Leia: “Luke, run away, far away! If he can feel your presence, then leave this place! I wish I could go with you.”
Luke: “No you don’t. You‘ve always been strong.”
— Return of the Jedi
Leia knew what would happen the moment Greedo stuck a blaster in her ribs. She saw the sequence play out, a vision of probabilities and that strange certainty she sometimes felt, the one spacers called “gut” and fools called “luck” and old-timers called the Force.
Leia called it her copilot, and she pulled the trigger when it told her to, and Greedo slumped sideways even as his shot made a dent in the duracrete a few millimeters past her ear.
The Rodian had died the moment he stuck a blaster in Leia’s ribs. It had just taken him, and reality, a few minutes to catch up.
“Sorry about the mess.” She tossed a generous credit chit across the bar to Wuher. He had no fondness for her or any other sentient being, as far as she could tell, but he also had no fondness for stormtroopers. The credits might buy her a few minutes’ goodwill. Enough to get back to the ship in time to pre-flight before her passengers could board. She’d need every spare second to warm up the engines for a quick departure.
Leia only hoped the old man had sense enough to let the spy Garindan follow him instead of cutting off another limb.
But she had her own worries.
Jabba was waiting for her at the ship. “Leia,” he boomed and patted his tail.
She hid her disgust and perched on the wriggling end like she used to as a scrawny kid. If Jabba the Hutt could be said to be fond of anyone, it would be Leia — and his pet rancor. She had been bumming around the galaxy for as long as she could remember, passed from one spacer to the next like cargo. She had learned a lot from Boba Fett in particular, but they drifted apart when he started taking bounties from the Empire.
Leia could never explain it, but she had a bone-deep, instinctive hatred for all things Imperial. Even their credits left a bad taste in her mouth.
So Fett set her up with Jabba. Even running spice didn’t feel as dirty as hunting Rebel Scum with Fett. (She had even said so at the time. Instead of blasting her, Fett just laughed. He must have liked her, too.)
“Did you really send Greedo to fry me?” Leia asked, her eyes as wide as she could make them, innocent and brimming with hurt.
“Ah, Leia, my girl,” Jabba moaned in Huttese, “did you really blow up my entire shipment?”
Leia spread her hands wide. “Which would you rather have? Crates of your spice, with your fingerprints all over them, falling into Imperial hands — with no loyal pilot to come back and tell you about the leak in your organization? Or a live pilot with valuable information and a fast ship, and no evidence left behind?”
Jabba’s twitching tail went still, and his heavy eyelids lowered in thought. “A leak, you say. A trickle of sand, I say.”
“An entire dune can slip through your fingers, one trickle at a time.” Leia crossed her arms. “You let me go, and I’ll find the leak for you. And I’ll pay back your lost shipment.”
“Plus twenty percent.”
Jabba’s laugh boomed out again, and Leia allowed herself to sigh inwardly with relief. “Fifteen, Leia, but only because you are my favorite.”
“Fifteen,” Leia agreed, “and I know you like the rancor best.” She stood, bowed and made for the Falcon. Jabba’s laugh followed her up the ramp. Leia shuddered and wished she had time to scrub away the slimy feeling that always stuck to her skin after their meetings. “Pondscum,” she muttered once the ramp was safely lifted.
“I’ve tried never to judge a being by their species, but I’ve never met a Hutt I liked,” said the old man, nearly giving Leia a heart attack. Had he been lurking at the top of the ramp that whole time? How had she not noticed?
“It doesn’t matter that I loathe him, the fact is that I owe him. Cold credits, fifteen thousand.”
“I thought we agreed on seventeen?” His sly little smile irked Leia, so she brushed past him brusquely.
“A girl’s got to make a living. The Falcon doesn’t run on daisies and daydreams.” Leia wondered if either of her passengers had ever seen a daisy. She didn’t imagine there were many flowers on Tatooine. “You’d better strap in. We’re in a bit of a hurry.”
“I thought you made an agreement with your Hutt?”
Leia frowned. “We’re in a hurry because of the Imperial interest in your handiwork,” she clarified. “I assume you know you were followed?”
His eyebrows rose. “I’m impressed that you noticed.”
Leia snorted. “I wouldn’t last long if I didn’t.”
There was something off about his smile — bitterness, pride, regret... guilt?
Leia didn’t have time for any of this. But she was gentle as she shoved him towards the couch. “Strap in,” she repeated. “Where’s your kid?”
“Luke?” Old Ben blinked. Maybe he and Luke weren’t actually related after all, but couldn’t be the first time someone had made that mistake. “He is probably in your cockpit.”
“Sithspit!” Leia swore and broke into a run. The absolute last thing she needed — in addition to Jabba’s goons and Imperial Stormtroopers on her tail — was some green kid messing with her controls and fouling up their escape—
“I’m no younger than you,” Luke snapped, “and I told you, I’m a pretty good pilot. I know better than to mess around in someone else’s cockpit.”
They wasted a moment scowling at each other. “Fair enough,” Leia finally acknowledged, grudgingly. Had she been muttering aloud? She must have, if Luke had heard her. Stupid. She was normally more discreet than that. The incident with Greedo and ensuing conversation with Jabba must have unnerved her more than she thought. She couldn’t afford to be distracted. Not with stormies taking potshots at them in the hangar bay and Imperial ships bearing down on them from above.
“Take the copilot’s seat,” ordered Leia, making a snap decision based on nothing more than the intuition of her other copilot. “And hang on — this could get a little rough.”
Just as they breached the upper atmosphere, Old Ben slid into the passenger seat behind her. Leia didn’t waste her breath scolding him; if he fell over and cracked a hip, it would be his own fault. She had told him to strap in. She only hoped the droids weren’t rattling around back there, scratching up her ship.
