Dark Force Rising, Chapter 16

will: Wake up, everybody, it’s Chapter 16!

And yes, as my opening indicates, this bit of front matter is going to have some SPOILER FREE commentary on Star Wars: The Force Awakens. And I really mean no spoilers.

Also, no fake spoilers. That always annoys me.

But first, a brief plug, thanks to friend of the blog Kate “I was rereading before any of you” Nepveu: if you haven’t read this excellent five-part retrospective on the Star Wars Expanded Universe, hie thee.

And now: The Force Awakens.

To be honest, I wasn’t an opening-night guy for this. It wasn’t a statement of any sort, I just had Real Life get in the way. I went this past Wednesday, so still within the first week, at least?

That said…

There I was, sitting in the theater, and the logo came up, and the music crashed in, and the scroll started, and I was done.

And two hours later I wanted more.

Yeah, that’s about all that needs saying.

z: I was an opening-night girl, but only because I had had friends who’d bought marathon day tickets quite some time in advance; I would not have made an extra attempt to see it on the opening night otherwise.  I have a sense that Will and I shared the same fears and resignations about this.

I had known all along what the logo coming up and the music crashing in would do to me: If there’s anything that can raise a Pavlovian response in this body, that has to be it.  But I started reading the crawl expecting to cringe, and…

Look, this is relevant, I promise: I used to be in a choir associated with a symphony orchestra, call them Orchestra A.  In many prominent or delicate phrases, the brass and the strings could be out of tune. So in performance or joint rehearsals, I’d tense up before those phrases, anticipating the potential internal wince to come.

Then I joined the choir associated with my current orchestra.  After a while I noticed that, in performance and especially for those pieces I’d also performed with Orchestra A, I would keep tensing up for no apparent reason.  Took me another while to figure out why—I was reflexively preparing to wince at broken sounds. But here, the strings are out of tune far more rarely, and the brass, almost never. So I would be repeatedly tensing up for a wince that would not come.

Reading the crawl felt exactly like that.  And then, about fifteen minutes in, I leaned over to whisper to my friend “I’m so confused: This is a good movie.

So.  Yeah.  That.

will: Enough about that. Back to Han and Lando!

Who are sneaking, or at least strolling with a hidden agenda, back to the lounge. Lando explains that he’ll be able to recognize the repeater as Katana tech if he gets close enough–serial numbers and some specialized design. Han wonders aloud how Lando knows this much, and Lando admits it was a desperation move:

“I got stuck with a fake map to [the Katana fleet] as part of a deal back when I was selling used ships. I figured if I could learn enough about it to look like an expert I might be able to unload the map on someone else and get my money back.”
“Did you?”
“You really want to know?”

Ah, there’s the Lando we all know and, erm.

z: …at least grin at.

He really made a good effort too, at that.  I mean, he actually did homework.  Never let it be said that Lando is a man not dedicated to this craft.

will: Anyway, they get to the lounge, and it’s almost empty. Just the bartender. Han distracts him by asking for a specific drink (“a ‘46 Vistulo brandale,” which has two of Zahn’s favorite tricks: not mentioning what sort of year system that represents, and the mashup of “brandy,” “ale,” and a yearly recording system that evokes wine), then asking if he could just check the storeroom with the bartender in tow.

z: Although, mashup of brandy and ale–{dubious look}…

will: The bartender, having seen Han and Lando drinking calmly with Bel Iblis before and deciding not to pick a fight, agrees. Han does his utmost at dragging out the hunt for a booze, but when he gets back, Lando’s at the bar–Irenez behind him, “her hand on the butt of her blaster.” He gets a micronod out of Lando, and agrees that they got what they came for, but Irenez drags them outside instead.

z: Note: Han gives the bottle he’d finally picked as “acceptable” to keep up the ruse back to the bartender.  He could have carried it out, since it sounds like pretty decent booze, but that’s Han.  Thoughtful.

will: Outside, Irenez acts as chauffeur for a random drive, and Lando and Han get in the back of a limo big landspeeder with Sena.

z: Sena’s full name gets mentioned when they see her in the back: Sena Leikvold Midanyl.

