Thursday, January 28, 2016

Specter of the Past: The Review

It has been a very long time since I wrote one of these. Let's see how I do. Probably not that well, because while I totally appreciate that Timothy Zahn is an iconic writer of Star Wars novels and a good writer, his stories tend to involve a lot of political stuff that I don't always follow along with so clearly.

Since this is Timothy Zahn, his favorite original characters are featured prominently. Admiral Pallaeon, Talon Karrde, Grand Moff Tarkin, and of course, Mara Jade. For those of you who didn't read these books as they were being released, this duology was the last of the Bantam run of Star Wars books before Del Rey took over. At the time all we knew was that they were planning something larger scale and moving the timeline forward, so in a way these books were to serve as sort of closure for this first 15-ish years after ROTJ.

The Empire is basically at the end of its rope. They are struggling, to say the least. Everyone wants in on the New Republic. The first of our heroes we come across is Han, flying his beloved Falcon and approaching the planet Iphigin. He's with Chewie, and Luke comms him when he arrives and they have a fun little conversation where Han mentions Leia:

 "Just coming in nightside," Luke said. "What’s wrong with Chewie?"

"Nothing much," Han said. "Small difference of political opinion, that’s all."

"Ah," Luke said knowingly. "Been calling President Gavrisom Puffers’ again, have you?"

"Now, don’t you start," Han growled, glaring at the comm speaker.

Chewbacca rumbled a question. "Well, for one thing, he never seems to do anything except talk," Han said.

"That’s what Calibops are best at," Luke pointed out. "Face it, Han: words are the tool of the task these days."

"I know, I know," Han said, making a face. "Leia’s been pounding it into me forever." His voice drifted into an almost unconscious parody of his wife’s. "We’re not the Rebel Alliance anymore, with a handful of people running the whole show. We’re negotiators and arbitrators and we’re here to help system and sector governments be all nice and friendly to each other."

"Is that really the way Leia put it?"

"So I paraphrased a little."

I thought that was cute. Han calling some president "Puffers" and unconsciously parodying his wife's voice. Then Han admits to Luke that Leia isn't with him on this little mission:

"Look, Luke, I am official liaison to the Independent Shippers Association," Han reminded him testily. "It’s net like I haven’t done this sort of thing before. And Leia hasn’t had any kind of real vacation in a long time-she and the kids need some time off together. And just for once, I’m not going to let her get dragged away on some stupid diplomatic thing, especially when she’s supposed to be on a leave of absence. She deserves better."

I like that Han would make sure that Leia would get enough time off with the kids. They go to some negotiations and for some reason they do not want Luke involved, because he is a Jedi. At some point Luke suggests they should call Leia in because things aren't going well, and Han outright refuses. Which brings us now to Leia. Apparently she was not even aware that was what Han was off doing:

For a long moment Leia Organa Solo just stood there, the restless breezes of the Wayland forest rustling through her hair, staring at the gold-colored protocol droid twitching nervously in front of her. There were, she reflected distantly, very few things in the galaxy anymore that could shock her speechless. Han Solo, her husband and father of her three children, was apparently still one of them. "He did what?"

It was a rhetorical question, of course. Possibly a way of confirming to herself that her voice still functioned. C-3P0 either didn’t realize that or else didn’t want to risk guessing wrong. "He and Chewbacca have gone to Iphigin, Your Highness," the droid repeated, his voice miserable. "Several hours ago, shortly after you left on your tour. I tried to stop them, but he wouldn’t listen. Please don’t deactivate me."

Leia took a careful breath, stretching out to the Force to calm herself-apparently, she looked angrier than she actually was-and tried to think. Han would be on Iphigin by now, probably already engaged in a dialogue with the Diamalan and Ishori delegations. She could have her honor guard fly her there in one of their ships, calling ahead and telling Han to declare a recess until she arrived. The children she could leave here; the rest of the Noghri could look after them until she and Han returned. Alter natively, she could get in touch with President Gavrisom and have him send someone else out there to take over. But either approach would make Han’s effort an obvious and embarrassing false start, hardly the sort of thing that would bolster the already low opinion the Diamala had of New Republic capabilities. In fact, depending on how seriously the Diamala chose to take it, it could easily make things worse than if she just left Han alone.

I love that Han can still shock her. And he is not afraid to sneak off and do things he knows she wouldn't be happy about. Threepio then tells her that Han called Luke to go with him, and she seems happy to learn that he wouldn't go entirely alone.

Threepio was still standing there looking nervous. "It’s all right, Threepio," she soothed him. "Once Han gets an idea in his head, there’s no stopping him. He and Luke should be able to handle things."
The droid seemed to wilt with relief. "Thank you, Your Highness," he murmured.

