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Chapter 1: Mildly Aggressive Negotiations
In the three weeks since the destruction of both Alderaan and the Empire’s planet killing Death Star, the Rebel Alliance has been fleeing to all corners of the known galaxy, desperately attempting to evade the crushing grip of Imperial forces. Where Grand Moff Tarkin believed in rule by fear, now Emperor Palpatine has demanded complete submission or suffer annihilation.
Political leaders outwardly or suspected secretly of supporting the Rebel cause have been arrested and publicly executed following lengthy and thorough interrogations. More and more corporations believed to be supplying weapons and resources to the insurgents are being nationalized every day. Hope, if there ever was any for the Rebel Alliance, is quickly being extinguished.
Senator — or for a short time, former Senator — Bail Organa was killed along with 2 billion of his fellow citizens when Tarkin decided to test the full strength of the Death Star on his homeworld. Now Mon Mothma is the indisputable leader of the Rebel Alliance. Having abandoned Yavin IV, the former home of Rebel Alliance HQ, she has been coordinating both planetary attacks and evacuations onboard Admiral Ackbar’s Mon Calamari Cruiser Home One. She is joined in the main briefing room by her intelligence director, General Draven, and a newcomer to the Alliance, Carlist Rieekan.
Mon welcomed him with a warm smile, as she was known to do. “Carlist, I cannot tell you how devastated I have been since the…loss of your home. How are you?”
Carlist cleared his throat, and forced himself to return her smile. “As well as can be expected, Senator,” his voice clearly shaking. “I’m just sorry I couldn’t have done more for my people.”
Draven sat silently, his eyes continually shifting between his two compatriots. In conversations such as this, he was inclined to not say anything until something directly pertained to him. Until then, he preferred to read other’s faces and learn more about their motivations.
Mon moved to stand behind Carlist and laid a comforting hand on his shoulder. “First of all, I do not believe the title of Senator has suited me for some time,” she said in a mildly sarcastic tone. “In regard to your people, there is nothing you could have done to mitigate the Empire’s vile actions. However, you can still honor their memory by helping to destroy that which took so many innocent and beautiful lives.” She returned to the head of the table. “Carlist Rieekan, will you honor us and the good people of Alderaan by joining the Alliance to Restore the Republic?”
Rieekan stood proudly, straightening his uniform. “There would be no greater honor.”
“It is settled then. Effectively immediately, you will be commissioned as a General of the Alliance. Congratulations, General.”
General Rieekan’s smile was finally genuine. “Thank you.”
Draven stood at last, extending his arm to shake the hand of the newly appointed General. “Congratulations, General.”
“Thank you, General Draven,” he replied enthusiastically.
“Of course what Mon forgot to mention,” he said as he sat back down, “was that this was all my idea.”
Mon Mothma shot her eyes at him, but did not protest. “Well, as much as it pains me to agree with General Draven, for once he is correct. Now we must move on from these formalities. I am sure the two of you will adequately celebrate the occasion this evening in the ship’s cantina.” The two officers looked at each other and then nodded in approval. “Now however we must discuss our next maneuvers.” She activated her intercom. “Control, this is Mon Mothma. Please make a general announcement for Admiral Ackbar to report to the briefing room. Thank you.”
Draven pushed a button that brought up a holographic map of the galaxy. “While we wait for the Admiral, I will first discuss the status of our ground forces. In short: not good. Troops on those planets in open rebellion are mired in combat with Imperial forces. Losses thus far have been substantial.”
General Rieekan rubbed his chin, “I assume you are also still heavily involved in humanitarian efforts on those worlds and more.” The door slid open and Admiral Ackbar entered the room.
Mon greeted him, “Thank you arriving so quickly, Admiral. Please be seated.” She returned her focus to Rieekan. “Yes, General, where possible we are assisting in evacuations on worlds that have recently fallen under Imperial control. In the cases where the blockades have made such endeavors impossible, we have been smuggling in basic necessities such as food and medical supplies.”
The intelligence chief turned to his colleague, “Thus making any major land offensive implausible at the moment.”
