The Last Command, Chapter 1

will: Welcome back, and welcome to the new book! Which is starting us off with a seriously big chapter, so no more from me.

z: I don’t have much either, and not only because it’s an extensive chapter and an already-long review.  I’m, um, juggling.  Things.  And stuffs.  It’s almost a relief to read about a master strategist; it calms one’s mind.

…if only it didn’t also mean reading about someone whose mind is the exact opposite of calm or calming, that is, but I’m getting ahead of us.

will: As was always thus with proper Star Wars, the opening shot is a Star Destroyer. The Chimaera floats a reasonable distance away from its target, a predator stalking space. As the comm officer confirms readiness, Thrawn orders the beginning of a countdown, and Pellaeon wonders how Thrawn is feeling. With this, the Empire is at least putting its grand plan to destroy the New Republic (or the Rebellion, as Pellaeon himself thinks of it by now) into motion. But Thrawn is as calm and collected as ever, and Pellaeon turns to the Star Destroyer captains awaiting their orders.

z: Pellaeon thinks that Thrawn “must” be feeling stress and tension, but there is no outward sign.

will: One by one, he gives a timing countdown. Three minutes, four and a half, six minutes…that one to the Judicator. But Captain Brandei, in his acknowledgement, looks and sounds…off.

Thrawn cuts in before Pellaeon can speak, and reminds Brandei that this is a war, not a vendetta, and that while the Rebellion will pay for the destruction of the Peremptory, it will be the Empire and Thrawn’s strategy that causes it, not Brandei’s bloodlust. Brandei accepts this (and Pellaeon notes that he had never thought of Brandei as brilliant, but he’s not dumb), and signs off.

z: Not to mention, Brandei understands a threat of “…quit that if you want to stay in command” when he hears it.

will: Pellaeon finishes his timetable, and his own task force finishes its confirmation.

This whole opening section really needs some sort of orchestral score. Most of these books do, that’s what good Star Wars needs, but something like 2001: A Space Odyssey resonates here. The orchestrated, timed, graceful and somehow minimalist nature of coordinated fleet movements.

z: {opens mouth}
{closes mouth}
{reaches for the keyboard}
{pulls hands back}
{sits on hands}

will: At any rate, Pellaeon heads back to his post near Thrawn’s side as the first task force hits the Ando system. Oh, and the “guide freighters” launched from the Stormhawk with their tow cables functioning properly, whatever that means. Anyway, the local New Republic fleet base has acknowledged the emergency call, and Pellaeon wonders what they’ll make of this–given their experience with Thrawn’s style, it’s probably a feint, but they can’t help but respond in force…

As the next half dozen requests will require, then the attack on the base itself, and finally the Chimaera will go after “the Empire’s true target”: Ukio.

z: It couldn’t be helped, of course, that once the name of the target hits, the reader will go “…where?”  But it fits with the slightly Sherlock-Holmesian air that is always around Thrawn.  This is one of the mysteries we’ll keep reading to find out about.

will: Zahn next gives us a bit of backfill, in a manner clearly designed to integrate the Hoth combat we had seen. The only way to take a modern world is to land a force outside a shield generator and have it move in to take down the shields, or else a massive ground assault, either of which would severely damage a planetary infrastructure. The idea of capturing a world undamaged with its shields intact is considered impossible.

And Thrawn’s about to do it.

As the next distress call sounds, Thrawn says it’s time to check in with C’baoth. Pellaeon, grimacing, volunteers (better that than being ordered) to do it, and as soon as he leaves the Force-null bubble, he feels C’baoth summoning him. Seems C’baoth is in Thrawn’s command room. Ironic.

