The Last Command, Chapter 27

z: Welcome, gentlebeings, to Chapter 27 of The Last Command, in which… whoooo.  Let’s just say that we’re getting the title drop.

will: From orbit. This is not what you’d call subtle.

z: Dropping by the Personal Station, That Cat started using the cat tree I got for her after two weeks, work’s heated, concert prep is heating up, so on we go.

will: On my side I’ve been seeing friends almost every night this week. So I can only wonder what time it will be when I schedule this for posting. (The new record is around 1 AM on Friday morning, incidentally.)

z: This isn’t a single-PoV chapter, but it’s the next best thing.  We’re always on Wayland, and always in Mara’s PoV except for a brief stint or two to Lando.  It’s both intense (and tense) action, and quite a bit of inner turmoil going on.  It’ll be hard to recap, let alone comment on, is what I’m saying I guess.

will: Not to mention, life, and all that. We’re busy people, action chapters will be sparsely commentated.

z: Last time on Force Visions: Luke is fighting his clone. This time on Force Visions:   Mara’s watching, naturally remembering the Throne Room battle from her vision of the same; and C’baoth is instructing her to watch closely because unless she accepts his authority, according to him, she will face the same battle one day too.  We’re wasting no time pushing creepy to 11, I see.

will: Hmm. I wonder if C’baoth meant Mara would be facing off against Luke or his clone (whoever wins), or the option he provides next week…

z: Mara runs through an interesting analysis in her mind: 1. C’baoth, “like the Emperor,” had gotten a taste of power and found it not enough, which sounds to me like she’s admitting that the Emperor was in it partly because he wanted power, period?, and 2. …except C’baoth’s definition of power involves remaking minds, so he’s completely insane.

I’m with her on the last one, but I’m not entirely okay with the bit where she seems to think the Emperor’s power hunt was more justifiable.  More… rational, okay, that I’ll give her.  But then, I think these compare-and-contrasts Mara has with C’baoth are also intended to highlight how beholden she still is to the Emperor and how one-sided her upbringing under his auspices was.  That’s going to become important shortly enough.

will: I don’t know if she thinks it’s justifiable; I mean, she might believe that, and various authors used different points to try to actually say that–some people go way too far with the whole “military hierarchy good” thing I’ve been banging on about–but she focuses on C’baoth’s insanity.

It’s also interesting that she’s willing to call the Emperor power-hungry. That’s more nuanced than I would even expect her to believe. But then, it’s been a long time and her beliefs about the Emperor and the Empire have changed.

z: Mara’s also having trouble thinking clearly, because of C’baoth’s effect and catching some of the clone-resonance between Luke and his clone as well.  She tries to put into effect a mental pattern the Emperor had taught her to use when he wanted her to keep his orders secret even from Vader.  C’baoth notices, and mentally hurts her for it: It’s arrogance for “his apprentice” to try to hide thoughts from him.  Mara tries to distract him by keeping up the chat while she tries for the pattern again: I thought I wouldn’t be your apprentice until I knelt before you like you saw in your vision?  While C’baoth petulantly scolds her for mocking his vision, she manages to get the pattern in place.  But C’baoth notices, and isn’t impressed: Has the Emperor taught her nothing about her destiny?  This makes me laugh, and Mara admit something: He didn’t foresee his own destiny either now, did he.

will: Also, note that he figures he doesn’t have to read Mara’s mind. He knows what she wants: to kill him, like the “lesser peoples.”

Huh. C’baoth wants to turn the entire galaxy into an extension of his mind–so of course, in his mind, the only thing wanted by people he doesn’t control would be his destruction. He really is “holds it up and the universe revolves around him.”

z: In a callback to the Emperor’s “…strike me down…” temptation to Luke, C’baoth then tells Mara to come on, to try, if she wants to test her strength against him.