Speaking of the droids... Leia would have preferred the Artoo unit, but — much to her surprise — Luke Skywalker was a decent copilot. They moved together instinctively: Leia jinked and juked around the laser blasts, and Luke modulated the shields and made unorthodox use of the tractor beam by reversing the pulse and bouncing off one of the pursuing TIEs.
“Just like Dead Man’s Curve,” said the farmboy with a grin that Leia couldn’t help returning.
Then she snorted. “I notice they didn’t name that after a woman.”
“That’s because women are too smart to take it,” Luke shot back, then flushed. “That doesn’t say much about me, does it?”
Leia shrugged philosophically. “You lived, right? You can’t be that dumb.”
In the passenger seat behind them, Old Ben seemed to be having a migraine. Leia thought he moaned something like father, but maybe he was just asking how much farther until the jump.
“Now,” said Leia, and pulled the lever. The Falcon leaped into a vortex of stars. Satisfied, she leaned back and propped her feet up on the console. “Not bad, kid,” she told Luke. “You’ve got style. And since we skipped out of there without spacing any TIEs, they probably won’t come after us too hard.”
Luke snorted. “Not likely,” he said with a glance back at his companion. Then he snapped his mouth shut with a look back at her.
“Really.” Leia’s eyes narrowed. She swung her feet back down. “What’s so special about you two, anyway? The stormies down in that cantina weren’t after skifters-n-skimmers.”
“Card cheats and thieves,” translated Old Ben, his voice mild. Leia revised her estimation of him upwards. It was worth keeping an eye on anyone who lived to be his age and knew rimworld spacer lingo. Not to mention the laser sword.
Luke looked reflexively over his shoulder at the old man, and Leia sighed inwardly. She’d halfway considered keeping him as a copilot — he was that good — but the kid would simply have to get a sabacc face. His earnest farmboy look must get him into trouble as often as it got him out of it.
And Leia had a bad feeling that they were going to run into a lot more trouble on the way to Corellia.
“For the last time, Your Highness — where is the Rebel base?”
“Shove it up your airlock and blow,” said Han. He was proud of that one; it didn’t translate quite right from Huttese, or so Chewie assured him, but it was enough to raise color in Tarkin’s sallow cheeks.
Behind him, he could have sworn Vader almost laughed. (Nah. Not possible. Must have been strangled rage.)
The euphoria of that tiny victory died as quickly as it had burned within him. A split second later, as the fragments of his homeworld spun off into stardust and oblivion, Han regretted every syllable, every show of defiance, every desperate decision that had led him to this moment: Corellia, the last bastion of freedom, was gone. Totally blown away.
Han sagged against the stormtroopers who carried him away.
His only hope left lay in a single stubborn droid and an old man who might be dead by now. Hardly the stuff that victories were made of.
But then again, no good Corellian — even a prince — ever played by the odds.
Leia rocked back on her feet and reached blindly for the bulkhead. Dimly, she was aware of Luke bending over Old Ben (not his father, maybe his uncle? No, he’d said his uncle was killed). Maybe they’d passed through some unstable region of space and it affected their equilibrium. Maybe the Falcon’s hyperdrive was on the fritz again. Maybe...
Maybe something terrible had happened.
She straightened and tried to shake off the feeling. Her eyes met Old Ben’s. He looked away first.
“Luke, why don’t you show our captain your exercises.”
Leia took in the tableau: a helmet with its blast shield down, a spherical remote with sensors and tiny blastbolt emitters, and the lightsaber that had caused all that trouble in the Cantina.
“No thanks,” she said.
“You don’t believe in the Force?” asked Luke. He sounded... sad.
Leia thought of her other copilot, the way she had seen her blasterbolt cross Greedo’s a split second before it happened, and how she had already pulled the lever to dump Jabba’s cargo before the Imperial cruiser had emerged from hyperspace.
“What I believe,” she said carefully, “is that carrying a lightsaber brings more trouble than it’s worth.”
Old Ben smiled ruefully. “And carrying a blaster does not attract trouble?”
Leia decided not to bring up her small collection of thermal detonators. It would only confuse the issue. “We’re coming up on Corellia,” she said instead, half a second before a console light blinked on with the same message. She met Old Ben’s gaze, challenging him to comment. He only smiled, as if he could hear her thoughts.
She hoped he’d hear that one.
They never had a chance at escaping. Leia’s copilot and Old Ben’s Force both failed them. Instead, it was Luke who said, “I have a bad feeling about this.” Leia immediately tried to turn the ship around, but it was too late: the moon-that-was-not-a-moon had them in the grip of a tractor beam. The planet-shards that had once been Corellia bombarded the Falcon. Leia winced with every jar and the inescapable knowledge of where each meteorite had come from.
“They won’t get me without a fight.” Leia’s chest hurt. An entire planet—! She had always tried to stay out of politics, keeping her simmering hatred of the Empire to herself. But now all she wanted to do was snatch up the old man’s laser sword and tear into the limbs and necks of all the mealy-mouthed politicians who had allowed things to come to such a state, allowed the construction of that monstrosity under their very noses, allowed the obliteration of an entire world...
“There is a time and a place for fighting a losing battle,” said Old Ben. “But our duty now lies in surviving to tell the tale.”
Luke squeezed her shoulder, and the rage ebbed, leaving cold determination in its wake.
Duty. Another concept, like politics, that she had always avoided as not-her-problem. But as the thought settled in her mind, and the weight settled on her shoulders, something about it felt right. Her inner copilot nudged.
As Leia climbed inside her own smuggling compartment, and as the Falcon was drawn inside the maw of the battle moon’s colossal hangar, she had to admit to herself: somehow, this was where she was meant to be.
The gantry officer opened the door, and Leia kicked him in the chin. Old Ben made a vague motion, and the two stormtroopers knocked their heads together and slumped to the ground. Artoo scuttled in and made a beeline for a terminal, Threepio a golden shadow at his wheels. Luke followed a moment later, tearing the helmet off the second the door hissed shut behind him, like he couldn’t wait to breathe unfiltered air.
