The Truce at Bakura, Chapter 7

z: Hello, gentlebeings, and welcome to Chapter 7 of The Truce at Bakura, wherein we get to watch the Bakuran councilors watch Our Heroes watch the original Ssi-ruuvi broadcast.  Also, Luke watches other people in the chamber and one in particular.

In personal news, I’m one-third of the way through Phillip Bobbitt’s The Shield of Achilles: War, Peace and the Course of History and just started reading Corey Robin’s Fear: The History of a Political Idea for no particular reason whatsoever.  Also I finished my…oh, hey, I have to think about this now…fifth arrangement: It’s a small ensemble piece, for alto and soprano vocals and piano accompaniment.

Speaking of which, if you are interested in things like how does one arrange music, what it’s like to arrange music, how does one get 3.5 minutes of pure choral music starting from 1:15 of very New-Age, very synthesized spacey melody, and Mass Effect in general, you can tune in to twitch.tv/wmgso at 1 pm Eastern this Sunday the 19th and watch me talk about these things, hopefully as if I know what I’m doing.

will: Apologies if my contributions are a little short this week; as I mentioned last chapter, I’m spending this weekend at Capricon in the Chicagoland area. So time spent here commenting is not time spent at the con.

And also time spent with this chapter, which, spoiler alert, we are not going to love.

z: We’re in Luke’s point of view as he and Han follow Leia into the Council chamber.  Luke’s worrying about bringing his lightsaber into the room; only, as Will pointed out in last week’s commentary, he’s not worrying about the whole handwave-these-aren’t-droids-you’re-looking-for thing, but about having brought the lightsaber in at all and what if the councilors object to it as a weapon?

…I’d worry more about the councilors objecting to you brainwashing (or at least, brain-numbing) one of their people when said person isn’t an enemy and your life isn’t under threat, Luke.

will: Yeah, this is a place where Tyers seems to have prioritized the cool Force thing, not to mention the “faceless stormtrooper” factor, over remembering that no, here, stormtroopers aren’t inherently the enemy.

You know. The Truce part.

Though I’m now reminded that that Luke will close this chapter with something just as wrong, or maybe worse, Force-use-wise.

z: We get a second description of the council chamber with the rain pillars at the corners, and Luke also notices the two non-human councilors and describes them as “tall, white-skinned individuals with corrugated scalp instead of hair.”  He focuses on Nereus, who has beaten them there and, given his name, should really not be sitting in a “massive repulsor chair, all gold and purple” if we didn’t want to lean too heavily on the Roman imagery, except we obviously did, so.

will: Oh, we obviously did. We’ll see Imperial purple showing up a few times too.

z: Luke also feels “curiosity tinged with hostility, with a dark undercurrent of fear” coming from the councilors when they look at Leia, and Captain Obviouses “This world was under attack.”

will: Yeah, it’s meant to reinforce his sense of the room, but it just comes off dumb.

z: Leia tells Threepio to stay near the door and greets Nereus, who calls them into the chamber proper.  As they go down to the “central rectangle,” we get what I think is the first deliberate mention of human races in Star Wars: “The Bakuran senators displayed all common shades of human skin, a subtle blending of blood lines.”  Since as far as I recall, this will not be relevant to the plot in any way, I wondered at this line, but I may not be remembering everything?

will: I feel like it’s intended to reinforce that all humanity isn’t the same, and all that; a nice thing, but yeah, it sticks out a little. And the comment about “blood lines” more so.

So does the comment that the central rectangle can slide out of the way and Luke’s memory of the Rancor pit.

z: Prime Minister Yeorg Captison welcomes them to Bakura, and gets a “deep curtsey” from Leia, who had barely acknowledged Nereus.  While I kind of balk at the mental image of Leia curtseying, I can totally see her ignoring Nereus to show pointed respect to the head of the actual planetary government as she would see it.  Luke’s sense of PM Captison in the Force is “only a shade dimmer than Mon Mothma’s,” which I take to mean…charismatic?  Shiny and pure of soul and of purpose? …?  Add that to the list of lines that I’m not sure how to take.

will: Leia acknowledging Captison as the person deserving of respect is valid, yeah, but like we said last chapter…the Empire is already here, Leia. She needs to stop acting like both Empire and Alliance are on the same footing.