(We also learn that it’s been a month since the end of Dark Force Rising.)

z: And in the meantime, they’ve crewed the Katana fleet Dreadnaughts, or so we’re meant to deduce since at least six of them are mentioned as part of a complement hitting one of the feint targets.

will: At any rate, C’baoth beckons Pellaeon into the room, and they make a ridiculous form of small talk (Pellaeon knows he can’t keep his distaste a secret, and C’baoth is mostly amused). C’baoth disparages Thrawn’s capabilities regarding predicting the New Republic’s capabilities, and his art-based insights, while Pellaeon remains steadfast, having seen Thrawn’s genius over and over.

Apparently it’s been a theme for the last month–C’baoth has been quietly, or not so quietly, suggesting that only he has true insights, not Thrawn, and apparently it’s taking hold among newer officers. But this attack might counter that, as it’s based on Thrawn’s read of the Ukians.

z: I found Pellaeon’s opposing thoughts on the matter amusing: “The Emperor had been deep into this Force thing, too, and he hadn’t even been able to predict his own death at Endor.”

…but of course, this could become a huge digression on the nature of, well, Force visions.  But since Will is right, and this is a huge chapter, let’s defer that to another time when we do have a vision to discuss.

will: And boy howdy will we.

They launch toward Ukio during this, and C’baoth cuts into Pellaeon’s thoughts, saying Thrawn won’t always be right. Pellaeon gives what in retrospect is a laugh-worthy line: “You don’t have any concept of privacy, do you?”

Dude, you’re working for an Empire with more than one secret police force. They compete with each other to be the best secret police.

But anyway.

z: And you’re talking to someone who, maybe two months gone, invaded the minds of and directly controlled an entire gunnery crew of a major starship to destroy a target which wasn’t in the battle plan as a target.  What is this… privacy… of which you speak?

will: C’baoth points out that he is the Empire, and Pellaeon serves the Empire…you get it. Pellaeon reiterates that he serves Thrawn, but C’baoth just brushes that off. He instead says that he wants a message sent to Wayland–and while Pellaeon snarks that C’baoth has been saying he’s going back to Wayland for a month, he hasn’t–but this is a request for a clone. As Pellaeon thinks that he’ll be running it by Thrawn, he instead asks for clarifying details. C’baoth asks for a clone made from a certain sample in the Emperor’s trophy room, in secret, and Pellaeon astonishes himself by agreeing. And as C’baoth explains that Pellaeon will do this and then forget it, Pellaeon knows he won’t. He’s sure he’ll tell Thrawn.

Poor Pellaeon.

z: And poor me, because I’m reading those lines through slits between my fingers as I’m full-two-hand facepalming.

will: Anyway. They arrive, and we get a sense of the panic they cause, with Ukian shields dropping in bits to let civilian freighters that were in the system through. Including the guide freighters the Empire sent, “and the four invisible companions they towed.”

Ah.

C’baoth makes a comment about how they’re only invisible to “those without eyes to see them,” and Pellaeon tries to snark back, but C’baoth just goes with “I can see the minds within, so who cares?” He then says this:

“What doesn’t matter to a Jedi Master does not matter to the universe.”

Compare and contrast Luke’s lesson from the start of Heir, people…

Ahem.

z: Good catch.

will: Anyway. Everything is in readiness, and Pellaeon realizes that C’baoth has a lot more control and power than he used to, which is pretty damn terrifying. The intercom beeps, and C’baoth reads the minds of the crew as he confirms their position (which does strain him a bit), and confirms a go.

Thrawn signals the “Overliege” of Ukio, claiming the system for the Empire, and ordering surrender (as it were), and when there’s no reply but another distress call, Thrawn says he’ll have to open hostilities… and orders the Chimaera to fire. As the turbolasers hit the shields and fizzle out, though, with perfect timing and location alignment, the cloaked cruisers themselves open fire.

Making it look like the Chimaera‘s turbolasers cut right through their shields to destroy two major air defense bases on the surface.

“Third transmission cut off right in the middle.”

Heh.

z: The first time I read the book, I did stop reading pretty much midline, too–although due to admiration, not utter disbelieving terror.

will: Thrawn does it again, and sets up for his next two sequences, but before he does, the Ukian Overliege gets in touch and asks what Thrawn’s terms are.

z: Well that was fast.