Of course, they were on a space station, not a planetoid with its own atmosphere. All the air was filtered.
“How did you do that?” Luke asked. “Can you teach me?”
“The Force can be harnessed in many ways,” said Old Ben, “and I hope to teach you.”
“I kicked him,” added Leia, “and sure, I can show you how. Your center of gravity is different, though, so we’ll have to adjust your stance.”
The old man gave her an odd look. She smiled back sweetly; that seemed to unnerve him more. He kept casting backward glances at her and Luke on his way to neutralize the tractor beam. Artoo whistled mournfully as Old Ben left, and then almost immediately squealed in surprise. His dome spun and he rocked in place. Luke crouched next to the astromech.
“What is it?”
“He keeps saying ‘I found him,’” translated Threepio. “‘He’s here.’ Who is here, you muttering malfunction? Use your binary and proper nouns.”
Artoo blatted something rude, and turned to Luke.
“Prince Han,” said Threepio, “and an unnecessary extraneous insult I deemed it a waste of time to translate.”
“The Prince? He’s here?”
“Who’s here?” interrupted Leia.
“The Prince of Corellia!” Luke’s earnest voice and the storybook title were at such odds with their sterile, severe Imperial surroundings that Leia laughed out loud.
“And I’m the Princess of Alderaan.” She ruffled Luke’s hair, and he scowled. “Don’t worry, we’ll find a title for you too. Titan of Tatooine? Maquis of Moisture Farmers? Or how about—”
Luke interrupted her before she could really get going. “Han Solo, the first and the only of his name, sole heir to the Corellian principality, former Senator, Rebel leader — the one in the message!”
Leia stared at him. “What message? What are you talking about?”
Luke began some convoluted explanation about carbon scoring, a restraining bolt and stormtroopers masquerading as Tusken Raiders. Leia held up a hand to forestall the rest and turned to Threepio. On second thought, she turned to Artoo.
“Tell me, quickly and concisely, what in the karking hell is going on? And you, Threepio — no added commentary, please.”
“Artoo says Prince Han is being held in cell block AA-23, and is scheduled for execution within the hour. And I did not add any commentary, Artoo, I merely used proper grammar.”
Luke sucked in a breath. “We’ve got to help him,” he blurted predictably. “We can’t wait for Ben, there’s no time!”
Leia crossed her arms as tightly as the unfamiliar armor would allow. She hadn’t signed up for any of this. She should just walk away. Commandeer a shuttle or something, slip out and not look back. It’s what Fett would have done.
And leave Luke to be killed?
The thought was unbearable. She didn’t know why; she had only known him for a day. She opened her mouth to tell him he was crazy, that he could risk his own neck if he wanted but had no right to risk hers.
“What’s your plan?” she asked instead.
Luke frowned at her. “Shouldn’t you be trying to talk me out of this? Or, I dunno, angling for a reward or something?”
“Prince of Corellia?” Leia checked. Luke nodded. “He’ll know how to pay his debts. As for you... you’ll go anyway, won’t you?” She didn’t wait for an answer. “Somebody’s got to save your skin. So what’s your plan?”
“Breaking a different prisoner out of a different detention block wasn’t what I had in mind,” complained Luke.
Leia shrugged. It had been laughably easy to locate Chewbacca in cell block 1138 and have Artoo arrange for a false prisoner transfer. As long as they checked the right boxes to make it somebody-else’s-problem, bureaucrats at every level would look the other way, if you applied the right leverage. Leia had learned that from Fett. In this case, the leverage was as simple as removing an angry, noisy Wookiee from Lieutenant Davren’s otherwise peaceable cell block.
“We’re here to rescue you,” Luke whispered. Leia shoved both him and the Wookiee into a turbolift before anyone could overhear.
Then she hissed a quick explanation while fixing the binders so they only looked closed, and tried to avoid explaining just how she had known that Prince Han Solo had a Wookiee bodyguard. There was absolutely no way Leia was ever going to admit that she followed the holoshow Keeping up with Corellia. (From the scowl he’d worn throughout his appearances, she was betting the Prince wouldn’t bring it up either. Assuming they managed to rescue him in time and they weren’t all killed before introducing themselves.)
“Marching into any detention block wasn’t what I had in mind,” Leia muttered.
Standing between them, Chewbacca rolled his eyes and grumbled. Leia’s Shyriiwook was rusty, but she thought it was something uncomplimentary about their parentage.
“We’re not related,” she told him.
Luke looked at her oddly. At least, it felt like he did, but the helmet made it impossible to see his expression.
Sometimes she resented her inner copilot.
Chewbacca growled again.
“What did he say?” asked Luke.
“This is not going to work.”
“Why didn’t you say so before?”
“I did say so before, and Chewbacca is saying it again now. But it’s too late — we’re here.” Leia straightened and tried to walk like a stormtrooper, not a smuggler or bounty hunter: face forward, crisp movements, even stride, no pause to look at her surroundings.
Luke did the talking. He had to; there weren’t any female stormtroopers as far as Leia knew, and she hadn’t had time to reprogram her vocoder for a deeper, more masculine register.
“Where are you taking this... thing?” The Imperial officer sneered.
“Prisoner transfer from cell block 1138.”
It was a good thing Luke was talking; Leia would have been tempted to just kick the officer in the face, but the armor almost certainly wouldn’t give her enough range of motion to tackle the other guards afterwards.
“I wasn’t notified.” The man turned his nose up. “I’ll have to clear it.”
Damn. She knew his type too — Fett had called it “colonel of the urinal.” Leia surreptitiously adjusted her grip on her blaster rifle.
But Artoo’s slicing must have been convincing — or Lieutenant Davren was uncommonly prompt with his paperwork. The supercilious officer sighed.
“Very well. We will have a vacant cell shortly, as soon as the Prince is transferred for execution.”
