The Truce at Bakura, Chapter 4

z: Hello, gentlebeings, and welcome to Chapter 4 of The Truce at Bakura, wherein there’s a lot of fighting.

In personal news, I’ve got a very, very sick cat, which has precluded having any more personal news.

will: Things are pretty quiet here after Arisia, now conventions until February, work busy but survivable. Not a whole lot to report, except for watching the greater context of politics and screaming forever. But that’s not this blog.

z: We open the chapter from a Chewbacca’s point of view, who’s having thoughts parallel (anti-parallel?) to Han’s from that previous scene: Chewie’s done his best, but Han’s aesthetic sense isn’t civilized; still, Leia seems like a “genteel female” and should be able to figure things out.

…okay, at this point it’s been, what, five years since Chewie met Leia?  And I’ll remind everyone that her first words at him were to call him “walking carpet”?  Chewie would know Leia better than to think she “seems like” anything, and “genteel” wouldn’t be very high on the list either way.   Or so it seems to me.

will: I agree here. Remember, Han told Chewie that he needs to protect her.

On the other hand, the “genteel female” thing makes a bit more sense to me as a function of what amounts to Chewie’s version of “how to actually function in a relationship.” He’s probably thinking of her love life, as it were.

z: Which has recently been…?

will: That’s sort of my point–recently, she’s professed her love for a scoundrel. But…that’s it. No sense of what that means to Chewie, either, and he’s an important part of the relationship.

z: Anyway, Chewie’s in the cockpit with Threepio, fiddling with communications gear, picking up random transmissions, and trying to keep track of “Luke’s battle” occasionally (see, this, I like, that he thinks of the fight in-system as “Luke’s battle”).  Threepio hears something and asks him to in effect rewind.  Chewie thinks about tearing Threepio’s arm, decides against it since he’d have to resolder all those connections again, and then as I’m getting aggravated once more, he shrugs and decides sure, maybe 3PO did hear something, and rewinds.

Teasing and being dismissive of Threepio habitually is one thing, but…this just comes out of the left field.  And it’s an attempt to lighten the mood with a joke at 3PO’s expense (and also by hurting the dog, to use the TV Tropes term), but…the uncivilized aesthetic sense line that opened the chapter worked better.  Anyway.

will: Like I said, droids get really short shrift this book. I’m starting to think it’s deliberate given that the Ssi-ruuk use droids to fight (and this was before the prequels too!).

On the other hand…Chewie is basically sitting listening to Threepio bitch and moan, and suddenly it’s “I’m an expert, listen to me!” And Chewie does tune back. So I call it a coping mechanism for Chewie and pass it by. After all, he does the repair work on Threepio when it comes to that.

z: Threepio does hear something.  Sounds like droid command codes.  Chewie isn’t interested in calling and interrupting Han and Leia just for some mechanical survivors of the battle that was at this system, but when Threepio declares that this isn’t an Alliance or Imperial code, he grabs the comlink.

will: And there’s that. Chewie actually does respect Threepio’s knowledge base.

z: Han isn’t happy at being interrupted.  But when Threepio reports and adds that the sources seem to be coming closer, Leia jumps up first.

will: Note also that Han’s response is “just when Leia’d been on the verge of relaxing,” which definitely cuts two ways, one more generous, but both probably accurate to a degree…

I’m picking up here, as Z’s busy life got Even Worse. Sympathies!

At any rate, when the message comes in, Leia and Han abandon their “relaxation” and head for the cockpit. Leia “mournfully” (and I can’t really read whether it’s meant to be ironic/amused or serious) tells Han, “it’s not my fault!”

z: I heard it as a tone of voice, so, ironic.

will: As they arrive, the alarms go off: they’re being probed, by what resolve into a grouping of small ships. Chewie charges the main guns for Han and himself while Leia reminds us that the aliens take prisoners, and as Leia takes over piloting, Han reflects that yeah, he has promised himself that “she’d never take the Falcon away from him and Chewie,” which…is not exactly how we heard it before, the inclusion of that “him,” but I actually think that’s more of a writing fail than a character one…but this is different.

