We’re nearing the end of the retrospective with only 6 chapters and 2 posts to go. In our last installment Leia left Kashyyyk and Luke learned about Mara’s past as the Emperor’s Hand. They’re running out of forest–what happens next? Onward!
Chapter 27 begins with the Chimaera testing cloaking shields, and by golly, they work. Pellaeon is worried about sending ships into enemy territory without communications. Thrawn says that’s how cloaking shields work–nothing gets in, nothing gets out. I like this bit of scientific world-building, as it keeps the Empire from getting overpowered. Pellaeon thinks they should use C’baoth for this operation, but Thrawn says all they need is careful timing. They can’t risk using C’baoth too much or too often, as they might grow dependent on him. Once C’baoth has Leia and her twins, his jaunts out with the fleet will just be momentary distractions for him. The test of the cloaking shield works…I guess? Nothing happens to it, but Thrawn is pleased and says the Sluis Van shipyards are theirs. Okay then.
Oh hey, it’s our first Wedge point of view scene! Hurray! Wedge is annoyed that Rogue Squadron has been put on escort duty for cargo ships. A cargo ship heading to Sluis Van. They’re assembling there on the way to bring cargo to Bpfassh. The dispatcher says Wegde should be glad to be away for so long, as Fey’lya and his people are about to make their move. When Wedge expresses disbelief, the dispatcher pegs him as one of Ackbar’s diehards. Damn straight he is. Wedge thinks that getting away from Coruscant might not be bad after all, and if the Empire wants to poke at them along the way, that’s something he could fight back against.
I see where this is going…
As Chapter 28 begins Luke catches the first sound of speeder bikes, and assures Mara they’re a military model. He almost ran one into a tree on Endor. He thinks that mentioning Endor isn’t the best idea (no shit, Luke), but Mara’s focused on the task at hand, not brooding. Good girl. They’re trying to figure out how to approach the city. This gives Mara a chance to use her knowledge of the military and how the Empire works. It also shows Luke as being willing to listen to her. He suggests just going straight through and doing that role-switch thing Karrde suggested. It’s really their only chance, as they don’t have the manpower or firepower to make it through the stormtroopers on their own.
There’s a lovely spat as Mara hands over her blaster without the power pack, which leads to Luke convincing her it needs to look convincing. The fact that she’s willing to hand it over shows her willingness to work towards a goal, even with people she despises. Luke hides his lightsaber in Artoo. “So that’s how you did it,” Mara replies. She also advises Luke not to rely on the Force, as the ysalamiri effect extends past the forest. Mara says they have to do something about “that face of his,” to which Luke retorts “I don’t think Artoo’s got anywhere to hide that.” Hahahah, Luke, you kill me. Mara’s solution to the problem? Covering Luke with a poisonous plant. Oh, you know she enjoyed doing that!
Not long later, they finally meet up with the speeder bikes. Good timing, too, since Luke can tell Mara’s twisted ankle is starting to affect her. The speeder bikes stop them and Luke puts on a show, pretending to be Jade, Karrde’s employee. He once again wonders whether this is the kind of trick a Jedi should use. I like that Zahn keeps peppering in this bit of self-doubt into Luke. It’s a nice change from later EU books, where’s too confident and cocky.
After another hour of walking, they reach the end of the forest, the party getting bigger and bigger the further they walked. They end up with an escort of 10 biker scouts and 20 stormtroopers. The mysterious man in charge of the Empire must be treating this incident pretty seriously. Luke and Mara are introduced to the officer in charge as Jade and Senni Kiffu. The officer orders them cuffed and brought to headquarters. Uh-oh.
Along the way they run into a group of four men with a prisoner–Han Solo. Chin hands over Han to the Imperials. What’s going on here? Could they have a plan? Yeah, you bet they do. They reach a square with a free-standing archway, the perfect place for an ambush, but the Imperials are expecting it. Luke trips Artoo to create a diversion, and as he’s picking him up, he tells him to send a message to Threepio telling them to wait until they get to the archway to attack.
Chapter 29 starts with Lando and Aves getting ready for their attack, when Threepio interrupts them with a message from Luke to wait until they get to the archway. Aves thinks that’s crazy, but Lando says to trust Luke. With or without the Force, he’s still a Jedi. (I knew there was a reason I liked Lando.)
Once they reach the archway, four stormtroopers blow up. Chin’s weapons were booby-trapped. That signals the start of the attack, and the stormtroopers immediately respond. Luke, Mara, and Han are dragged under the archway, while the troopers take cover there. Han, who was in trick cuffs, gets Luke out of his binders.
I’d like to take a moment to note that Mara hasn’t given Luke any lip about his tactics here. I wonder if that was oversight on Zahn’s part, or a conscious decision. It seems very unlike her, especially how they’ve been acting one-on-one.
And then, just as I say that, Mara jumps in to tell Luke he needs to do whatever he’s planning now, before the Chariot vehicle gets on the ground. But Luke is counting on the stormtroopers staying under cover behind it.
We cut to Lando and Aves, who’s not very happy about the turn of events. Lando’s still saying to give Luke more time when a blaster bolt shoots him in the arm. Ack! Lando thinks that he’d lost his last gamble. (I think I really thought Lando would die here. Little did I know that Timothy Zahn’s MO is to make you think characters are dead rather than killing them outright.)
Back at the archway, Han provides a rather amazing diversion. Luke, free for the next few seconds, yells for Artoo to throw him the lightsaber.
Luke snaps into action, slicing through the stormtroopers who’d subdued Han’s crazy attack. They stand together at the northern side of the archway, with the troopers at the southern end. With the Force to guide his hand, Luke could’ve blocked the blaster shots indefinitely. But he’d never had any intentions of fighting the stormtroopers that way. Instead he uses his lightsaber to cut through the pillars and send the archway crashing to the ground. He barely gets out in time. The stormtroopers do not.
And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why Luke Skywalker is awesome. Without the Force, he still manages to defeat 30 stormtroopers. Without the Force, he’s still incredibly smart. Without the Force, he still inspires his friends to believe in him, even in the threat of certain death.
Many people claim that Zahn doesn’t know how to write Luke. He doesn’t give him enough power. He makes him too unsure of himself. He lets other characters walk all over him.
I don’t agree with any of that. This scene exemplifies how Zahn writes Luke. He doesn’t need the Force to be awesome. He just is.
Excuse me, I need to go breathe a happy fangirl sigh.
Stay tuned for the next installment, in which the Battle of Sluis Van is afoot.