When we last left our heroes (because Mara is a hero whether she knows it yet or not), Luke and Mara had just started trekking across the Myrkr forest. Let’s find out what’s going back at the base, shall we?
Chapter 24 starts with Karrde returning to Han and Lando and apologizing for rushing out so quickly. He’s always the consummate host. Han isn’t impressed, and asks if Karrde is working directly with the Empire now. (Next time you’ll know not to leave Ghent in charge of controversial guests, won’t you, Karrde?) Karrde reassures Han that he doesn’t want to work for either side, and explains that the Imperials have been harvesting ysalamiri for weeks. Han isn’t pleased by this and threatens to leave, but Karrde convinces him it won’t be safe with the Chimaera in orbit.
Han and Lando sneak off to investigate the storage sheds where the so-called prisoner was supposed to be. Unsurprisingly, Karrde catches Han snooping around. Han isn’t pleased with what he finds, and asks Karrde what Thrawn’s got him doing–formal slaving or random kidnappings? Karrde insists he doesn’t deal with slaves or kidnapping–he didn’t want to find the prisoner, whose name isn’t for sale, mind you. And just then Lando appears from inside the other shed, having found the power supply from Luke’s hand.
Well, crap. Knowing it’ll do no use to protest, Karrde admits Luke was there. Luke escaped and crashed in another ship, but he’s alright. After a brief confrontation in which Karrde reminds Han he didn’t turn them or Luke over to the Imperials, Han asks to see Luke’s X-wing. They’ll go in the morning, when it’s safer. (I really like Han and Karrde working together, btw.)
We then move on to Thrawn asking Pellaeon if they’ve found the prisoners yet. They’re still working on it. They discuss where Karrde’s employees will emerge from the forest, and Thrawn orders stormtroopers sent to Hyllyard City to wait for them. Pellaeon doesn’t know why Thrawn is so concerned with an internal squabble. Thrawn explains he’s suspicious that Luke was in one of the Skiprays that crashed. It’s unlikely, but worth checking up on. The Chimaera is leaving after dropping off the stormtroopers, though, so as not to delay the Sluis Van assault. The squads left behind should be able to deal with Skywalker–or Karrde, if he turns out to be a traitor.
Then we get Luke and Mara’s first night together in the forest. How romantic! Luke says the forest reminds him of Endor, which is a really dumb thing to say to Mara Jade, as he’ll soon find out. (And yet another movie reference.) Mara reflects that she’s perfectly equipped to survive in the forest, and wonders why she’s trying so hard to get back to Karrde when she owes him no loyalty. But she knows that Karrde would wait for her to emerge from the forest, no matter what–even if it killed him to do so. She can’t stand the thought of Karrde being interrogated or put to death. (That’s loyalty, Mara. Just saying.)
OH NO, it’s time for the first vornskyr attack! Mara shoots it in the head. After a brief talk about the vornskyrs, Luke falls asleep. Mara takes some stimpills to stay awake, unwilling to sleep with an enemy so close by. She wonders how Luke can sleep when he should be wide-eyed and and pumping with adrenaline. Could there be more to him than just a family name, a political position, and a bag of Jedi tricks? She knows there is–it’s whatever happened at Endor–and she’s going to find out before she kills him. Because she is going to be the one to do it–not vornskyrs, or the Imperials. It was her right and her duty. (But she hasn’t done it yet. Just saying, Mara. You don’t seem very determined.)
This chapter still isn’t over? Sheesh. Karrde is speaking with Aves about Mara’s message and what to do with Han and Lando. He asks Aves to form a search party for the following morning, and they discuss the possibility of having to kill Skywalker to make sure the Imperials don’t get him alive. Either way, Karrde knows his time on Myrkr is coming to an end.
Oh hey, we’re finally on the next chapter and we’re back on Kashyyyk with Leia. I almost forgot she was there! When we last left her, she was certain she’d seen one of the Noghri; but after investigation, he was nowhere to be found and the Wookiees have grown complacent. Leia’s woken up for some reason she can’t figure out, but she no longer feels safe in Rwookrrorro. (Did I spell that right without referencing it?) There’s yet another OT reference as Leia reflects on how the desire to stay in one place had almost gotten them all killed at Hoth, and thinks they should’ve left the city long ago. This is a nice bit of characterization for Leia here, as we see inside her mind and how she analyzes her enemies.
She grabs her comlink to call for Chewie and OH MY GOD A HAND REACHES OUT AND GRABS HER WRIST. I cannot tell you how frightening this scene was to me as a kid, and it’s still extremely freaky to imagine that happening now. But Leia is awesome and grabs the lightsaber from under her pillow to slice the Noghri in half. Unfortunately, there’s another Noghri present and he promptly knocks the lightsaber out of her hand. He gets her in a hold and she’s unable to fight back…but then he abruptly releases her. He bows down and calls her “Mal’ary’ush.” Allow me to say for us all: huh?
Before she can figure out what that means, Chewie and company barrel into the room. She tells them not to kill the Noghri, because they need him alive for questioning. For now they have to get out of the hut, because a second attack is coming and the Noghri have set another on fire to create a diversion. They decide to crawl under the city.
And they do this with Chewie climbing WITH HIS CLAWS UNDER THE VINES and Leia holding onto his chest. This scene was always so scary to me when I was a kid, especially since I’m afraid of heights. Flying in a spaceship wouldn’t bother me, but holding onto a Wookiee while crawling under a city hundreds of kilometers in the air? While moving on all fours under the branches? Yeah, that’d kill me.
