Friday, August 29, 2014

101 Star Wars Variations 50: Always a Bigger Fish

His name is Qui-Gon Jinn.  Was Qui-Gon Jinn.  Among his Jedi peers he was an outcast despite being a model practitioner of the Force, for embracing ideas the Council was slow to accept, such as the prophecy of the chosen one who would bring balance to their mutual power source.  Balance, you see, was necessary, because for untold generations and throughout innumerable conflicts large and small, the Jedi had rivals in the Sith.

Qui-Gon discovered the chosen one, a little boy named Anakin Skywalker, living on the desert world of Tatooine.  Mindful of things but also wary, he set about a course that would force both his allies and enemies into fulfilling the prophecy.  During these efforts he was struck down by the Sith apprentice Darth Maul, or that's certainly what Qui-Gon's own apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi believed.

To cover his mistake, once he realized what had actually happened, Kenobi began weaving an incredible web of lies.  First, he told the Council that Qui-Gon Jinn was dead.  Then he convinced his superiors to take on Skywalker as his apprentice, someone they all well-knew enticed the Sith master Darth Sidious to seek for his own purposes.  Finally, when Kenobi and Skywalker clashed in mortal combat on Mustafar, the chosen one was fatally wounded and left for dead by Kenobi, only to be retrieved by Sidious and placed in what would be the iconic outfit of Darth Vader.

Since the Jedi themselves became all but extinct around that time, it was easy for Kenobi's lies to be accepted, most of all by Skywalker's own son, whom Kenobi helped raise, once more on the desert world of Tatooine.

The truth, of course, is that it was Qui-Gon Jinn encased in the life-preserving apparatus concealed in the black robes and helmet of Darth Vader.

Qui-Gon realized he would never be able to convince his Jedi peers that he was right about the prophecy.  It wasn't a matter of faking his death so much as allowing himself to fall into the clutches of the Sith.  Darth Sidious eagerly embraced this latest Jedi defector, as he had done with so many before, never suspecting for a moment that Qui-Gon would be the one to finally bring his reign of terror to an end.

When Kenobi clashed with Skywalker, Darth Vader was indeed there.  The truth, from a certain point of view, as Kenobi would later try to explain to Skywalker's son, is a malleable thing.  He first explained how Vader and Skywalker were two separate people, and then the younger Skywalker was told by Vader himself that Vader was Skywalker.  Except, of course, that was a lie to protect Qui-Gon himself.  Serving under Darth Sidious for all those years, he had begun to fear, warped him.  He was no longer convinced of his own ideals, and didn't trust himself anymore, either.

He needed Skywalker's son to push him back to the path he'd set himself on a long time ago.

So he needed a lie.  He would become the boy he'd failed all those years ago, the one who died before the prophecy could be fulfilled.  Qui-Gon had seen a vision of the future.  He knew he'd rushed to confront the Sith threat too soon, pushed the boy too fast.

As he told a Gungan once, "There's always a bigger fish."  Sacrifices are necessary, so long as you fight for something bigger than yourself.  In the end, that's what Qui-Gon Jinn did.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

101 Star Wars Variations 49: Uncle Vader

Owen Lars, hostile, dismissive and evasive.  And possibly the galaxy's best-kept secret...

The one thing anyone really knows about Darth Vader is that he makes a considerable impression.  You see him once and you never forget him.  He haunts your dreams.  He becomes inescapable.  Consequently, people tend to talk about him.  They exaggerate.  He seems like he's everywhere.

But the thing is, the man behind the myth isn't any larger-than-life than an overbearing uncle who's serving as foster father to a lonely youth looking for a little adventure.

Life on a moisture farm in Tatooine plays out in slow motion.  That's what anyone will tell you.  Luke Skywalker especially.  To him, Owen Lars is scarcely different from Darth Vader.  Luke's never even heard of this infamous Sith lord.  He knows all about the Rebellion against the Empire, or so he thinks, but he doesn't know any of the key players.  He knows his good buddy Biggs got to join the Imperial Academy.  He doesn't even know Biggs defected to the Rebellion almost immediately.  It's probably what he would do, too, if given the opportunity.

Except his uncle is always getting in the way.  And Luke is resentful.  If given the chance, he'd easily lump Uncle Owen and Darth Vader into the same menacing category.