z: I must have missed the part where Han grew a second body and would be able to pilot as well as shoot.  It made no sense to me that he even had that thought in the circumstances; it’s not natural, but feels a bit forced.  “Remember?  Potential relationship sticking point!  Remember?”

will: Anyway. As Han settles in for a redux of the Death Star Escape, he asks what the ships are. Threepio opens up with an academic dissertation, “deep space droids” Leia cuts Threepio off, and the fight begins. Chewie tells Han that there are some impressive shields (and Leia doesn’t follow; she still needs to learn Shyriiwook) for ships that small, and they’re smart droids–but not as smart as a team of a pilot that can readjust the ship and a rotating gunport, so boom.

The droids are targeting engines, Han notes, and also, is there a control ship? Leia says she figures these are leftovers from the mining outpost attack, Han agrees, they confirm they’re clear, and Han goes for the cockpit. Leia lines up a jump insystem, but the Falcon does its thing (breaks), so Han does his percussive maintenance (he whacks something).

The dialogue between Han and Leia here does not really work, sounding more like something out of the middle of The Empire Strikes Back, as Leia complains that she hasn’t been protected at all, so they might as well join the fray, and Han worries about her low opinion of his confidence.

z: Leia complaining about not being protected made me go all squinty-eyed.  Who’s this person and what has she done with the Princess?

will: But at any rate, we scene shift.

Luke is “motionless but for his eyes,” as he watches the Imperial ships fall back, setting Luke’s team up to target one of the Ssi-ruuvi cruisers. He orders the Rogues and Gold Squadron to target the cruiser, and some of the Red snubfighters to keep the first bunch from being englobed, while the rest of the Reds will nursemaid the Flurry. Manchisco is sort of grateful–she knows that the cruiser is a target, but she would love the chance for her ship to mix it up–and teases Luke.

As the dogfight starts, Luke gets a greater sense of the Ssi-ruuvi ships: tiny pyramids, but when Wedge vaporizes one, he feels a shriek through the Force. The next time he deliberately reaches out–for each ship that dies, two humans do too, sayeth the Force. Luke doesn’t get it.

The BAC says a cruiser is vulnerable, so Luke orders an attack, but the cruiser launches a fresh wave of droids. Luke feels impotent as a commander, stuck on the bridge, but watches as the Empire pulls a regroup on the Ssi-ruuvi flank.

z: In contrast to the off-characterization of Leia’s reactions, I thought Luke’s reaction to suddenly being in the command chair was very well-done.  His hands would be itching for fire controls and he really wouldn’t like the sudden perspective shift from the first person to the third person.

will: And that’s when Luke notices that a gunship is sneaking up on the Rogues, and let’s be honest, he panics, because it’s Wedge. He orders the Flurry‘s fighter screen to back up the Rogues, which leaves the cruiser unguarded–and also at least two X-wings die. Not Wedge, Luke thinks, which again, not a good trait in a commander, but they are human and should be mourned. And that’s when the Flurry itself is a target, and Manchisco gets the orders to command her defense. Luke “concentrate[s] on Wedge’s danger and close[s] out his own,” which should be “concentrated on the larger battle and ignored the part he’s at risk from,” see above.

z: Also see: Very very new commander.  He has had exactly zero time to even think about how he’s got to think differently about the people under his command while they are under his command.

will: Wedge is englobed, so Luke reaches out with the Force and touches the two “almost-human” presences in one droid ship: one controlling shields (which explains why they’re so strong), the other everything else. He focuses on that second one, trying to understand–and he starts mindsharing with it, seeing through its sensors. He also gets that the presence is in so much pain, so much misery that it has become nihilistic.

At this point he remembers that the means matter as much as the ends; instead of destroying the presence, he strengthens its willpower, its humanity. It pushes for life, and he answers, better to die on your feet than live on your knees–and better to end in peace than suffer.