That was all the prompting Chewbacca needed to “break” his restraining cuffs, toss the officer across the room, snatch a blaster rifle and begin firing at surveillance cameras.
“Look out, he’s loose!” yelped Luke, joining the fray.
Leia shot a camera over the Wookiee’s shoulder and strafed the mouth of the cell corridor, cutting down a pair of guards.
Laserfire, smoking electronics, blaring alarms — it was just like running with Boba Fett again. Exhilarating and terrifying in equal measure.
“You’ll have to answer the comm,” said Leia, jerking her head at the mic and its frantically blinking light. “I’ll find out where this prince of yours is located.”
“What would I say?” demanded Luke. “‘Everything’s under control, we’re all fine here, thank you, how are you?’ They’d be on us in minutes!”
Leia had to admit that his improvisational skills probably needed some work before he could fend off an entire security squad.
Chewbacca stooped over the sprawled bodies of the guards, cuffing the ones that were still alive, and gathering weapons and key cards. He howled a suggestion.
“We are hurrying!” snapped Leia. “He’s in cell 2187. Luke, you go get him. Chewbacca, can you rig some of those power packs to blow when the doors open? Do it.”
She left her helmet on and answered the comm signal, growling in her best stormtrooper-imitation voice and wincing at the result.
“Cancel alarm, authorization—” she glanced at the keycard Chewbacca tossed her — “Sergeant Stencroft. Weapons were discharged in order to subdue belligerent prisoner transferred with authorization from block 1138. Lieutenant Childsen has ordered this detention block locked down until he has determined to his satisfaction that there is no additional threat.”
There, that sounded official. Right?
“We’re sending a squad up,” crackled the speaker.
“They’ll have to wait for Lieutenant Childsen to lift the lockdown,” said Leia.
“Tell him to lift it now, Sergeant!”
Leia lowered her voice. “Sir, have you ever shared duty shifts with the Lieutenant?” Silence. “This is above my paygrade, sir. I respectfully ask you to tell the Lieutenant to cut his inspection short.”
“You have five minutes, Sergeant. Then we’re sending a squad up.”
Five minutes was better than nothing. “Thank you, sir!” She signed off and saluted the mic. “Thank you very much.” She removed her helmet and shouted down the corridor. “Luke, we’re going to have company in 5 minutes!”
She hoped the Prince was still there, still breathing, still conscious... and a decent shot.
A single stormtrooper awkwardly entered the cell. He ducked, even though he was far too short to hit his head on anything.
Han laughed aloud. This was the execution squad? Maybe Vader was trying to kill him with incompetence.
There was so much off about the way the trooper moved that Han couldn’t even catalogue it. So he lounged ostentatiously on the hard slab they called a bed. “Aren’t you a little short for a stormtrooper?”
“Huh?” The stormtrooper removed his helmet, revealing a kid with sun-bleached hair, wide blue eyes and the most earnest expression Han had ever seen — and he was in politics.
“I’m Luke Skywalker, I’m here to rescue you.”
Han swung his feet down. Was this another one of Tarkin’s tricks? “Who?” he asked guardedly.
“I’ve got your Artoo unit, I’m here with your Wookiee and Ben Kenobi.”
“Chewbacca? Where is he?” Han demanded, shooting to his feet. Then be added belatedly, “And Artoo, and Kenobi? Who are you, kid?” He waved the explanation away. “I know, I know, you’re Luke Skywalker and you’re here to rescue me, I got that part. You can tell me the rest on the way.”
The kid — Luke Skywalker, here to rescue you, like something out of a holodrama — began a garbled explanation about a tractor beam, a smuggler, and something called sand people (which sounded pretty derogatory if you asked Han, but no one had, so he kept his mouth shut for the moment). He couldn’t help but take a shine to the kid, who might have been blushing under his farmboy tan, but it was hard to tell. Most Imperials he’d seen on board had been pasty like Tarkin or helmeted like Vader, so maybe it was just the the bad lighting throwing him off. Then Chewie was barreling towards him and Han was smothered in Wookiee hair.
“Glad to see you too, pal,” he mumbled into Chewie’s armpit. The Wookiee had been Han’s royal bodyguard for almost a decade, ever since Han had caused an interplanetary incident by freeing a slaver’s hold of sentient beings. Chewie had claimed a life debt and stuck by his side like a burr ever since, even when Han joined the Rebellion. Especially then. It turned out his bodyguard was a onetime General. He’d been invaluable to the cause, not to mention Han’s closest friend. Han was doubly grateful to his rescuers for finding Chewie first, because he never would have left the Death Star without him.
“Get behind me!” shouted an even shorter stormtrooper, backing towards them. Han was surprised to realize it was a woman. A diminutive, stunningly beautiful woman with a very large blaster rifle. He immediately felt ashamed of his first reaction (okay, his first two reactions). He knew women were no less capable in combat or anything else, and that a person’s aesthetic appearance had no bearing whatsoever on their abilities. Still, from Luke’s halting descriptions and Chewie’s glowing praise, he had expected some hatchet-faced tough, or a lean and hungry spacer with a chip on their shoulder and a scowl on their face.
“Get your pretty head down, Your Highness, before you get it blown off!” she snapped. “I don’t want to have made this trip for nothing.” Okay, maybe that last guess of his hadn’t been so far off target after all.
This was Obi-Wan’s crack rescue team?
“This is some rescue,” drawled Prince Han. He wasn’t at all Leia’s idea of a prince, but she supposed she herself wasn’t most people’s idea of a smuggler, so that made them even.
Leia jerked a thumb at Luke. “He’s the brains, sweetheart,” she growled, and peppered the corridor with laser blasts. Then Leia blasted the grate at Han’s feet and had the satisfaction of hearing him yelp. His Wookiee chuffed a laugh. “Into the garbage chute, Your Worshipfulness.”