Leia turned away from him and looked back across the clearing. Her youngest son, Anakin, was crouched down beside one of the slender airspeeders the group had just arrived in, and even at this distance she could hear the mix of seriousness and excitement in the eight-year-old’s voice as he discussed the finer points of design with the Noghri pilot. Standing a little way to one side beside the Mobquet speeder bikes that had flown escort for them, the twins Jacen and Jaina were watching with the air of st ressed patience that came naturally of being a whole year and a half older and wiser than their younger brother. Grouped around the children and vehicles were the short gray figures of their Noghri escort, the bulk of their attention directed outward. Even here at the edge of a Noghri settlement, they were continually on the alert for danger. Beyond them, rising above the forest, Leia could see the top of Mount Tantiss.

Oh, the Solo kids. Very cute to have Leia with her kids, who are just being kids. But don't get too used to them because this is one of those books where they are sort of like those sitcom children that are born late in the series in an ill-advised attempt to boost ratings. You know they have them, but we don't really see them much. Leia has a conversation with her Noghri bodyguard, and I keep forgetting that she has those. She thinks about how Han has never been entirely comfortable with them, but she always feels really safe with them. And this is just a cute paragraph about Leia looking at the kids:

"The children are doing fine right where they are," Leia assured him, looking back at the group. Anakin was halfway underneath the airspeeder now, with a pair of Noghri legs sticking out alongside his. The twins still had that strained-patient look as they talked quietly together, but Leia could see Jaina’s hand fondly stroking the saddle of one of the speeder bikes. "Anakin has inherited his father’s love of puzzles," she told Cakhmaim. "And the twins aren’t nearly as bored as they might pretend."

Leia has to attend to a little business, and there is a moment where Jacen comes and interrupts:

A presence brushed at the back of her mind, and she turned as Jacen came into the room. "Mom, when are we going to the mountain?" he asked, throwing an incurious look at the Devaronian. "You said we’d be going to see the mountain after the other tour."

"We’ll go soon, honey," Leia said. "Just a little business to clear up first."

Jacen frowned. "I thought we weren’t going to have any business here."

"It’ll just take a minute," Leia assured him.

"But I’m bored," he insisted. He looked at Lak Jit again, and Leia could sense the effort as the child reached out with his limited abilities in the Force. "Are you my mom’s business?" he asked.

This reads like a pretty typical mother/son interaction. Mom promised something, and kids never let them forget it. The meeting drags out a little longer and Jacen continues to be impatient. I guess one thing I liked about this was that Leia doesn't shut the kids out, they always have access to her even if sometimes it is annoying. As Leia is going over a document, she is struck by the words Hand of Thrawn:

 She stared at the label, a sudden chill running straight through her.

Four words, with the dirt already brushed off. The Hand of Thrawn.

"Mom?" Jacen asked, his voice not much above a whisper. Young and inexperienced in the Force, he nevertheless was keenly attuned to his mother, almost as closely attuned as he was to his sister Jaina. "What’s wrong?"

Leia reached out to the Force, calming herself. "I’m all right," she told her son. "Something on this card just startled me, that’s all."

Jacen craned his neck to look. "The Hand of Thrawn.’ What does that mean?"

Leia shook her head. "I don’t know."

"Oh." Jacen frowned up at her. "Then how come you were so scared?"

It was a good question, Leia had to admit. Could the simple if unexpected appearance of Thrawn’s name really have thrown her so hard? Even coupled with her memories of his near victory, it didn’t seem likely. "I don’t know that, either, Jacen," she said. "Maybe I was just remembering the past."

"Or seeing into the future," Cakhmaim said softly. "The Mal’ary’ush has great powers, secondson of Vader."

"I know," Jacen said gravely. "She’s my mom."

"And don’t you forget it," Leia admonished him mock-severely as she ruffled his hair. "Now be quiet a minute and let’s see what this is all about" Pulling her datapad from her pouch, suddenly not caring at all about possible dust contamination, she slid the datacard in.

I liked this little exchange, especially the "she's my mom" part. Like, duh. I also kind of like that he can sense when something is wrong with her. A few moments later there is some sort of commotion, even Jacen knows right away he needs to be worried about his siblings and Leia grabs his hand and they run to find that someone snuck in and set of a smoke grenade. Fortunately, she finds the other children are all right.

 Of the nine Noghri Leia had left there, six remained, pressing in a tight defensive circle around the children. "Jaina, Anakin," she breathed, dropping to one kite beside them and giving them each a quick but tight hug. There was no need to ask if they were all right, her Jedi senses had already confirmed that.