And for some reason, that invokes in me thoughts of old established Eastern European families, displaced by the Soviet Union, wandering in the West trying to get back some of their own.  Funny, I actually haven’t been reading Agatha Christie recently.  But maybe I got that impression only on the reread, because I knew what’s coming…

will: I think it’s probably another Tuckerization, myself. Han, Lando, and Sena they trade guarded comments about security, poking around, and the like, before Sena finally spills: she wants a favor.

“I want you to talk to Mon Mothma for me. To ask her and the Council to invite Senator Bel Iblis to join the New Republic.”

Honestly, Han may be a bit slow on the uptake, because he simply shrugs and says it’ll be easy–just offer. Then we get the important bits.

z: I was entertained at Han’s “Oh, you only need to call them, why did you bring us here for that?” response.  Dude, if it was that straightforward…

will: Sena explains it isn’t about “joining”, it’s “rejoining”.

z: Which handily complicates matters.

will: She asks what Han knows of the formation of the Rebel Alliance.

“Mon Mothma and Bail Organa of Alderaan got three of the biggest groups together and convinced them to make an alliance. After that the whole thing snowballed.”
“Have you ever heard the name of that first agreement?”
“Sure. It was called the Corellian Treaty–the Corellian Treaty?”

Yep, as in Corellian Senator Garm Bel Iblis, the man who got those three big groups into the same room, and guaranteed their protection.

Interestingly, this is another example of Zahn playing with the tools other people gave him; the Corellian Treaty was established in a West End Games roleplaying game supplement, the Rebel Alliance Sourcebook, in 1990.

z: Today I learned…

will: Me too. Wookieepedia to the rescue. Back to the history lesson. As time went on, Mon Mothma’s star rose. Bel Iblis was a crucial tactician and strategist, but she was the leader, and that was a hard pill to swallow. Remember, the story Han knows is that Bail Organa, who’s now dead, and Mon Mothma, who’s now In Charge, were the ones who forged the Corellian Treaty.

Bail was another problem–when he died with Alderaan, Mon Mothma lost one of her only moderating forces. (That was a role Leia, the eighteen-year-old firebrand and Flame of the Rebellion, couldn’t quite fill–especially not for her father’s compatriot.)

z: That makes sense, actually.  As determined as she is, I don’t see Leia being a policy-setter at that age.   That’s something she would have grown into, as the New Republic rose from the ashes of the Empire, and of the Rebellion for that matter.

….huh, I hadn’t quite realized that in those terms up until I typed that.  It’s nice to learn things from yourself about yourself.

will: Right, exactly. Leia eventually became a force for policy, a stateswoman of the highest order, and she did have the training, but at the time Bail died, she was the Face that Launched a Thousand Starships. Anyway, around then, Bel Iblis began to suspect that Mon Mothma would just become an Empress herself, and he left the Rebel Alliance.

z: …which does raise a few questions about how much Organa, Bel Iblis or Mothma knew of the Sithness (sorry, bad word, but can’t think of a better) factor in the establishment of the Empire.  I can see, in an ordinary situation, how Bel Iblis could have thought “new boss same as the old boss” was a risk.  But unless he saw Mothma throw Force lightning around… well.

will: Point. Likely even Organa–who would have been in the room for some of it–wouldn’t know the details. (Especially as the universe was understood to be in 1993.) It’s also no surprise that Han (who was after all part of the rebellion by then; this is post-A New Hope) didn’t hear about it, either: not only was it a bad idea to advertise a defection like that, but this was after Bel Iblis was officially dead. (That timeline gets a bit muddled, but what the hell,)

z: I think it’s OK, actually—Mon Mothma wasn’t at Yavin, and I don’t quite remember now where she was supposed to have been; after the destruction of the Death Star the Rebels had to abandon that base with a quickness because all of the other Empire forces also knew where they were and even if they didn’t have a Death Star any more, carpet-bombing with a couple of Star Destroyers often offends.  I had a sense that there was quite a bit of running around before things settled again.

