: Hello, gentlebeings, and welcome to the first part of the Chapter 28 review of Dark Force Rising, wherein if Zahn can throw in so many cliffhangers, why can’t we?
: One does wonder how the decision to break chapters gets made sometimes. I’m not an author so I wouldn’t know. Why split where you split and not elsewhere?
: On a personal note, this week has been [insert unintelligible sounds here] on many fronts, so from one point of view I’m glad it’s going by so fast, and from another I’m exhausted all the time. So let’s hope this review makes sense.
: I’m not having quite as bad a week, but–let’s move on.
: We open in media res, having jumped back a few moments from the closing of the previous chapter, as Wedge and the rest of Rogue Squadron watch the one shot from the Katana rip into the Imperials’ dropship formation. Wedge, is complete battle mode, points out to his comrades inclined to celebrate this that there are a lot of TIE fighters in reserve still.
: Specifically, he tells Rogue Seven (erm, not sure who that would have been, and a quick check of the parallax view from Isard’s Revenge doesn’t say for sure, but let’s just go with the most likely candidate: Gavin Darklighter) to cut the chatter, a nice mirror to the “look at the size of that thing!” scene.
: Luke calls in and informs Wedge that they are not leaving the ship, because they’d be flying into a swarm of Imperials in only a transport, and asks Wedge to leave and go get some help. Wedge tells him that there are maybe 300 troopers coming their way so it’s not likely they can manage to hold out in the Katana. Luke tries to push him off by saying that they’ll do better against that three hundred than the Rogues will against a Star Destroyer, and Wedge knows Luke is right but he hates that Luke is right and he can’t just leave his friends–
: To emphasize: leave Luke behind.
: Yup, that.
And then Gold Leader, the commander of the Quenfis’s two X-Wing squadrons, breaks into the channel: O hai, can we play too? Wedge says that he thought Fey’lya wouldn’t let them play, and gets a dark answer that Fey’lya isn’t in charge any more, Leia is. Wedge is cheered by that, and wastes no time formulating a tactical plan to use the Gold Squadron in tandem with the Rogues to clean as many of the dropships and accompanying TIE fighters as possible before the next wave of enemies. This gives me Space Invaders flashbacks.
: Greetings, starfighter. You have been recruited by the Star League…nevermind.
: They’ve got a Star Cruiser on the way as backup, apparently, but who knows when it’ll get there.
: Not soon enough, Wedge says to himself.
: One of the few, rare dogfighting scenes written by Zahn follows. It’s tense, but easy to follow–but I am very bad at describing those so I’ll skip out. The scene culminates in Wedge using a TIE fighter as cover–while they are both in motion–to swing around and shoot a TIE Interceptor–which is also in motion, had been chasing Wedge, and is faster–out of the sky. The moral of the story for the Imperials, had anyone been paying attention, might have been “When your unit commander says “pick your targets,” do not pick the guy with two Death Stars painted on the side of the ship.”
: There is, of course, more. Wedge chooses a TIE Interceptor, not a standard TIE Fighter; he also notes that the Empire’s starfighter training hasn’t suffered. Which… ahem.
: Well, you can read that two ways…
: Anyway, he tries to sight in on the Interceptor, but the TIE slips out of the way and manages to follow Wedge through a spiraling twist before Wedge pulls his fighter-cover trick.
: Once upon a time, I attended a panel in a StellarCon (happens in late winter or early spring, in North Carolina) where Zahn pointed out that there is a moment in A New Hope where Wedge performs a similar maneuver–a TIE fighter is chasing Luke, so Wedge goes past them, makes a tight turn somewhere, comes back head to head with Luke almost as if he was going to play chicken (and therefore stays out of the TIE fighter’s sight), and at the last moment dips up and past Luke, shooting his follower at point-blank range. Zahn’s conclusion was “Hey. Look. Good pilot, right there. I didn’t make this up.” We’ll have more to say about the whys and wherefores of Wedge Antilles and the Rogue Squadron in the relevant books, but bits like this are where it begins.
: That, plus a certain 1986 movie.
(No, different movie. The previous movie joke was from 1984.)
: Out of the immediate chaos of direct fighting, Wedge takes account to find that they’ve taken care of all Imperial fighters, and almost all dropships–except one. He calls to warn Luke that they’ve got company coming. Luke replies that said company is already with them.
