Sunday, January 1, 2012
Tatooine Ghost: The Review
The roller coaster ride of EU books continues after the high of Mindor to the lowest of the low with COPL back to this other notable highlight for Han and Leia fans in the EU. The announcement of this book brought together a perfect storm of good news for Han and Leia fans. First, it was a book that would be based only on them, which meant no long chapters about bad guys or whatever the heck Luke is doing with the Jedi. Second, it would take place roughly six months after they had gotten married, which marked the first, and so far only book in which they are married but don't have kids. Not to mention the fact that they got to be young again and didn't have to be all depressed because at the time we were mostly reading about their kids dying and/or turning to the dark side. Third, it was written by Troy Denning, who at this point had proven himself as writing some of the best Han and Leia in the EU, and I personally always enjoy how he writes them as he is an admitted Han and Leia fan himself.
Seriously, at this point most of us were starved for just any shred of evidence that they had a happy marriage or enjoyed some nice moments together. He started giving us those in the context of the other stories and showed them as the Han and Leia we all remember from the movies, and now he would get to really utilize them in a book without all of the hassle of the Vong or Sith. Any one of those elements by itself would make me excited for a Star Wars book, so you can only imagine what I and any other Han and Leia fans were feeling when hearing this was coming.
The book begins with Han, Leia, Chewie and Threepio headed for Tatooine. First you might think this is mostly because in spite of the fact that there are hundreds of planets in the Star Wars universe, the authors only tend to utilize like eight or nine of them, but in this case it is important that it's Tatooine they are going to or else certain things wouldn't happen later.
Anyway, they are on their way there in search of a moss painting. Sounds weird, I know, but this particular painting had years ago hung on Leia's bedroom wall and she had thought it was destroyed with Alderaan, but it had been on loan at a museum off-planet and hadn't made it back yet, and Lando found out it was going to be auctioned off on Tatooine. This painting is important not just because it holds great sentimental value for Leia, but apparently there is some sort of code key hidden in it that will reveal all sorts of New Republic secrets should it fall into the hands of the Imperials, so it becomes even more vital that they obtain it.
One underlying theme throughout this book is the fact that Han wants to have children, and Leia doesn't. Like any mildly intelligent couple who is getting married, this is something that they had discussed before the wedding and both understood each other's views on the subject. But it appears Han still wants to press the issue as being married has made him crave a family even more. Leia has the pretty legitimate fear that any child she may bear has a strong potential of turning into the next Vader. She even has some visions about it. So she does not enjoy Han bringing up the subject and doesn't seem like she's going to change her mind.
They have a run-in with a star destroyer on the way and require some fancy maneuvers to keep from getting killed. Han had initially thought this trip was just to get the painting back for Leia, but she had hidden the fact that the code key was involved and Han resented the fact that this mission was partly for the New Republic in general. As you can imagine, he still isn't so happy with them after trying to get rid of him so Leia could marry Isolder. Once this becomes apparent, Han even tells her they're about to have their first married fight - although I kind of find it hard to believe that these two made it six months before a fight. Not that I think they'd fight all the time or even that any of the fights would be terrible, but I'd imagine they'd at least have had a little argument over cleaning the kitchen or something. But, like usual, she manages to convince him:
Han looked away, his gaze dropping to his instruments, and Leia knew she had him. He would play hard to get, pretending to think it over, but Han Solo always came through when it counted. That was his weakness, and she loved him for it.
Well, as you can imagine, they survived the Imperial obstacle and made it to Tatooine and the art auction. Wearing elaborate disguises - Leia being a Twi'lek and Han stuck with red skin and giant horns - they head in. Checking out the array of items up for auction, Leia is drawn to a holo of a young boy. He'd just won a podrace. If you guessed this holo is of Anakin Skywalker, you'd be right. Leia doesn't know this for sure yet, she just knows that she is drawn to it and Han had noticed her looking at it but he thinks it is because she is coming around on the whole having kids thing and he calls her on it, which she does not like.
This even transpires into Leia saying something about the possibility that Han just discovered he had a child with Bria Tharen, because she would find that more acceptable than having a child of her own. I don't know, do you think he ever went into detail explaining Bria? I don't really see that happening. Well, Leia throws back at him that if he couldn't live with the no kids thing, because he's known this since Bakura, apparently, he should've let her marry Isolder. Han decides to press her and ask if she ever planned on telling the Hapans she was never going to have kids, because it seemed that heirs would've been a very big part of that deal. He even pushes to say that she would have kids for the sake of the New Republic, but not for him.
Then we get, "I'm sure I remember you telling me you could live without children. That's very clear in my mind."