Except Uncle Owen isn't around as much as he seems.  He's always going off on trips, saying he's looking for spare parts or whatever.  Sometimes Luke, who hates those mundane tasks more than anything, thinks the Jawas are always ripping them off, goes with his uncle, but most of the time he doesn't.  He has no idea that Uncle Owen leaves Tatooine all the time, slips into the gear and helmet of Darth Vader, and bullies the rest of the galaxy, too, getting home in time to scrounge up some junk he can present as an excuse for his absence.

Owen has good reason to play the role.  Luke's father Anakin was destined for a bad end.  He was one of those Jedi, or so he liked to think.  The one time Owen met Anakin face-to-face, he knew what would happen to his brother-in-law.  He could see it coming from a mile away, even with the glaring suns in the way, his hands thrown in front of his eyes for protection.

In a way, he feels responsible for what in fact did happen, which was Anakin dying in an ill-considered attempt to avenge the death of his mother at the hands of Tusken Raiders.  He should have looked after the unruly youth's best interests.  Well, that's what he's ended up doing for Anakin's son, who ha always been far too much like Owen's brother-in-law for his liking.  Someone has to make sure the galaxy doesn't fall apart with malcontents like that running around!

Owen found out he had a connection to the Force by accident, a development that was probably the result of his exposure to Anakin, or something like that.  That never really mattered to him.  Anyway, it certainly helped when he decided to become Vader.  As Vader, he could ensure that whatever reality Luke encountered when he finally left Tatooine would be prepared for him.  The longer he played the part, though, the more Owen got into it.  It spiraled quickly out of control.

When Luke and Vader clash in Cloud City, Owen realizes he can no longer hide the truth.  He's already faked his own death.  The only person he's hiding from now is his adopted son.  And Luke has turned out okay.  It just seems wrong to perpetuate the ruse.  He takes the helmet off in public for the first time ever.  Luke is so shocked he falls down a shaft screaming!

Owen shakes his head.  "That's what I was afraid of."

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

101 Star Wars Variations 48: Never in the Same Room

Just suppose you've never had the story told to you, not the version that everyone knows.  Suppose you've heard it told in a way where Darth Vader and Obi-Wan Kenobi never share the same room.  What might you begin to believe about them?  What might the relationship between them begin to look like, from a certain point of view?

Just suppose this: Darth Vader is Obi-Wan Kenobi.

After the fateful clash between Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker at Mustafar, only one leaves the planet of his own accord.  But what if only one truly leaves the planet at all?  Kenobi finishes the job there and then, ending the life of the rebellious Jedi and would-be Sith apprentice Skywalker, but then can no longer live with himself, having murdered his long-time friend and ally, and so he replaces him as apprentice to Palpatine, ruler of the Empire and Darth Sidious, keeper of the Sith flame.

Except he can't let the galaxy know what he's done.  Even in the version you know, Kenobi goes into anonymous exile.  Certainly, Yoda does the same, but Kenobi is the one who can't fully remove himself from matters of the Force, one way or another, remaining active, whether in guiding the young son of Skywalker to maturity, or in becoming the watchdog of the Empire, the last remnant of Force lore active in the galaxy.

As Vader, even if he operates as a Sith, Kenobi has all the opportunity he needs to correct his mistake.  Taking the life of Skywalker ended the Jedi Order's chances of influencing Palpatine's further movements.  To keep hope alive, Kenobi must replace him.  It's a life of constant danger.  If Palpatine suspects the truth, the gambit is finished in an instant.  To everyone else Vader is invincible, but not to a master of the Sith.  Even if he's not compromised, fused with metal parts the way Skywalker needs to be in the version you know, Kenobi never had full command of his abilities, the way Yoda did, or Palpatine.  He would be overmatched, without a way to expand his powers, no guidance possible and no time to himself to learn on his own, always carrying out the bidding of the Empire or Palpatine directly.  He seems autonomous but he isn't.

It's a mission with a long-term goal, waiting for an opportunity, no matter how long it takes.  Either way he must recruit Skywalker's son, who is instantly a wildcard, someone Palpatine can't control.  As Vader, Kenobi can manipulate the truth with impunity.  First, the boy won't trust him.  But when he learns the truth he will do anything to live up to the hope he represents.