Scene shift to the Katana. Luke is waiting, as part of an ambush, just outside the docking bay where the Imperials landed, and now are starting their advance from, laying down heavy cover fire. From where he is he can’t see the Imperials, but he can hear their blasters and sense them approach, but….
And there was something about that sense that set the back of his neck tingling. Something not quite right about them…
Heeere it comes, folks. Well. In a while, anyway.
: Yup. This is one of those “completely tainted by future knowledge” situations. Was there any clue what that meant at that point for a new reader, given the universe as it existed in 1992?
: I… don’t think so?
Lando calls in to see if Luke’s ready, and we get to read what he’s been working on: He’s carved into the metal ceiling and walls with his lightsaber to the point where they’re going to come crashing down with a little provocation. At his ready, Han and Lando’s group opens up, there’s some back-and-forth fire, and then metallic screeching and silence. Han, Chewie, Lando and the four technician who had been fighting alongside them show up. Luke shows them his trap, and Han wants to move along, but Luke holds off for a second and reaches out with the Force… touching “those strangely disturbing minds.”
Nope, Zahn is not going to let us forget this one.
: Nor should he–but also, it’s prodding at Luke’s brain. Luke can’t shake the weirdness. Like a loose tooth or something. A loose brain tooth.
: <disapproving face>
Luke’s trying to determine which way they are going, and tells the others that the Imperials are splitting in two in a flanking maneuver. Lando informs them that they couldn’t seal the area that well because there are just too many doors and passageways. Han details Chewie, Lando and the techs to go block the group heading towards the bridge, and wants to take Luke along to go starboard and head off the group going that way. He asks Luke to verify that there are still only two groups, and Luke extends his Force senses again, verifies the two groups, and once again mentions “that strange feeling.” Han heads towards a weapons blister; the idea is to find something like coolant gas and flood the corridor.
: Luke also mentions that if they were in a Star Galleon frigate, not a Dreadnaught, they’d have a bunch of anti-intruder defenses (a Star Galleon being a heavily-armed cargo frigate), but Han points out that Star Galleons aren’t heavy capital warships and the Empire would just blow the thing to smithereens.
: They turn a corner to find something like a “scaled-down version of a scout walker” blocking the corridor, semi-ruined. Han theorizes that during the hive virus event, someone brought it out of storage to protect the bridge, or because they were already succumbing to the virus. Indeed, the corridor under their feet is slagged. Anyway, can Luke move it out of the way with the Force?
Luke can’t; hilariously, he thinks about Yoda lifting his X-Wing out of the swamp on Dagobah and remarks to himself that Yoda had been much stronger in the Force than himself, while not remembering what Yoda said immediately afterwards–Luke had failed because Luke believed he had those limitations.
: There’s also an element of “nowhere to put it”–the Force may ignore physics, but if the walker’s wedged in, it can’t move.
Though as I recall, Yoda and Luke’s X-wing will come up again years later.
: Han decides to see if there’s anything in the ruined walker that they can use for defense. He opens a side door, apparently sees something very unpleasant inside that we thankfully don’t get to see, although Luke senses Han’s recoil.
: I’m assuming a corpse…
: I’m assuming worse than a plain corpse. As in, a corpse in some kind of condition that we really don’t want to know.
Han discovers that the blaster cannons are still maneuverable. Luke hides behind the walker as the Imperials on their side of the ship approach. They get almost to the walker, in a careful approach formation, and Han blasts them, getting almost all. The two that were the farthest ahead try to get to the side door and meet Luke, and more importantly, Luke’s lightsaber. A few are still hanging back, firing, when Han stops firing and leads them farther on towards the bridge, since the walker’s actuator crystals have burned out.
Scene shift, this time to the Imperials. Captain Brandei, on the bridge of the Judicator, is officially No Longer Amused, since the “rebels” are putting up a tight fight after all, especially since the Quenfis’s forces joined Rogue Squadron. They are down to recon and bomber squadrons, which won’t be much help against X-Wings, and their backup, the destroyer Peremptory, is about seven minutes away, which in battle is an eternity. (Remember that the Chimaera itself couldn’t come as was initially planned since C’baoth has seriously disrupted their plans.)
: Specifically, the ETA is “approximately 1519,” which may be one of the few times we get a sense of timing units. I’m assuming it’s Coruscant time, and that Coruscant is Earth time…
Also, there’s a mention that the last report from the Peremptory (over subspace, one imagines) was before the Judicator’s shields went up. It makes sense that shields, being designed to block lasers, also block transmissions, but it’s kept appropriately vague. I do recall that the Executor had to exit the asteroid field to contact the Emperor, and you could easily say that’s so they could drop their shields.
