The Last Command, Chapter 25

z: Hello, gentlebeings, and welcome to Chapter 25 of The Last Command.

will: Wherein, we get everybody represented by what would be, in regular expression land, this: [0.-_OoD:(;]*

Do I need to escape that open-paren?

z: I don’t know, regular expressions still scare me.

I owe special thanks to Will, who graciously took the lead for two chapters in a row while my personal life had several mini-explosions last week. So yeah, one of them was again my fault.  I got a cat.  (Yay, cat.) But still.

will: Yay, cat!

z: We open the chapter with Han, Luke and Chewie expertly taking down two stormtrooper guards in front of a door, breaking in with the lightsaber-type master key, taking out two more guards inside the door and slagging all the sensor boards and the personnel sitting at them inside the room.

will: There are some impressive moments within, like Han overcoming an instinctive reaction to duck back behind a corridor, instead leaping across it to distract the first two stormtroopers from Chewie lining up quick killshots.

z: Then they leave and go back to a pump room several levels down, where they’d left Lando and the droids with some Noghri guards. They meet no trouble on the way back, thanks to the Imperials being distracted by the “wandering band of Myneyrshi” and the riot at the main gate.  The distractions they have bargained for are working perfectly.

Back at the pump room, Lando reveals the idea behind attacking that sensor room: Convince the rest of the garrison that there’s an aerial attack underway.  So, yet another level of distractions. Artoo is plugged into an ancient-looking computer system and is complaining about the antiquity of the same, including its programming.

will: The bad news is, Lando can’t really figure out how to, say, set the system to fail with the computer, which is why they’ll need the explosives they brought. Useful stuff, explosives.

z: Mara isn’t there; when Han is told that she’s out “in the main room,” he’s concerned about her wandering around alone in Mount Tantiss.  Han is a fairly astute psychologist sometimes…and pretty consistent in other ways too: As he goes out to find her, he tells Chewie to stay with Lando and, and I quote, “See if there’s anything worth blowing up.”

With Luke, he walks out of another door into the main room, which… stop me if this seems familiar.  “Wide circular walkway running around the inside of what seemed to be a huge natural cavern.”

will: Suuuuuuuubtle.

z: Going down the center of the cavern, descending from the ceiling, is a “massive equipment column.” There are more doors that open into the walkway, and there are four retractable bridges from the walkway to a work platform around the column.  There are only a couple of Noghri around, but there’s a hum in the cavern, and what feels to Han like a “whole cavern’s breathing” sound.

will: The comparison to a womb, as well, is interesting and…well, kind of appropriate. This place is, frankly, alive in a very disturbing way.

z: Mara’s standing by the railing. When Han asks if that’s the place, she responds in a “strange” voice that it is.  They also step to the railing and look down, and what they see is something a lot like the a sports arena.  Huge pipes come out from the central column, smaller ones run around the edge of the arena levels, and the smallest ones split off from those to connect to what looks like metal circles from above, and what really are the covers of Spaarti cloning cylinders.  Thousands of them, on the levels and on the main floor.

Luke’s a bit incredulous, but Han’s wasting no time with that.  With macrobinoculars he notes techs and stormtroopers all around down there. Then he studies Mara again, noting her haunted look, and asks if this brings back memories, to which Mara says yes, but they can’t allow it to stand.  Han is relieved a bit, but still is aware that she’s in turmoil.

See if you’ll notice the same thing I did about his inner monologue, which he silently directs to Mara:

Hold it together, kid.  Just a little longer, okay?

Awwww.

will: He does indeed have a way of showing he cares about anything.

z: Mara advises that there might be a self-destruct mechanism around there, because it’s the kind of thing the Emperor would have built, and the controls would be in the throne room.

(Ooops.)

will: Of course they would.

z: What they have is a single sack of explosives, and Han acknowledges that the place is a bit too large for that, but he doesn’t like the idea of Mara and her memories particularly in the throne room either.  He puts forth the “we shouldn’t wander around alone” line, which, even though it isn’t his real thought, makes him a hero to me all over again.

(My favorite line in The Force Awakens was his “Escape first.  Hug later,” to Rey and Finn.  I’ve been waiting for an action hero to say that all my life, because I’m tired of screaming it at the screen myself.)

But Luke says it’s OK, he’ll go along, and Mara, apparently taking Han’s concern at face value, describes a path that’ll take them there safely.

will: Han isn’t wrong about the face value concern either–no one should be alone here. It’s just…especially not Mara.

z: Han has to concede, but tells them to please let the others know before, like, pressing the button, OK?

Heh.

will: I wonder whether he wasn’t thinking Mara might solve all of her problems with one switch–stop the clones, kill Luke, and escape her own existence. Mara as suicidal…I don’t know, but I can see Han wondering.

z: Good one, I hadn’t caught that.