But it is a costly life, a costly lie, for Kenobi.  He will be scorned by those he once loved and distrusted even by his allies.  It will be lonely.  You see, there are so few differences between what you know and what might have been, what's to quibble?  Kenobi might as well have been Vader all along.

It might even have been easier this way.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

101 Star Wars Variations 47: Mace in Vader's Helmet

For years popular gossip around the galaxy centered on the identity of the man beneath the helmet of Darth Vader.  Everyone had their opinions, the likeliest candidates.  On Coruscant, there were plenty of people who were pretty confident they knew exactly who he was.  A couple of kids discuss it:

"My dad says it's pretty obvious," George says.

"Your dad's bantha fodder," Irving says.

"That may be, but he says it's definitely Mace Windu," George says.

"I have no idea who that is," Irving says.

"Back in the days of the Jedi, he was a pretty important one," George says.

"That means nothing to me," Irving says.

"It was well before your time," George says.  It may be important to note that they're both ten years old.

"Blah blah blah," Irving says.

"No, listen: Mace Windu is the Jedi who was sent to arrest Palpatine," George says.  "Back in those days, everyone knew that.  My dad was there.  He was one of the guards who was watching the chancellor's chambers."

"He probably died," Irving says.

"That's what everyone says," George says.  "Too obvious.  I think they framed it as an arrest, but really it was Mace Windu defecting to the enemy!"

"Question: weren't these Jedi of yours supposed to be the good guys?" Irving asks.

"Jedi defected left and right," George says.  "Sifo Dyas, Count Dooku.  Lots of bad apples."

"Why does he hide under the helmet then, Mr. Big Corellian?" Irving says.

"They had to make it look good," George says.  "It was really nasty, too.  Everyone knows Mace fell from the chambers' picture window and he was missing a hand.  No one knows what happened to the body.  I think it's obvious.  Palpatine sticks him in this outfit, he places on the helmet, and zam! we have Darth Vader."

"You're a real Gungan, you know that?"

Friday, August 22, 2014

101 Star Wars Variations 46: Frozen

So many things change if Luke actually gets frozen in carbonite.  Many more things change if he doesn't survive the process.  For instance:

He never finds out that Darth Vader was his father.  For that matter, if you experience these events somewhere a long time from then in a galaxy very,very close as a form of entertainment, neither do you.

Vader is never motivated to redeem himself.

No one is there to rescue Han, Leia, and Chewie from Jabba the Hutt.

No strike team is capable of destroying the shield generator on Endor.

The Rebellion is crushed.

The Jedi never return.

Balance is not restored to the Force.

Good thing that Luke had good reflexes!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

101 Star Wars Variations 45: After the Freeze

Leia is standing there looking at him.  It's difficult to breathe under the helmet of the bounty hunter she's impersonating.  After confronting Jabba openly just to have access to the palace, she's been waiting all evening, her nerves slowly unwinding.

She walked through the unfreezing process a hundred times with Lando, grilled him on it even before she started trusting him, the moment it became clear they were leaving Cloud City without Han, but with his scoundrel friend.  She knows Lando is here somewhere, and has come around to feeling a measure of comfort in that.

She steps back.  No, just go ahead with it.  She steps forward again.  She approaches the carbon block and directs her attention to the control panel that will release it from the wall.  It falls heavily.  She resists the urge to look around.  She's well past the point of worrying that she'll be caught.  All she cares about is him.  She realized that the moment he went into this strange hibernation.

She reaches out once more and sets the block to thaw.  His face is the first thing she sees, all these months later, the words "I love you" caught in time and tumbling from his lips.  Maybe it's just her imagination.

His hands are next, and they fall from the pose they've been holding.  She wants to take them in her own.

When it's over, she knows he must be allowed to carry his dead weight to the floor, even the thought of catching him in this state impossible despite what she so desperately wants to express, what she's hated herself from holding back since the moment she met him.

Seeing him collapsed like that, she crouches down beside him, moves him into a seated position.  He's still not moving.  She wants to remove the helmet right away, but she doesn't, because she's thinking much more about him than herself, and she hates herself for having to admit that if she's done that before, none of this would have happened.