In a reverse-callback to her futile Force-attack against Thrawn when he had infuriated her, and as an indication of how much she has learned since then, Mara evaluates her chances and declines.  And pretends to be beaten by slumping and trying to sound petulant herself.  She turns back to “watching the duel,” only what she’s really doing is to try to find her blaster wherever C’baoth had thrown it after wrenching it from her grip with the Force previously.

will: Thus proving that C’baoth not reading her mind really is a liability for him. If he sees everything as “trying to kill me” or “submitting to me,” he fails to notice “waiting for a better opportunity.”

z: At this point we get to see some more of the trademark Skywalker plan-while-in-action in, um, action: Luke jumps back on a catwalk (as he did in the beginning of the duel,) the clone throws his lightsaber to slice through the catwalk (as he did in the beginning of the duel—ah, someone didn’t inherit his clone progenitor’s adaptability now, did he) and Luke uses the Force to pull the old  lightsaber to himself.

Or tries to, because C’baoth intervenes at that point with the Force as well, and the lightsaber stays stuck in mid-air.  While C’baoth rebukes Luke for trying to end it by disarming his opponent—as a Jedi would, go figure—and telling him that the duel must be to the death—as a Jedi would abhor, go figure—Mara notices that the clone is just standing there, either because he knows C’baoth is on his side or because he’s also got nothing left but an extension of C’baoth’s mind in his.  Which… is still a tempting theory, and I still don’t see how C’baoth could have managed it.

will: Well, I doubt it’s a puppeteering thing literally. More like Covell, where there’s still a certain amount of ability to think, but overall reshaped. And as to how: C’baoth has been overseeing this clone since he ordered it made, and look what he did to Covell–an adult human–in a short time.

z: Then Luke tries to cut the other lightsaber in half with the one in his hand (DUDE!  PRICELESS HISTORICAL ARTIFACT!  DUDE!) and C’baoth tosses something at him using the Force and throws off his aim.  He said “duel to the death” and meant it dammit.  C’baoth sends the lightsaber back to the clone and the fight resumes, but Mara has noticed that what C’baoth threw at Luke was her blaster.

will: Heh. Hard to worry about a priceless historical artifact if it’s actively trying to kill you. And in this case, I’d say Luke has more right than anyone to decide its disposition. Even Leia wouldn’t have as much of a say, given Luke’s history.

Though I have to wonder what Luke was thinking in that moment. Hell, what he was thinking about that lightsaber at all. Do we ever find out? Pretty sure all we get is Mara’s take.

z: When she glances over to C’baoth to see if he’s seen her interest in the weapon, she finds that he’s in fact apparently not interested in anything any more, but is excited about something: “She’s come, like I knew she would, she’s here!”  The turbolift doors open, and enter Han Solo, Leia, and, oh, hey, Karrde.  With vornskrs that are straining at the leashes because So Many Jedi, one presumes.  Mara’s shocked at Leia and especially Karrde being there, but Luke, who’s also noticed, wastes no time being surprised and instead tells them to go back.  C’baoth cuts him off with “Welcome, my new apprentice!  I will teach you the true ways of the Force!”

yaaaaay

will: Again one wonders what Luke is thinking in this moment. Or did he know Leia was there through the Force? Either way, yeah, Mara gets a nice moment of “what the hell?”

z: (Also, although this one is a bit too obvious: Compare and contrast with Luke’s trilogy-long struggle with the responsibility of teaching anyone about the “true ways of the Force,” and the many comments Will and I made about how Leia may be the one that needs such instruction the least, at least about the moral aspects of being a Jedi.)

Han, since he’s Han, just starts shooting.  Like Han does.  Because he’s Han.

will: The narration gets into the snark game, too: “Solo had a different sort of lesson in mind.”

z: Time for yet another callback-antiparallel: C’baoth doesn’t have Vader’s armor (and, well, metal limbs), so he pulls up something—Mara’s blaster again, alas—to block the first three shots.  The blaster explodes on the third, and C’baoth also yanks Han’s blaster out of his hand with the Force.   But then, does he politely invite them in?

will: One does wonder if Han is thinking “Dammit, again?” since he already had Cloud City on the brain…

Most of this has been a fairly obvious parallel-counterpoint to the Second Death Star, but really it’s the Cloud City duel plus the DS2. I guess when Zahn went for climactic confrontation, he decided not to mess around.

z: What do you think?

Mara’s description: “C’baoth went berserk.”