Which…will be the theme of this. And yeah, under these circumstances, I’m willing to consider Luke’s actions merciful. The presences know they can’t come back. They need something to push towards. Luke gives them that. We’ll discuss this a few times, I imagine.

Unexpectedly, the droid ship shifts, and rams its neighbor. Luke pulls out of the presence before he rides it all the way to death, and Wedge gets out of his englobement.

z: Luke has no qualms about whether this would be a step towards the Dark Side, which is a good thing, because it obviously isn’t even though it makes him a proximate cause of those final deaths.  Partly the difference is that they are “final deaths,” not “deaths.”

will: Manchisco asks if Luke is all right, and the Flurry is still being bombarded, so can he pull any more tricks out of his “sleeve”? Not the place I would expect her to say…

He doesn’t, and the starboard shields go down, and the fighters are out of position…and the Falcon appears, blasting away, taking out at least one picket ship, the unexpected direction and fire breaking the Ssi-ruuvi attack run.

Luke thanks Han, and thinks maybe Leia too, could that have been the Force? He lets himself relax back into the Force, which is “reflective but not mindless,” and sees the opening for Red Squadron to destroy one of the cruisers. Which they do.

And Luke reflects that he hates command, hates the waiting, hates the removal from the action, hates the need to see the biggest picture.

Our Tactical Jedi needs some strategy lessons. (That’ll be the theme of a lot of books.)

z: You can take the farmboy out of the snubfighter, but you can’t…um.  That line needs a bit of work.

will: Luke also takes a moment to reflect that the BAC just doesn’t cut it–it’s got too many limits. He takes a drink bulb of water from a lieutenant, and then sees the Ssi-ruuvi falling back. They jump away, and Luke orders an outer-system scan. They’re not gone for good yet.

Luke orders a message sent to Alliance High Command, emphasizing that they need reinforcements, has the squadrons dock, and receives a hail from Imperial Commander Thanas–who asks for a holonet call. Seems the holonet was a recent patch to this ship, so they have it, but need to power it up.

Thanas is a fiftyish, slender man with thinning short hair; he tells Luke thanks, and watch out, the Ssi-ruuvi ships (Luke notes that term too) “burn heavy fusionables” so be careful for radiation and heat (I’m no expert, but isn’t that “fissionables”?) and goodbye.

z: Well, um, you see–[sits on hands to stop typing]

will: Luke wonders why they used the holonet for that, but figures either Thanas wanted to see Luke, or wanted to gauge how much stolen Imperial equipment there was, or both. He has the BAC analyze the Imperial formation–conclusion, it’s defending the damaged Carrack cruiser (Thanas’s command ship), and the planet. Which Luke figures makes sense, the Empire doesn’t trust the Alliance.

He switches back and thanks the Falcon again, asking what happened on Planet Six. “Tell you later.”

And we’re out.

Tyers…is not a great military writer, I’m afraid. But it’s helped because Luke is not a great commander. He focused way too much on his friend, he didn’t have sufficient strategic awareness, and it showed. If I were Flurry bridge crew I expect I’d be terrified that my commanding officer was unfit.

Beyond that the sequence is…okay. It does set up one of Luke’s roles: psychopomp for the enteched. So there’s that. But a lot of the Han/Leia stuff feels off as well as the Luke material.

I feel like I should have more to say. But this book is already starting to show signs of having been a lot better when I was a preteen, and what was new and cool is now just…weak.

Z?

z: Pretty much what Will said.  I read this in my teens, late teens at that (didn’t have access before) and remember enjoying it, but not as much as the Zahn trilogy.  I simply didn’t have enough reader-experience to identify the things that bugged me as unsound characterization, though.  I just knew things bugged me.

I’m not a great military reader, so the shortcomings of the battle description probably bounced off me.  I did enjoy how rapid the fight felt–it’s longish, page-number-wise, but moves along at a good pace.

Next week, we’re meeting…her.  The original character of this book, or at least one of the two (the first one being Dev).  I’ll keep you in a little bit of suspense for now.  Until then, may the Force be with you.

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