Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina: “The Tale of the ‘Tonnika Sisters,'” Part 2

will: Welcome back, readers, to “The Tale of the ‘Tonnika Sisters,'” wherein like two starships that dock in the night, we intersect with the main sequence just long enough to answer the question that’s sort of at the heart of this story, just in time to rapidly fire off in a different direction again.

If you’re reading this as it goes live, you have just over a day to hie yourself to the WMGSO’s Small Ensemble Showcase in Germantown, MD, at the BlackRock Center for the Performing Arts, August 5. If you’re not reading it as it goes live…you missed a great show.

z: Thank you. For all of it.

As I’m writing this, I just came back from the dress rehearsal; I’m exhausted but I think it really might go well on Saturday.

will: We’ll resume right where we left off; Shada guns the throttle of her speeder bike and charges for the Imperial base. She’s shocked that she hasn’t encountered any defenses; either this whole affair was a last minute scramble, or they expected her to be running right now. Or they’re targeting Karoly.

Two kilometers out, though, she hits three hoverscouts and two squads of scouttroopers (a la Endor) and an artillery defense emplacement. He speeder bike’s shields aren’t built for this, and Shada is driving on instinct (and, though the text doesn’t support this, I wonder whether she’s lining up a ramming angle), as the same flurry of activity appears where Karoly is–right up until the Skyclaw flies overhead and provides close air support. Over the loudspeaker, Sileen tells Shada how to turn–and while jamming and slicing are both a thing, they’re speaking in “battle language,” which Shada is sure they’ll be stumped by. (Shades of code talking?)

z: That’s the first thing I thought of.

will: The Mirage is likewise giving Karoly cover, and the two ships direct Shada and Karoly to the center of the base, and a Strike Cruiser in the middle of it. The ships fly off to intercept the upcoming reinforcements, and Shada and Karoly race to the cruiser, just ahead of the artillery guns behind them, and outgunning the dozen troops stationed at the bow hatch. Shada has plans to drop some more of that corrosive green smoke into the cruiser, and as more Imperial forces appear over the horizon, she dashes inside, mentally mapping out the layout of a Strike Cruiser, and stops as she looks up.

The entire Strike Cruiser has been hollowed out into a massive (three hundred and fifty meters long and fifty in diameter) cavernous space. It has a reinforced deck, and down the middle, a truly mind-bogglingly huge cylinder with all sorts of power and connections. The Hammertong.

For reference, three hundred and fifty meters is about three American football fields.

This is big, people.

Shada is completely dumbfounded, in shock, and looks around. Ship’s empty, the guards are dead, and the drive status check has been running.

Shada yells for Karoly to get inside, and seal the door.

Yup. Grand Theft Medium Cruiser. And Thingy.

z: Big Thingy.

will: Shada lifts–the cruiser has been reinforced with extra repulsorlifts, as a craft like this is not normally a vehicle that lands into planetary gravitational fields–

z: …physicist, remember?

will: …and has Karoly get on the comm to the others. She scans constantly for Imperial reinforcements, and when Sileen and Cai connect, she says it’s time to give the Empire a bloody nose, that they need to know there are consequences for killing Mistryl.

Though I note they wouldn’t know that, the Mistryl never identify themselves, and if they did, the Empire would probably just retaliate by bombing the Mistryl’s home planet (which we’ll get back to a long, long time from now; but remember that Shada grew up on a “war-devastated world”).

Anyway. She sets Cai and Sileen up (“we can do this ourselves” is basically taunting the others, who agree they need to stay together), and then they need to figure out what the hell to do with this? You can’t normally fly a Strike Cruiser with two people. They decide to get somewhere quiet, disassemble the Hammertong, and get it out in their own freighters.

That’s when the Star Destroyer shows up, and Shada feeds the others a course. Sileen does a double-take at the location, but then offers to go get a freighter. Shada agrees, and the Skyclaw jumps away. Shada and the Mirage jump too, and Karoly asks exactly where they’re going.

“Just a useless little hole in space. Called Tatooine.”

They arrive and make a “marginally controlled crash” landing, knowing the ship won’t fly anymore, and Shada points out the incoming sandstorm that will hide the ship. They start peeling the bubble wrap (OK, “wrap-protection”) off of the Hammertong, as Cai arrives.

z: …hmmm. That reminds me, I never tried to see what my new cat’s reaction to bubble wrap is yet… {plots}

will: Shada explains that the only place that gets scrutiny is the spaceport; the rest is looked the other way because of the amount of contraband.

z: Which is the principal planetary export, from the description. Given, well, Tatooine, that makes all sorts of sense.

will: Cai fetches her “erratic but functional” astromech droid, and they keep investigating the Hammertong as the sandstorm picks up. They finally get an access panel removed, and see that everything in the Hammertong routes down a sequence of “multihelix prismatic crystals and a group of unlabeled but identical black boxes,” and I know what it is, but this might be the first time that, as a new reader, I would start to guess…

z: Yep. The crystals were what did it for me.

will: Anyway. They think maybe it’s a power core, or something, when Cai says there’s a battle going on in space, a Star Destroyer against what might be a bulk freighter. Shada worries it’s Sileen’s freighter, but a bit of scanning through a break in the sandstorm confirms it’s a Corellian Corvette.

Time frame established. A Corellian Corvette being attacked by a Star Destroyer.

z: AKA “The Moment When Thousands of Viewers’ Jaws Dropped and Thousands of Viewers’ Minds were Blown.”

will: Two more Destroyers arrive and start mixing it up, and Shada has another Idea. She asks Cai to remove one of the Hammertong modules, and says that if Sileen can’t arrive before one has been removed, they’ll just have to hire a freighter in Mos Eisley.