On the other hand, we’d already established, back when the Chimaera visited Karrde’s base on Myrkr, that an orbital bombardment with a Star Destroyer often offends, and also always devastates, and that’s what the Ukians think they are facing.  So it’s not like they have much of a choice…

will: I have to admit that Thrawn’s terms are less harsh than they could be, which does strike in favor of the “Thrawn was setting up a more humane Empire”–still an empire, the key difference between an empire and a confederation being the ability to leave–but he basically says the Empire will control defense and warmaking, and the planet is free to keep its social and political systems “provided your people behave themselves, of course.”

The Overliege is suspicious, asking about conscription and taxation. Conscription, Pellaeon can see Thrawn almost laugh at. Clones yay.

Taxation, though…and here’s where I take back what I said earlier. Thrawn tells the Overliege that the Ukians will be taxed, out of their “extensive food production and processing facilities.”

Basically, Ukio is a food world–its primary industries are farming, grazing, processing, and so on. This may trend a bit into “overspecialized planets” territory, inasmuch as how can a world be a “food world,” but hey, that’s part of the Star Wars DNA. At any rate, the Overliege knows that when Thrawn says they’ll tax Ukio, the end goal is taking direct control of all the food production, and Ukio becomes “nothing more than a supply depot for the Imperial war machine.”

Yeah, I’m back to it’s still an Empire.

Anyway. As Thrawn predicted, the Ukian cultural fear of the impossible wins out, and the Overliege lowers the shields–but pushes back and demands guarantees of safety before he’ll turn over control of the shield generators and warships. Thrawn agrees, and in the meantime, he has his ships take up preliminary defense positions.

z: Pellaeon notes that Thrawn responds to the surrender with some courtesy and no gloating that “most Imperial commanders would have indulged in at this point.”  And remarks to himself that said courtesy was as precisely calculated as the rest of the attack was: Because to the Ukian people, their leaders will seem to be surrendering with their dignity, so there’ll be even less of a grassroots resistance to the Imperial takeover.

will: Thrawn orders the cloaked cruisers to clear out of the way and the ground forces to deploy, and we learn that General Covell, whom you may recall complaining about how the Imperial Fleet were a bunch of namby-pamby tea drinkers, only recently learned about Mount Tantiss and is clearly less than entirely enthused with the prospect.

z: …I just remembered the one time we did see a Fleet person drinking tea on the bridge.

Except it was Wedge, and he was on board a New Republic cruiser.

Heh.

But there are far less amusing things afoot:

will: Pellaeon then has a sudden realization: C’baoth did a really good job with the cloned crewers of the cloaked ships. Could that be because he only needed to understand how to control and access a handful of mental templates, instead of a few thousand individuals? And slash or, what about the fact that C’baoth himself was a clone (and knows it)…could that be why he knows how to control clones?

And what does that mean for the fact that clones are about to become the very bedrock of the Empire? Talk about having uncomfortable back doors in your critical infrastructure…

z: Kessel, I felt cold, and it’s not my Empire or my entire command structure we’re talking about here.

will: Suddenly, Pellaeon remembers that he’s having these thoughts with a man who can literally read his mind, but C’baoth doesn’t appear to care about him right now. He’s concentrating intensely on something else, and repeats “they’re there” several times. Finally he explains that “his Jedi” are at Filve, one of the feint targets that were hit just before this main attack.

Thrawn tries to get in touch to reassert authority, but C’baoth kills the intercom and declares everything else unimportant.

“Now, Leia Organa Solo, you are mine.”

Scene shift…into a furball. The Millennium Falcon dodges out of the way of a TIE fighter, clearing the way for Wedge Antilles to vape it, then takes out the TIE’s wing with a Wookiee shout. Wedge is still pacing the Falcon fine, but there are more coming. Han turns to Leia to ask whether she still wants to try to land on Filve.