He screams, and the sound is magnified, and feral, and hurts the ears, but that’s nothing because right after comes the “Force equivalent of the scream.”  C’baoth the man and C’baoth the Jedi have completely lost it, it seems:

It was nothing she’d ever experienced before, not from Vader, not from the Emperor himself.  The utter, animal ferocity—the total loss of every shred of self-control—it was like standing alone in the middle of a sudden violent storm.

This ain’t Yoda’s “when you’re calm… at peace…” or even the Emperor’s calculated use of hatred or even-even Vader’s falling through anger; somehow C’baoth can still channel his rage to the Dark Side, but all the trains have jumped all the rails.  Luke, Leia, and the vornskrs all also feel it and are staggered by it.  Then C’baoth throws Force lightning at Han, who’s thrown back, and to a catwalk above where he’s fallen (and Leia’s rushed to him), which splits and falls down.  And although Leia manages to cut it well enough with her lightsaber so that they are not fully smashed under, the end she cuts off catches her on the head and shoulders and she’s borne down to the ground, lightsaber flying from her hand.

will: Mara notes that either Leia saw the catwalk coming, or Luke taught her enough to have a danger sense (probably the latter).

z: So, callback number I lost count, pop quiz: What’s Luke’s Berserk Button?

…yep.  Leia.

will: DS2 again: “if you will not be turned…”

z: He shouts her name, then goes full-attack in a way that leaves no doubt that he had been holding back before.  The clone has to retreat and climbs the stairs to C’baoth.  Luke stops halfway up the stairs: “…gazing up at C’baoth with an expression that sent a shiver down Mara’s back.”

Polite, well-brought-up farmboy, hesitant, humble teacher, but also fighter pilot, rebel, Jedi Knight.  Just in case we’d forgotten.

Also worth noting that this is the first time Mara’s seen Luke go all-in and come the enraged warrior, weirdly-distorted visions sent by the Emperor notwithstanding.

…but he’s not as enraged-warrior as Mara perceives at first, at that.  C’baoth postures that he could crush Luke; Luke replies “then you’d never control my mind,” which, heh, and then he turns off his lightsaber and drops what, to Mara, is a bombshell: Let them go.  Let them all go, and I’ll stay.

will: The classics never get old.

z: Scene change.  Lando’s fiddling with the equipment column internals, the Imperials are trying to batter down their own doors to the walkway, business as usual.  He gets a call on his comlink.  It’s Threepio; apparently Artoo managed to fix the jamming, so now the Noghri want to know whether they should go help Lando and Chewie.  Lando says that they won’t get there in time anyway, if you want to do something go help Han in the throne room—

“It’s too late for that,” a third voice intervenes.  Ensuing conversation summarized: “Han?” “No, Karrde, with Leia in the throne room–” “Leia here!?!” “Shut up and listen.”

That last is a direct quote, because heeee.

will: Karrde and Lando do after all have history. But really Karrde can trust that Lando won’t take it personally–this is hurry, not anger.

z: Karrde summarizes the situation, including insane Dark Jedi and Clone Skywalker and the Force being back.  Speaking of, it would be awesome if you could bring up some of the ysalamiri Leia thinks must be with the clone chambers.  Lando has to go “…yeah, about that.”

will: That’s when Lando and Chewie figure out what the blasting disks were, so it’s a combination of “oh, that’s what that was” and “about that.”

z: Karrde asks for suggestions.  Lando has none, at the moment, so Karrde leaves the channel, and Lando—the decisive gambler—makes an executive decision. He tells Artoo through Threepio to do what he can you reroute troops away from the air intake they came through, then take the Noghri and the Mynershii that came in with them and leave.  Awwww, he cares about the droids.  Threepio asks “what about Master Luke and the others?” in as many words.  Awwww x2.  Lando says he’ll take care of that.  Threepio signs off, and Chewbacca asks “the obvious question.”  Lando’s opinion is that there’s nothing else they could do.  Going by Luke and Mara’s comments so far, C’baoth is at least as dangerous as the Emperor was, maybe more.

(All those we’re-worried-about-this conversations while trekking through the forest weren’t very private, it seems.)

will: Why would it be? They’d want Han, Lando, and Chewie in the loop, if only to say “stay far away.”

z: So, in the absence of any nuking-from-orbit capability, they’ll set up that arrythmic resonance thing, “with luck” before the troopers manage to break in, and then “with more luck” leave before the storehouse comes down entirely, and “with even more luck” they’ll manage to alert the others too.