He doesn't speak a word.  He doesn't move at all.  She's becoming frantic.

Slowly, it dawns on her, what's happened.  He didn't survive the process.  Somehow she always knew.  She knew from the moment the platform descended into the chamber.

She can hear Jabba cackling behind her, his deep voice making the sound echo even in a room teeming with the worst scum of the galaxy.  She doesn't let Han go.  Not this time.  Not ever again.

Leia will die before she lets that happen again.  She knows now that this is how it should always have been...

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

101 Star Wars Variations 44: Who's Really Under Boba Fett's Helmet

There's a bird sitting outside Boba Fett's window.  Fett is taking a break.  He's been on the go for months, nonstop, across countless worlds.  A bounty hunter's life isn't easy.  Some consider the life deplorable.  But it's a living, and it tires you out same as any other job.

The bird had been singing, but then it noticed that Fett moved to take his helmet off.  Birds are as curious as any other living being, all of whom express this simple impulse in different ways.  Blink and you might miss it.  Fett's quarters are perched high above the earth, the better to keep him unobserved, except by those who can, like Fett himself, fly.  Such as birds.

Such as this bird.  The bird keeps observing the territory around itself, mindful of predators, or potential meals, listening for others of its kind.  There are many like this bird, just as there are many like Fett.  But they are also both of them unique.  The reasons why are boring.  The bird wants to see what's beneath that helmet, same as anyone else.

This bird's feathers are unique.  We'll grant you that.  Their coloring is vibrant beyond the norm for its kind, and they jut in odd directions, like spikes, fanning out not in the interests of attracting a potential mate, but to give the bird a menacing appearance.  Is this something that came about naturally, or did the bird somehow craft this look itself?

Birds chatter all the time, both in matters of love and general gossip.  There are no bigger gossips in the galaxy than birds.  They cover a lot of territory, both out of instinct and interest.  They want to know what's going on.  There are birds who have traveled the stars, the pets of starship crews.  They have the chance to spread gossip far indeed!

The legend of Boba Fett has long held the interest of birds.  They see him as a kindred spirit.  This bird is about to learn something very interesting.

The bird knows what others have said about Fett, how he is the son of the man who was cloned in order to create the first Army of the Republic and later Empire.  He's never believed that.  It sounds good, but the truth is usually far more fascinating, even mundane, connecting facts that seem improbable only because in a different context they're like anything you yourself have experienced, and one's own experiences always seem...dull.

Who's beneath the helmet?

The bird, like all of its kind, views the world in slow motion.  It flits about so quickly in its own life, nothing else can be expected to keep up.  Gossip can be used quite handily to overcome impatience and boredom, the rigors of an unsatisfying life where everything must be done yourself.  Perhaps Fett understands that, too?

The helmet, it's rising!

The bird twitches anxiously.  Get on with it, already, Mr. Fett!  The neck emerges.  The bird, of course, is observing Fett from behind.  The back of the scalp, which is smooth.  The skull.  The...horns?

Wait a minute.  The bird knows that look.  The pigmentation, tribal, a warrior's decoration, a master of oneself.  Fearful, but a mask.  This...isn't possible.  That man is dead, isn't he?  Didn't the bird receive that news a long time ago?  Except there he sits.  He tosses the helmet aside.  It clatters to the floor.  The man rethinks what he's just done and picks the helmet back up.  He looks around, stares the bird in the eyes for a brief moment.

Because the bird quickly darts off.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

101 Star Wars Variations 43: Darth Maul

But which was destroyed?  The master or the apprentice?

Twenty years seems like a pretty good run.  The Jedi all but wiped out.  The Republic transformed into an Empire.  The Sith ruled the galaxy.  Seems pretty easy to say that Palpatine, Darth Sidious, was definitely the master and Darth Maul the apprentice, not even considering that Maul died before any of that was achieved.

Except it was Maul who was the apprentice.  If not for a fluke defeat, which led to his premature death, Maul's vision would have stood for a thousand years, his leadership stronger than that of his apprentice Palpatine, a mere politician from Naboo, fluent in the arcane, filled with grandiose notions and fanciful ideas.

