The Last Command, Chapter 5

will: Welcome, one and all! Today, we’re here to discuss The Last Command, Chapter 5, in which we finally meet two of the most pivotal characters of this trilogy, and check in with a bunch of our old friends (and one frenemy). No news from Z or from me, or we’re too busy to give any, take your pick, so on with the show…

will: Leia isn’t buying what the Woostrians are selling. The Empire has only used its shield-beating weapon on Ukio and on Woostri, instead of everywhere, so it’s clearly a trick.

z: …this in a council meeting where they are reviewing footage from Woostri.

will: Mon Mothma absolutely agrees, but ever the politician, she needs to sell it: how do they convince the rest of the government, not to mention the populace? Not all of them are going to be able to put aside their fear, since it’s fairly understandable fear at that.

Ackbar, who Leia sees is extremely tired (as they all are), says they need to get to the bottom of what happened at Ukio and Woostri, Real Damn Soon.

Leia suggests that maybe it has to do with Thrawn’s ability to predict his opponents, especially given that he chose two planets that surrendered quickly–and Mon Mothma wonders if, whatever the trick is, it can’t last very long without the wheels coming off?

Ackbar says that makes sense, and gives one suggestion–a shield can be overloaded, so if the Empire can do that invisibly, that would let them slice through. Problem being, there’s no way the shield wouldn’t detect the invisible energy, and there’s been no report of that.

z: I like this part of the discussion, because it involves considering and discarding probabilities based on the best knowledge of the physical world and military technology that those at the table have.  By far the best approach, in other words.

will: Ackbar gets a bit, erm, catty (catfishy?) and says that the information may be wrong, or manipulated by the Empire (pointed look at Fey’lya). Fey’lya, however, doesn’t react even to this “thinly veiled insult” to the Bothans–and to the Councillor himself, given how Endor was such a foundation of Fey’lya’s power structure.

Leia remarks that this appears to be Bothan penance–to go from active to near-catatonic–and once again, Bothan xenopsych is hurting the New Republic. Before, it was the attack-attack-attack mode when the New Republic needed to consolidate and present a united front, and now, it’s “silent martyrdom” just when they need all the resources and flexible thinking they can get. It’s enough to make her stomach hurt.

There were days–and long, dark nights–when Leia privately despaired of ever holding the New Republic together.

z: …and when I thought Fey’lya couldn’t get any more irritating, he’s found a way to add to Leia’s burden.  Yay.

Will highlighted that sentence, I think, because it is a very effective way of showing how close to the edge Leia must be for her to be the subject of a sentence with the word “despaired” in it.

(Tangential: Why isn’t the word “highlit” but “highlighted”?  Ah, English.)

will: Mon Mothma agrees with Ackbar: they need information. Leia suggests Karrde and company, especially because Luke has apparently reported in after Poderis and said that Karrde was interested in the deal from Berchest.

Ackbar, though, can’t stand the idea, and it’s clear that the fact that this is a smuggler is part of it. Ackbar instead asks what’s up with Bel Iblis. Mon Mothma says they’re integrating the Intelligence networks from Bel Iblis’ organization with the New Republic ones, but Ackbar says he means, where is Bel Iblis himself?

Leia memory-infodumps the Bel Iblis history, her stomach tightening at the tension that’s apparently still there: We get caught up to the fact that after the Katana concert, Mon Mothma welcomed Bel Iblis back…

And had then turned around and sent him to bolster the defenses in the outer sectors of the New Republic.