Threepio was also taken out, Anakin is concerned for him which was kind of cute. Leia leaves the kids and tries to chase down this guy and they fly off and force him down. Also during this scuffle she comes across Talon Karrde and Mara Jade, because this is a Zahn book. The guy who set off the grenade claims to be with Karrde, which is weird because Karrde is standing right there and he doesn't recognize him, so the jig is up there. They're all talking about the Hand of Thrawn and some artifacts that are really important and stuff. Leia asks Mara something about Palpatine and I forgot that she and Palps were totes BFFs for a while, which is still so weird to me. Anyway, Leia needs a ride because of course Han isn't there and she asks if there will be room for the kids. Karrde knew that Chewie and Han were gone and Leia says this:

Leia made a face. "Was I the last one on the planet to find out Han had left?"

I just think it's funny that everyone knows Han is gone and he didn't tell her. He was just trying to make sure she got some time off.

Apparently everyone is interested in the Caamas document, which was a recording of some horrible incident way back when. Leia actually remembers it happening back when she was a senator. A group of Bothans (it's always Bothans) helped Palpatine blow up some shields on Caamas. This is all a very big deal for the Bothans, and they want to find out exactly who was involved.

This has nothing to do with Han and Leia but this line happens when Wedge is wandering a marketplace and I just thought it was funny: She was short, she was furry, she was loud, and she was determined to sell him a melon.  Ok now, moving on.

Leia is at some senate meeting and politics, politics, politics. Then it's over and she is alone and runs into Threepio.

"But I do have a message from Captain Solo. He has returned, and will be waiting for you."

Leia felt her heartbeat pick up. "Did he say anything about his mission to Iphigin?"

"I’m afraid not," Threepio apologized again. "Should I have asked him?"

"No, that’s all right," Leia assured him.

"He did not seem inclined to be overly conversational," the droid mused. "He may not have answered even if I had asked."

Leia smiled. "Probably not," she agreed, a hundred fond memories of her husband flashing
through her mind. She’d been planning to head straight to her office to sift through some of the mountain of datawork waiting on her desk. Now, suddenly, she decided it could wait. Han would be waiting for her in their quarters.

Yay, Leia is excited to see Han and doesn't care about going to her office anymore. And has at least a hundred fond memories of him, so that's pretty good. Han is actually waiting for her in her office:

The way Senate meetings usually went, Han had expected to be stuck hanging around Leia’s office for at least another hour before she returned. It was therefore to his mild surprise that he’d barely gotten comfortable in his wife’s inner office when a flicker of displaced air pressure announced that the door from the outer office had just opened.

He swiveled his feet off the corner of her desk and landed them quietly on the floor, getting up just as quietly from her chair and padding his way to the door that separated the sections of the office. In the old days, he would have tried to surprise her by jumping out and giving her a big hug and kiss. But her increasing Jedi skills had long since made trying to sneak up on her a pretty futile exercise.

Besides which, embarrassing her with some silly schoolkid prank would make her madder at him than she probably already was over the Iphigin thing. Especially if she’d brought company with her.

She had. With his ear pressed against the door, he could hear at least two other voices besides Leia’s.

Aw, kind of sad that he can't sneak up on her anymore, but cute to think that he used to like to do that. While Han is waiting, he gets a call on his private comm channel, which is very private and he assumes it is one of his kids and is surprised when he answers and it is Karrde. They talk about Han and Luke's run in with the pirates and some mention of his incident with Leia earlier. Han asks Karrde:

"What’s it going to take to bring you over to our side, anyway?"

"Oh, I don’t know," Karrde said consideringly. What did it take to lure you away from the carefree life of an independent trader?"

Han made a face. "Leia," he said.

"Exactly," Karrde said dryly. "Now, if she had a sister-I don’t suppose she does?"

"Not that I know of," Han said. "Though with the Skywalker family you never know."

Funny line from Han about how you never know with Skywalkers, there could be more of them out there. Then we get one of my favorite things in the EU, Han and Leia reunion scenes:

He started as the door to his left hissed open. "Hi," Leia said softly as she came into the room.

"Oh. Hi," Han said, scrambling to his feet and throwing a belated look at the intercom display. Engrossed first with Karrde and then with his own thoughts, he hadn’t even noticed Leia’s guests departing. "Sorry-I got distracted."

"That’s all right," Leia said, stepping into his arms for a quick hug.

Or not so quick. She remained there, pressing close to him, holding him tightly. "I just talked to Karrde," Han said, her hair tickling his lips. "He told me what you found out about Caamas."

"We’re in trouble, Han," Leia said, her voice muffled by his shirt. "They don’t realize it yet, most of them. But this could be the biggest threat the New Republic has ever faced. It could literally tear us apart."

"It’ll be okay," Han soothed her, feeling just a tiny bit smug despite the seriousness of the moment.

I like the little mention about "quick hug" that turns out to totally not be quick at all. And of course Han soothing her. Leia ruminates a little more on what she has been worried about, and how she has been meditating and trying to figure out what's been going on. Then we get this little moment:

"Mm," Han said, wishing now that he’d tried to talk Luke out of his private pirate hunt. He might have been able to help Leia focus this feeling of hers. "Well, don’t worry, you’ll get it. A little quiet time-a little husbandly affection-and it’ll pop right out at you."