I’m harping on the luck thing, because that’s Lando’s exact thinking.  Again, consummate gambler.

will: It’s also important that Lando doesn’t assume he’ll have that luck, because it doesn’t affect the decision. Everyone up there would agree to blow the mountain.

z: Scene shift, back to Mara. Who’s dumbfounded at Luke’s declaration that he’ll stay voluntarily if C’baoth lets the others go.  Including Mara herself, who can’t help but remember that she’d promised him she’d kill him.

will: Even better. “To save his friends. Including the woman who’d once promised” &c. &c. She, herself, is defining his friends to include her.

z: “She turned away, suddenly unable to watch.”

Zahn could either have written that single, stark sentence, or described her mental state and mood in something like four pages, maybe. It is perfect, what he went with.

Looking away from Luke, she sees Karrde trying to soothe the two vornskrs after that Force blast.  Karrde gives her a very very subtle signal, which makes her look over to see Han creeping veeeeery very slowly towards the blaster that had fallen from Leia’s hand.

In the meantime, C’baoth declares Luke is asking too much: “Mara Jade will be mine.  Must be mine.” He refers to the vision he’d had and so it’s her Force-driven destiny and all that and brb shuddering.  But Mara jumps in, turning sarcasm up to eleven, just to distract C’baoth from Han.

will: Specifically, she reminds Luke that she still has to kneel at C’baoth’s feet.

z: It doesn’t work, since C’baoth was apparently already aware of Han’s movement, and Force-yanks the blaster a little further away from his hand, the way I’d play with a cat using a dangling bait toy.  The difference is that the cat may enjoy that, and I’m not doing it with contempt.

will: No, contempt is a cat’s stock in trade. (I kid, I kid. My cat is actually incredibly affectionate.)

z: Mara hears the clone’s lightsaber come up again, and calls out a warning to Luke.  The two start fighting again, but Mara finds out that the clone isn’t taking C’baoth’s full attention when the blaster jerks out of Han’s grasp again, since that worthy had not given up.

will: Of course he hadn’t. When has he?

z: Exactly.

In the middle of further “we shall rule the Galaxy together” declamations, C’baoth suddenly takes a step back away from the guardrail a moment before Luke backflips up to the stairs there, landing with his back to Mara.  The clone follows, and Luke starts retreating.  Mara sees that he’s soon going to be trapped against a solid rock wall on his back.  They basically pass in front of Mara and continue on towards that wall, lightsabers clashing.

More declamations: Blah blah “lesser peoples” blah “their hearts and their souls will be ours.” With the Force, C’baoth summons Karrde’s blaster from its holster, the blaster Han was still chasing, and Leia’s lightsaber. “As will their insignificant weapons.”

The attentive reader will note that he’s counting a Jedi’s, Leia’s, lightsaber as “insignificant” as well.  Please stand by for delicious, sweet, succulent irony.

C’baoth’s not really paying full attention to the weapons flying towards him, so Mara struggles through her mental chaos, reaches out with the Force, and pulls Leia’s lightsaber to her hand.

will: Bookend time. Remember the very first thing Luke saw Mara do? I’ll give you a hint: she didn’t really do it.

(The vision of the sail barge.)

z: Oh. Oh.

Yup.

will: Yep. She pulled a lightsaber into her hand.

z: C’baoth, for the first time showing fear and confusion, shouts “No!” and tries to pull the lightsaber back out of her hand.  But since he isn’t calm—listened to Yoda, he never has—it doesn’t work, and besides, Mara’s already turned the weapon on and is charging…

…towards the clone, who now has his back to her and Luke trapped in front of that wall.  He tries to finish Luke before turning to her.  He attacks.  Luke ducks.  The lightsaber slashes through the wall to Luke’s back.  Which… explodes over Luke’s head into the clone’s face, since Luke the brilliant in-the-moment-tactician wasn’t backing up against a wall after all, but against one of the viewscreens.  Screaming, which is the first sound he’s ever made, the clone staggers back and turns to face Mara—

will: I’ll see you after this ends, I’m not going to interrupt.

z: Welp.  How am I going to do this without quoting the rest directly?  Answer: I won’t.