will: A tad. At any rate, Han and Lando compare stories about Mon Mothma’s rather overbearing nature (and remember, Han’s already  pissed at her for Leia not being able to train more as a Jedi), but Han also realizes that this explains why Bel Iblis hasn’t moved for a while and isn’t really harassing the Empire anymore (cf. Lando’s commentary last chapter): so they’ll be ready for the counter-revolution.

z: That would be a very worrisome thing, except…

Sena: “That’s it exactly. We moved here to Peregrine’s Nest just under three years ago, suspended all operations  except materiel raids, and started working up contingency plans. And settled in to wait for the Senator’s triumphal vindication. And we’ve been waiting ever since.”
Han: “It’s not going to happen.”
Sena: “I know that. Deep down, so does the Senator.”

will: It’s a moment of stillness, the letdown of dreams of glory and being the true standard-bearer of freedom. Mon Mothma is a bit overbearing, but she isn’t a dictator and won’t be. And this time, it is about pride. Bel Iblis can’t go back, tail between his legs.

z: When I’d first read this, I’d felt very, very sad about the Senator.  I don’t quite know why, but having to give up that sort of misconstrued dream–or, rather, having misconstrued that sort of dream in the first place–strikes me as something especially sad.

This probably implies… OK, I take it back, sometimes it is not fun to learn things about yourself from yourself.

will: Han thinks that Sena is Bel Iblis’s back-channel, but Sena insists the Senator didn’t put her up to this. She’s rather angry about it, which surprises Han until he realizes that she feels like she’s betraying Bel Iblis, and remembers how Luke looked at Han just before Yavin.

Lando interrupts the memory cascade, and Han gets back to the here and now, deciding to cut a deal, good old smuggler style. He’ll talk to Mon Mothma…”You talk to us about the Katana fleet.”

Sena tries not to, but Lando and Han push, especially by accusing her of selling the fleet to Fey’lya.

So now it’s time to sort out Fey’lya. In Sena’s words, he “wouldn’t know what to do with a military coup if you gift wrapped it and handed it to him on a drinks tray.”

z: If Will hadn’t quoted that line, I would have, because heeeee.

will: Fey’lya’s idea is just to bring Bel Iblis back to the New Republic as a way of increasing his own political standing. Ackbar wasn’t even a target–it’s just a Bothan tradition to kick a leader for stumbling.

z: Such pleasant reliable people.  {flat stare}

will: But it’s almost certain Fey’lya didn’t cause the stumble, he just reacted, and all they need to do is clear Ackbar.

z: (Sena is very doubtful that the bank transfer was Fey’lya’s work.)

will: “All.” With a Grand Admiral in tow. Riiiiight. Han and Lando point that out, and the danger Thrawn poses to Bel Iblis’s group, and the good-Republic-bad-Empire routine works.

Sena doesn’t know where the fleet is, they just get the Dreadnaughts from a supplier, a thin, short  man who “says he stumbled on them about fifteen years ago.” I have to assume we’re supposed to realize that Karrde wasn’t alone in his discovery…

z: Sena describes the man in some detail, actually—thin and below-average height and white hair and lined face and THIS IS NOT KARRDE, OK?…Zahn doesn’t quite write, but mimes.  Heavily.

will: Anyway, the meetings are at the Coral Vanda, a “subocean luxury casino.” (Credit where it’s due, Zahn: a submarine cruise ship/casino? Awesome.) Lando’s never been, but he wants to go–and now he can! Yay.

z: The idea is awesome.  I also just had a very strange experience.

A while back, I was watching some footage from  The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess when I realized the source of the nagging feeling I had been having for some time up to that point, that a friend of mine reminded me of someone: The realization was that he reminds me of Link, in particular the Twilight Princess incarnation.  This is something similar.  When I played Final Fantasy VII  and Bioshock both, I had had a sense of familiarity, but I didn’t quite know from or about what.  I just realized— I’d read these books way before I’d played either, so the luxury casino aspect of the Coral Vanda made me feel that sense of familiarity in the Golden Saucer, and, well, subocean, Rapture, you get the idea.