He glared at her reproachfully, but dove head-first through the grate, for which Leia grudgingly gave him points. Luke followed Leia’s orders without hesitation, and Chewbacca followed his prince, which left Leia the last one down the hatch.
“What an incredible smell you’ve discovered, commented Han when she had splashed down. “You could bottle it and sell it as Gamorrean perfume.”
“Stand back,” ordered Leia, taking aim at the door. The stench truly was terrible.
“No, wait!” cried Luke. Too late. The ricochet eventually sizzled in the liquid filth that Leia preferred not to think about. She was just glad she wasn’t wearing white like the prince.
The prince, who was lounging against a broken strut. “It’s magnetically sealed,” he commented, oh-so-helpfully.
“I see that.” Leia ground her teeth. She hated enclosed spaces. It felt like the walls were closing in on her. She stalked towards the door and tried to suppress the anxious gnawing feeling that just wanted to get out now, get out out out!
“Hey.” A warm hand on the back of her neck — the only exposed skin under the stolen stormtrooper armor — brought her back to herself. “You all right?”
Leia’s vision cleared and she looked up, expecting to see Luke. But it was Prince Han’s concerned face looking down at her, his soft fingers easing the pressure at the base of her skull.
“I’m fine.” Leia tried to force her heart rate to slow. “It could be worse, right?” Then something boomed and metal shrieked and the walls really were closing in. Leia exchanged a brief, sardonic look with Han.
“I’ll say it,” said Luke. “It’s worse.”
“No reward is worth this,” Leia proclaimed when they finally made it out, thanks to the Luke’s quick thinking and the droids. (Well, mainly Artoo.) Her voice was steady, but her legs still shook and she felt like Chewbacca looked: hunched over in too small a space, panting and longing for open sky.
“Who said anything about a reward?” muttered Han, hovering over the Wookiee, who swatted at him half-heartedly.
“I didn’t.” Luke strapped a stormtrooper utility belt around his waist and tossed the rest of his armor back down the chute. Leia glanced at the prince and caught a soft smile on his face. So that was the way the solar winds blew. Fine. They would make a good match; Luke would be the golden boy of the Rebellion alongside the Sole Prince of Corellia.
Flustered and feeling oddly guilty, Leia shoved a blaster in Han’s arms and then shoved past him. “Come on, Chewbacca, let’s get these moon jockeys on their way to their next suicide mission.”
She ignored Luke’s hurt look and Han’s bemused echo: “Moon jockeys?” Leia firmly turned her thoughts and her steps towards the Falcon and prayed Old Ben had put the tractor beam out of commission.
Naturally, they ran into trouble — and a stormtrooper squad.
Leia screamed in frustration and charged. Whether because of her deadly accurate blasterfire, the Wookiee bellowing death threats at her heels, or some inner copilot of their own that cowered before the maelstrom brewing in Leia’s chest... the stormtroopers turned and fled. She chased them all the way back to their platoon, diving aside at the last minute and praying Chewbacca could react in time. Why had the Wookiee followed her, and not his prince?
If they survived, she would ask him.
“She certainly has courage,” Han said admiringly.
Luke scowled after Leia. “What good will it do anyone if she gets herself killed?” By all rights, he should have been the one to follow her. But Chewbacca had leaped into action first, and someone had to stay and look after the prince. “Come on.”
Luke darted down a corridor and through a door, and the only thing that saved him from falling down the bottomless chasm was the prince’s strong arm wrapping around him and pulling him back from the edge. Ben would probably find something poetic in that, or in the way Luke’s heart wouldn’t stop racing. On the other hand, Uncle Owen never had much use for poetry, only for practicalities. And with stormtroopers already cutting through the door behind them, Luke figured his uncle’s lead was the better one to follow. He blasted the lock to give them a few more precious seconds, and then cursed himself for not extending the bridge first.
“No pressure,” said Han, “but they’ll be coming through any second now.”
Luke fumbled at his utility belt. Yes — a grappling hook. He took a deep breath and tossed it as far as he could until it snagged a support beam. “Hold on,” he said.
Han wrapped his arms around Luke’s waist. “Do you believe in luck?” he asked. Their faces were mere inches apart.
Luke’s brain short-circuited. “Do you?”
“I’m Corellian.” Han grinned, and Luke supposed that was a yes. And then he thought maybe Han was waiting for him to say something else, but there was no time, so he launched them both off the platform. They swung in a graceful arc across the chasm and somehow landed on their feet on the other side.
“Why did Chewbacca go with Leia?” Luke asked as they ran. “Isn’t he your bodyguard?”
“He’s my friend,” puffed Han, “and he likes looking after people.”
Luke didn’t need what little he knew of the Force to tell him that Han wasn’t giving the whole answer... or that what he didn’t say was just as revealing as if he had explained in full.
The Sole Prince of Corellia wasn’t the loner he appeared to be.
“Glad you made it. Wouldn’t want to miss the party,” said Leia, motioning at the troopers standing guard around the Falcon.
“You came in that thing?” For a politician, Han didn’t have much of a sabacc face. Leia was used to people insulting the Falcon, but they usually sounded appalled — not impressed.
“I know she doesn’t look like much,” she began.
Han interrupted her. “But I bet she’s got it where it counts.”
Leia raised her chin. “Yes she does.” It was always interesting to see who underestimated her; it said a lot about people. She was absurdly pleased that, on this whole disaster of a job, none of her passengers had made that mistake.
“You know,” she said, “you don’t talk like a prince.”
Han grinned. “Corellia ain’t the Core, Captain. My people wouldn’t respect me if I sounded like a Moff.” Just as suddenly as it had flared, his smile died. “What’s left of them.”
Leia bit her lip. “There was nothing you could have done,” she said softly. “But I suppose that doesn’t make you feel any better.”
Han shook his head. “No. But one crisis at a time. Any ideas?”
Incongruously, Luke laughed. “Maybe we’ll get lucky.”