Han shrugged. "I like being married. Maybe that's changed my thinking about kids." He lowered his gaze and stared into the dark ale in his mug. "I didn't realize how much I'd love this-being a family, I mean. I keep wondering what it would be like to shape a kid's life, to give him a safe place to grow up."
"Like the home you never had," Leia said.
"Yeah, like that," Han admitted.
This whole conversation is inconclusive and it's sort of tough to read because you know it's such a sensitive topic and while of course we all understand Han's point of view it is difficult to deny the fears that Leia is experiencing.
But we are not without comic relief. Before the auction, Han and Leia encounter and hire some Squibs to bid on the painting for them so as not to blow their cover. Squibs are sort of like the three stooges if they were really short and furry. They're irritating and exhausting and unfortunately just what Han and Leia need in this case.
The auction begins and there are many items to bid on before the painting. The holo is announced and Leia hears that it is, in fact, Anakin Skywalker. The Squibs start bidding and Leia is confused and it turns out Han had asked them to bid because he thought that Leia liked it. Well, she definitely doesn't want it, and it takes some effort to get the Squibs to stop bidding on it.
Then, it's time to bid on Killik Twilight - the coveted painting. The amounts just keep rising and rising and rising and rising... And eventually Han eyes the owner who is putting it up for sale and even though he's in disguise he thinks it is Threkin Horm - who if you remember from the prior, dreaded book, is one of Han's least favorite people in the universe. He is an Alderaanian, and it seems unethical that he would sell this piece of Alderaanian history. Especially when it turns out there are Imperials running up the bids, and they certainly can't let them get the code key, even if it's not entirely clear that they even know the code key exists.
The bidding runs up to an astonishing fifteen million - which is the limit of Leia's funds and far beyond what she had anticipated. The New Republic was providing the money, and she is feeling immensely guilty that all of this money is going toward a painting instead of ships or something more useful. They at least manage to get him to accept the Squib's bid of fifteen million rather than the higher bid from the Imperials. But soon after it doesn't matter because all hell breaks loose and there is shooting and explosions and the guy who was selling the holo of Anakin Skywalker stole the painting. Did I mention that guy was Kitster, who you might remember as Anakin's best friend on Tatooine from Phantom Menace? Don't worry, nobody says "That's so wizard."
This leaves them with no choice but to try and go after the painting. Han takes off on a swoop bike to try and catch up to him, although Leia continues to be skeptical of his risking so much for the painting and, mostly, for her.
"What are you worried about?" He opened the face mask and kissed her, making certain to linger until she let him go. "I am coming back, you know."
Leia was still thinking about Han's parting words half a standard hour later, as Tamora guided them through a warren of sand-and-mud huts in Mos Espa's poorest section of town. She was drawn to the scoundrel in him, to the aura of danger and promise that clung to him like a bad holo job. But it was the hero in her husband that she loved, his casual courage, the way he thought nothing of hopping onto a saddled rocket and racing out into a desert full of stormtroopers to recover a priceless painting with a secret code. The only thing Leia didn't like was the reason he was doing it. No man should feel compelled to put himself in peril to please the woman he loved.
But it was sweet that Han would.
They take refuge at the farm Luke grew up on, now owned by Gavin Darklighter's parents. While there Leia comes in possession of an old holojournal, which she watches a bit of before she finds out a while later that it is in fact her grandmother, Shmi Skywalker, leaving the journal behind for her son. This allows Leia not only to get to see her grandmother, but to see that her father wasn't always such a monster. In fact, she has concrete proof that he started out as a pretty normal little kid.
Han encounters some trouble while he is off on his swoop in the form of TIE fighters and a terrible storm that blows through that he gets caught in. He had been able to talk to Leia about how he didn't think he'd be back by that night, but soon after they lose contact and Leia gets very, very worried. When I first got this book I was so excited that it was all about them and then so annoyed when I found out that there was an extended part in the middle where they were separated. But, unlike in most books, Leia spends the entire time actually worrying and thinking about him. She is terribly afraid that they might not find him and she is very upset that the storm is bad enough that they can't go out and look for him. And she continues to feel guilty that he is out there for her.
Since there are dozens of books that come after this in the timeline that feature Han, of course we all know that they eventually find him. He's quite a mess but awake and mostly coherent. They go and take refuge at an inn to give Han some time to recover. He is left sound asleep with a hydration drip in his arm while Leia takes a bath and goes back to Shmi's holojournal, although she seems to constantly be going back to check on Han and make sure he's all right.
Finally discovering that this is her grandmother, Leia more and more starts to see that Anakin wasn't born to be Darth Vader. Han finally wakes up to ask for something to drink, though he'd rather it was alcohol, Leia brings him water but he falls asleep again before she even gives it to him.