Carlist thought for a moment. “You could withdraw from some of the outlying planets so we could centralize our forces-“
“Out of the question,” Mon snapped. “I will not risk the lives of billions for a pyrrhic victory.” Quickly redirecting, she added, “Admiral, if you would be so kind as to brief the status of our fleet.”
Admiral Ackbar rose. “Yes, ma’am. Good evening, everyone. Unfortunately we lost many good ships over Scarif. Darth Vader decimated the fleet of Admiral Raddus. We must be thankful that we even escaped with the Death Star plans.”
The rest of the room responded with a collective, “Hear, hear!”
“As with our ground forces, our fleet is currently too widely scattered to launch a major attack against the Empire. We may be able to attack smaller targets such as low output shipyards, but I fear our losses would be far too great to risk our ships and crews.”
“Then what do you all propose we do?” Rieekan exclaimed as he slammed his fists down on the briefing table. “The Alliance just won the greatest naval battle in galactic history, and now you all just want to climb under a rock? Surely Bail-“
“General, please,” Ackbar pleaded.
“No, Admiral I will not. My planet was just obliterated with no warning! If we do nothing, the Empire wins.”
“No, General,” Mon said calmly, “if we squabble amongst ourselves, only then will the Empire win. I stand here with three of the brightest minds in the galaxy; surely between all of us a successful strategy can be developed.”
Silence fell on the room. For the moment, all the brilliance that was in the room was being overshadowed by the colossal, if not impossible, task at hand.
“On Tatooine,” she continued, “they have a particular saying that suits our current situation very well. ‘When eating a bantha, a flea must simply take it one bite at a time.’”
“But right now that flea is getting stomped into a pulp,” Rieekan replied sardonically.
“I have an idea.” The whole room turned towards General Draven. “While it is true that we cannot yet afford to engage in any large scale maneuvers, smaller, more focused attacks on key targets throughout the Empire might spark the galaxy-wide rebellion we desperately need.”
“How is this any different from Saw Gerrera’s Partisans?” Ackbar inquired.
“I think perhaps Saw sometimes killed just for the sake of killing, Force bless his soul,” Mon said somberly. “What exactly are you proposing, General?”
“Shipyards like Kuat are impenetrable. The academies on Coruscant and other major systems are too heavily guarded. We need to hit low to medium value targets throughout the Empire. The Imperials will start to reallocate their forces accordingly so eventually we can hit the bigger targets.”
“What sort of ‘low to medium value targets’ are we talking about here, Davits?” Carlist said, suddenly using the General’s first name.
“Supply depots. Communications outposts. Refueling stations. Governors. Officers. Moffs.”
“Moffs?” Mon said, exasperated. “Come now, General. This truly does sound like Saw. I will not have marauders raging across the galaxy on behalf of our Alliance.”
“Oh, for once will you please drop the moral superiority? We are at war-“
“I will not,” Mon said definitively. “A just war is fought for a just cause, and equally by just means.”
“With all due respect, Mon,” Rieekan replied sharply, “tell that to the guy who just blew my entire planet.”
“I am sorry for your loss, Carlist. You know I am. But if we stoop to the Empire’s level, how can we possibly convince the galaxy that we are any better?”
“There is a middle ground,” Ackbar said, loudly enough to get the attention of all those debating in the room. “There is truth to what all you have said. Guerrilla warfare has proven highly effective in previous conflicts, but we must not allow ourselves to become simple terrorists.”
“And we cannot allow ourselves to become that which we wish to destroy,” Mon added.
“Therefore,” Ackbar continued, “I suggest we set up a strike force to hit those targets General Draven suggested, but those targets must be carefully selected. I recommend all targets be chosen by this council, specifically by Generals Draven, Rieekan and myself. Your Excellency will of course always have veto power.”
“And who shall lead this strike force?” Mon asked.
“I’ll do it,” General Rieekan said promptly.
“I do not think that would be prudent, General,” Mon replied. “You are new to our operations, and I plan to have you coordinating more of our large scale operations.”