As to Captison, I think the best word is “presence.” Since Luke wonders how such a strong person wouldn’t have been “eradicated” by the Empire.

z: Captison apologizes that this meeting was rushed without a proper protocol briefing, and Leia says no problem, “This is a desperate hour.”  I am reminded strongly of Will’s discussion, throughout the Thrawn trilogy, of the characters quoting themselves vs. the authors quoting the movies.  Especially since Leia is about to do it again very soon.

The defense minister, Harris, explains that the enemy leaves no bodies and no survivors, and he’s very afraid.  Luke starts “sweeping his focus” down the rows of senators, and while I’m squinting against the searchlight beam mental image, he notices…no point in keeping the name until Luke learns it, or this will be even more awkward to comment on; he notices Gaeriel:

A sharp-chinned young woman sat third from the left.  He paused, startled by the way she resonated the Force back to him.  Like a deep, slow thrum, her presence echoed his probe with a rich overlay.  It wasn’t Force strength of her own–at least, he didn’t think so–but a unique energizing effect on his awareness.  He’d never experienced it before.  Hurriedly, he slammed off all perception but his five senses.  He mustn’t let her distract him.

…Farmboy, it’s called “chemistry.”  And I’m really, really, but really not sure what to make of all that resonating business.  From one point of view, wouldn’t it be natural for Luke to have felt something like that from Leia, and mentally remark on that?

will: I wonder whether this is supposed to be related to her religious leanings somehow? Given her whole “balance of nature” thing?

z: Nereus taunts Leia that the Alliance party doesn’t know what they are up against, and orders an aide to “run the Sibwarra recording” and calls Leia and her “escorts” up to the dais with him. As he climbs the stairs Luke looks at Gaeri again, and we get more description: pale flower-petal skin, intent expression, slender shoulders set proudly straight…not “blindingly beautiful, but striking.”  He mentally chides himself to have control because he’s there to help Leia.  Heh.

will: Note also that Leia explains that she doesn’t know what’s up against because the Alliance wanted to show that it “has no grudges against Imperial-ruled people, only the Empire itself.” Which I guess is supposed to underscore how she separates out Empire from Bakura up until now, but it doesn’t quite work for me.

z: They are shown a recording of Dev Sibwarra, which was apparently broadcast on every channel in every medium on Bakura when the Ssi-ruuvi first arrived.  Luke describes Dev as “young human male with muddy cream-colored skin, short black hair, and a sweet face with prominent cheekbones,” which encoding I totally missed when I first read this book because I had not yet been to grad school in the USA and not yet met a goodly number of Indian classmates and labmates.  I mean, on the one hand it’s good that this book isn’t going the “color-blindness equals representation” route.  On the other hand, something about the presentation is striking me as off, but I can’t put my finger on it.  Will?

will: Wow, I hadn’t really understood that myself when I first read (I think I just passed over it), but yes–the coding of Dev (including his name!) is damn clear. I do like that Dev himself didn’t mention it–why would he, even, aboard the Shriwirr?

Not sure I can point out the issue beyond that, though I agree something is off. Maybe it’s “muddy,” which might not be as neutral a word as Tyers would have liked.

z: The recording is all about Dev giving the Bakurans “good news”; they are about to be freed of pain and need and fear, and it’s an honor because they’re going to be the first and help the Ssi-ruuvi liberate everyone else in the Galaxy too, whee.  Then they cut to show one of the drone fighters, as the voice-over continues, and Luke recognizes both the craft and the saurian aliens shown around it, the latter from his Force vision on Endor. Dev explains about life energies leaping into the battle droids to soar between planets, let’s skip right over the part where you’re basically worse expendable fodder than even the TIE fighters, and shows a bit of the entechment procedure which…doesn’t really seem to be as much “joy, peace, freedom,” or a gift, as Dev poetically concludes.

Luke’s now knows that those presences he felt during the battle had been humans, and mentally dubs the Ssi-ruuk as “robbers of souls.”. Which is hard to argue with.

will: Yeah. There’s no doubt that Tyers decided to come up with a menace and specifically a threat that would set up every revulsion the readers had.

z: And we shift into Gaeri’s point of view.  She’s still wondering if the Rebels have really come to help or were they after repulsorlift coils after all; and of that’s the case, well, they are caught here now too.

…are they, though?  I didn’t really get the sense that Luke’s task force had to break through a siege that re-formed after them, but maybe it did.

will: Not the sense that I got either; maybe it’s just a realization that the Ssi-ruuvi are out there?

z: She then examines the delegation, and her thoughts about Leia are unintentionally (on her part, maybe not the author’s) hilarious:

Senator Princess Leia Organa, her own age, was…one of the Rebellion’s chief perpetrators. She might be a deluded soul fighting for a lost cause, like Eppie Belden when she had her youth and her mind, but she had risen to leadership. Gaeri hoped to compare notes.