When Palpatine introduced himself to the Trade Federation, he did so while hiding Maul's existence.  Either this is the mark of a master or the first telling detail of Maul's true role. The Sith had been driven into hiding, all but extinct, limited to a tradition of two rather than an entire and continually expanding brotherhood as in the Jedi Order.  Consequently, it was Sith habit to remain in the shadows, which Palpatine was careful to do in his machinations concerning his home world.  Maul humored his apprentice in these matters, remaining silent, remained focused, knowing these short-term goals were part of a chain of events that would bring glory back to the Sith.  Palpatine's clairvoyance was always his dominant ability over Maul's own powers, something he had that his master didn't.  But Maul understood Palpatine's visions better, which was always a disturbing matter between them.  Without his guidance, Maul feared Palpatine would easily lead himself astray.

Which is, of course, exactly what happened.

Had he lived...things would have turned out differently.  The Sith would not have been defeated, again, so easily, so quickly.  Then again, maybe it was better that he died without knowing Palpatine's brief victory.

Perhaps, in his final moments, Darth Maul saw not the past but the future flash before his eyes.  And that was his true agony.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

101 Star Wars Variations 42: A Fore-Gon Conclusion

Qui-Gon Jinn is running through the swamps of Naboo, evading the droid army of the Trade Federation.  He has been sent to this world as a negotiator in the matter of a blockade in orbit that was placed there at the behest of Darth Sidious, the Sith lord who is about to declare all-out war on both his Jedi enemies and the Republic they've long pledged themselves to protect.

He is known for many things.  He is known as a maverick who often clashes with the Jedi Council, possessing unorthodox notions concerning the future of the Jedi Order itself.  Chief among these notions is his belief in the prophecy of the chosen one who will bring balance to the Force.  He holds these notions because he is himself Darth Sidious.

As he runs, Qui-Gon is plotting the future.  His apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi is at his side as always.  Kenobi has a habit of giving trust too freely.  He trusts the Jedi Council as easily as he does Qui-Gon, and is the only Jedi who can make such a claim.  A useful tool.

Requesting the Naboo assignment was certainly no mistake.  The politicians from this world are particularly headstrong; although they often profess strictly altruistic aims they just as often possess considerable egos.  Useful tools all of them, especially Palpatine, who is known for his dabbling in Force lore, believing he knows all there is to know about the Jedi, the Sith.  Motivating them to act, to manipulate them, is a simple matter.

He's already planning to sabotage the transport he knows he can get these politicians to provide him, which will leave them in the middle of untamed space, where his senses tell him a great concentration of Midi-chlorians exists on a planet called Tatooine, centered in a single individual, a boy named Anakin Skywalker.  It's not hard to see that the boy is the chosen one.

A Gungan has appeared and is frantically trying to avoid the same battle droids Qui-Gon has made sure are programmed to be as clumsy and random in their effectiveness as he views the whole galaxy.  Even this Gungan is a useful tool.  To a trained mind, there is no such thing as an element that cannot be turned into a useful tool.  The Gungan might appear to be as clumsy as the droids, even worse, but he is a native of Naboo.  What else is there to say about that?

Everything seems to be out of control at the moment.  But it isn't.  Everything is going according to plan.  He saves the Gungan's life.  Soon, Qui-Gon knows, his own life will need to be sacrificed.  But that will hardly matter.  Darth Sidious rises.  The Sith rise again.  The boy will bring balance to the Force.  And there will be a new order in the galaxy.

Nothing left to chance.  He brushes off some of the mud and moves on.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

101 Star Wars Variations 41: A Sidious Kenobi

The worst ones are the ones you never saw coming, but should have.

The Jedi Council knew all about Qui-Gon Jinn.  He was one of the best Jedi ever, but he was also fiercely independent, and that bothered the Council a great deal.  They spent an inordinate amount of time scrutinizing Qui-Gon.  The headstrong Obi-Wan Kenobi was assigned to him as padawan learner because although they seemed to have so much in common, Obi-Wan was much quicker to assume the Council knew better in its decisions, no matter how much he respected Qui-Gon.

That was as much as anyone knew or cared about what Obi-Wan was up to.  Except for his relationship with Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan by definition was unimportant.  He was just another padawan.