After she watches a few more entries, we get one of the main highlights of the entire EU for Han and Leia fans:
(Leia) "Can you sit up?"
"Maybe you ought to come see."
Leia went into the room and found Han lying flat on his back. His hands were folded behind his head and he was smiling at her crookedly. And he seemed to know where he was.
"Come here," he said. "And take this drip out of my arm."
Leia went over to the side of the bed. "You're sure?"
Han grabbed her around the waist, then pulled her down on top of him and kissed her, very long and very deep.
"Yeah, I'm sure." He ran his hands under her robe, and the room suddenly grew warm. "It's gonna get in the way."
Wow, to this point that was probably the first clear indication in the that there was gonna be some sexy time between these two and probably the only PG-13 moment for them in the entire EU. I love that as soon as Han can keep his eyes open this is the first thing he's interested in, and Leia obviously has no objections. You know he would be. Later, he wakes up first with Leia in his arms to notice that she even somehow managed to attach his IV again. Han is feeling a whole lot better until he hears voices coming from the next room and he rolls off the bed to the floor, pulling Leia on top of him.
She is not alarmed right away, instead she says: Her eyelids rose half open, and their gazes met instantly. "Han?" She smiled dreamily. "My, you are feeling better."
He tells her not in front of company and she hears the voices and goes out - apparently naked as Han requests that she first put some clothes on. It turns out that there isn't anyone out in the sitting room, but the voices are coming from a datapad that is showing them what is happening in the lobby.
When Han emerges, he thinks this: With a blaster in one hand and her brown eyes fixed on the datapad in the other, her long hair falling in a silky cascade over her shoulders, she seemed more breathtakingly beautiful than ever. Han knew he had to be the luckiest ex-smuggler in the galaxy; if they could just get past her fear of having children, he was pretty sure that when his time came, he would leave this universe with every wish he ever had fulfilled.
Aw, I love that. And while it is not explicitly mentioned, I'm sure he doesn't mind that at that moment she isn't wearing any clothes. Well, the voices indicate that some stormtroopers are about to complicate matters, and Han suggests they both get dressed (hooray for brief naked time) as they might be in for a fight.
They meet up with the Squibs and Chewie and prepare for their escape and you once again see how well Han and Leia work together in situations like this. Just before they start their escape, Han says:
"One more thing."
"I know." She rose on her toes and kissed him hard and long. It was almost enough to make him forget what they were doing, especially when she finally stopped. "You love me."
"Yeah, that, too." Han flashed her a scoundrel's grin. "But what I really wanted to ask is did you remember to recharge my blaster?"
They escape and wind up riding dewbacks through the desert. It is apparent to Leia that their little escape had taken a lot out of Han and not allowed him to fully recover, so she is constantly checking on him and asking him to drink while he is constantly trying to appear much more okay than he really is.
They have a scare with some TIE fighters overhead and Leia is more and more fearful of Han's condition and decides she wants him to go to the Darklighter's farm to hide out and as you can expect, he is not going anywhere without her. They are both getting tired of the other one worrying for their well-being and Leia asks Han to drink again, and he tells her she should, too.
As time goes on, Han starts to look worse, but Leia isn't feeling so great, either. She had been keeping things to herself - Force visions about Vader and one that she had foreseen exactly what Han's broken down swoop would look like in the sandstorm, finding the holojournal - and she finally wants to try and talk to him about it. When they are interrupted once again by obnoxious Squibs she decides that now is not the time to try and have a serious conversation, so they continue on.
To take her mind of things, Leia goes back to the holojournal, but each time Leia looks up to check on Han he looks worse, until finally she sees him fall right out of the saddle and is forced to jump from her dewback, injuring her shoulder in the process. She manages to briefly wake Han up by pouring water on his face and he gets up to walk with them to safety, only to promptly pass out again. Leia and the Squibs start to carry him, but fortunately soon Chewie catches up to them and throws him over his Wookiee shoulder.
They run for cover away from the TIE fighters and make it to a hiding place. Leia tries waking Han up again but pouring water on his face this time only makes him cough a little but not regain consciousness. She knows he needs to wake up to drink or it is quite possible he will die.
Leia leaned close to his face. "Listen up, nerf herder. I'm tired of doing all the heavy work around here." She kissed him on the lips and began to feel dizzy-and not in the usual way. Han wasn't the only one who needed to drink. "Come on, Flyboy. Time to wake-"
At this point she has a scary Force vision much like she had earlier and is hallucinating that Han isn't himself, but has quite eyes and keeps saying, "Mine!" It doesn't take long before she wakes up to find herself lying next to him, both of them now in stormtrooper armor that apparently has some sort of cooling mechanism. Chewie and Threepio are there to assist them, and both Solos needing to drink, Leia essentially turns it into a drinking game to make sure Han gets enough fluid back in him, as well as needing some herself, even though Han continues to request Gizers that nobody will give him.