Leia looked at him strangely and did a double-take: the stormtroopers were trotting away, leaving the ship unguarded.
Luke gaped. “I was joking.”
“It’s not polite to argue with Lady Luck,” said Han.
“Move it!” hissed Leia.
The droids were already halfway up the gangplank. Leia dashed across the hangar bay. She was almost to the ship when she felt a flash of cold fear and realized Luke was no longer at her side.
“Go!” she shoved Han at Chewie, who took the prince’s arm in a vice-like grip and practically dragged him to the ship.
Luke was standing in the open. Totally unprotected. She inched toward him. His lips moved soundlessly.
As if pulled by Luke’s own focus, Leia’s gaze fixated on the tableau framed by the hangar door: Darth Vader, his black armor reflecting the light of two laser swords, one red and one blue, dwarfing the desert-robed form of Old Ben.
Run, Leia. Run.
His voice echoed in her mind. Kriff. Leia reached out for Luke’s hand. If he was receiving the same message, he gave no sign. He stared in horror, frozen.
Old Ben smiled at her and powered down his lightsaber. Vader didn’t hesitate. Silently, incomprehensibly, an empty robe fell to the floor.
“No!” yelled Leia, firing uselessly at Vader. At her side, Luke blasted the door panel, cutting them off from the masked nightmare. They were still surrounded by stormtroopers, but Han and Chewbacca were laying down blasterfire from the Falcon’s ramp.
Leia flew to the cockpit, cursing the tears in her eyes that made it hard to see the controls. She was surrounded by grief — Luke’s, Han’s, her own — and it was hard not to drown in it. She channelled her anger instead and hit the thrusters, hoping Vader would be caught in the wash of her afterburners.
Chewbacca took the copilot’s seat. He clasped her shoulder briefly in mute acknowledgment.
It wasn’t over yet.
“I got one!” yelled Luke, his voice a blend of jubilation and sheer surprise.
“Great, kid!” Han called back encouragement. “Don’t get cocky.” The added mutter was as much for his own benefit as Luke’s.
Han was a good shot — being a Corellian prince wasn’t all diplomacy, sometimes politics meant getting your own shot off first — but he had a bad habit of assuming skill and good old-fashioned dumb luck would carry the day. A just cause and good reflexes weren’t always enough to win battles. If there was a Force, he reminded himself, it wasn’t always with him.
But it seemed to be with Luke.
Han was beyond impressed with Luke’s presumably untrained but deadly accuracy. The TIEs chasing them never had a chance. Where had Kenobi found this kid?
And how long would he keep that endearing earnestness, once he became a soldier of the Rebellion? (Han would recruit Luke. After Kenobi’s death, and after the desolate asteroid field that used to be Corellia, it would be easy. Han hated himself for knowing that, and for inevitably acting on it, but Luke’s innocence was far from the last thing Han would sacrifice before the battle was over.)
(He hated himself for that, too.)
“Two more incoming.” Leia’s voice crackled across the comm. In the background, he could hear Chewie grumbling about the navicomputer. How in all the stars had Leia been piloting this ship alone? She was clearly one hell of a pilot, but that stubborn independent streak would get her killed one of these days.
(Han would try to recruit Leia. He knew he would fail, but he would try anyway. They could use a pilot like her — cunning, strong and fearless — and maybe, just maybe, she could use the Rebellion too. A place to belong, people to ground her. Given the chance, she just might take it... or she’d run from it like she fled the pursuing TIE fighters now. He’d ask her anyway, even knowing it might make her leave faster.)
(He hated himself for that, too.)
A few more seconds and he had split the kill count with Luke, and the ship was safely in hyperspace.
“We did it!” cried Luke.
Han mustered a facsimile of his trademark smile. He thought it would fool the kid, but he had underestimated Luke again.
Han jerked his head for Luke to follow. In the cockpit, they found Chewie and Leia looking suspiciously businesslike, reviewing hyperspace calculations. There was Wookiee hair all over Leia’s shoulders. Han stifled a genuine grin. No one could resist a Wookiee hug. Maybe there was hope for Leia yet... if only he could get her to see that she needed other people as something more than paying passengers.
He knew she did — why else had she so recklessly gone to their rescue? Deep down, she was just like Luke Skywalker, here to rescue you.
Unfortunately, the eloquent argument he’d been mentally composing failed to materialize when he opened his mouth.
“Aren’t you a little small to pilot this ship yourself?” He winced. So maybe he was too fatigued for pretty speeches. Well, once more into the breach and all that.
Just when Leia thought the prince was going to thank her for an inspired bit of flying, he opened his big mouth and asked, “Aren’t you a little small to pilot this ship yourself?”
Leia shot him a withering glance. If he thought she was going to thank him for shooting TIEs off her back, he could go herd nerfs.
She’d have to thank Luke, though. Privately. Later.
“I mean... Don’t you need a copilot in a ship this size?” Han backtracked.
Until very recently, Leia had been the Falcon’s copilot, not her captain. But the less said about Lando and the way things had ended between them, the better.
“I didn’t mean any offense about your height. That must run in the family,” said Han.
“I don’t have any family,” said Leia flatly.
Han’s gaze strayed to Luke.
“Huh?” Luke exchanged a puzzled look with Leia. “Neither do I, anymore. We’re not related.”
Han’s eyebrows rose. “Could have fooled me. I just assumed you two were a package deal.”
“We met on Tatooine,” said Leia.
“You two, my droids, and General Kenobi.” Han folded his arms. “Total coincidence. By all rights, you two could be pawns in an Imperial trap, or running an elaborate con.”
“No one uses me.” Leia’s chin jutted out.
“We’re not a con!” protested Luke at the same time.
“But you returned my Artoo unit, so I’m willing to give you the benefit of the doubt, despite the tracker on your hull.”
“Tracker? Not on my ship!” Leia matched his challenging look with a glare of her own.