Leia sees an aircar following them, filled with the strange aliens. In a completely awesome move, Leia attaches her lightsaber to the end of the rope, locks it on, and swings it in a pendulum arc into the bottom of the aircar, destroying it. Go Leia!
It’s time to leave Kashyyyk, but first they stop to see the Noghri prisoner. She can’t understand the compulsion she’s under to talk to him, and she reflects back to Endor, when Luke told her he needed to go see Vader. (Do I even need to say it?)
The alien smells her hand, and then asks forgiveness for attacking her. They were not told who she was, only given a name. He calls her “Mal’ary’ush” again, and says she is the daughter of Darth Vader, “he who was our master”. Leia is thrown for a loop, but she’s got a regal background and knows how to carry herself like royalty. The alien identifies himself as Khabarakh (omg seriously? My poor spell checker), and our heroes finally learn the name Noghri. Khabarakh tells her that Vader and the Emperor gave them hope after their world was destroyed during a battle. Leia asks him to take her to their world so she can offer help. He’s hesitant, as their new master (I wonder who that could be *cough* blue skin *cough*) would not approve. She tells him to go back to his world and confer with their leaders, and meet her in one month’s time orbiting the planet Endor.
While this chapter does get me away from my precious Luke and Mara, I love seeing Leia on her own, being awesome. It rarely happens and it’s glad to see her using both her political and Jedi background here.
And now we get to Chapter 26, which is one of my all-time favorite chapters in any book. It features lots of delicious Luke and Mara tension, a heart-pounding vornskyr attack, in which Luke saves Mara’s life, and a harsh confession from Mara about her life as the Emperor’s Hand. I love it all–and while I’m an unabashed Luke and Mara shipper, I will challenge anyone who says they loved each other from the beginning to read this chapter and say that to me with a straight face. Emperor’s doing or not, she hated him with the fiery passion of a thousand suns.
The chapter starts off with Mara carefully cutting through some vines, as she’s worried about how far the hum of the lightsaber will carry now that they’re nearing the edge of the forest. Just then a vornskr attacks, and she just barely manages to shoot it off Luke’s back. Luke asks her to reconsider giving him his lightsaber back, as she must be tired of shooting vornskyrs off him by now, but she waves him off. In truth, she knows he’s right. She’d once gone six days without sleep, but now after two she’s starting to fall apart. (I want to see the story where she went six days without sleep.)
They find a clearing to send up a sonde balloon to carry the message to Karrde. After she’s done she turns around to find Luke asleep, and immediate thinks of him with contempt. Jedi! Artoo then receives a message from Threepio, instructing Luke of Karrde’s cover story and advising that stormtroopers are waiting for them in Hyllyard City. Karrde has suggested that Luke and Mara trade places, as Karrde didn’t inform the Imperials that Jade was a woman. Mara is incredulous at this idea, but Luke (having been drifting in and out of sleep) says it’s not a bad idea. Mara says they’ll go around the city instead. Luke drifts off again, and Mara wishes desperately that she’d killed Skywalker when she had the chance.
Later on, Luke is woken up to see a vornskyr standing over Mara. He uses the krayt dragon yell to distract the vornskyr, and after several tense minutes, he’s able to snatch back his lightsaber and kill the animal. Mara of course is not grateful at all, and asks what took him so long. Then, with her blaster pointed at him, she asks for the lightsaber back. Luke can’t believe her. (He really shouldn’t be surprised by now.)
After some snarky back and forth, Luke says he just wants to know what happened to her. Baaad question, Luke. Don’t you know you happened to her? Mara tells Luke she was a dancer at Jabba’s Palace. But Luke can sense it’s more than that…and then Mara spills her guts. She was the Emperor’s Hand, reporting only to the Emperor, and when he died she had nothing left.
“I was his hand, Skywalker. That’s how I was known to his inner court: as the Emperor’s Hand. I served him all over the galaxy, doing jobs the Imperial Fleet and stormtroopers couldn’t handle. That was my one great talent, you see–I could hear his call from anywhere in the Empire, and report back to him the same way. I exposed traitors for him, brought down his enemies, helped him keep the kind of control over the mindless bureaucracies that he needed. I had prestige, and power, and respect. And you took it all away from me. If only for that, you deserve to die.”
Luke takes all this in stride, asking what went wrong. Turns out Jabba wouldn’t let Mara go along with the execution party. (Makes me wonder why she didn’t try harder. Should Jabba really have stopped her? Hmm.) Luke thinks back to his vision in the dark side cave, and her she would’ve succeeded if she had gone along. Then he asks why she didn’t return to the Empire, and her response is simple: there’s no Empire to return to. For four and a half years she floundered around doing odd jobs until linking up with Karrde. She’s worked hard to get where she is, and she’s not going to let Luke ruin her life again. Luke says he doesn’t want to ruin her life. All he wants is to get back to the New Republic. And all she wants is the old Empire back, but we don’t always get what we want, do we? (I love that exchange. So much.)After all that excitement, they head to sleep to prepare for the big day tomorrow.
AHHHH it’s just all so gooooooooood!
Stay tuned for the next installment when the Imperials do more plotting, and Luke and Mara prepare to leave the forest.