In other words, he was Reassigned to Antarctica.

z: {flat stare}

(At Mon Mothma, not Will, for once.)

will: Mon Mothma explains that Bel Iblis is needed on the front, but Ackbar says he’s needed on Coruscant. Still, in fairness, Ackbar knows both statements are true, and Mon Mothma’s tone softens when she promises that as soon as things are stable out there Bel Iblis will be put in charge of tactics.

z: …which reminds me of the saying Karrde and Aves were using earlier on: “If we had some bruallki, we could have bruallki and Menkooro—” “—if we had some Menkooro.”  In other words, something in me is going “Riiiiight.”  This is probably unfair, but it is also probably partly the reaction that Zahn wants to incite.

will: Wait, did I miss the bruallki and Menkooro line? *checks* Ah, no, it’s later. Good.

z: …oh. OK. Perils of a reread. Sorry.

will: Leia’s stomach feels tight again as she wonders whether “things being stable” will ever happen again…

…and then she realizes that no, this is further down. Leia cuts Ackbar off to head to Medical–she’s having contractions.

z: …..welllp.

The first time I read through this book, I remember being completely caught by surprise by this.  I had no good handle on the time that passed between Heir and Dark Force, although it’s been made abundantly clear that now we’re one month past the end of Dark Force. But more than that, I was fully expecting this to come later in the book.

In retrospect, of course, Thrawn wasn’t, since he just told Pellaeon that he’s timing a commando raid on the Imperial Palace to come right after the birth.

will: Scene shift. It’s been ten hours of staring at a light pattern theoretically designed to help her relax (because they’ve been adapted from her brain waves)…which isn’t working anymore. Ten hours, like she said.

Another contraction hits, and Leia reflects that at least this is giving her a chance to practice Jedi pain-management skills…not to mention, she sends some good Force vibes to “the small minds within her.”

She feels that they’re afraid, caught up in something bigger than them and that they cannot understand, and being driven towards the unknown.

z: And, believe it or not, the first read-through that sentence was a revelation.

Hey, I was young, okay?  And I had never stopped to think what birth must feel like to the newborn.  But these are Force-sensitive babies, as is their mother; of course there was going to be some reporting of what they were feeling through Leia’s point-of-view.  I’m not saying Zahn got everything right; of course that’s not likely.  But it made me think about such things for the first time.

will:

Though to be perfectly fair, their father wasn’t in much better shape.

Han hasn’t completely reverted to a sitcom cliche, but he’s clearly nervous, sympathetic to Leia’s pain, and feeling absolutely useless. He’s trying not to show it, though, if only to keep Leia from having to worry about him too.

z: …and I’ve read enough birth stories from new fathers (and come to think of it, Will and I read some of the same stories) for this to strike at least somewhat true, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all to learn that Zahn was drawing from his own experience there.

Also, “as nervous as a tauntaun on ball bearings” is a simile that deserves to be given the spotlight.  Still giggling, here.

will: He looks over at where a medic and two medical droids are preparing, and they agree that it’s time. The worst contraction yet hits, and she simply asks Han to hold her.

As she feels the twins starting to move, she reaches out again with her thoughts, telling them not to be afraid.  They feel even more scared with the motion beginning in earnest. Leia doesn’t really expect a response, but she sends all of the warmth, love, safety, and positive vibes she can…

And then she gets a response. One of the minds reaches back to her, and is calmed by her thoughts. She imagines a comparison to a baby’s hand holding her finger, and thinks back “Mom’s here.” The mind seems to shift away from her, which Leia thinks is a good thing…and then Leia feels the other mind calm. The one she hadn’t reached.

It hits her with a thunderbolt: the twins are connected to each other, having grown within Leia and in the Force.

It gives her a lot of mixed emotions–it’s wonderful to see, and also sad, because she’ll never share in that part of their lives.

z: Damn <sniff> dusty <sniffle> over here…

will: Hmm. In retrospect, was this realization designed to connect to Leia’s later insight about Wayland? I hadn’t thought of that until now.

z: I think absolutely so.  In fact, yay, for once I noticed something you had not!  Yay me.  {grinduckrun}

will: Anyway, as the contraction lessens and Leia retreats from her reverie, she has one other thought: she realizes that Han won’t even get as much as Leia will of the twins’ Force-based existence.

A sudden light flashes through her awareness, and she tenses, before Han explains that one of the twins is halfway out. Leia’s connection to the child’s mind cuts off, and Leia says the light is too bright–but the medic says not to worry, they’ll adjust.