Leia smiled at him, some of the tension leaving her face as she did so. "Is that what you want right now? A little wifely affection?"

"First thing I want is to get you out of here," Han told her, taking her arm and starting her toward the door. "You need some peace and quiet, and once the kids get back from their classes, there’ll be precious little of either. Let’s grab it while we can."

"Sounds good to me," Leia sighed. "I don’t imagine they’re doing anything out there right now except arguing about justice and revenge. They can do that without my help."

"Sure," Han said. "Nothing important’s going to happen in the galaxy for the next hour."

"You sure?"

Han squeezed her arm reassuringly. "I absolutely guarantee it."

Yay, implied sex! Because of course what else is going to make Leia feel better? Also nice is that she seems very amenable to Han's suggestion. Missing moment alert for anyone who needs a writing prompt.

Later on Leia is sent on a mission. She thinks how of course Han will want to go with her, and thinks the trip could be a good opportunity for them to spend some nice quiet time together and says that Chewie can watch the kids. This sort of made me laugh, only because back when I was a teenager reading these books, one of my cousins read them too and we would joke how Chewie's only job in these books seemed to be babysitting. Although I guess your kids probably couldn't be in safer hands than a Wookiee's.

Luke later has a vision that Han and Leia are in trouble. We all know that his history with that doesn't usually turn out so well for them. So he decides he needs to go after them. But of course Leia and Han have already arrived for their mission, and the visit is unexpected:

"You have the letter from Gavrisom," Han put in gruffly. "You have the letter from Fey’lya. What more do you want?"

The secretary threw a sideways look at Han, and despite the seriousness of the situation Leia had to fight to keep from smiling. Han was at his absolutely most intimidating: standing stiff and tall, scowling unblinkingly, his hand resting on the blaster holstered at his side. The knuckles of his gunhand were slightly whitened with pressure as he gripped the weapon, a subtlety she’d suggested to him on the trip here from Coruscant and one that clearly wasn’t lost on its intended audience.

I like that Leia notices that Han is being as intimidating as possible but it just makes her want to laugh. I'm sure Han knows how to look intimidating. He spends the better part of this little exchange being fairly demanding. They are led to an archive room where they need to look for some documents. Then they hear what sound like a large crowd and Han decides to go check it out and leaves Leia behind. It doesn't look good out there as there is a huge mob forming outside and lots of commotion. Some bad guys see him from the crowd and realize it's him and this is the description of him, which seems accurate: Hero of the Rebellion, New Republic shipping liaison, and general all-around troublemaker.

Han is still outside but someone goes to get Leia to ask her to come protect them because she is a Jedi, which frustrates her. She just wants to talk to them. But then she hears a blaster shot, and it turns out the shot was aimed at Han. It missed him but hit the wall behind him and sent things flying into his shoulder. They had also shot someone else, and they accuse Han of being the murderer. Han always get himself into trouble. Leia, as you can imagine, is definitely worried.

"Han!" Leia blurted as the second blaster shot rang out. If he’d been the target...

No, she realized with a flood of relief. She could still feel his presence, alert and tense. But somebody out there had been hit, she could sense the waves of pain. Stretching out with the Force, she tried to locate it.

Must be nice to be able to tell if a loved one is all right through the Force. Leia has her lightsaber with her, and we get a little badass Leia moment:

"Citizens of the New Republic," she shouted, holding the lightsaber high. "I’m New Republic Councilor and Jedi Knight Leia Organa Solo. I call on you to stop."

Unfortunately, while momentarily they listened, the chaos gets worse and the crowd went even more crazy after more shots are fired. Realizing there isn't much more she can do at the moment, she tries to find Han.

And then, through all the chaos that surrounded her, she caught a faint hint of something different. Someone not far away; someone quietly terrified for her safety.


I don't know why but I liked the addition of the fact that she can sense he is "quietly terrified" for her. When she finally spots him, still fairly far away, she can see that his eyes are anxiously searching for her. Then we get a pretty impressive moment of them working together as a team. I'm not entirely clear whether Han actually knows what she is "thinking" toward him or if he just kind of gets it, but it is still a great example of them working so well together:

Han half rose from his crouch, his mouth working with shouted words she couldn’t hear. I’m all right, she thought desperately toward him, risking her grip to try to wave him back. If he or the Noghri headed down into that chaos, they’d probably get torn apart.

But no-he understood. Sinking back into his crouch, he waved the Noghri back, his eyes locked on hers across the atrium. All right, that expression seemed to say, If you don’t want us to come get you, what do you want?