Han shrugged. “Believe what you want, we’ll find out when the Death Star shows up at the base. Or not,” he added graciously.
Leia let it go. Her inner copilot was giving her that insistent little nudge that meant while Han Solo might be full of hot air (he was a politician, after all), he might not be wrong. “So what’s so important about Artoo?” she asked instead.
“He’s carrying the technical readouts of that battle station you insist isn’t following us. I’m praying we can find a weakness, something to help us take it down, else the Rebellion is an exercise in futility.”
“It’s not over yet,” said Luke staunchly, squeezing Han’s shoulder.
Wasn’t that just cozy.
“It is for me,” Leia retorted. “I didn’t sign up to be a soldier. I saved your hides, now it’s your turn to save mine. I need that money to pay off Jabba before he sends my old partner after me. Boba Fett,” she clarified.
Luke winced. Han looked impressed. “You don’t do anything by halves, do you?”
“Listen, Your Worshipfulness, you want to waste your renewed lease on life by launching a suicide attack on that thing? Be my guest. But don’t drag Luke or me into it.”
“I thought you two weren’t a package deal.” Han stood stiffly, looking every inch the prince despite the sweat and grime.
Luke crossed his arms and scowled at her. “I can make my own decisions, thanks.”
Leia had never let anyone make decisions for her, either, but her inner copilot was screaming not to let Luke go off and join the Rebellion alone. The obvious solution was to kidnap him and blast off whatever rock the Rebellion called home as soon as they had delivered the prince and his all-important plans. It was that, or join them.
Leia stayed stubbornly silent.
Han shook his head and sighed heavily. “Someday you’ll care about something beyond the confines of this ship, Captain. But until then, I won’t get in your way.” He turned away, leaving Leia feeling oddly bereft. “Come on, Chewie, let’s see what we can find in the galley. I know getting shot at always makes you hungry — and we don’t need you thinking with your stomach when we’re trying to make a battle plan.”
The door to the cockpit hissed shut behind the Wookiee, cutting Luke and Leia off from the prince’s chatter.
Leia fiddled with the controls for the ignition line. Some idiot mechanic had told her to install a compressor under the very mistaken assumption that a woman wouldn’t know an alluvial damper from her astromech. She’d been meaning to triple-check his work. She wondered how Luke was with a hydrospanner.
“So what do you think of him?” Luke asked.
“I’m trying not to,” Leia answered honestly.
Leia looked at him. His eyes were so bright, like twin suns — and she wasn’t the kind to think in poetry. She could tease him, say that Han Solo had a lot of spirit and make a joke about a prince and a pilot... or she could be honest and tell him she had found something beyond her ship to care about, and she wanted him to stay on her ship.
Which one, Luke or Han?
Leia wasn’t about to analyze whose voice that was any more than she was going to answer the question.
Old Ben’s voice laughed in her head. You do have a lot of spirit.
Leia closed her eyes and thought of Greedo, his blaster jabbing her ribs, his antennae quivering with greed. They’re just passengers. It’s just a job, she thought to herself, to pay off Jabba so I don’t get fried next time I order a lomin-ale. Just a job.
The other voice stayed mercifully quiet.
So did she.
Luke sighed and left her alone in the cockpit to watch the swirl of hyperspace in silence.
“Thank our lucky stars, you’re back!” exclaimed General Dodonna, clapping Han on the back. “When we heard about Corellia, we feared the worst.”
“What happened since then?” asked Han. He wouldn’t allow himself time to grieve. Not yet. Not while there was so much work to be done, so many more lives at stake. “Did the Empire take reprisals out on the rest of the system?”
That had been his biggest fear since their escape. That Selonia, Talus or Tralus had been obliterated too, while he had been celebrating their narrow escape.
But Dodonna shook his head, and Han breathed a little easier. “Our sources say the Death Star left the system shortly thereafter. They must be following you here.”
Han smiled. It was the best news he could have hoped for. At least with Yavin IV firmly in Tarkin’s sights, the more populous worlds would be safe for another day.
“Let’s get a reception ready for them,” said Han. “And start evacuating everyone who won’t be part of the receiving party.” So even if Yavin IV goes the way of Corellia, the Rebellion will live on.
“And keep a few scout ships at the outskirts of the system,” Han added, pitching his voice to carry, “to record the battle for posterity. Blowing up the Death Star will do wonders for recruitment.” Or the surviving Rebels can learn from our mistakes.
Han had learned to take his victories where he could find them, however small.
Speaking of which...
“One more thing: get twenty thousand credits and fuel for my friend in the flying garbage heap over there. She’s earned it. Let’s get her on her way while she’s still alive to spend it.”
Leia sat through the briefing with a growing feeling of helplessness. Luke was chatting animatedly with a couple pilots (not that she was eavesdropping, but what under the stars was a womp rat anyway?). She crossed her arms, stood at the back of the crowd and watched Han Solo lead the briefing with all the poise of a prince. He barely resembled man who leaned against Chewbacca and fried up a batch of mawkaroo cookies, Wookiee style, on the journey to Yavin. Now he resembled the generals who stood with him by the holoscreen. And Luke resembled the pilots in their garish orange flightsuits, intently examining the schematic and gesturing maneuvers for evading TIEs.
Leia had been on her own most of her life, but she had never felt so alone.
“To your stations,” said Han, “and may the Force be with you.”
Leia left ahead of the crowd. Her station was her ship, and that was where she belonged.
“You’re really going to leave, then.”
Leia could have weathered Luke’s disappointment or anger. That’s how she would have reacted in his place. But that newly jaded look in his eye... it was almost enough to make her chuck the whole thing — the reward, Jabba’s threats, her lifelong wariness of trusting others to have her back — almost. Her copilot, that inner voice that she supposed she should start calling the Force, was silent.
What choice did she have?
“Come with me.” The words were out before she could think better of them. “I’ll pay off my debt to Jabba and then we can go away, far away. Anywhere.” Was this what family felt like, she wondered? Someone you trusted with your life and longed to have at your side?
