Dark Force Rising, Chapter 8

z: Hello, gentlebeings, and welcome to Chapter 8 of Dark Force Rising, where legend becomes history and history becomes alive again.

will: The Wheel of Time turns, and legend becomes myth–wait, nevermind.

z: Oh no, do mind. That’s kind of the point, except it’ll happen in reverse here.  Or at least, start to happen.

When we last saw Han Solo, he had gone haring off after tailing a Bothan named Tav Breil’lya, an important aide to Councilor Fey’lya, to the building of a shipping company called “Amethyst.” And he had been picked up himself by an as-yet-unnamed woman… possibly sentry?  Unclear.  The chapter opens with Han in a small office room, where the woman had escorted him.  She’s left him with a couple of guards, taking along his blaster, comlink and ID.  Now she returns, bringing along a taller woman, who seems more authoritative, and who says there are doubts as to the veracity of the ID.  (So I guess Han’s face isn’t as well-known as Luke’s; and even if he had flown the Falcon to New Cov–Leia has her–he can’t carry the freighter hanging from his belt, unlike Luke’s most distinguishing accessory.).

will: Also, a DL-44 blaster, even one with a short sight, isn’t as iconic.

z: Han is still confused when Breil’lya enters the room at the woman’s signal, and denounces him for an impostor, and “almost certainly an Imperial spy.”

…the aide has got none of the councilor’s subtlety.   He lays it on pretty thick: This guy’s here to destroy our friendship, maybe even kill us all, “you must destroy him at once, Sena.” Sena being the tall woman.

Let us all take time aside from our busy schedules to stare at this particular Bothan in incredulity.  Down, boy.  Also, calm down.  Also, recalibrate.  Also, what the…. what?!

will: Which is basically Han’s reaction. But also, note that the threat is “Imperial spy,” as opposed to “this is Han Solo, he’s from the Republic and he’s here to expose Fey’lya’s Imperial loyalty.” We already know Fey’lya isn’t an Imperial agent of any sort, but this is the first clue Han’s had, and it’s pretty damn conclusive.

z: Sena thinks the same, apparently, and says she doesn’t want to do anything rash, and that they are probably safe right now because Irenez—who is the woman who’d captured Han—has set up a good picket screen.  She asks Han if he wants to respond to the accusations, and before Han can open his mouth Breil’lya interrupts, saying that they aren’t interested in what an Imperial spy will say.  Sena declares that they are, to the contrary, interested in many things, and asks for Han for another proof of his identity, and before Han can open his mouth Breil’lya interrupts, again, saying that who he is doesn’t matter; even if he’s from the New Republic that’s also “your enemy,” meaning Sena’s.  Sena asks if the identity doesn’t matter, then maybe Breil’lya is no longer certain that this is an impostor?  Breil’lya doesn’t have Fey’lya’s verbal tricks, nor his composure, and babbles something about Han looking very much like Han, but a “proper dissection” would establish who he was, which, I’m almost certain the GFFA does have genetic analysis, dude, and I don’t know what they teach you in Bothan school but humans don’t write their names on their internal organs with permanent marker a la clothes destined for a common laundry.

Sena, who has actually been testing Breil’lya all through, just nods, and says “I’ll keep your recommendation in mind.” Heh. Just then, Irenez gets a comlink call from the aforementioned picket line:

“Picket line reports another man approaching… Medium build, dark blond hair, dressed in black, [glance at Breil’lya], and carrying what appears to be a lightsaber.”

Luke’s coming calling with his “ID card” out in the open, apparently.