“I understand. What about Garm Bel Iblis? This sort of thing seems to be right up his alley.”
Mon looked down for a moment, regretfully, and then once again lifted her head. “Suffice it to say our relationship has been less than amiable as of late. Perhaps one day he will come around.”
“This is my territory,” Draven said plainly.
“General, are you sure?” Mon asked with a highly concerned tone. “After what happened with Scarif-“
“After what happened with Scarif,” he paused for a brief moment, “I’ve never wanted to so badly to destroy the Empire. Besides, Mon, you know I’ve always exceled at morally questionable activities.”
“Maybe if you were a little less morally questionable, Alderaan might still be here,” Rieekan said venomously.
“I did my job. Well. The Death Star was destroyed with minimal casualties.”
“If you consider 2 billion ‘minimal,’ then I suppose you’re right. That was the most egregious intelligence failure in the history of the galaxy. And you wiped the Erso family from existence. From the reports I’ve read, that young woman would have made an excellent operative.”
Normally cool and collected, Draven could take no more. He leapt the table and grabbed Rieekan by the collar. Their faces were mere inches from each other. “I didn’t kill those people! The Empire did! Now I like you, Rieekan, but do believe me when I say I am the last person you want to cross.” He let go, and dusted off Rieekan’s uniform. He looked as if he was going to say more, but instead just gave Rieekan a courteous smile and returned to his seat.
“If you gentlemen are quite finished. General Draven I will agree to you coordinating these efforts, but I do not want you on the ground. I still need you here, coordinating the big picture. You will need to choose a squad commander.”
“Oh, I’ve got the perfect man in mind,” Draven said devilishly. He sneered at Mon.
“Oh no. Please do not tell me you are referring to our Kage…friend.”
Mon protested. “General! That man makes Saw Gerrera look like an Angel from the moons of Iego.”
“Then who better to strike fear into the hearts of the Empire? Palpatine himself will be shaking in his dusty old boots.”
Rieekan interjected, “Can someone please tell me who the hell we are talking about here?”
Draven grinned from ear to ear. “Ad Aileron.”
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Was the Death Star more of an inside job than you can possibly imagine…?
Since Star Wars first came out in 1977, we were all perplexed as to how the Empire could make an omission allowing direct access to the Death Star’s main reactor via a 2-meter wide thermal exhaust port.
Now that Rogue One has been released, the suspicions of conspiracy theorists like myself have been confirmed; the Death Star was an inside job. Reluctant Imperial scientist Galen Erso purposefully built this flaw into the blueprints to allow the Rebel Alliance a chance — infinitesimal as it may be — to destroy this planet killer.
But could the traitorous plot to destroy the Empire’s premier battle station go much, much higher than we previously thought? Could it might go nearly straight to the top: Darth Vader.
After a test fire of the super laser destroys the Holy City of Jedha, Darth Vader makes his feelings known in a conversation with Director Orson Krennic while in his private palace on the planet Mustafar. When Director Krennic pleads for a face-to-face with the Emperor to discuss the Death Star’s “remarkable potential,” Vader quickly responds with, “It’s power to create problems has certainly been confirmed.” He would rather make the false claim that Jedha was destroyed in a mining disaster rather than taking credit for having a Death Star.
Following Princess Leia’s daring escape with the secret plans, Vader is “unable” to recover them, his weapons officer foolishly refusing to shoot down an escape pod from her ship on the flimsy reasoning that there were no life forms onboard (knowing their mission was to recover the stolen Death Star plans). Shortly thereafter, Darth Vader reveals more of his feelings in a meeting with all of the high-ranking military officials of the Empire in a conference room onboard the space station. “Don’t be too proud of this technological terror you’ve constructed,” he says to Admiral Motti. The Dark Lord continues, “The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of the Force.”
These may be all strong opinions against the Death Star, but are they strong enough to call them a motive? Probably not. What other reasons would Darth Vader have to allow the Death Star to be destroyed?