Except he wasn't.  The Council, or at least Yoda and Mace Windu, had known for years that the Force was weakening.  This could mean only one thing, the return of the Sith.  They didn't know who he was, but they had a name, and that was Darth Sidious.  Suspicion eventually fell on the ambitious Naboo politician Palpatine, who was noticeably interested in the career of Anakin Skywalker, who was, at least as Qui-Gon Jinn was concerned, the chosen one of prophecy who would bring balance to the Force.  While it would certainly have made sense for Palpatine to be Darth Sidious, the horrible truth is that it was Obi-Wan Kenobi all along.

Like Palpatine, it was all about opportunity.  Obi-Wan's was far more direct, and, well, insidious.  He seemed to be just another recruit.  When paired with Qui-Gon, though, he was immediately thrust into an opportunity to shape the future of one maverick.  When Qui-Gon discovered Anakin, Obi-Wan suddenly had a chance to shape the future of another, a far more dangerous one.  Qui-Gon almost immediately falls to Sith apprentice Darth Maul, Obi-Wan somehow defeats Maul, and he makes a successful argument to the Council that he obtain Anakin as his apprentice.

From a certain point of view, right?

Years later, Obi-Wan is struck down by Anakin, who has become Darth Vader.  It is a defining moment in the fight of the Rebellion against the Empire.  Anakin's son Luke is motivated to begin Jedi training as a result.  Obi-Wan seems like a major failure for a great schemer, right?  Except he's already manipulated everyone into the places he needs them to be.  Why would he need to worry about no longer having direct influence?  Anakin became a Sith.  Palpatine has not only been assumed to be Sidious, but has risen to Emperor of the Old Republic, which he has totally transformed.  Yoda is the last of the Jedi Council, and willingly went into exile.  He has the ability to train Luke, who has long had a relationship with...Obi-Wan.  Obi-Wan comes back as a Force shadow, completely accepted by Yoda as a peer.  He is able to help shape the further development of Luke's new career.  He helps push Luke into an emotional decision to face his father Anakin in combat well before he's ready.  He knew all along Anakin's role as the chosen one could permanently end the Jedi or the Sith.  It seemed the Jedi would finally be eliminated.

He did all he could.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Slightly Fitted

There was screaming, somewhere up ahead.  She prayed it wasn’t her brother.  In this city, though, filled with nessa beasts running free, even the brave boy Emma had known before his disappearance might buckle.  The city, Gugu Kendi, deep in the heart of the planet Danab, filled with Danab, at the end of what humans called the Danab War but what the Danab themselves were already starting to call the Calamity, danger was around every corner.

She was scared, too.  Scared out of her wits, if anyone asked.  She wasn’t alone, however.  She had her Puck friend, Fax, with her.  He cracked jokes whenever the tension became truly unbearable.  After they heard the scream, for instance, he quipped, “I forgot to pack sandwiches.  My stomach can get noisy.”

But it wasn’t his stomach that pierced the night’s silence.  All around her, lining the military barracks that were typical on this fortress of a world, Emma feared the monitors would come back on again and begin reporting the depressing news of the first-ever invasion of Danab.  Even as an immigrant, even as a little girl who had no business caring about such things, even as an alien whose mother had inexplicably chosen to transplant her family into the heart of enemy territory, she’d never wanted something like this to happen, either.

She could barely see out of the helmet, as usual.  She kept readjusting it as they ran down the barren street.  The helmet had been the biggest adjustment.  Everyone wore one here.  It was the custom of the Danab, man and woman.  It was also the only thing that she liked about living here, the only thing that made her feel even a little safe.  No one knew who she was, what she was, under it.  She would have chosen something that looked very different, of course.  It was Fax who came up with her nickname when Emma failed to adopt a Danab moniker for herself.  He called her the princess of Gugu Kendi.  That was as much as she wanted anything to do with the crown of horns atop the helmet.  She was just a little girl!

Right?  That’s not what her mother called her.  To her, Emma was her young lady, what her father used to call her, in a prior life, a long time ago.

There were snarls coming out of the darkness.  Nessa beasts for sure.  They sounded just as if they had cornered their prey.  It couldn’t be Elmer.  Her brother had always known what to do in situations like that.  He was the only one who’d known exactly what to do, how to maintain his old self, when they’d started their new lives.  He believed in himself, and so Emma believed in him, too.