Sena responds that this ends the discussion about Han’s identity.  I find it amusing that the Lightsaber ID System (™) now covers more than just Luke himself.  She then tells Irenez to send a sentry to ask Luke to join them, and make sure it’s a request, not an order, and return Han’s stuff to Han.  Then she apologizes to Han and says he must understand their caution, especially given that coincidentally, there’s an Imperial raid going on around them right that minute.  Han is startled, what raid?!, but Sena assures him that it’s no big deal, and goes on to verify Lando’s assessment in the previous chapter: This is how the New Cov city governments pay taxes to the Empire without seeming to.  I also find it amusing that this particular secret is so well known, which implies that a) both parties are terribly bad at their roles, b) if the New Republic ever gets interested it’ll take them approximately four seconds to figure out what’s going on, at which point they are going to be irate anyway.  So heh.

will: I gather it’s not so much “secret” as “deniable.” Yes, everyone will know what’s going on, but the New Republic can’t prove anything…

z: Han thinks that the Imperials may have cause to change the routine act a bit this time through, and calls Luke on the comlink that’s been returned to him to touch base and tell him “we got company.”  (He didn’t know the sirens indicated an Imperial presence before Sena told him, so he’s assuming, reasonably, that Luke doesn’t know either.)  Then he suggests Sena and co. find a “hole to disappear to” themselves.  Sena’s says that they have established escape routes, but what to do with Han and Luke is the question.   Before Han can open his mouth (say it with me) Breil’lya interrupts: You can’t let them go, if the New Republic learns about you—and Sena cuts him off, and I laugh.  But now she says something interesting: “The Commander” is being notified.

So let’s recap: This is a group that is hostile to the Empire, and yet trying to hide from the New Republic, and yet apparently known by the Fey’lya camp, and yet apparently not taking orders from them.  And they have a Commander.  Hmmmm.

will: An important aspect of the universe: no way would everybody opposed to the Empire have been in perfect harmony as part of the Rebel Alliance. This storyline, and especially the backstory, serve as an acknowledgement that, in the words of the People’s Front of Judea, “we ARE struggling together!”

z: Sena packs Breil’lya off to “join [her] in [her] ship,”  then answers a question by Han: She can’t tell Han who “The Commander” is, but no worries, “we’re not enemies of the New Republic—”

Yay!

“…At least, not at the moment.”

…erm.  Or, in Han’s deadpan reaction, “Great.”

will: And, of course, do you believe them? Well, they apparently treat Han Solo and Luke Skywalker as friendlies, or non-enemies, so.

z: Luke arrives. Han performs introductions, noting that Sena doesn’t give out her last name.  Luke says that Lando’s trying to strike the Lady Luck and, uh, an X-Wing fighter from the landing records.  Han essentially thinks “not a chance,” so they have to get out.  Sena invites them along to her group’s ships, but Han isn’t about to fly with them “until he knew a lot more about them.  Whose side they were on, for starters.”  Can’t blame him.  He puts forward the excuse that Lando won’t want to leave his ship; Luke, the very-much-non-excuse that he won’t leave his droid.  Sena orders Irenez to guide them through a service shaft to the landing area, then.  Han tries to refuse this, but Sena says that The Commander ordered her to help Luke and Han, so please let her follow her orders?

Again, intriguing.

will: Yes, this seems more rigid and military than your average rag-tag revolutionaries.

z: Luke’s apparently not sensing any treachery, so off they go.  They climb lots and lots and LOTS of stairs, and at the end Han’s grumpy to note that while his legs are trembling, neither Irenez nor Luke are even breathing hard.

will: A nice nod to the fact that Han is a good, what, ten or so years older than Luke and Leia, and has been doing a lot more sitting, talking, and diplomacy than running and gunning for the last five of those. Though I can’t help now but think of the older Han we saw in the The Force Awakens trailer. Which I know we’re not talking about…

z: Nope, we aren’t.  Especially since I haven’t seen this latest one. Or any of the earlier ones, for that matter.  I have my reasons.

Now they’re in the landing area, close to Luke’s X-Wing. Han contacts Lando on the comlink and they tell each other their positions—Lando’s not too far, but is pinned, hiding in some corner he can’t move from.. Lando reports on the composition of the Imperial forces, and that he’s seen them messing around Luke’s X-Wing, maybe putting a restraining bolt on Artoo.