Here, she thought toward him, risking her grip again and unhooking her lightsaber. For a moment she fought against the bushy tendrils trying to entangle it; then she got it free and held it up. Cocking her arm over her shoulder, she threw it across the atrium, catching it midway in a Force grip and guiding it the rest of the way to drop into Han’s hand. For a few heartbeats he fingered the weapon, frowning across the distance at her. She gestured and sent her thoughts toward him . . .

And abruptly he got it. Nodding his understanding, he ignited the weapon and turned the blade to point down.

And began cutting the stairway free from the balcony.

The action hadn’t gone unnoticed. Someone in the crowd roared, and a pair of blaster bolts lanced out, missing Han by bare centimeters as he ducked away. The Noghri at Han’s side-the second Noghri, Leia noticed with mild surprise, had somehow pulled a vanishing act-fired back, and the other blaster went silent.

Something brushed the back of Leia’s head. She twisted around, her mind flashing back to the deadly vine snakes of Wayland.
But it wasn’t a vine snake, or for that matter any other kind of creature, it was a length of synthrope, dangling from one of the windows directly above her.

With Barkhimkh’s anxious face looking down at her from behind it.

Grabbing the rope, she started to climb. She was nearly to the window when, behind her, the stairway crashed to the floor.

End scene. As usual, they survive the ordeal. When we get back to Han and Leia, Leia is putting salve on Han's shoulder wound. Because she is a good wife and loves Han. Also probably because he wouldn't let anyone else touch him. Unfortunately they are still accusing him of being the one to shoot. Which he staunchly denies, and they are for some reason at least for now taking his word for it. There is also a cute little reference to Cloud City because once again Threepio had a little trouble, and is in pieces:

"He’ll be all right," Leia murmured to him. "It didn’t look like any of his major components had been seriously damaged while they were being kicked around. Most of it is cosmetic."

"We can repair him, if you’d like," Orou’cya offered.

"No, thanks," Han said, wishing Chewie were here instead of back on Coruscant minding the kids.

Or maybe not. The last time the Wookiee had had to put Threepio back together, the droid hadn’t exactly bubbled over with gratitude. "We’ve got people on Coruscant who can do it."

Then this:

"Speaking of Coruscant, Councilor Organa Solo, Clan Leader Rayl’skar has been in contact with the New Republic government. President Gavrisom would like to speak with you at your earliest convenience."

Han looked up at Leia. "You want me to need some extra looking after?" he murmured, just loud enough for her to hear.

Leia made a face, but shook her bead. "No, I’d better not put it off," she said, handing him a bandage. "The sooner we get our side of the story to him, the better. May I use your communications room, Secretary Orou’cya?"

I kind of liked that little exchange. Han offering to be her excuse for missing the meeting. After Leia leaves, Han is shown why he was blamed for the shot. They had planted something, and shot IT and then that shot at the target, which is why Han got blamed. Whoever actually did the firing wasn't even shooting in the direction they blamed Han for.

There is concern that Grand Admiral Thrawn is back, which of course means big, important meetings and more politics. In the middle of all of the politics, and more potential blaming of Han for what happened with the mob scene, Leia is interrupted on her private comm channel.

 If this was Anakin asking if he could open a new package of cookies, she promised herself darkly as she touched the switch, he was going to be grounded for a week.

I thought that was cute. And a little touch of normal, kid interrupting Mom's meeting to ask about cookies. Except it was just Talon Karrde again. So she didn't have to ground anyone.  Later Lando comes to meet them and Leia has a moment of remembering Alderaan.

Thirty-eight stories tall, the Orowood Tower had originally been planned to be the nucleus of an elaborate and extensive colony of Alderaanians who bad been off-planet when the first Death Star destroyed their world. But though the architects had painstakingly crafted every facet of the Tower to fit the Alderaanian style, Coruscant’s crowds and near-total land development were simply too alien to their life view for most of the refugees to feel comfortable living there.

Though the rest of the project had been abandoned, there had been hopes that enough Alderaanians would remain on Coruscant to keep the Tower itself occupied, particularly given its spectacular view of the Manarai Mountains. But that final dream bad been dealt its death blow by Grand Admiral Thrawn’s short-lived but terrifying siege of the planet. When the siege was finally lifted, virtually all the Alderaanians left Coruscant, going to New Alderaan or scattering out among the stars. As one of them had e xplained to Leia, they had been lucky enough to escape the destruction of one world, and had no desire to settle on an even more tempting target.

And so the grand experiment had settled into vague obscurity, joining the host of other residential centers clustered beneath the mountains, most of which provided secondary or vacation homes to rich industrialists and government officials. Offworlders and aliens, most of whom bad never even heard of the fabled oro woods of Alderaan, let alone ever walked among them.

Over the years, the ache of that irony had mostly faded from Leia’s heart. Mostly.