Remember the nature of the Sith master/apprentice relationship. Anakin Skywalker’s fall to the Dark Side was based on a lie. Darth Sidious had told the powerful Jedi Knight that he held the knowledge to save his wife, Padmé, from certain death if he would become the Dark Lord’s apprentice. After helping to kill Jedi Master Mace Windu, Anakin ultimately became Darth Vader and learned an unfortunate truth: Sidious apparently did not hold that knowledge.
Sidious was then able to convince his apprentice that he would have to hunt down and kill all the Jedi to have enough dark side energy to save Padmé. All of this culminates with Vader nearly being destroyed by his former master on Mustafar, becoming “more machine than man” and being told by Sidious that he was responsible for his wife’s death. He would never even learn that his wife had given birth to their children until years later (see the in-canon Marvel comics coverage of this revelation).
In the Sith master/apprentice relationship, it is the master’s responsibility to give the apprentice knowledge, but never enough to use that knowledge against the master and keep them yearning for more. It is the master’s responsibility to make the apprentice stronger and more powerful, but not to the extent where the apprentice could possibly destroy them and take their place. Conversely, the apprentice must relentlessly try to become stronger, smarter and more powerful to one day destroy their master and take on their own apprentice. The Rule of Two.
In short, Darth Vader knew the destruction of the Death Star would weaken his master and the Empire, and it would embolden the Rebel Alliance. Why would he want this? As always, to overthrow the Emperor. Before he even made his infamous offer to Luke Skywalker, he made his intentions clear to Padme shortly before her death. “I have brought peace to the Republic. I am more powerful than the Chancellor. I can overthrow him, and together you and I can rule the galaxy.” Just think about how much the next few years would make him want this even more.
So, that is motive — how about opportunity? Darth Vader already knew full well that the Rebels had the plans to the Death Star and would know how to blow it up. When he sensed how strong the Force was in the X-Wing pilot ahead of him while he flew in his TIE Advanced, he had his opportunity. All he had to do was not kill him.
If you watch that scene again, you can see how easily he takes out the other ships. He has plenty of time to kill Luke. He takes shots at Luke though, right? Notice how they are all non-critical hits (well, unless you ask Artoo). Never forget how talented of a pilot Darth Vader is. Did he do this on purpose? Sure Luke may have been strong in the Force, but at this point, he still was nowhere near as powerful as Vader. Did he let Luke live, and let his son do the rest?
Now, I have provided you with motive and opportunity.
Maybe — just maybe — you’ll join me in pondering Darth Vader’s complicity in the first Death Star, Grand Moff Tarkin and 300,000 of its most loyal service men and women.
It leaves us asking the question, which Skywalker really played a bigger part in the destruction of the first Death Star?
I’ll leave you to ponder that one for yourselves.
Author’s Note: If you are looking for writing tips from a professional writer — STOP! You have come to the wrong place. Alexander Freed, author of Star Wars Battlefront: Twilight Company has an informative and immensely helpful website if you’d like tips from a true professional. I am writing this article simply as a man who has spent the last fifteen years in the Navy, and who therefore cringes when he watches Battleship and can no longer bring himself to watch Crimson Tide.
Recently a friend on Twitter messaged me saying that he loved to write science fiction and wanted to make his military scenes as realistic as possible. Noticing that I was in the armed forces, he kindly requested to probe my mind on this topic. As you may have guessed, I am highly passionate about military writing so I agreed. I answered his questions but realized there is so much more that can be written about this, so here we are. I realize that science fiction is about escapism, but the more realistic the dialogue and the action sequences are, the more the reader can immerse himself or herself into the story. That’s my goal here.
A couple more quick notes first. When I give examples on how to apply these principles, I will reference Star Wars. Why? Well, just click on my profile for that answer. Secondly and lastly, while my experience comes directly from the Navy, most of these principles can be applied to any branch of the military. Okay, now that we got that out of the way, let’s go!
#1 — DO YOUR RESEARCH.
Remember how I said I can no longer watch Crimson Tide? That’s because there are no dogs on submarines! (Among a plethora of other inaccuracies, of course.) Never write about a sailor on a vessel and say, “He went downstairs to go to bed.” That is something we do not say. Instead, write something along the lines of, “He had to go down two levels in order to find his bunkroom.”