Han goes back to the pump room, where Artoo has finally found his way into the mainframe.  He sends Lando and Chewie and the explosives to the main column anyway, then calls over the Noghri and sets one of them to guard the pump room and tells the other to go around the walkway in one direction while he himself goes in the other, and shoot off the locks to the other doors to lock themselves in.  But when he’s about two-thirds done with his side, Threepio comes out of the pump room to actually call out to him.

Han: -_-

And then hilarity ensues, Han telling Threepio off for making a racket and why didn’t the droid use his comlink and why didn’t he come over to talk to Han, and cutting him off three times in the process as Threepio keeps trying to say “But Artoo says–”

Finally Threepio actually asks “May I continue?” and even Han notices that his patience seems to be strained.

Threepio: -_-

Me:     😀

will: Han also sighs that the lecture appeared to have no effect.

z: When Han lets him, Threepio announces that Artoo just now found out that Jedi Master Joruus C’baoth is imprisoned in the throne room area, where Luke and Mara are headed.

Han: o.o

will: Han’s line, of course, is “why didn’t you say so?” This whole thing has to be Zahn giving Threepio the chance to get a bit back at Han for, well, everything.

z: Yep.  Han yanks out his comlink, turns it on, and immediately back off as it squeals in static, because they are being jammed.  Which would be why Threepio didn’t use his a minute ago.

(Threepio: Still -_- . Me: Still 😀 .)

Han tosses a series of orders at him: Keep Artoo looking for schematics and figuring out the source of the jamming and send Noghri to get rid of that and then go to the center and tell Lando and Chewie where I’ve gone and where do you think I’m going?  And he’s off, “chasing after Luke again.”

Heh, redux.

One way or the other, no matter where they were or what they were doing, somehow he always wound up chasing off after Luke.

will: And this was written 21 years before The Force Awakens, folks…

Oh, also, Threepio sounds “a little surprised” by being given so many clear orders and for that matter being told to give Artoo and the Noghri orders.

z: Scene shift!  A controller somewhere is talking to this ship called Garret’s Gold, never heard of it–oh, it’s Aves.  And this is one of Karrde’s ships under a false identity.  And Gillespee is there on the bridge with him.

will: You were busy last week, but we got introduced to the Etherway‘s current false name then, and found out Gillespee is riding along.

z: And looking around they find that everyone else, e.g. Mazzic, is also there too.  They decide not to call until they’ve got something to say–

The words were barely out of his mouth when the whole thing went straight to hell.

Ooops.  A wild Star Destroyer appears!

will: PokeThrawn, I choose you!

z: I asked for that.

will: Gotta catch ‘em all?

z: Anyway.  Actually, many Star Destroyers appear.  And Interdictor Cruisers.  And Lancers and Strikers and TIE squadrons and oops!?  But before they can say the jig, she is up–

will: Though not before Mazzic starts to make “blaze of glory” noises…

z: –which we’ve come to expect from him, frankly, Aves makes like Wedge–again–and notices something.

will: There’s also a deeply interesting moment where Aves looks around the bridge of the Etherway and realizes that everyone is going to die believing Karrde betrayed them. (Aves, mind, doesn’t believe that for a second. Loyal to a fault.)

He also offers Mazzic command of the group.

z: But…it looks like the Imperials aren’t there to catch the smugglers after all.  The Interdictors in particular are placed to pull out of hyperspace and entrap some ships that are presumably still on the way…

Aves: o.O

Mazzic: O.o

will: Gillespee gets it too:

“I thought they were supposed to be hitting Tangrene.”

“So did I. I guess we were wrong.”

“Or else Thrawn is…No. probably not.”

z: So in summary, welllllp.

will: Mazzic, ever practical, points out that this way they know there will be plenty of distraction going on, so let’s just stick to the schedule, shall we?

Aves–remember, in addition to being a Wedge analogue, he’s one of the “hey, steady paycheck and health (ship-health) benefits? Sign me up!” types–just sighs.

z: Loyal, but he’s openly willing to accompany Gillespee to have a few words with Karrde if they get out of this.  Which, I can’t blame him.

In conclusion, smugglers’ Quorum: -_- with a side of 0.0.

will: Served medium WTF.

z: Scene shift, to Mara.

She and Luke–sorry, “Skywalker”–sneak out of an emergency stairway and head towards a private turbolift she knows to be there around a corner.  They get to the corner, Mara moving quietly out of habit, and as soon as she turns into the new corridor, there are two stormtroopers ten meters away.  She’s caught literally flat-footed, and they’re already aiming.  She throws herself down, firing, and gets one of them, but doesn’t hit the other, who’s correcting his aim when Luke hurls his lit lightsaber his way.