That was how she and Fax ended up looking for him, and why she knew where to look.  She readjusted her helmet, took Fax’s hand, and headed toward the sound of the nessa beasts, and the screaming.

101 Star Wars Variations 40: Tarkin, for the Rebellion

Tarkin is sitting down to breakfast.  As usual, his young attendant is pestering him with questions about the day ahead.  This is fine.  This boy is the only person he trusts, the only one who knows Tarkin's secrets.  Such as the biggest secret, that Tarkin is, in fact, working for the Rebellion.

"Did it work?  Did the Bothans smuggle the plans?"

"Yes, yes," Tarkin says.

"You were careful, weren't you?"

"Of course," Tarkin says.

"I wouldn't want any harm to come to you!"

"I was discreet, as always," Tarkin says.  His eggs will get cold, if he entertains the boy much longer.  Tarkin has great affection for the boy, the son of a woman who in another life would have been his lover, the woman responsible for recruiting him, years ago, a former handmaiden from Naboo, who once served under a queen.

"I prepared them the way you like!"

"I know," Tarkin says.  The boy always does.  Very eager to please.  It's okay.  He admires the boy's enthusiasm, actually.  In another lifetime, a long time ago, he was like this himself.  Sometimes it's good to be reminded of that.  The boy darts away and comes back, having retrieved a pitcher of hot liquid, something Tarkin needs to interact with his fellow Imperial officers.  Something stiff.

"I wish I could be there when they find out what you gave them!"

"I want you out of danger," Tarkin says.  The boy's every utterance is punctuated with an exclamation point.  Ah, youth...

"What if they don't know what to do with it?"

"They will," Tarkin says.

"I wish I was as certain as you!  But I don't envy you!  Not even a little!"

"Of course you don't," Tarkin says.  He knows the boy, in fact, does.  It's obvious.  The boy stays behind, one of the few civilians aboard the massive station, when he goes to one of his many briefings, strategy sessions, any number of meetings.  Endless meetings.  Wearying.  One would believe the Empire was less secure than the Rebels.

"Stay safe!"

"Would you please let me eat in peace?"

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

101 Star Wars Variations 39: Tarkin, Against the Empire

As the highest ranking officer of the fleet, only the Emperor himself was more important to the Empire than Tarkin.  Since few interacted with Palpatine and Tarkin handled day-to-day military and political operations, it might be argued that he was in fact most important.

And through it all, Tarkin considered himself an enemy of the Empire.

Let's not exaggerate this.  He was not a part of the Rebellion.  He simply hated the Empire.  He resented it, is perhaps a wiser statement.  Maybe he just hated everything.  No one ever saw him smile.  He stole the idea of the Death Star, but in the end it certainly looked like his idea.  His passion for what quickly became known as the "ultimate weapon" was legendary.  As chief representative of the system of regional governors that replaced the Senate of the Republic, he already held great influence on countless worlds.  Tarkin apparently decided he easily could eliminate any of them.  Any of them.  Even the ones best established in galactic civilization, like Alderaan, which he famously destroyed as an example of the Death Star's power.

Such an apparently arbitrary, flippant, casually-determined moment might have seemed like a show of strength for the Empire, but Tarkin meant for it to look like an act of terrorism, the full extent of what many already considered an Empire dangerously out of control.  He alone had to ability to control Darth Vader, whom his command staff treated like the relic he represented, of the old ways, the Old Republic, the Jedi Order.  Tarkin was one of the few who knew that Vader followed the Sith ways.  Such distinctions meant little to others.  To Tarkin, it meant everything.  Any talk of Palpatine's own allegiances had been hushed up long ago.  Tarkin's was a life that had been affected by the Sith more directly than anyone else.  His was a world that had been devastated by the Sith, years before Palpatine rose to power, a testing ground.  Tarkin's loyalty was a matter of survival.

But he wouldn't compromise forever.  He grew increasingly reckless.  He himself remained unimpeachable.  No, he had to make it a matter of the Empire's reputation.  With Vader by his side, the menacing loner whose reputation was entirely consumed by his strange powers and unwillingness to play nicely with the rank and file, Tarkin's plan would work regardless of what happened to Tarkin himself.  He didn't care who defeated the Empire, so long as the Empire came to an end, the Emperor came to an end.  Everyone knew the Emperor had no successor.  Few knew as Tarkin did that expecting Palpatine to simply die was foolish thinking.  Vader wasn't the answer.  But Vader's son?