It’s a weak li—connection, but it’s how I felt.

will: Yes, folks, she was going to say “a weak link.” I’m so proud.

z: I escaped, though.  I’m strong.

(…this time.)

will: This time.

Sena says she can get the Harrier to take the Lady Luck back to New Cov, but Han also tells her there’s no time to waste, and that includes the time needed to explain what’s going on to Bel Iblis. It’s officially a race now, Sena reluctantly agrees.

Back at the Lady Luck…hi, Senator. Welp.

z: No need to make arrangements to explain anything to Bel Iblis, it turns out.

will: Sena explains what Han and Lando know, and Bel Iblis figures where they’re going.

Han won’t lie: “We need the ships. Need them pretty badly. But not as much as we need good fighters. And good commanders.”

It almost works. But Corellians are a stiff-necked bunch, and Bel Iblis won’t come back “like a beggar.” He’d hoped for his own glory, a grand fleet and a string of victories, that would let him return with dignity, but nope. Han and Lando push him, and he seems to consider it–not because of Mon Mothma at all, but the threat of the Grand Admiral and how badly the entire New Republic military would want him–but there’s no decision.

Bel Iblis says goodbye, and Han and Lando prepare to leave…but not before Sena spits Han with a glare and says, in no uncertain terms, that if Han betrays Bel Iblis, she’ll kill him.

Han considers telling her that after Boba Fett, Jabba the Hutt, and Darth Vader, she’s a laugh. But he doesn’t. (That old softie.)

z: It’s really, really sweet.  Because trust me, if he hadn’t had that bit of internal monologue, I’d have been saying that out loud when I read that part.

(OK, I’d also have been saying “get in line.”)

will: One hyperspace transition later, they’re off to New Cov again. Lando gives the usual “how did I get in this mess,” but Han shuts him down hard, and Lando realizes how frustrated Han is about Leia and the Noghri. Lando tries to tell him that even Grand Admirals make mistakes, but Han says that was Sluis Van.

z: Interesting, if repeated-because-thematic point: In Han’s mind, Thrawn gets a “mistake” quota of one.  And it’s debatable if Sluis Van was a “mistake” for Thrawn at that; if Luke, Han and especially Lando hadn’t been there, or Wedge to notice things in the first place for that matter, Sluis Van would have been a glowing success/miserable debacle, depending on the point of view.

will: Lando suggests a few games of sabacc as a distraction (of course there are sabacc decks–it’s the Lady Luck), and away we go…

…to Pellaeon giving Thrawn a report from a smuggler,  who has a high reliability score (as it were), that the Millennium Falcon is orbiting Endor.

z: “High reliability score.”  Heh.  I hadn’t thought of it that way (and neither would have Zahn, in 1992), but it is apt.

will: Remember, this is the Information Age update. Why Endor? They don’t know, they don’t care. They know (ahem) that Leia is aboard the Falcon, so away they will go.

z: Not before Thrawn snarks about how it would have been an extremely desperate move to try to hide Leia among the Ewoks.

…you know, I just rewatched Return of the Jedi. (As I said, I had tickets to the marathon day, but I could only make it there in time for Jedi.)  And, honestly?  The Ewoks are vicious, folks.  There’s some silliness about traps that they would not have had time to prepare, but there’s also some really visceral stuff: Think many rocks from a high place and then many Ewoks descending on stormtroopers with sticks.  I actually winced.

Of course, Noghri != stormtroopers with no peripheral vision in their helmets, but it wouldn’t have been that desperate.

will: In the meantime, Thrawn thinks about Khabarakh, and decides that he’s a disinformation campaign. The “Rebellion” broke him, remade him, filled his head with fake secrets, and let him go just as Leia and Han head out to their missions, hoping to distract the Empire. He decides it’s not important to deal with Khabarakh now, it’ll be a distraction, and the Noghri can have him.

Pellaeon points out that what Thrawn posits is outside the “Rebellion” MO, so Thrawn says it’s clearly an extra-special case…there’s something on Endor far more important even than a new hiding place for Leia. Something the Emperor had…Pellaeon gets it now. “The location of the Mount Tantiss storehouse.”