Um.  Maybe don’t mention the bit about the delusion and the lost cause if you go seeking Leia’s advice.

will: Not to mention, this is an impressive bit of propagandization–we’ll see in a few other cases what the Empire is told of the Rebellion (there’s a moment in one of the X-Wing books I’m reminded of), but this is all structured as a very…interesting bit of information control on the Empire’s part.

z: She pegs Han as suspicious, alert, and non-idealistic, and knows from distributed information that he’s a smuggler with prices, plural, on his head.  But there was no information in those distributed files about “the fair-haired one.”

You mean the one Vader was turning the Galaxy upside down to find?  How on Kessel wasn’t there special episodes of The Empire’s Most Wanted on Luke?

will: There would probably have been for the Empire–not so much their vassals. Vader was basically trying to turn the Galaxy upside down silently.

z: OK, I’ll grant that.

Anyway, Gaeri notes his deep calm, and how his full attention is on the recording.  At the moment the recording happens to show Firwirrung, and we learn from another Senator’s sotto voce remark that in the good old tradition of people everywhere, the Ssi-ruuk have been given the derogatory nickname “Fluties.”

Leia has turned white. When she whispers something to Han, Gaeri guesses he is her “Rebel consort,” and I also find this hilarious on multiple levels.

will: Yeah. Also it’s a very monarchal word for a theoretical republic like Bakura was. Then again, Gaeri did spend time on CoruscantImperial Center, so who knows.

z: She calls out, stating that they have no experience nor defense against this threat.  Luke nods at her. She thinks he understands the situation.  I laugh, because I’m fairly sure Leia and Han get it too, lady.

…and even does Threepio, who, for no apparent reason other than to get the senators to react as far as I can tell, calls out that all mechanicals would find this an abomination and—he’s drowned out by booing.

I mean, I could go on a lovely tangent here about mechanical life and life and how droids would be likely to feel about this really and why, but why would Threepio even speak up, so…

will: Yeah, that just doesn’t fit. And we’ll have time to discuss droids as this book progresses, no need to frontload it.

z: Leia doesn’t even seem to have heard him, though, because she just starts speechifying.  I’m using the word advisedly.  She identifies her father as the viceroy and first chairman of Alderaan, and tells how he tried to work for reform when Palpatine took over, but that didn’t work because the Empire wanted only power and wealth.  Gaeri mentally editorializes that this is one-sided, because the Empire also discourages change (…um) and builds economic stability.

Insert Privilege 101 here; move on for now.

will: Effective propaganda machines, huh?

z: Leia says how she started as a senator and an active Rebel very young, and describes the destruction of Alderaan, revealing that it was to force her to give up information.  Nereus objects to that explanation (so the alternative explanation was that Alderaan was destroyed because they were rebelling? Was that ever clarified, the story the Empire put out?) and threatens to arrest Leia.  I laugh.

will: I don’t think it ever was, really; it’s sort of a moot point. The effect was a galaxy-wide announcement that the Empire can destroy planets…the point would have been driven quite thoroughly home.

z: Leia dryly points out that declaring this should be strengthening the Empire’s position, which after all rules by fear. Gaeri hears the unsaid “but not by respect,” and acknowledges to herself that if the Rebellion hadn’t destroyed the Death Star, that could have been Bakura.  Which was really Tarkin’s point, one feels.

will: “Fear will keep the local systems in line.”

z: Leia now moves on to how she’s been with the Alliance since then, and they really want to help, look, they sent one of their “ablest military leaders.”

Um… You…don’t mean Han, right, “General” or not…?

“Commander Skywalker of the Jedi Order.”

This rates a suspicious squint from me on two fronts, one the “able military leader” bit which is true as long as we’re talking about a squad of X-wings maybe but Ackbar would chase Luke out of a situation room with a broom, I can’t help but feel; the other, what “Order” are we talking about?  Leia’s really not into that kind of politi-speak…

will: Well, remember this is in line with Leia’s intro to Nereus.

z: But the more significant thing is Gaeri’s reaction. She grasps her Cosmic Balance pendant reflexively, and we learn that her religion abhors Jedi because apparently skill and ability summed over all the universe is a zero-sum game and when Jedi get so skilled with their powers, that diminishes “a hapless counterpart.” Somewhere.  Not only that, apparently no one has told the Jedi this, so they, “power hungry,” had “puffed up their abilities without regard for the unknown others they destroyed.”