Whether it be an aircraft carrier or an Imperial Star Destroyer, directional and geographical words remain the same. For example, “left and right” do not exist, but rather “port and starboard.” Learn how to use words like “amidships” and “dorsal.” For speeds, don’t settle for, “They went as fast as they could go to catch them.” Instead, thrill the reader by saying, “In order to prevent the escaping pirate ship from making the jump to hyperspace, the Gozanti’s captain ordered it to flank speed in order to intercept.” Please note that flank and “full speed ahead” are not the same thing.
How do you this research then? NOT by watching films like the aforementioned. If you find a writer you enjoy (like Alexander Freed, whom I mentioned earlier), feel free to incorporate their style into your writing approach. For actual information on vessels, tactics, etc. however, I would recommend military history books, the internet (trust but verify), museums, or just converse with someone that has firsthand experience like I was. Bottom line: the more realism you bring to your military scenes, the more the reader will be able to understand the deeper meaning of your story.
#2 — So what do we talk about anyway?
I cannot count how many times I have seen or read such forced dialogue between members of the military in movies or books. Truly cringe-worthy. Do you want to know the most realistic dialogue in all of Star Wars? It’s the stormtroopers discussing new or outdated speeder models, or responding to a creeping Jedi by saying, “Probably just another drill.” (Note to reader: we hate all the drills.)
When we are in the middle of operations, communications must be entirely formal. Orders are given and they are acknowledged. Once completed, they are reported back as such.
But in our downtime? Oh, man. We talk about anything and everything. We talk about the new movies (holos) coming out that we are regrettably missing because we’re out on this stinking patrol. We talk about relationship fails and also the ones that went really, really well (if you catch my drift). Most importantly though, don’t forget that all of this conversation is to help us cope with the fact that we miss home greatly. Naval warships are routinely out for months at a time, sometimes with little to no communicate back home. Babies are born two weeks after you leave and are eight months old when you get back. You can rest assured that if you live on Coruscant and you are patrolling the Outer Rim, this would be the exact same case.
#3 — Ships require A LOT of work. And things break all the time.
When you witness the Rebel armada and the massive Imperial fleet clash above the forest moon of Endor, what you are seeing is the culmination of months of tedious work. The ships amassing near Sullust needed to have carefully calibrated navigational systems to make an accurate jump that landed them right at the doorstep of the unfinished Death Star. Dozens or even hundreds of crewmembers worked on those systems to make that happen.
Those turbolasers that hit with pinpoint accuracy probably have all kinds of maintenance issues. In numerous scenes they are furiously venting, so perhaps they experience overheating. Their targeting systems undoubtedly have failed diodes and capacitors, so the gunners would have to aim manually until that is fixed.
Well you might be saying, “No one wants to hear about a technician replacing a turbolaser circuit card.” Think about some of the most memorable lines said in space, though. “Bring me the hydrospanner!” Don’t forget Rey gleefully saying, “I bypassed the compressor.” Not only does equipment breaking lead to stressful situations and exciting dialogue, but you can also make powerful use of the mundane tasks. If two technicians are tirelessly and seemingly endlessly working on the hyperdrive, think about how much you can reveal about those characters over the course of their conversation. This is gold in character development. (We all want to be Han Solo evading Star Destroyers, but that is only made possible by Chewbacca thanklessly maintaining the ship back on Hoth.)
So these were just a few tips on how to bring more realism to your science fiction military scenes. If this helped you in any way or would like to read more tips on writing action scenes, please drop me a comment and let me know. As always, thank you for reading and may the Force be with you.
How Star Wars can help people understand today’s turbulent world of politics
“A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.” Joseph Campbell
When he first began writing the Star Wars saga in the early 1970s, George Lucas already had a tremendous vision for the movies he wanted to create. Influenced strongly by serials like Flash Gordon, Lucas knew he wanted to produce a “soap opera in space” full of lasers, spaceships, aliens, yet true down-to-Earth human interactions as well. What he lacked though was a depth in the story.