Even more of a reason to go.

z: That’s always stuck in my craw a bit.  I don’t know what they imagine, that Leia would be digging in the remains of the shield generator they’d blown to smithereens or doing endless space walks to try to find that one piece of… uh, not paper… that got blown somewhere into space with the Death Star.

will: Well, Leia didn’t know why she’d picked Endor–which means the Force–so the Empire would be beyond clueless.

z: Point.

will: Anyway, as they break orbit, a report comes in–they’ve captured one of Talon Karrde’s freighters and started an interrogation. Thrawn calls it up and starts reading the report.

“He was still reading it when the Chimaera made the jump to lightspeed. Reading it very, very carefully.”

And scene.

I have no memory of what Thrawn learned in that report–do you, Z? Guess I’ll find out.

z: No, but we’ll find out very soon, because the capture was in the Abregado system (see tangent below) and the next chapter will immediately open with Mara in the Abregado-rae spaceport.

Tangent: Every time I see the word “Abregado” I’m reminded of the words “abogado” (Spanish), “advogado” (Portuguese) or “avukat” (Turkish), which mean… “lawyer.”  Given who and what my co-author is, I’m rather entertained.

will: And yes, that’s where we get “avocado” too–the Spanish explorers who first encountered them couldn’t speak the local Aztec word, and that was the closest they could get.

z: {suspicious squint} {mental note to check the OED for etymology tomorrow}

will: You could also watch Daredevil.

z: Is in The List.

will: Ahem.

I feel like this is one of those chapters that actually improves as one ages. Not a lot of action, mostly talking. A younger me might have been bored. But it’s all interesting stuff, and I’m old enough now, and more aware of the importance of “what’s past is prologue,” which in retrospect always served as a fundamental rule in the Star Wars mythos, that this history lesson is actually engaging.

z: I have always been a sucker for backstory and story holes that could be filled elsewhere, however, so I remember loving this chapter, even with its attendant sadness.  Waste of potential always saddens and angers me, a bit, and when you think what’s effectively been wasted over these years… even if there might not have been a choice for Bel Iblis…

Yup.  Sad/angry.

will: And it’s nice to see Han actually persuade someone for once. Han has a lot of the “silver-tongued devil” in his personality, always has, but one of the interesting aspects is how rarely it works. Jabba, in particular, comes to mind, and at the start of this series he can’t convince another smuggler to join up, either. So it’s nice to see that he actually can be persuasive.

The threats of the Empire help though…

And with that, this story gets put down for a while, and we shift back to Mara, for the first time in a long time, and see what happens next.

Z?

z: Damn, now this is going to bother me until the weekend when I get to read that chapter and remember what Thrawn must have seen in that report.

It’s also nice and interesting and…. OK, I don’t know what to call it.  It’s not “ironic,” but maybe that’s the closest word, but in a nice sense?   Anyway, Han’s interaction with Bel Iblis was very reminiscent, to me, of Ghent’s interaction with Han.  At least in the beginning, when Han was enraptured, listening to the Senator’s war stories, in the previous chapter.  Then enters Sena, and explains parts of the history that the Senator hadn’t quite mentioned.  It’s sobering to realize that with Ghent and Han, there wouldn’t be an equivalent to that second part–one way or another, Han always made the decisions that kept him on the same path and in the thick of things.

will: I’m not sure. After all, that was sort of the point, right? It’s just that Han was honest enough (remember, “the man they call Han!”) to give that part of the story himself. But that’s a parallel I hadn’t seen. Nicely spotted.

z: Yours too.  Yes, Han does fill in the “OK, so, about the motivations there…” part himself.

That about does it for the chapter, but there’s more about The Force Awakens, of course.  In particular, thoughts about keeping the continuities going side by side. But this commentary is long enough already, so for now I sign off, looking forward to next week and figuring out what’s with Abrogado.  (Gah!)  Until then, may the Force–

will: Gahcamole!

z: –{thwap} …be with you.

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