: Captain Brandei doesn’t like it, but he sees it as time that he took his Star Destroyer directly into battle. They head in, and, whoops, the ship’s alarms go off: “Bandits” have arrived, from behind them, eighteen ships of freighter class or smaller, and are directly attacking. Brandei, very angry, notes that these aren’t Rebels, wonders who they are, decides it doesn’t matter and gives the command for the Star Destroyer to pause and deal with the newcomers with its turbolasers. He believes that they can figure out who these were from a post-mortem of the concert afterwards.
: “Ballet for Warships and Turbolasers,” a new composition, premiering in the Depot, one show only.
Okay, that has to be the most Freudian of all Freudian slips I have ever made in my life. The orchestra uses that term for season reviews. I meant to say “battle.” And didn’t even notice, nor in proofreading, not until Will’s comment pointed it out.
I’d be disturbed by that, but…. Nope. 😊
(Also, “Ballet…” Nah. I know why you chose that, because motion, but nah. Symphonic Suite.)
Scene shift, to the newcomer “bandits”. In particular, Mara, in a Z-95 Headhunter (which was the predecessor to the X-Wing). Aves warns her that the Star Destroyer is coming about and that there are TIEs on the way (Brandei has also sent his reserves against them), thereby handily informing us readers that yes, Aves does trust her again by now. Mara, knowing precisely where to find the lower-aft sensor package of the Judicator, moves in and destroys it, giving her group freer rein to roam around in the bottom of the Destroyer and do damage. Then she checks in with Karrde, who informs her that there is a small “tech team” aboard the Katana (but, funny enough, doesn’t identify them).
: Karrde also uses a standard code phrase–in contrast to Han’s constant attempts to improvise codes, Mara and Karrde have apparently established those a long time ago–to say everything’s good on the Quenfis.
: Mara tells them that before they provided a distraction the Star Destroyer was starting to move in on the battle. Leia joins the conversation to say that they’ve got a Star Cruiser on the way, but Mara is unimpressed–the Imperials are bound to have backup too, so get your people off the Katana and get out of there. Leia informs her that they can’t, since the Katana has been boarded already so “our people” can’t get to the docking bay. Mara says that then they’d better write that team off and make themselves scarce anyway, since the Imperial backup is bound to be much closer than the New Republic’s is.
: Heh. She really doesn’t know who’s on board, does she.
: As if on cue, three Dreadnaughts appear out of hyperspace, very close, followed by three more.
Aves snaps Mara’s name–on an open channel, tsk, tsk, no operational security, black mark right there, folks–and Mara says she sees them, that’s it, Karrde get out of there and let’s go–
“O HAI NEW REPUBLIC FORCES. Bel Iblis here. We can helps y/n?”
…isn’t quite what Senator Garm Bel Iblis, on board one of said Dreadnaughts, calls in over the New Republic channels, but his words are to that effect. He in fact asks permission to offer assistance.
…and, this being a rather long chapter, this is our cliffhanger for the review. The rest of the chapter is on its way next week.
It’s a chaotic, fast-moving chapter, all action all the time–almost. There are little touches. The opening of the chapter with Wedge getting unforeseen help. Luke’s insistent sense that “there’s something funny about these Imperials.” Brandei’s thoughts that the battle could be won or lost in the seven minutes their backup would take to arrive. Karrde not telling Mara just exactly is in that “tech team.” And, well, does anyone remember Han checking his watch, I mean chrono, the last chapter and saying “not long now”?
Lots of “Well played, Mr. Zahn”s here that I didn’t explicitly spell out.
: Pretty much. Zahn is giving the impression of this being a mad scramble very well, but from his perspective, this is an elaborate domino track that he’s been setting up for a while.
One of the things I think Zahn does particularly well with combat scenes is the shifts in perspective–Wedge, Luke, the Imperials, Mara. He did the same in previous large-scale action scenes, giving a proper sense of the size of the whole fracas.
But really, this half of the chapter is prologue–good action scenes but the important stuff is where we’ll pick up next week, along with a starship version of the Single Stroke Battle, and the end of the Battle for the Katana Fleet.
: Which, from this point on, I will forever think of as the Symphonic Suite for Warships and Turbolasers, presented at The Depot.
: Until then, may the Force be with you.