After telling Leia she looks hot in white, Han finds out that Leia let the Squibs go off after the painting and gets mad but then learns that she had stayed behind because she was worried about him, which seems to mark just about the first time Leia has put him before some mission, which leaves Han speechless.
They find out that the painting has fallen into the hands of the Sand People and Han of all people seems most insistent on going out to find it and Leia presses him as to why. After the whole Hapan incident, Han had been incredibly anti-New Republic, understandably. But he's coming to realize that the New Republic is and always will be a big part of who Leia is, and even if he doesn't agree with everything they do, he wouldn't want Leia to change who she is.
Maybe Leia had been thinking about the same things-and about how she'd almost lost Han again-as well. She was constantly fussing over him, offering him water, checking to be certain he was cool enough, generally telling him she loved him in a thousand small ways. Not that he was complaining, but Han failed to understand why. He had been acting like a Hutt since their return from Dathomir, treating the Provisional Council as though it was a rival and all but demanding that Leia choose between them.
Then, when she had chosen him over duty back in the cave, he had finally seen that this was one bluff he could not afford to win. Withdrawing from the council would give Leia a huge marker to call in, and sooner or later, Han would have to sacrifice something in return-maybe high-stakes sabacc, his wanderlust, or possibly even the Falcon. Whatever it was, he knew he could not surrender such a big part of himself and remain who he was, just as he knew that Leia could not give up her work on the council and remain the woman he loved.
Mostly, though, Han really did not want the Imperials to get their hands on that code key. Whatever his feelings toward the Provisional Council-and they remained ambivalent, at least toward Mon Mothma and the others who had been so ready to condemn Leia to a loveless marriage-Han loved the New Republic, and he would have hated himself for allowing his hurt feelings to cost it one of its most effective and best-kept secrets.
But Han was not about to admit any of this. He was enjoying the attention too much-though he was tiring of hearing Leia say, "Careful, nerf herder."
Leia decides to look at the holojournal again and learns some things about Shmi's relationship with Watto and can't believe her ability to forgive her slaver. She thinks about how she was Jabba's slave for a single night and wound up strangling him with his chain. However, the circumstances of their slavery were quite different. She does finally tell Han about it, though, and he tells her that he is also interested in it.
Leia did not miss the envy in Han's voice. He had no idea who either of his own grandmothers might be; he had been raised aboard a tramp freighter with no knowledge of his real parents, and the closest thing he had ever known to a grandmother was Dewlanna. That was another thing they had in common, she supposed - and it was probably part of the motivation behind his desire to have a family.
I had always seen that as one of the motivators behind Han's desire to have a family with Leia. They wind up taking refuge at Obi-Wan's old place and Han and Leia have a conversation about the painting. It seems Han interprets it differently than everyone else, having been much more taken by it than Leia expected him to be. Everyone saw the painting as the killiks running from a storm, but Han sees it as them turning to face it. Han uses this as another metaphor though in his argument for Leia deciding to have children instead of being afraid.
She has time to think a lot, and here she thinks of Obi Wan and the guilt he felt at having lost Anakin to the dark side. It all just continues to allow her to think more and more about the decisions she's making, and wondering if her feelings about her father and her anger towards him are only causing harm to her and Han. And maybe she shouldn't allow it to rule the rest of her life.
But not long after, it is time to leave once again.
Leia... kissed Han until her stomach began to flutter, then kissed him a little longer. Not because it might be the last time, she told herself, but because they were in this together. At last, she pulled away and smiled up at Han.
Disguised as stormtroopers, they set off again to find the painting and get the code key. They wind up at the Tusken camp that Leia realizes is where Anakin found Shmi. Han once again changes the way she thinks about things, saying that the fact that Anakin killed all of the Sand People after he found his mother maybe wasn't because he was evil, but maybe was just the normal reaction of a boy whose mother had been killed, and he himself might have done the same thing. He then further tells her that without him, the Emperor would still be alive, and maybe he fulfilled his destiny after all. Han makes some incredibly insightful points in this book.
They eventually find Kitster, who is wounded and captured and they rescue him and find the painting and there is a whole lot of craziness between Tusken Raiders and stormtroopers as they try to get away alive. Chewie had gone to get the Falcon and they get the code key and try and escape with Kitster. The Squibs wind up keeping the painting due to a deal they'd made, which at first makes Han furious because he knows how much it means to Leia, but she says as long as they got the code key, a deal is a deal.