Sad but also of course very realistic that Leia still has sad moments thinking back on her home planet. Ok then more politics, talking about who was doing the shooing, worries that Grand Admiral Thrawn is back and whatever. Later Leia and Han are talking with Lando and Karrde at their apartment but they have an intruder who sneaks into the boys' room. The good news is that the boys and their sister are with Chewie on Kashyyyk. Because like I said, Chewie is always taking care of the kids. But they don't know that yet, and Lando and Karrde disappear to that room for a private conversation while Han and Leia wait in the next room:

"Okay, I give up," Han said, a puzzled look on his face. "What was that all about?"

Leia shook her head. "I don’t know," she admitted, replaying the last exchange between Lando and Karrde in her mind as she gazed at the hallway where the two of them had disappeared toward the boys’ bedroom. "Some kind of secret they don’t want us to know about."

"Yeah, I figured that much," Han said. "What I meant was what’s the secret?"

Leia threw him one of her vast repertoire of patient looks, an inventory created by a lifetime of diplomatic service and honed to a fine art by ten years of dealing with three boisterous children. "You know I can’t just go in and dig things out of their minds," she reminded him. "It’s not even ethical with enemies, let alone friends."

"You Jedi are no fun sometimes," Han said. His tone was bantering, but she could tell from his eyes and mood that he was still uneasy about the situation.

"We’re not in the business to have fun," she pointed out.

"You couldn’t just sort of, oh, stretch out and get a feel for what they’re talking about in there?"

Leia smiled wryly. "I wish you wouldn’t do that," she admonished him.

He pulled out one of his own repertoire of innocent looks. "Do what?"

"Suggest that I do something unethical right when I’m trying to persuade myself that it wouldn’t hurt anyone," she told him. "That’s very disconcerting."

"Specially coming from a guy who isn’t supposed to have near as good a conscience as you do?" he suggested blandly.

Leia rolled her eyes. "I swear, Han, I think you can read my mind better without Jedi senses than I can read yours with them."

He waved a hand. "Professional secret. One of the things you learn as a scoundrel."

"Of course," Leia said, looking in the direction of the hallway again. "I wonder how unethical it would be to send Threepio in to take notes for them-"

I like that exchange a lot. Very cute, and the idea that Han can read her better than she can read him. Just, like I said, very cute. Anyway, their intruder, who is eventually discovered in the room, is a woman named Shada who claims this was the only way she could get there to talk with them, and she can help them with their issues. She really didn' mean any harm because as Leia said, her "danger sense" would've picked up if she had wanted to hurt any of them. She also claims that she helped get the plans for the turbolaser on the second Death Star. That, and apparently she was in the Cantina when Han shot Greedo, so if you remember a woman in the Cantina in that scene, that was her.

So then there is another conversation and Shada is going to go off with Karrde, but they tell Leia that Luke has gone after Mara, who was in trouble. There was a lot more Luke and Mara in this that I'm not going to get into. For those of you not aware, at the end of the book that follows this one, they decide to get married. I remember it coming out of nowhere and reading this book again, there didn't seem to be much hint of romance happening this time through, either.

Things are getting more war-like out there, and Leia and Han are alone in their apartment, knowing that the shooting has started and talking about what had happened with the mob:

 "We didn’t demand that the Bothans punish the surviving guards who fired on the rioters,
either," Leia reminded him.

She sensed his flash of gruff embarrassment. "Yeah," be growled. "Because of me."

Leia squeezed his knee reassuringly. "Not just because of you, dear," she said.

If I remember Zahn for anything, it's for lots of Han and Leia "squeezing" each other. Arms, legs, knees, hands. Really almost anything to avoid actual kissing. But then we get massaging in the middle of what is, really, a boring conversation about stuff.

 "Here, turn around a little." Pulling his arm from behind her neck, he started massaging her shoulders.

"It was," Leia said, feeling her taut muscles softening reluctantly under the pressure of Han’s fingertips. "That feels good."

Well that is nice of Han to give her a little massage. After more boring stuff finally Han brings up a better idea, taking a vacation.

Leia smiled. "You wouldn’t be worried about Karrde, would you?"

"No," Han protested. "Course not. He can take care of himself."

"It’s all right, dear," she soothed him, patting his leg again. "I like him, too."

"I don’t exactly like him," Han said, still protesting. "I mean, he can be a real pain in the neck sometimes."

"So could you, dear," Leia reminded him. "Still can, for that matter. You know, I sometimes think Karrde is sort of what you would have been if you hadn’t joined the Rebellion."

"Maybe," Han said. "Except for the beard."

"Thank the Force for small favors," Leia said dryly. "Anyway, that’s how I spent my day. Aside from chatting with smugglers, how did you spend yours?"

"Thinking, mostly," he said. "I was thinking it was about time we got away for a while."