Look.  I don’t know much about any of the Earth-based religions based on the idea of balance, so there’s a good chance that if I try to do any analysis of this belief system drawing on the Earth systems, I will put my foot in my mouth.  So I want to be very clear that I am coming to this on the basis of that paragraph only, and I am talking about that paragraph solely:

This is ridiculous.

Like, really ridiculous.  C’baoth and his “lesser people are jealous of the Jedi because we’re so powerful” was…uh, will be…more grounded in reality and more plausible, and C’baoth was…is…actually insane.  “I can’t do this amazing thing that you can do so I hate you” is something that people have always thought.  “I can’t do this amazing thing you can do because you can do it so I hate you” is… sorry, I’m trying to have empathy here but…

…nope, we’re back to “ridiculous.”

will: Note also that the pendant she grabs is “the half-black, half-white enameled ring of the Cosmic Balance.” Sounds like a yin-yang symbol (which I see from some speed Wikipedia-ing is properly called a taijitu), huh? Except that takes the idea to rather absurd places.

z: Then Gaeri does that awkward thinking-to-herself-background-information-impartation thing and we learn that she’s very religious and has found comfort in her religion after her parents’ death, and TV Tropes servers ban my mental IP address because they think they’re under a DDoS attack.

will: You have mental IP addresses? Coooool.

z: So among those thinking so, the Jedi purge has apparently become a “morality tale.” I can’t. Gaeri wonders if some had survived, hilariously remarks that Luke looks very young and not like her idea of a Jedi, then goes back to being perceptive and wonders if he might be listening to someone’s thoughts.

Then she wonders if the calamity of the Ssi-ruuk had been sent by the Cosmos to balance against a single, but very powerful, Jedi?

I manage not to throw the book across the room.  Go, me.

will: And again, this isn’t the most offputting moment in the chapter. That’s still to come!

z: See, this is what gets me most about this book: Right after that Wrong Note Symphony there’s immediately a moment that’s truly and intentionally funny again; when Luke turns to stare at her again she glares back until he gets embarrassed and looks away and actually scuffs his feet.  There’s the farmboy.  But then Gaeri stares a bit longer herself; something about Luke reminds her of her uncle Yeorg.

We abruptly switch to Chewie, guarding the weapon locked with Artoo. Some stormtroopers are oh-so-casually starting to gather around, and he mentally starts readying himself for a fight. An officer appears and the troopers gather around him as he talks to them.

will: I am less than entirely certain why this bit is in here–to give Chewie a point of view? It feels superfluous.

z: To set up the moment with the officer later, I suspect, which itself is to set up the “Luke did what to who now!?”

will: Yeah, that. I guess. Well, where’s my machete, I have stuff to excise.

z: Shift back into the Senate chamber, this time to Leia’s point of view.  She’s aware the that the senators are side-eyeing Luke after she dropped the J-word, and thinks that maybe it’s not such a good idea for Luke to train her as a Jedi because then people would react to her like that.

Okay, we’ve got to talk about this. Chronologically the Thrawn trilogy is still ahead of us, yes, but given that it existed when this book was written, all this is making me think that someone had better fill in the explanation of how “people will mistrust Jedi, period” and “maybe Luke shouldn’t train Leia” will become “random people will ask judgment of a Jedi in a tapcafe” and “[…nothing, because that’s never even a question, because what.]” in five years.

will: Yeah; you can massage this about a backwater versus a more established planet, people with memories, or whatever, but the basic truth is that Tyers–and she won’t be the only writer we deal with who does this–really flunks at the whole role-of-Jedi-in-the-universe thing. A lot of what she sets up might make sense from a perspective of humans in reality, but in the universe here, that just doesn’t fly.

z: She drags the trains of thought back to herself and the threat, addresses the Governor to urge him to accept their assistance, actually says “We are your only hope,” which, while it’s technically correct, please stop self-quoting.