The guy flinches, as one does when one gets a spinny glowy blade of death tossed his way, which would be damn effective even without the owner being able to guide it with the Force.

will: Which Luke isn’t, this being Mount Ysalamir, so it doesn’t actually hit the stormtrooper.

z: Which doesn’t matter, because given the half second of distraction, Mara’s next shots do.

will: Luke gets a one-liner, even: “I guess they don’t want anyone going in there.” It’s about Luke’s speed for a one-liner, being sort of earnest. Jedi are not James Bond.

z: Heh.  Yep.  Although that might be a line that launches a thousand crossovers, and then I’ll blame you of course.

will: Well, honestly, Mara does bear resemblances to that sort of suave spy, and I know some of the other material has played with it more. I can see it now: Coruscant Intelligence operative Jamys Binder, licensed to disintegrate.

z: Asked for it.  Again.

But it’s also foreshadowing, because these two have no idea why the turbolift to the throne room would be specifically guarded, yet.

The turbolift is locked there, another indicator that it’s maybe not very nice up there, but Mara releases it no problem, they get to the throne room, and Mara’s assaulted by a rush of memories.

It was all here, just as she remembered it.

Mara: 😦

Zahn treats us to something very interesting at this point, something that we had gotten previous flashes of through Mara’s thoughts and memories: Some more characterization for the Emperor, which you’ll have to admit was a bit lacking in the original trilogy, although it wasn’t strictly necessary in the Big Good vs. Big Evil nature of the tale.  But through Mara’s thoughts, we learn that the Emperor liked sidelights and gloom as being conducive to thought and meditation, that he had his throne on a raised section of the floor because of the usual psychological advantage feng-shui of that arrangement.

will: Which also tells us that this layout is basically that of the Death Star II’s throne room. Makes sense.

z: There are viewscreens on the walls, now turned off, for information.  And something that wasn’t there in the Death Star…

Oh.  Oh, I’d forgotten about this one.

Floating there in the darkness, a blaze of light twenty meters across, was the galaxy.

z: Well, it’s much larger than the one on the Normandy…

…is there a word for being nostalgic for your future?  I’m getting caught in sort of a time loop here…

will: “Science fiction.”

z: Ah.  Duh.  Yup.

will: Zahn spends some rather lyrical words on this galaxy hologram; it’s much more elaborate than your typical functional map, or even a tactical map for military purposes (like the Normandy had).

z: It was as much a work of art as it was a tool.  Grand Admiral Thrawn would love it.

will: I say again, Zahn knew the Hand of Thrawn was coming.

z: And it’s a very artful way of introducing Thrawn’s shadow, albeit lightly, into the scene which is about to unfold.  Once Mara has that thought, the spell of the past that has fallen into her upon entering the throne room is dispelled; she is reminded of what shape the Empire is in now; that Thrawn, in his quest for an Empire he’d shape, is willing to start a new round of clone warfare.  So she’s all business again: The self-destruct, if there, would be controlled from the throne.

will: Luke has been staring at the hologram the whole time, so this shakes him out of it too. As they walk forward, Mara remembering the red-robed Imperial guards, they note that everything but the galaxy map is shut down.

z: It’s another nice touch to have the farmboy from the place farthest from the bright center of the Galaxy be enthralled by the Galactic hologram, too.

They cross the walkway, climb the steps, approach the throne, which, inevitably as such scenes are set, is turned away from them…and just as inevitably, begins to turn around just as Mara (in another touch which did pull on my heartstrings some) wonders why the Emperor would have left it with its back to “his galaxy.”

And she–wait, what?  I’d forgotten about this one too: She grabs Luke’s arm with one hand while pointing her blaster at the throne with the other.

Indeed.

But we have a serious problem:

So at last you have come to me. I knew you would. Together we will teach the galaxy what it means to serve the Jedi.

C’baoth doesn’t rise, but sits gazing at them as he makes this pronouncement.

And scene.

Mara, Luke, and me: 0_0;

Will?

will: It’s a habit of Zahn’s to tighten timing as needed, make sure that all the climaxes happen at the same time. Did we really need the entire scene with Aves and Gillespee here and not in the previous chapter? No, but it keeps the tension high, as we keep waiting. He’s good at it.

z: It does work nicely.

will: Other than that, I liked Threepio and Han especially. It’s a bit of a “pet the dog” moment, letting Threepio be solidly in the right for once. But mostly, Zahn clearly knew where the chapter would end and he built it all up to that.

And next chapter, Things Start Happening. We get what may be the last actual reveal, of something Zahn brought up exactly once and figured you’d almost certainly forget. So there you are…this really is the beginning of the end.

Come back then for a mirror match the likes of which you’ve never seen before. Until then, may the Force be with you.

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