In his final months, when the plans for the Death Star were stolen by the Rebellion, Tarkin saw to it that the Jedi nonsense would finally resolve itself.  The plans found their way to Tatooine, which otherwise meant nothing to galactic affairs.  It was here where Vader's son could be found, could be drawn into Tarkin's plot, knowingly or otherwise.  Trained to become a Jedi, perhaps.  It didn't matter.  He would join the Rebellion regardless, become a rallying point.  Tarkin could use the Rebellion, naturally.

The Death Star was a target above everything else, a rallying point.  Tarkin had seen that from the start.  Destroy the Death Star and the Empire finally had a weakness.  If it had never been constructed...?  But of course Tarkin made sure it was.

He had grown weary.  He couldn't endure the nonsense any longer.  It was, among other things, an engineered suicide.  Everyone around him thought it couldn't be done, certainly not by the pathetic Rebel fleet.  He made sure to foster this belief.  But he knew better than anyone that it could be done.  That was why he had allowed the plans to be intercepted in the first place.

In his final moments, Tarkin smiled for the first time in his life.  Doubtlessly, no one knew what they saw when it happened.  It didn't matter.  The outcome was now inevitable.  He had won.  He had been avenged.  Whatever followed would be better...

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

101 Star Wars Variations 38: The Rebellion Against the Republic

Given enough time, even the clearest facts can be obscured by history.  Take, for instance, the Rebellion.  Now, I know you believe it was against something called the Galactic Empire, which was supposedly a corrupted version of the Old Republic.  But the truth is, the Rebellion was against the Old Republic itself.

Ideals erode over time.  The more people take something for granted, the more corruption is allowed to sneak in.  No one denies that at the time of Chancellor Valorum's ouster in a vote of no-confidence, the Republic had seen better days.  It was indeed old.  Countless worlds could smell the stench of death.  Palpatine was elected to replace him, and the Senate knew exactly what it was doing, who and what he was, what he was interested in doing, the changes he was likely to make...It was all an effort to make the Republic relevant again.

Naturally it resulted in violent opposition, in the form of the Rebellion.  It became an institution that needed to be gutted.  The Jedi were disbanded and then reconstituted from the ground up, the great experiment that was meant to prove that reform could be done.  The Rebellion succeeded, ultimately, because the experiment was considered a success.  I think the same conclusion was reached in the version of history you know, but it makes more sense when you strip away the lies and distortions, which I don't have the energy right now to regurgitate at length.

Suffice to say, it's the same story, from a certain point of view.

Friday, August 1, 2014

101 Star Wars Variations 37: Lando

If he hadn't lost his ship in a game of cards to Han Solo, the Rebel Alliance would never have won.

Oh, believe me, Lando Calrissian spent plenty of time thinking about that.  After he became the administrator of Bespin, Lando had very little time for himself, but all the time in the world to reflect on just what had become of his life.  He seemed to have accomplished the dream of the rogue: going mainstream, having great influence, earning respect, being taken seriously.

But all the time, he kept his eye on that ship.  He knew what his old friend was up to at all times.  He knew when the ship ran afoul of the Empire.  He prided himself on staying out of trouble.  But he counted down the hours until the Empire came to Cloud City.  It was inevitable.  He was ready.

He was nearly ready.  He knew he could control the situation, at least to a certain extent.  He would have to compromise.  He would have to look like the bad guy.  But he had no choice.  In order to keep the upper hand, he would have to bluff, after all.  He would have to lose a few rounds.

But Lando never lost for long.

He knew how to keep track of the players.  He never lost focus.  He made sure the ship kept flying.  He made sure things kept happening.  Even when it seemed like everyone else was doing the important work, there was Lando behind them.

Manipulating would be a bit strong, but that's the short of it, really.  You can thank him for that.  Without Lando Calrissian...Well, that would be a pretty scary prospect, wouldn't it?  And thus, could there be anyone more important?

Don't bet on it.