fast and far enough were in the foreground nearly whenever her being Force-sensitive came up.  But this is a one-two: Yes she is a Skywalker and the Force is strong with them etc etc.  That, of course, is going to be important where she’s going.

And I’m with Will: This is a very important and entertaining chapter.

Han’s cliffhanger will not remain so for long; we’ll pick him up immediately next week. Until then, may the Force be with you.

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