And then, one twin is born. Han confirms it’s Jaina, as Leia marvels at how right the names sound and the medic says that Jacen is eager to be born himself.

Leia breathes deeply, reflecting that this is the end of nine months of pregnancy and ten hours of labor, and then reflects that no, this is just the beginning.

And with that, the Solo twins are born.

z:

 

 

 

….I don’t really have anything else to say here, I just wanted to stop the flow for a moment because it deserves a pause.

will: I don’t have kids, and I think it has a detracting effect on my appreciation for this scene. We know Zahn was a father already (remember, he had an ear for Star Wars dialogue because of his kid), so I can’t help but wonder how much of his own feelings about parenthood (the poignancy of knowing your child will have a life without you, the joy of seeing your child at last, the knowledge of the future waiting for them) informed this scene. But I assume it’s a lot.

Thing is… I’m not sure it translates. I can see it on the page, but it feels very…informed. Told, not shown.

But maybe that’s me. Z?

z: I don’t have kids either, but have had other reasons to think about such things as the parent-child relationship, and… it doesn’t strike me as informed.  Told, not shown, yes, because it’s the birth scene only and not snippets of lived experiences yet.  But the situation with a Force-sensitive mother and children is unique in that there is an extra perspective in there from the very beginning, and even talking about what flows through that link (and later, Leia mourning the particular bit she won’t get to share, to wit, the twins’ connection in the Force) is natural.

Also, I was coming at this from the child’s point of view, and again, all of this was a revelation, including the poignancy.  I don’t know if I’d have missed it if it wasn’t there, but I love that it is.  So.

will: Scene shift! Wedge has picked up a tail. He jinks away, lets the TIE overshoot him as it tries to keep up, and Eight (that’ll be Myn Donos, I imagine?) vapes him. With his scope clear, Wedge looks around for a tac update.

z: Zahn does like catching up with Wedge usually when he’s juking and twisting and basically fighting for his life, which is very reminiscent of the way the Endor battle sequence in Return of the Jedi is handled.

will: It’s not looking good. It was bad enough five minutes ago, but somehow the Empire had hypered two Victory-class Star Destroyers into point-blank range–they appeared practically on top of one of the Republic’s Mon Cal Cruisers, the Orthavan. Wedge can’t imagine how they pulled that one off. But at any rate, time for the Rogues to get in the way.

z: …what did I tell you about “hypered?!?”

will: Verbing weirds language.

z: …aaaaaanyway, the inference the reader is supposed to draw from the “appeared practically on top of ” remark was that C’baoth was controlling the Destroyers’ navigation, I should think.  But wait for it…

will: Wedge’s astromech (a long way from being named Mynock, though by now he’s Gate) also tells Wedge that the Mon Cal is trapped by a gravity shadow–which is when Wedge finds the Interdictor Cruiser close enough to be trouble but far enough to not be an easy target.

At any rate, Wedge orders the Rogues into “Porkins’ Formation,” and tells the Orthavan that help is on the way, but the Mon Cal captain of the ship (or maybe admiral, depending) tells him not to bother, they’re too far, especially with a wing of TIE fighters coming up to meet the X-wings.

Wedge knows the captain’s right, but he can’t do nothing.

Bel Iblis, on the other hand, orders them to break hard left (OK, OK, portside), and Wedge chokes down a court-martialable comment, thinking darkly that “the great General Bel Iblis” apparently had a more liberal view of “acceptable losses” than Wedge did. Orders are orders, though, so he sets up, and they break.

As the TIE fighters shift to follow, “with a roar that carried clearly even through the tenuous gases of interplanetary space” (a comment I’m just going to ignore; we don’t have enough time for that one), a group of A-wings rockets through at full throttle, blowing past the flatfooted TIEs on course to help the Orthavan, and Bel Iblis has the Rogues turn to pick off the TIEs as they turn to deal with the A-wings.

z: With Will on the ignoring here; except I’ll only mention it’s so incongruous that I wonder of Zahn lost a bet out something and had to include it.

will: I’m going to say this once: remember this maneuver. For a long time. (Also feel free to imagine the Chimaera is there, because though it surely would have been mentioned here if it were, later we’ll learn that it was–or at least Pellaeon was–present for this. Eh. History is tricky.)