"And a lovely thought that is," Leia murmured. "But Gavrisom would have a fit if I tried to leave right now."

"That might make it worthwhile all by itself," Han said. "I don’t think I’ve ever seen Puffers throw a fit."

Leia smiled. "I appreciate the offer, Han, I really do. But you know we can’t."

"You give up too easily," he reproved her casually. "I’ll bet you I could arrange something."

Leia pulled away from the massage, tuning to frown at him. There’d been another change in his emotions just then . . . "And assuming I took that bet," she asked suspiciously, "what else would you tell me you did today?"

He favored her with one of his innocent looks. "Me? Oh, nothing much. You taking the bet or not?"

"Out with it, Han," she said, putting some intimidation into her frown. Where did you book us a flight to?"

As always, the intimidation bounced off without noticeable effect. "Nowhere important," he said, a smile now lurking beneath all the innocence. "I just thought we could take a little jaunt out to Kanchen sector. Pakrik Major, to be exact"

Leia searched her memory. She’d heard of Kanchen sector, and vaguely remembered Pakrik Major being the sector capital. But that was about it. What’s out there that we’re interested in?" she asked.

"Absolutely nothing," Han assured her. "Well, I mean except for an annual sector conference that a New Republic official really ought to attend. You know-diplomatic courtesy and all that."

She sighed. "And what crisis are they going through that they need me to mediate?"

"That’s the beauty of it," he said, grinning openly now. "There isn’t one. Everything out there’s real peaceful. We’d sit through a few boring meetings, then head off into the silence and relax."

"You assume there’s silence somewhere nearby that we can get to."

"There is," Han said. "Pakrik Major’s got a twin planet, Pakrik Minor, where they’ve got nothing but farms, a few resorts, and lots of undeveloped countryside."

This was sounding better and better. "Farms, you say?"

"Fruit and tallgrain, mostly," Han said with a nod. "And forests and mountains and all the silence you want And no one here even has to know we’re going."

Leia sighed. "Except Gavrisom," she said, feeling a twinge of regret. "And he’ll never approve."

Han’s grin turned smug. "Sure he will. Fact is, I called him this afternoon and set it all up. He loves the idea."

She blinked. "He loves the idea?"

"Well, maybe he doesn’t love it, exactly," Han backpedaled. "But he’s letting us go, and that’s what’s important. Right?"

"Right," Leia said, eyeing him. "You going to drop the other glove, or not?"

Han shrugged. "He didn’t exactly say it outright," he admitted reluctantly, "but I got the feeling he wouldn’t mind if the two of us sort of disappeared for a while."

"Even with Thrawn on the loose?"

Han made a face. "Especially with Thrawn on the loose."

Leia sighed, wrapping her arms around his neck. She should have guessed that there would be something like that behind it. Between the Bothan shooting controversy still clinging to Han and her own support of Lando’s unsubstantiated claim about seeing Thrawn, the two of them had become political embarrassments. No wonder Gavrisom was jumping at the chance to get them out of the public eye for a while. "I’m sorry, Han," she apologized. "I always ask that one question too many, don’t I?"

"It’s okay, hon," he said, squeezing her tightly. "We don’t have to let them take the shine off this, you know. It was our idea to take a vacation, no matter what they think it is."

Leia smiled tightly. "You can’t throw me out; I quit,’" she quoted the old joke.

"Something like that," he said. "Anyway, I talked to Chewie, and there’s no problem with keeping the kids on Kashyyyk a little longer. It’ll be some time just for the two of us."

Leia smiled tightly into his neck. "You know, that’s almost exactly what I told myself when Gavrisom sent us to Bothawui," she said. "You saw how well that turned out."

"Well, this time it’s going to work," Han said positively. "No Bothans, no riots, no one shooting at us. Guaranteed."

"I’ll hold you to that," she warned, pulling out of the hug for a quick kiss. "When do we leave?"

"As soon as you’re packed," he said, squeezing her arm. "And hurry up, I’ve been packed for hours."

"Yes, sir," Leia said, mock-seriously, as she stood up and headed for their bedroom. Some quiet, peaceful time away from trouble and controversy. Yes, it was exactly what she needed.

The tallgrain farms of Pakrik Minor. She could hardly wait.

And the last chapter is bad guys and stuff so does anyone care? No? Good. This was a cute exchange, of course. Han being sneaky again, a way to get Leia away under the guise that it is "work" but it totally isn't and everything is quiet. It sort of sounds like something I'd write in a fanfic, so it's always nice to see a scenario like that show up in an actual book. And hey, we took a break from the knee squeezing for an actual kiss! Yay!

Wow, as Push said, it has been a LONG time since I wrote one of these and it seems harder than I remember. Neither of us can believe we used to publish them weekly.