…his face twisted with anger and fear, his eyes still dazzled. He raised his lightsaber to attack—

YOU WILL KILL LUKE SKYWALKER.

She ducked beneath the slashing blade, gazing into his face.  Skywalker’s face.  The face that had haunted her nightmares for nearly six years. The face the Emperor had ordered her to destroy.

YOU WILL KILL LUKE SKYWALKER.

And for the first time since she’d found Skywalker and his crippled X-wing floating in deep space, she let herself give in to the voice swirling through her mind. With all her strength, she swung her lightsaber and cut him down.

The clone crumpled, his lightsaber clattering to the floor beside him.

Mara gazed down at him… and as she took a ragged breath, the voice in the back of her mind fell silent.

It was done. She had fulfilled the Emperor’s last command.

And she was finally free.

Okay.  A couple of things:

  • For those keeping score, this would be where Leia’s Force vision came true.  To a degree.  She hadn’t foreseen herself or her lightsaber in there, after all. Hold that thought for what’s still to come.
  • Please keep the “insignificant weapons” line in mind, as it’ll have an even more subtle fallout.  Let’s just say that C’baoth didn’t fully disarm his prisoners.
  • Full confession: The entire thing about Mara killing Luuke may bother me a bit.

Not the aspect where it becomes a cathartic climax for Mara, and sets her free from the compulsion of the Emperor’s last command.  I’m more than fine with how that falls out. Especially since Mara isn’t thinking about that explicitly when she charges.  It’s possible to read this as her going for her chance to kill L*ke Skywalker, yes, but also simply as her grasping the chance to win the battle for her side.

And in that latter case, this is the heat of battle, the clone is obviously out to kill, it’s in defense of her and hers.  Sucks, but it’s not more problematic than any other battle death.

But if it’s the former, well… That one line about anger and fear in the clone’s face… those are emotions, which he had never shown before, and which give me pause about the morality of Mara’s action and unease about the whole situation being set up to play out as it has.  Because if Mara was going for the chance to kill L*ke as per her compulsion,  well, she just killed an intelligent being capable of self-awareness instead of another intelligent being capable of self-analysis whom we just happened to have known for a long time.

So taken like that, this doesn’t reflect too well on Mara.  I know that she had no choice in action, really—only in motivation.  But motivations matter.

will: Personally, I think that Mara would have taken the same actions if it wasn’t a clone of Luke, just without the “giving herself over to the compulsion” aspect. Same result, which actually speaks to the relative purity of her motivations.

z: Although by that point she’s obviously pretty well convinced that the clone is a Luke-shaped empty shell controlled by C’baoth; all those thoughts about how controlling the clone doesn’t seem to take C’baoth’s full concentration…  and she purposefully works to see the idea in her mind that the face is the man, and so the action can meet that last command.

Layers upon layers.  With a lesser author, there’s a very real danger this scene would simply ring the bell marked “way too pat” and that would be that.  But Zahn knows his characters, how to layer them, and how to foreshadow.

And here we are.  I really really need to shut up now.  Will?

will: Here’s my big question: what order did the “clones” and “Mara” decisions get made? I mean, in retrospect, the Mara and clone Luke thing was all set up to lead to this, to give an out to Mara’s compulsion without, you know, killing Luke. Did Zahn decide to create clones because he’d made Mara and wanted to resolve that, or did he create Mara with that compulsion to do something big with clones?

z: Or did the two really, really happened to work out to this kind of resolution, although he might have had something weird and different in mind initially?

will: Other than that, because it is late (yup, new record; yaaaay), technically this is kind of spoilery through everything before the Disney Reboot, but it’s not exactly canonical…it’s still the best in-universe explanation for the wtfery that was the EU: Tim Zahn’s April Fool’s prank “An Apology.”

z: I’ll go read. When I’m not falling asleep.

will: And I’m going to get out when the getting is good. Zahn bookended his new creation, Mara Jade, quite well indeed, mirroring what she would have done with what she does do, for different reasons that are still the same as completing an order to reject a master.

Wow, I get faux-profound when I’m tired.

z: Is OK, we like you anyway.

will:  Next week, it all gets done.

Artistically.

Until then, may the Force be with you.

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