As Wedge thinks an apology (or at least castigates himself for his earlier dark thoughts, same thing), Bel Iblis tells the Rogues to prepare to retreat once they’re done sweeping TIEs.

That catches Wedge off guard, but he takes another big picture look and can’t help but agree.  At least five capital ships are now gas and dust, and the rest are in a tight defensive formation, outnumbered at least two to one by Star Destroyers and Dreadnaughts.

Wedge looks back at the Orthavan, and something niggles in the back of his mind–but no time to think about that, it’s TIE time. (TIEme.)

z: Will

No

will: The TIEs are toast, though, having been discombobulated by the A-wing maneuver, and four minutes later, it’s a clean sweep.

Two (Tycho! Hi!) asks what now, and Wedge checks the Orthavan.

z: {big grin, reasons to come… later.}

will: Sure enough, Bel Iblis’s maneuver, which we now get the unofficial but soon to be official name of “A-wing slash,” has thrown the Star Destroyers off of their stride, and the Star Cruiser took the tempo back–all guns blazing, it manages to disable one Star Destroyer and use it as cover. Wedge orders the Rogues to move to support, but quickly sees that (even though two Dreadnaughts jump in to try to harry it further) the Cruiser is in the clear and accelerating hard.

Amusingly, Wedge sees the A-wings do the impossible, pull the same trick twice–they take advantage of the Dreadnaughts’ focus on the fleeing Orthavan to get in their faces. At any rate, the ships are all clear. Even the Empire knows it, Wedge reflects, as his droid reports the Interdictor is powering down its gravity projectors…

And that’s where it hits him. Remember how Wedge was wondering how the Victory Star Destroyers could jump in so precisely? They cheated–they were on a “good enough” vector and let the gravity well do the work.

Clever.

Wedge felt his lip twist. Overestimating the enemy’s abilities, he’d been taught a long time ago, could be just as dangerous as underestimating them. It was a lesson he would have to start remembering.

Thank you, Tim, for putting the theme of the Thrawn Trilogy so neatly into a sentence, and then giving it to the eternal Mauve Shirt himself.

z: …yes, this. And remember that much earlier remark about the Imperials newfound better coordination skills, which invited a C’baoth inference?  The reader is getting in on this over- and under-estimate act, as well.

will: At any rate, Bel Iblis orders a retreat, and Wedge’s chagrin turns to a grimace. “They’d been beaten, and beaten badly, and about all Bel Iblis’s legendary tactical skill had been able to do had been to keep the defeat from turning into a rout.”

As Wedge punches the hyperdrive, he has one more thought:

For the foreseeable future, at least, underestimating the Empire was not likely to be all that much of a problem.

And like Wedge, we’re out.

Incidentally, it’s not named in the chapter, but apparently this was the Qat Chrystac system.

This chapter…I don’t want to say it fails, but it’s basically a pair of Establishing Scenes around a central one, and as I said, the central one doesn’t quite work for me. The opening is fine, the ending works well, the A-wing Slash is useful, but the entire key is the birth of Jaina and Jacen Solo, and I just don’t get the revelation to the degree I probably should.

Oh well.

Z?

z: Huh, I guess I should have kept my remarks about the births until here, but I’m too lazy and tired to reorganize the draft right now.  I’ll repeat myself a bit: The Jedi-sense view of a birth was very fascinating to me, since before that point, I had never considered what it feels like to be a baby, an infant, the guest of honor at a birth.  The poignancies awaiting a parent were also novel.  I think this particular chapter does hit me where it hurts.

Next chapter, we’ll look in on someone who’s only in it for the money self-protection something and is otherwise decidedly neutral oh my stars yes.  Until then, may the Force be with you.

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