Han tells Lando to get ready to activate the beckon call for Lady Luck, thinking to himself that while the others may not be breathing hard after a zillion stairs, or Jedi-schmedi, Han’s still the best at sheer chicanery (heh).

will: Action Hero, Inspiring Hero, Guile Hero. Luke, Leia, Han. And don’t you forget it.

z: By his direction, the three of them make for the X-Wing, Luke using the Force to distract a stormtrooper into looking elsewhere on the way.  Han calls for Artoo to “wake up,” calling him “short stuff,” and gets a soft but indignant beeping response—Artoo’s not been shut down, but he’s been blocked from controlling the X-Wing’s systems.   Han tells Artoo to record signals, and Lando to activate the beckon call on his mark, and Luke to—actually, he just asks Luke if he’s figured out his part.  Luke has.  Good student, that one.

will: Lots of practice.

Note that for all that Han’s reaction to Threepio’s artificiality, he treats Artoo like, well, not necessarily a person, but more than a machine. Maybe it’s an uncanny valley thing–Threepio is too creepily similar to human, but Artoo’s more like…well, not a pet exactly either, but…a kid? Like Short Round to Indy Jones.

z: Hah, good point.  Hadn’t noticed that one.

Han gives the mark, and the Lady Luck takes off a bit and starts moving towards where Lando is hiding. The Imperials in the vicinity start shooting at the empty ship, presently all of them focusing on where it’s going.  …yeah, left to themselves they’re still not very bright.   Han signals Luke, Luke jumps to the top of the X-Wing in a single leap (take that, Superman) and cuts the restraining bolt off of Artoo with his lightsaber. He enters the cockpit.  Han tells Lando to turn off the beckon call and Artoo to broadcast what he’s been recording to imitate the same.  The Lady Luck makes an one-eighty and now starts to approach the X-Wing.  The Imperials are confuzzled.  Eventually they start firing again, when the “rogue ship” is almost to the X-Wing.   Is Luke ready?  Luke’s ready.  Han tells Artoo to shut off the beckon call.  The Lady Luck immediately stops and lands and the stormtroopers are happy, thinking that it was their firing which caused the stop.  They stay happy for some hundred milliseconds, then the X-Wing leaps up, Luke at the controls, and—

—I once played in a Star Wars tabletop RPG, and we had a similar scenario where we ended up attacking light infantry in fighter ships, with their shields on and using the ship-mounted weaponry.  It was, shall we say, cathartic, from a certain point of view.

will: I’m assuming you mean the old West End Games one, that Zahn discusses a few times as being some of his research material. I’ve played a bit of the new one (specifically the one for Force-sensitives, though I do want to play the one for Rebels–especially pilots–some time). Not bad, but the Force mechanics are, still, problematic.

z: As the predictable mayhem ensues, Han grabs Irenez and they run to the Lady Luck.  Han flies her over to the crates behind which Lando is hiding, and picks him up as Luke discourages anyone from approaching very much.  They blast out—oops, there are four TIE-fighters “skulking around”—oops, Luke accidentally three and Han accidentally the last one—while Lando runs a hull check for a homing beacon.  (Someone’s learned from that bit with the Falcon and the first Death Star, although he wasn’t around.)

will: Han mentions that, and Lando replies that the system works by detecting airflow irregularities, and it wouldn’t work on the uneven hull the Falcon has.

z: Han says that this took care of all the Imperial fighters that could catch them.  Irenez points at the sensors and begs to disagree: A Star Destroyer is leaving orbit in pursuit.