Nereus—

–oh, I’d forgotten about this major wince-inducer: “Nereus pressed his effeminate lips flat…”

Quick, gentlebeings, identify the one word there that I absolutely loathe.

will: Yeeeeah.

z: Deep sigh, moving on. Nereus says in turn that they’ll let the Rebels leave in return for the help they’ve given in the previous battle. Which, by the way, outright contradicts Gaeri’s idea that now the rebels are stuck in there, too.  There’s some ungrateful “if you wanted to help why didn’t you send more forces,” to which our Most Experienced Military Leader Luke tries to give the hilariously honest answer (just fought a major battle, dudes) and Leia cuts him off, there’s some back and forth, and Leia asks to get the Bakurans’ data files only on the Ssi-ruuk.

will: It’s a weird structure here, because Luke wants to say more help might be coming as a way of encouraging the populace, but Leia doesn’t want to turn this into Nereus saying no because he’s (with cause) worried about losing the planet. But it doesn’t come across well at all.

z: Senator Belden finally speaks up to point out that everyone on the planet knows that the Rebels are there to help so if Nereus refuses that help, there’ll be riots.  I can’t help but add a mental “I’ll make sure there are some” at the end of that.  Nereus accedes to the request for the data files. But he won’t address the truce just then.  Leia pointedly says her au revoir to the Prime Minister once again, and we’re out.

… I wish.

will: Here it comes.

z: We get into a Han point of view.  They’re back at the weapon locker, grabbing their stuff, and Chewie reports on the loitering stormtroopers.  Luke looks their way and says that the officer has them under control, presumably having sensed that with the Force. Leia notices the officer and says he’s from Alderaan, because of the way he talks or whatever.

will: Accent, was my read. I also note that Han specifically asks whether there might be “an Alderaanian conscience under the Imperial uniform,” and is told probably not. Which–hang on.

z: Once again we’ve got one funny line: to Han, “the black-haired officer looked like any other Imperial:. Like a target, with the kill zone marked by red and blue squares.”

You know what, scratch that…that actually isn’t that funny, is it.

Luke goes to meet the officer because…I don’t know actually, and Leia follows, so does Han.  The officer, one Conn Doruggan, says it’s an honor to meet Leia at last, and Han characterizes his speech with the verb “oozed,” but that’s meant to be his perception.  In my perception, Doruggan is obviously a fever dream.  I don’t find it unbelievable that there could be Alderaanians in Imperial service who stuck there after you-know-what.  I don’t believe any one who had made that choice would fanboy over their princess, the Flame of the Rebellion.

will: Right–any Alderaanian who stuck with the Empire after that is not really an Alderaanian anymore. By contrast, well, we haven’t really met him yet.

z: Leia introduces Han and Luke. Han’s very unhappy that she’s, uh, behaving like a minimally polite human being, and doesn’t shake hands.  Leia says they must be going and thanks for introducing yourself, and the officer kisses her hand, which if I do grant the promise that he cares about Alderaanian royalty is a very natural thing for her to do.  Han gets jealous enough to actually touch his blaster anyway.  Then:

Immediately Luke glanced in Han’s direction and flicked his hand.  He must’ve done with with that Force of his: Han’s jealousy cooled a hundred degrees, but it didn’t go out.”

…what.

will: What.

z: What.

What is this I can’t even.

will: Nope. Like, we knew it was coming all damn chapter but nope.

z: Among the things I can’t even do is to complain about how unnatural and out-of-character Han’s feelings and reactions are here, so obviously contrived simply to remind everyone that Relationship Tension Ahoy, but I can’t complain about that because Luke did what to whom!?

will: See above, in re Tyers not really knowing how to do Jedi. At all.

z: It gets worse, although after one moment which is sort of okay, in which they start moving away and Han snarls at Luke never to do that to him.  No kidding.  And Luke apologizes.  No kidding.  He’s stupid enough to say that they couldn’t afford what Han “wanted to do” and Han snaps back that he can control himself, which is correct and how wouldn’t Luke know that why what, and then…then Leia turns around to ask Luke what’s wrong.

Because she noticed nothing, you see.  This all went over her head.

I’m in my bedroom and there’s no table here, so: *dresser-flip*

And she asks Luke what’s wrong, you see, not Han, because there’s Relationship Tension, right–

I’m sorry.  I should have the part here where I sum up and make general remarks, but I just can’t any more.  Copping out in 3..2…1…Will?

will: No, no, I’m out too. I have a Capricon to get back to, and I don’t want to completely poison my mood. It’s just plain out of character on all parts, and I’d rather skip it, if it’s all the same to you.

z: No, please, skip right ahead.

will: I know, it’s less than fantastic form as reviewers, but we’re not exactly the Times Book Review here, so you know what? This chapter is a write-off. In fact it needed more writing on.

Come back next week for at least some resolution of Leia and Han, for now, with bonus Wookiee sanity, and Luke walking into the lions’ den, with some background on one particular lion.

Until then, may the Force, the real deal, be with you.

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