As they are escaping Leia shares a quick moment with Kitster, who admits that he stole the painting for her, or really for Anakin, so that it wouldn't fall into the hands of the Imperials. And once again he tells her the kind of man her father was as a boy.
They leave Kitster and the Squibs behind and take off in a hurry, evading Imperials with Han's skilled maneuvers. Leia walks up and starts talking to him casually and he insists that he's a little busy, but she really needs to ask him something.
"Why do you want little Solos running around so badly?"
"Kids?" Han nearly yelled the question. "You want to talk about kids now?"
"Isn't that what I just said?" Leia asked. Three seconds to go. "There might not be another chance."
Chewbacca grunted and sent the hyperspace calculations to the pilot's station. Zero seconds.
"All right, if it has to be now." Han brought their nose around, pointing them into deep space. The Falcon continued to slip farther toward the two suns-sideways. "I guess it's just my way of facing the future."
"Facing the future?" Leia asked.
"You know." Han forced the throttles past the overload stops. The Falcon shuddered, seemed to hesitate... and finally pulled free of the gravity well. He exhaled in relief and activated the hyperdrive. "Believing in it."
"Good answer." Leia leaned closer and, as the stars stretched into the iridescent blur of hyperspace, gently kissed Han on the neck. "I believe in it, too."
These are literally the last lines in the book and that's how it ends. So Leia has finally made the decision to take the plunge and have kids, and they obviously waste no time because Leia is pregnant in the next book. In fact, there is discussion that that implied sex earlier in the book was where Jacen and Jaina were conceived. I don't like this theory for two reasons. First, if she was so adamant about not having babies, surely they would've taken some pretty strong precautions to prevent it, because we all know they're doin' it a lot. Second, it's almost like these people are assuming they have sex so infrequently that that had to be the time she got pregnant since there weren't other opportunities. Sorry, I'm pretty sure it went: decision, 'pull the goalie' and then start doin' it like crazy. Or, continue as normal because they already had that third part covered.
Okay, now that I've gotten that out of the way, I can say that this is probably my second favorite EU book after Shadows of Mindor. Obviously this book is far more Han and Leia centric and actually focuses on aspects of their relationship which isn't really addressed in other books. Not to mention lots of kissing. But it doesn't quite have the fun factor to it or the plethora of great lines throughout, so it falls slightly behind for me. That said, of course it is still a five on the Han and Leia scale. Enjoy that while you can, this may be the last five we give out for the rest of the EU.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the portrayal of Han and Leia in this book. They tease and banter but they also quite obviously love each other deeply. There are many little lines thrown in about reasons they love one another, how Han thinks Leia is so stong and how Leia thinks Han is so selfless. They kiss often, they work well together and both seem often ready to risk their lives for each other.
Also, in spite of the fact that we would all like to pretend that COPL did not exist, I did like some of the things that were done here to address it. First, that Han was still mad at the New Republic and Mon Mothma. Second, that he still somewhat questions where Leia's priorities are. Third, that apparently since the incident, Leia has gone out of her way to show her love to Han. It's nice to see that if for some reason that atrocity had actually happened, Leia finally felt guilty about it and wanted to make it up to him and show him that he is, in fact, the one she wants in spite of the actions of that Leia imposter in the prior book.
I also like that Han notices this and seems to enjoy the extra attention. But I also loved the revelation when she does, in fact, choose taking care of him over going after the painting and he realizes that he is more important to her.
There's not much more to say about this one. If you are not an EU reader, this book certainly works by itself for someone who is only familiar with the movies and maybe wants to just try a book. Obviously it alludes to some events from the book that shall not be named, but you only need to read my review of it, or even just a summary on Wookieepedia in order to garner enough information to understand what they are referring to.
It's nice to see the the change come over Leia, and it is also nice to see that it is not a snap decision but it evolves over the book as she learns some new things and gets to think about certain things differently. I also like how Han presses her on the issue, but not so much in an angered way, he just tries to get her to see the error in her thinking, and you can tell that this is something that he desperately wants and isn't just arguing for for the sake of getting his own way. My only gripe is that the book ends before we get to see Han's reaction to Leia changing her mind.
Overall an enjoyable read and brings the "real" Han and Leia back after the fake ones in our last book. And just for fun, I'm going to throw a challenge out there to all of you on some missing moments here. First, and this one is quite obvious, pick up where they left off after Han tells Leia that the needle in his arm is going to get in the way. Second, write Han's reaction to Leia changing her mind about kids.