That is when he turned to the most popular mythologist of the 20th century (if not all-time), Joseph Campbell. Joseph Campbell, born in 1904, had been studying and writing about mythology since the 1920s, and taught on the same subject until his death in 1987. He first fell in love with the symbolism of Native American mythology, but would later delve into many of the world’s ancient myths, especially that of Greek mythology. Campbell would also become enamored with the story of Buddha’s enlightenment, a source for a plethora of his writings.
Possibly the most famous book ever written by Campbell was The Hero with a Thousand Faces, first published in 1949. It was from this book that George Lucas gained his true inspiration for Star Wars. One could argue this work acted as a muse for Lucas, and this is evident when Campbell once said that the filmmaker was “his finest student.”
The most popular theme from this book was “the hero’s journey,” and when watching Star Wars, it is easy to see Luke Skywalker transform through this process. In the hero’s journey, an unlikely hero begins his or her life as an ordinary individual — someone whose finest joy is going to the Tosche Station to pick up some power converters. Seemingly out of the blue, they receive a call to adventure — a feisty little less-than-honest droid who is carrying a message from a beautiful woman saying “help me!”
Two of most important elements of the hero’s journey are meeting a mentor, and refusing the call to adventure. Many mythological stories feature a wise hermit (“Hello there!”) who sometimes even comes bearing gifts — Excalibur, a lightsaber, etc. This mentor, this teacher, will show the hero that there is something larger in this world than their own existence, such as the Force. Overwhelmed, the would-be hero will often refuse the mentor’s suggestion to step into the larger world, saying “I have to stay here.” Something however, such as gazing at your crispy aunt and uncle, will make the hero cross the threshold and truly begin the heroic adventure.
From there the hero will make friends and allies to help him or her on the journey. They can come in many forms such as scoundrels, Wookiees, and even droids. One may even find a “damsel in distress,” who is hardly in distress, and would probably slap you if you called her a damsel. Together the group will go through numerous trials all while collectively and individually develop into higher beings.
The hero will then usually find themselves in a foreboding cave — sometimes this is also called “the belly of the whale.” This cave can take many forms, including a large trash compactor that is home to a not-so-friendly Dianoga. From this cave the hero will shed their old skin and emerge more confident and focused.
The pinnacle of the hero’s journey happens when the protagonist must apply everything he or she has learned and overcome a great ordeal. In Star Wars, this obviously happens when Luke Skywalker takes his X-Wing into the Death Star trench in an attempt to blow up the space station (with a special shoutout to Galen and Jyn Erso). Whereas other flying aces relied on technology to try and make the kill shot, Luke instead turned off his targeting computer and used the Force to make the shot. And boom goes the dynamite, or, in this case, the Death Star.
At the end of the journey the hero will earn a reward (unless your name is Chewbacca) and return home. The reward will come in different forms, but will usually mean a higher state of being, a state of enlightenment. Rarely do truly mythological heroes triumph in order to gain physical rewards.
There are some key things to remember about the hero’s journey. First, generally a hero does not go through this process just once. Luke can be seen going through this in every movie of the original trilogy. Second, sometimes these journeys can be part of an even larger adventure, as is the case with Anakin Skywalker. His particular story spans all six movies, and he does not receive redemption until the last ten minutes of Return of the Jedi. Lastly, the hero’s journey can happen in anybody’s life. If you watch closely, you can even see Han Solo go through his own journey who some find even more interesting than Luke’s.
With all that being said, I encourage you to study the works of Joseph Campbell (jcf.org) and apply this theme to all characters in the Star Wars universe. Jyn Erso and Rey (Skywalker? Solo? Kenobi?) are powerful female characters who go through their own unique journeys. But most importantly, I encourage you to apply the hero’s journey to your own life. Yes, every single one of us has the potential and the capacity to be a hero — just look at the work of the 501st Legion. Where are you in your personal journey? Many of us have received the call but have spent years refusing it. I strongly suggest you take the first steps into a larger world — you never know what’s waiting for you out there.