Han puts the pedal to the metal, taking a moment even then to think that this must be bad for the native plant life (running the main engines in atmosphere).  This is why he’s a hero, folks.  Well, one reason.

will: I wouldn’t overstate… it’s probably semi-ironic, because after all it’s that plant life that makes New Cov significant, and why the Empire’s there at all.

z:  I might have been a little sarcastic…

Lando gets busy calculating a hyperspace jump; Luke sees another ship coming out of the jungle, which Irenez identifies as “one of ours,” and recommends that the Lady Luck  and the X-Wing stick close to it—apparently there’s “help coming.”  Well and good, but the Star Destroyer has deployed a squad of TIE Fighters already, and those are coming on ahead, and faster.  Lando says that the pursuit will be on them before they can get far out enough of the planet to make the jump.  Han asks Luke if he can do what he did on Nkllon, you know, confuse the TIE Fighters’ minds a bit.

There was a noticeable hesitation from the comm.  “I don’t think so,” Luke said at last.  “I—don’t think it’s good for me to do that sort of thing.  You understand?”

Back on Nkllon (in Chapter 13 of Heir to the Empire), Luke had started doing that to TIE fighter pilots, trying to justify it to himself that he was “just” slowing their reflexes down a bit.  (Which is of course like saying “oh, I’m just breaking that ballet dancer’s leg a bit.”) But while he was waffling, he’d received a contact from C’baoth and lost a) track of time, b) all conscious control of the situation, so the moral question didn’t end up being the thing that bugged him the most anyway in that case.  Now he has a moment to think about it, and refuses it.

He was OK pulling the old “make him think something clattered in the other direction” trick (which we saw Kenobi do on board the first Death Star) on the stormtrooper in the hangar, but at the point where it’s the TIE fighter   pilots’ lives, he refuses.  This is also important because it’s  another step in the path of Luke developing, for lack of a better word, his moral “style.”

Which will of course be that much more important when he gets to meet C’baoth, whose primary purpose is to warp that moral style to his own liking.  Well.

will: This will definitely come up again, most notably when Zahn resolves all of the issues in Hand of Thrawn. It feeds into the discussion of what a Jedi can do, what a Jedi should do, and why a Jedi does do.

z: Also significant is that Han thinks he does not really understand it (although he lets it go, because a moment’s reflection on how lightly shielded and armed the Lady Luck is convinces him that it wouldn’t make much of a difference if Luke did that or not anyway).  This is a glimpse of both the old ultra-pragmatic Han, and a stark reminder of the difference between his character and all the Jedi that have been and will be around.  There are some things that he simply hasn’t thought about and will not have to think about.

will: Han’s journey from “Kid, I’ve flown from one side of this galaxy to the other, and I’ve seen a lot of strange stuff” to, speaking of that new source (though of course it doesn’t work like that given the Institutional Retcon), “It’s true, all of it,” is one of the more significant ones.

Speaking of that new source, have you seen Max Gladstone’s bit of fanfic that I can’t help but call “Deconstruction of Falling Star Wars?

z: Nope, will I like it, or will it make me even a bit more irate?

will: I’ve told Z separately, but yes, I recommend it, it’s short and interesting.

z: …Anyway, so where’s this help of which Irenez speaks?

A group of TIE Fighters pull ahead and try to go around and herd the Lady Luck, the X-Wing and the mystery-group’s ship away from a feasible hyperspace vector.  Luke immediately says he’ll take care of them, and blasts into a full-on dogfight before Han can even say “be careful.”  Zahn’s description of the next few moments is reminiscent of the old “dust cloud with an arm and a leg sticking out of it in opposite directions” visual shortcut for a confused fight that used to appear in some comics.  Luke shoots out of the melee-ball and takes off in a different direction, and almost all the TIE fighters turn to follow him, leaving the  Lady Luck and the mystery ship alone.

…yup, not very bright when left to themselves at all.

will: It’s also a tactics thing. The Empire is a master of the Zerg rush. (That is, lots of disposable mooks that overwhelm.) You can see it in TIE fighters being unshielded and deployed en masse, and ditto stormtroopers. Even now, they default to that thinking.

z: Han tells Luke to jump to lightspeed as soon as he’s clear.  Just then, “help” finally appears in the form of three Dreadnaught Cruisers which come in from hyperspace ahead of them.