Turns out that they were sent on what was to have been her last diplomatic dispatch before she went on maternity leave, a quick show-the-flag at Filve. Nice timing.

She still wants to land, of course, but even she knows when things are that hopeless. So she makes the call, and Han tells his Rogue escorts that they’re making a run for it. They screen the Falcon as Han asks Leia about the Noghri, but she says this has nothing to do with that–this is just the Dark Force ships. She’s sort of  distracted by a weird tension and some concerns about the formation over Filve…

z: …and, Han, seriously, the Noghri are ninja-commandos and this is what looks like an entire fleet division attacking an entire planet.

will: Anyway, Han agrees with Leia, but Leia can feel how bitter and guilty he still is over his perceived failure to stop Thrawn from getting the location of the Depot. Han reorients to vector Exit, Stage Thaddaway, commenting that he didn’t expect the Empire could field any Dreadnaughts so quickly. Leia, the brain tension increasing, suggests there are cloned technicians and engineers in addition to the cloned soldiers and pilots.

z: Ah, so that’s how you write stage directions for that kind of maneuver.  Thank you!

will: Han, though he acknowledges just how wonderful that is, suddenly comms Wedge to ask if he’s seeing the same thing that Han thinks he’s seeing.  Wedge is, too: the entire Imperial force is now altering course to pursue the Falcon. Greeeat.

z: This, of course, is why Leia had been feeling tenser: C’baoth just took control of the entire Imperial task force to throw them after the Falcon, and she had been feeling his oppressive  mental presence.

will: Han is having An Idea, confirming that the Filvians would have asked for help from Ord Pardron, right? So, he angles to starboard as the nav computer finishes. But before he can send the coordinates to the Rogues, Wedge points out that they’re too close to the Imperial ships and they’d be overheard.

Threepio suggests sending the coordinates in another language, but Han points out he’d also have to send the translation. Threepio shuts up again.

Han, though, has a plan, and tells Wedge to execute a Cracken Twist. On two, the Rogues swing into a new escort alignment, but Han tells Leia to change the coordinates–add two to the second number of each set and send them.

That’s the real Cracken Twist. It looks like an escort, but it was a signal to a pre-arranged coordinate alteration. The vector will look the same on exit, it’s not like they’re shifting 90 degrees away, but over the distances traveled, it adds up to several light years’ distance, enough to make a clean getaway.

(Why they couldn’t just do a really short hop, recalculate, and jump away before they could be caught up to is one of those things that they can be forgiven for not thinking of in the heat of the moment.)

z: I think they’d already have to know where they were going to end up, though, if they wanted to rendezvous there.  Which, I get the idea that they didn’t, and the default value isn’t Coruscant for some reason or another.

Also, we learn from Han that the Cracken Twist was named by Pash Cracken, its on-the-spur-of-the-moment inventor in “that fiasco off of Xyquine.”  We are going to meet Pash in due course in Force Visions, and unless I’m much mistaken, visit Xyquine too.

Also-also, I’d like to point out that “Xyquine” misses the weird-lettered-name bingo by a W and a Z.   Which, given your authors here… heh.

will: Pash was mentioned in passing (Pashing?) in one of the West End Games sourcebooks, as the son of Rebellion (and New Republic) Intelligence chief Airen Cracken, but Zahn (and then WEG, writing a sourcebook from this book) made a character out of him. Then Mike Stackpole built on that, which is what we’ll get to later.