Now, Han and Leia rating? I guess I'm going to go with a three. There isn't a ton of Han and Leia in this book. At one point there was a significant stretch where we heard from neither of them. But the times we do see them, they do seem in character and happily married and working well as a team. And any book where they discuss wifely and husbandly affection, implying that they are about to have some sex, is just going to have to get a little bump in the rating. I could go as high as 3.5 for this if anyone has any thoughts on that, feel free to interject. But I don't think there is enough of them to warrant any rating higher than that.

Finally, I'd like to ask that we keep the comments on this post related to the book and the contents of the post instead of turning this into another rant-filled section of comments. These book reviews take a lot of effort and it would be nice to keep the comments related to that, thanks.


  1. I do love that there's a, as Zolo once put it, "momma-Leia" moment. Honestly, I've given up scavenging the EU for them, but this one is pretty cute despite its briefness. Although, I still have to wish there were more.
    I also really liked the remembering Alderaan moment. I think that there are a few things that should come up in the characters' mind more often and Alderaan should undoubtedly pop up more often in Leia's head. I think, combining my two thoughts in this whole comment, a really cute scene would be Leia thinking about Alderaan or Bail being a grandfather.
    This definitely wasn't too bad as far as Han and Leia go.

  2. Yay! Another in the books...about the books. I like Tim Zahn. I like his OCs and actually enjoyed some of the parts that didn't have Han and Leia in them. But there was some nice parts with them, so that's great, too. I thought I remembered that when Han was sitting in Leia's office that Kardde called on Leia's personal number and Han was taken aback that Kardde knew her personal line. Is that right? Because I kinda liked that little jealous Han part in there, too. But I could be remembering it wrong and I don't have my book with me. Thanks for doing another one of these. They are lots more work than I remember, but I do definitely enjoy the quick access to all the good Han and Leia parts.

  3. You know Zahn's not good at romance, but I always felt like he really nailed Han and Leia's characters. He kept Han with a bit of the rogue in him while still being respectful. And yeah, they definitely had sex when they had that hour free ;)

    Also love the idea of Han planning a vacation for Leia and taking care of all the details he knew she would worry. I see him more as this kind of romantic instead of the flowers and chocolate kind.

    Ooh and it's awesome how Leia is a full-fledged Jedi Knight in this and totally comfortable with her Force skills. Of course, then Vector Prime has her diminished all the way to padawan level and "regret" that she never became a Jedi, but let's forget about that for now.

    1. You know, you really make a good point. He doesn't write romance, and really, there isn't much reason for him to. But he does do a great job with Han and Leia's characters. They never really struck me as the types to be overly mushy and romantic, but they still just kind of "get" each other. I also like that they operate as equals. There were a few books that were guilty of Leia pulling all that "I'm a Jedi and you don't get it, Han" crap. I mean she even mentions that he can read her better than she can read him. I mean she floated her lightsaber down to him, if that's not working together, I don't know what is.

    2. No, he doesn't do great romance. I was shocked to read that they actually kiss in this book, even though it's described as a "quick" one. From memory I thought that they NEVER kissed in any of Zahn's books, but this must be the one and only time they do. Even though he does capture the essence of the characters quite brilliantly for the most part, his usual idea of romance involves them squeezing each other's hands a lot, and not a lot more. But at east there is some implied sex here that I had totally forgotten about.

      Another plus point to Zahn is that when he writes Mara she's at least bearable, unlike when people like Kathy Tyers got hold of her and turned her into a shrew, and most of the other NJO authors followed suit. But I kind of liked Mara when Zahn wrote her.

    3. Good point on Mara. Though to be fair I'm halfway through the next book and Luke already mused how if he and Mara ever got together they would share a bond closer than Han and Leia because of the Force thing, so... he does make it SORT of annoying ;) She grew on me in the later books. By the time they killed her off I was sad to see her go, and only partly because I felt so bad for Luke.

      Yeah, Zahn isn't into romance, but then Star Wars books aren't really about romance. He does do an excellent job with the characters and having them act like the characters we know and love. And he gives us just enough to know that Han and Leia are clearly happy with each other. The other romance stuff is what the fanfic is for, to fill in the gaps!

  4. I don't remember this book so this does make me want to read it. Some of the books were a little um boring and I ended up just skimming them.

  5. Thank you for your insightful and drily funnyy review of this forgotten Zahn. You're absolutely correct about his rather stiff approach to romantic scenes, romantic dialogue, and just dialogue in general, actually. And you're also spot on about the Luke/Mara relationship. I always thought that pairing seemed kind of forced (no pun intended), but given poor Luke's overall romantic track record, maybe it was par for the course.

  6. I never could buy into Mara. If I ever had cared about her, I would have lost it when she went out to lunch with Leia and thought about how she was going to kill Jacen.