One scene transition later, which we’re told is several days to remove that module, Shada is now Brea Tonnika, and Karoly is Senni, because the Mistryl’s “camouflage prematch system” says they can pass (they certainly can’t use their own identification), and the Mistryl contingency plans say to go to a certain cantina in Mos Eisley.

Shada explains that strangers stand out in Mos Eisley, and they need to look like they belong. They enter the cantina, we get a classic description of the place (a shabby, ugly mess), head to the bar through a crowd we’re all familiar with, listening to “a Bith band belting out some bouncy but otherwise nondescript tune,” and the bartender asks what they want with “some recognition” in his eyes.

z: You know, that “nondescript” has to be an in-joke, or even not that much of an injoke per se: In our Galaxy, in our present time, it’s one of the best recognized pieces of music anywhere.

will: Shada asks for the usual, and they get two glasses of something. Better that, Shada explains in an undertone, than something out of character. She drinks–Sullustian wine–and watches the crowd, Karoly running a scanner to find a likely smuggler they can hire. They scan an assassin, some Duro who look too clean–she sees an old human talking to a Wookiee and a younger human–an Aqualish that Karoly IDs as Ponda Baba, a smuggler…

They’re cut off by the bartender yelling, and we get the droid sequence with Luke.

z: Interesting remark: Shada thinks that Luke is “about her own age,” which gives us her age. We were told that she joined the Mistryl only a year ago, you’ll recall.

Which makes her, experientially, about two hundred years older than Luke at this point.

will: They settle back down and Karoly identifies the “scarface” next to Ponda Baba as Dr. Evazan, who has ten death sentences…

Shada thinks about the old man again, and asks Karoly who he is. Maybe he and the kid in white are “grandfather and grandson, in from the countryside to see the big city?”

And that’s when the “I don’t like you” sequence plays out. It’s interesting to see from this angle–the Mistryl know it’s a setup, Obi-Wan’s face-saving gesture is clear, it doesn’t work, “no blasters,” and suddenly Shada doesn’t need to ID the old man anymore.

Shada licked at her lips, a fresh tingle running through her as the old man closed down his weapon and helped the kid back to his feet. A Jedi Knight. A real, living Jedi Knight. No wonder she’d sensed something odd about him. “I doubt he’s for hire,” she told Karoly, taking a deep breath and forcing her mind back to the business at hand. If the Jedi Knights of the Old Republic had still been in power when their world was destroyed…

They scan the room, searching for a prospective smuggler, don’t find any who are available, and then Shada sees the Jedi and the kid talking to that Wookiee and a new human (meaning the earlier one was BoShek, whom we’ll meet later). Karoly gives the expected ID–Han Solo–and then Shada says to hide the scanner, stormtroopers have arrived. She pulls her knife and gets ready, but the troopers are looking for the Jedi, not them. Of course, the Jedi is gone, and Shada and Karoly start to head toward Han to try to hire–Greedo arrives.

Shada thinks Han is their best option (something about how he carries himself, and/or that he was talking with Obi-Wan), so she’s all set to take out Greedo when Han beats her to the punch.

z: …not exactly to the punch–

will: –And then, they finally have a clear shot at talking to Han–

z: ….interesting choice of word there?

will: Someone grabs Shada’s wrist, and she turns to see an Imperial colonel flanked by two stormtroopers (the same two), and they get ID’d as the Tonnikas.

“You can’t imagine how brokenhearted Grand Moff Argon has been since your departure. I’m sure he’ll be pleased to see you again. As well as the twenty-five thousand you stole from him.”

And that’s why you don’t impersonate thieves, kids.

z: I was just going to say.

will: This is simultaneously the most and least interesting part of the sequence, if you ask me. The most, because it’s the one that ties the story to the cantina and the whole point of the anthology; the least, because what does this have to do with the Hammertong and what is it anyway and why are we seeing pages of admittedly-well-written description of sequences we have committed to memory all over again?

z: That points at one weakness of this anthology, actually. The cantina was there, the cantina will be there, as far as we know the cantina is still there, The Cantina is Eternal, All Hail the Canti– aheam. Anyway. Point being, the unifying theme is not the cantina but the characters that were in the cantina When Han Met Luke, but while we can conceive of tales of these people set from a time in their lives that does not touch upon the Cantina, so far their association with the Cantina has always covered some subset of the prescribed events.

will: And this does give us more of an understanding why this is happening–reading a bit between the lines and Wookieepedia, the two “Space Girls” in the cantina were ID’d as the Tonnika Sisters in some West End Games material (which included a bit of backstory that, as one of the very many attempts to explain what Han did to Lando that “he’s probably gotten over that by now,” had Han hire them to prank Lando by double-dating him while pretending to be one woman)…but while the actual Tonnika Sisters are twins, the two in the cantina aren’t. So Zahn engineered a setup where the cantina denizens are supposed to be the Tonnikas but actually aren’t, to explain inconsistencies.

This is somewhere between fanwank taken to its logical extreme, and the very definition of “everything but the squeal.” I both love it and roll my eyes. At the same time, there’s more to this story than “here’s why the ‘twins’ aren’t exactly the same,” as we can tell.

But we’ll get more into that now that the obligatory is over.

Z?

z: Well, if anyone is going to fill up holes in the canon and cover it with a fresh coat of plaster, I know whom I want it to be.

The well-written aspect of it also helps. It’s an emotionally charged scene that you’re now watching through someone else’s eyes, and this person is reacting naturally for her background, not because the plot demands that she act a certain way. It does carry a bit of “Behold, everything old has become new.”

Unfortunately, even as I type this my eyes try to close. So I won’t go into any more detailed commentary right now. Next week, we conclude the Tonnika sisters’ tale. Until then, may the Force be with you.

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