Anyway. Everything’s ready, but Han doesn’t pull the hyperspace levers, instead choosing to lead the Empire on a bit more of a chase. Leia suddenly flashes back to Hoth, but Han knows what she’s thinking and assures her the hyperdrive is fine, thank you very much. (“Let’s hope so,” Leia says.)

z: No one blames her.

will: Han explains that the longer the Empire is chasing the Falcon, the less they’re harassing Filve, and the more time the Ord Pardron relief force has to arrive…and, I wouldn’t doubt Han’s vector plays into that too. Whether he decided to put the Imperial force in the line of the Ord Pardron relief, or else he drew them away so the relief can take up a defensive position around Filve, I don’t know (probably the latter), but clearly Han is playing some damn good mindchess here.

z: Well, he used to be a general you know.  In his case, that probably meant “Apply the Sheer Chicanery Powers for Tactical Goals of the New Republic forces in battle,” which is exactly what we’re seeing here.

will: At any rate, time’s up, they’re being battered by laser fire, and Han finally pulls the levers. With a thrum and a flicker, they’re safe.

Leia calms down, and takes a few moments to calm her rapidly-developing twins, who are aware enough (and maybe also Force-sensitive enough) to have anxiety of their own. She reflects on how different and primal, perhaps–sensory and emotional–the fetuses’ minds are, and how different all minds are from the oppressive tension she was feeling during the escape…

z: Her thoughts about the fetuses’ “thought” patterns (scare quotes since Zahn is properly careful to specify the fully sensory and emotional, i.e. nonverbal, nature of what Leia is getting from them) are grounds for several fascinating discussions about the Force and Force sensitivity, too.  …but later.

will: As Chewie returns, he can tell something is going on, and asks Leia what it is. She denies it, saying only she could feel something else back there.

Threepio gets to Be Helpful again: he starts to compare it to Leia’s encounter with the Emperor’s presence at Endor, but doesn’t get too far before Chewie shuts him up.

Far enough, though, and Han gets her to explain, then gets very–maybe appropriately–protective:

“A dead Emperor tries to make a grab for you, and you don’t think it’s worth mentioning?”

z: Well, when he puts it that way.

will: Leia says he’s being silly, and this was different anyway, but Han basically nags her (and she admits he’s probably right) into getting a med check-up. With that settled, they turn to what was going on at Filve itself. Leia says maybe it was the clones, but either way, it’s gone now, and Han goes to do the everpresent maintenance work on the Falcon that probably serves the same purpose as a guy tinkering with his car in the garage: something to do with his hands so he doesn’t have to be alone with his thoughts.

Leia, though, gets left alone with hers, namely that the Emperor “had long been rumored” to be able to directly control his military, and if C’baoth, who was now confirmed as evil and working with the Empire given Luke’s tangle on Jomark, can do that too…

She decides not to dwell on it.

Scene shift, to Leia’s non-dwelling.

Thrawn, ysalamir in place (he’s no fool, though why he hadn’t issued one to Pellaeon for the earlier visit I’ll never know), is demanding answers from C’baoth, who demands the same. Thrawn is icily furious about C’baoth screwing up at Filve, but C’baoth is getting fiery about Thrawn’s failures regarding the Organa Solo twins.

z:  I think because he had all the ysalamiri covering the bridge and gunnery crews and engine rooms, for some reason.

will: Ah. He didn’t, but you have reminded me that where the ysalamiri are is one of the points of the whole thing. Thrawn clearly kept one for himself, and the rest went…

Ahem.

Thrawn comes back with C’baoth’s failure to hold onto Luke after the Empire delivered him, but C’baoth says he did that, not the Empire. Thrawn disagrees, pointing out that Imperial Intelligence, Imperial Transport, Imperial Supply, and Imperial Engineering created the Jomark location, and C’baoth couldn’t keep Luke.

z:  When I first read this it only read as a bit of snark; now I read it and think of people who whine about paying taxes while they protest on streets paved with tax money, having showered that morning with water sanitized and distributed by facilities/infrastructure built with tax money, having organized the protest partly through communication infrastructure whose seeds were laid down with tax money…

will: C’baoth now blames Mara Jade, saying she will pay. Thrawn weathers it, then it’s his turn again: he threw the entire Filve task force at the Falcon, and guess what? No Leia.