This is, we’re given to understand, an impressive complement… although not quite enough to take on a Star Destroyer even by working in tandem.

will: The strength of a Star Destroyer is one of those things that’s always unclear. Zahn and the better writers suggest that the mere presence of a Star Destroyer anywhere nearby is pants-wettingly terrifying, but lesser writers–and especially video games and the like–tend to make them weaker and weaker. Like Borg cubes by the end of Voyager.

z: Their commander seems to know it too and concentrates all their firepower on the Destroyer, immediately and furiously, so that they can knock out enough of the Destroyer’s systems to make a getaway.  Irenez tells Han to move to the center of the triangle they are making.  Han obeys, after telling Luke “bye, we’ll get in touch through Coruscant” (because they can’t safely tell Luke where they’ll be going next with many TIE fighters undoubtedly listening in.)   Then he asks Irenez where she’d like him to drop her off.   The response is, again, intriguing:

“Actually, the Commander was rather hoping you’d accompany us back to our base.”

Just how much was the Commander hoping, Han wants to know, instantly suspicious again (Heh).  Oh no, says Irenez, the Commander wanted to make sure she passed on a request, not an order. But when Irenez spoke to him, “the Commander seemed extremely interested in meeting again with Captain Solo.”)

The next exchange is priceless, and so perfectly Lando/Han it hurts:

[Lando]: “Some old friend you’ve never mentioned?”
Han: “I don’t recall having any friends who own Dreadnaughts.”

Touché.

will: Well, unless you count all the friends he has who commanded them, or bigger things, but there’s a difference between commanding and owning, and the Errant Venture hasn’t been dreamed up yet…

z: Lando isn’t entirely happy about the way they are being maneuvered into this visit, but points out that given these people seem to be in contact with Fey’lya, they would be good people to question about what Fey’lya’s up to.  Han also thinks that with Irenez right there and armed, there is no way a refusal wouldn’t turn sour.  He asks for jump coordinates, and Irenez says “oh, let us do the flying” instead.  One of the Dreadnaught hangars are open.  Han works the Lady Luck in, thinking to himself that at least Luke didn’t sense any bad intents from these people, but then, he hadn’t sensed anything in Bimmissaari either.

(Not entirely fair; those weren’t human and Luke’s open about not being able to interpret the senses of alien minds as successfully.)

will: I think it’s more Han reminding himself not to put so much faith stock in Luke’s sensorium that he stops being his naturally suspicious self.

z: We shift to Luke, who shakes off the last fighters once the Dreadnaughts disappear into hyperspace and executes his own jump.  He thinks it might be for the best that he can’t track where this Commander of Irenez’ and Sena’s might have taken Han and Lando… because he’s got another task in mind.  Then he has a déjà vu moment—-by answering a question from Artoo that they are not going to Coruscant; “We’re going to a little place called Jomark.  To see a Jedi Master.”

Here goes, not nothing, but the Jedi.

Will?

will: Yet another “Zahn uses dialogue well” moment, calling back to Yoda. Which was about that point in that trilogy, come to think of it.

Here’s a question for the memory-equipped. When you saw three Dreadnaughts show up so soon after the Dark Force was established, did you make the mental leap?

z: Nope.  Mostly because I didn’t even imagine they were being controlled in any way other than the traditional one, and neither Han nor Lando “noticed” anything to that effect either.  I’d bought completely into Karrde’s claim that no one else knows, as well.

will: Besides that, it’s nice to get this moment of Luke’s touchiness about using the Force here–I can’t help but think of Palpatine and Exar Kun laughing–and of course Han being, not so much the subject of a test, but the object, as Breil’lya flunks with running colors.

And, of course, though this couldn’t be foreshadowed as such because it’s a new character, the Commander himself, whom we’re soon to meet.

I had a busy week so that’s about it from me. Next week, it’s back to Endor and Honoghr beyond, as the Mal’ary’ush meets her father’s loyal vassals…until then, may the Force be with you all.

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