C’baoth, though, insists that Leia wants to come to him, just like Luke. He’s the last Jedi Master–they need him.

z: This manages to creep me the living daylights out even worse — not the abrupt, “emotional instability ahoy” mood change, but the fact that C’baoth believes that Leia {shudder} needs {shudder} him and “wants to” come to him {shudder}.

will: Suddenly, C’baoth goes from rage to a mixture of command and begging: deliver them, please, or those who fear her will destroy her.

z: I have run out of ATP and cannot shudder any more.

will: Thrawn, smartly, switches to a voice of reason and help, saying be patient, he needs more time.

Meantime, Pellaeon watches with apprehension. Clone madness is a weird thing, and he exposits that the faster a clone is grown, the crazier it is.

z: …so C’baoth was grown over, what, 481 microseconds, give or take?

will: Most of the research that had been done was lost in the Clone Wars, but all we need to know is that Thrawn figured it out at last. That’s all we get, either, and I have to say that right now, as a first time reader, I wouldn’t have twigged to it either, but damn if the eventual explanation doesn’t work on every single level.

This, by the way, makes it a helluva lot harder to integrate this version of the Clone Wars and the prequels’, and though I’m aware Zahn fought mightily to spackle them over, let’s just leave that by the wayside…

Anyway. C’baoth shifts back into commanding mode, giving Thrawn one more chance, else C’baoth do it himself…and if Thrawn fails, he may find himself deemed unworthy for command.

Heh.

At any rate, C’baoth dismisses Thrawn, who orders Pellaeon to follow him. But as he leaves, Pellaeon has a thought–didn’t he want to tell Thrawn something about clones and C’baoth? Eh, never mind, he thinks, he’ll remember.

Poor Pellaeon.

z: Poor my face.  And palms.

will: And scene.

Damn but that’s a lot. And hard to recap, being mostly action sequences.

I wonder how much this was intended to, or did, serve as a fresh introduction for readers who picked this one up first–it feels a bit light on exposition, which is hardly a surprise. At some point you have to say “no, if you’re showing up here, you’re in the middle. Either go back or hang on tight.”

z: So I guess I’d mentioned that I’d read Heir to the Empire and then The Last Command, and couldn’t find Dark Force Rising until I came to the US, right?

Which served to make the middle book my favorite, actually—if for nothing else, because it explained a million and three things about to happen now.

(Also: The Last Command still didn’t suffer from that, obviously.  I loved it enough to read it multiple times.)

will: But leaving that aside, this one starts off big–a planet getting conquered, a new tactic that’s pretty devastating, a mad scramble, some setting of the stakes, and even some hints as to the next batch of mysteries.

Start with an explosion, and work up to a climax, indeed.

Z?

z:  And I will have to cut this end short; I’ve once again had A Week.  But I concur with my esteemed colleague from Up North.  It’s starting with a bang.  Me the engineer and me the mystery fan are thrilled by the new tactic.  Conquering a food world is a pretty clear “expansionary war ahoy” signal. We’ve seen our old friends in the middle of trouble, and even had a hint that the one we’ve not seen is in trouble too–a blink-and-miss-it moment in which Leia worries about Luke being all alone in enemy territory, whatever that is going to turn out to be about.  And so it goes.

And now I’m off to work with one hand, edit music with another, and practice music by humming in between.  Or something like that, anyway.  Until next week, may the Force be with you.

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3 thoughts on “The Last Command, Chapter 1

  1. Yeah, but Imperials have the right to privacy from everyone but the secret police, don’ch’know? Kind of like we have the right to remain unshot by anyone except the non-secret police. He cyniced.

    Like

  2. (A brief off-topic postscript in re what we call the squeegee-guy scenario: if you empty out my bank account and leave me a car in exchange, I ain’t gonna feel even slightly hypocritical about using said car to drive over and deliver consequences.

    Which is why literally everybody who has ever heard that argument used rolls their eyes so hard their extraocular muscles ache for weeks afterwards. Seriously. It’s terrible. You can do better.)

    Like

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