“Come on,” chided Luke. “Look around. You know what’s coming. I can’t turn my back on them.” Unspoken was the accusation: How can you?
Leia reached for her copilot unthinkingly. Her hand closed on Luke’s new orange flightsuit. The Force slipped away. Confused, she looked at him in mute appeal.
“It doesn’t matter what I want, Leia. I have to stay. Haven’t you ever felt something so strongly that...” Luke shook his head, lost for words.
“Yes,” said Leia, and let him go. “May the Force be with you.”
Waiting was agony. It was much worse than being in his cell on the Death Star, with no reasonable hope of rescue. Now there was work to be done, and risks to be taken... just not by Han.
He wanted to be up there, flying alongside Luke and the other pilots. But that wasn’t a prince’s place. His role had always been one of appearances: to be calm, cool, collected. The flash that drew the eye, the twirl of the cape that obscured the blaster, the shining beacon to blind the enemy, all while symbolizing hope for the galaxy... okay, so maybe Vader’s interrogation drugs, too much adrenaline and the sheer weight of grief were catching up to him. That and the Death Star’s shadow looming ever nearer on the scopes.
Chewie’s paw was the only thing grounding him while he watched, helpless, as starfighters winked out of existence. Flight after flight, squadron after squadron. Instead of envisioning briefly flaming balls of gas, Han grimly conjured an image of each pilot’s face. Even if they were all going to be obliterated in a few minutes, he owed them that much of a memorial.
That was his role too, now, for however long he had left to live: to remember, and to remind. He was Han Solo, the Last Prince of Corellia.
“You should have evacuated, Your Highness.” Dodonna shook his head. “It’s too late now.”
Han squared his shoulders. “Evacuate, in our most desperate hour? I think you underestimate our chances.” He mustered a smile and one more show of confidence. “The Force is with us, General. I’m exactly where I need to be.”
He had time for one stray thought before Luke began the last desperate trench run. He hoped Leia was somewhere far, far away.
“This isn’t courage,” Leia said aloud, even as she turned the ship around. “It’s more like suicide.” But her inner copilot — somehow — had already brought her turret guns to bear. She spared a second’s resentment toward Old Ben before realizing belatedly that the decision had been hers all along.
The Force is with you. Always.
She saw her next moves with perfect clarity, just like with Greedo in the Cantina.
Luke’s friend Biggs would die. Luke would race down the trench, unprotected for the last few, vital klicks. All his attention would be on the exhaust port. His thumb would be on the trigger. He would not get his shot off first.
Vader’s gloved fist would tighten. His targeting scanner would lock in. But he would not shoot first.
When Han saw the unknown sensor blip homing in on Luke, he thought his heart had stopped. Then one TIE disappeared and the lead fighter went careening out into space and his heart started beating again, double-time.
“You’re all clear, Luke.” Her voice crackled over the comm. “Take your shot.”
Just don’t take your time, thought Han. Alarms blared all over base as the Death Star cleared the planet Yavin. Moments later, the alarms turned to cheers as the debris from the Death Star rained down on the jungle moon of Yavin IV.
Han sank against Chewie in sheer, bone-deep relief. “It’s over, pal. We did it.” Technically, Luke did it. Leia too. And it was far from over: the Empire itself would not be so easily dismantled. But just for today, they could revel in their triumph even as they mourned their losses and prepared to move the base.
When they reached the hangar in a crush of bodies, Chewie let out a ululating yell that was picked up by Rebels of all species. Even the astromechs took it up with warbles, whistles and one wild scream that was probably Chopper blowing his circuits.
Han practically hauled Luke off the ladder and into his arms. “You did it!” he shouted, pounding Luke on the back. Then Leia was there too, throwing herself at the pair of them, trusting them to catch her.
“We did it!” she cried before Chewie cut her off by wrapping her in a stranglehold of a Wookiee hug.
Flanked by Luke and Leia, Han was finally able to blink away the burning afterimage of Corellia. We beat all the odds, he thought fiercely. Even the sight of Artoo’s damaged dome couldn’t quell their elation for long. After the enormity of all their losses, they finally had something to celebrate. And victory would be all the sweeter for having someone to celebrate with.
Standing on the dais, Han Solo looked every inch the prince.
Leia didn’t feel so shabby herself for a change, dressed in her second-sharpest jacket (the best having gone to Luke; it had always been too big in the shoulders for her). She winked when Han settled the medal around her neck, and grinned outright when he winked back. Luke blushed the whole time, but Leia didn’t know if it was the crowd’s attention or Han’s that made him so quiet. Or maybe it was Old Ben’s voice, which he swore he didn’t hear, so Leia pretended not to hear it either.
The crowd cheered. Chewie slung his arms around her in a massive hug and roared in her ear. Artoo looked like his old self, only shinier, and Threepio hovered close like always: bookends of silver and gold. They shadowed Luke as if afraid to lose him. Leia knew the feeling.
“Hey,” said Han, leaning close. “I got a comm from Alderaan. One of our best people, Senator Bail Organa — he wants to meet you.“
“You mean Luke,” said Leia automatically. “He’s the hero of the hour. I just gave him a little breathing room.”
“I mean you, Leia.” Han’s look was so warm that she had to swallow and look at her feet. Damn. She had missed a scuff.
Han cleared his throat. “You’re a natural leader, not to mention a hell of a pilot. I hope you’ll stay with us.” He tugged at his collar.
Leia relaxed. “Us?” she echoed, raising one eyebrow.
“Chewie never briefed me for this part,” he muttered. “Yeah, us. Me, Chewie, Luke... us.”
“Oh.” Leia had been expecting a pretty speech about the Rebellion. She blinked and felt her face grow warm. “Maybe I can stick around. Just for a little while.” She was dismayed to realize she was grinning like an idiot, but so was Han. And so was Luke, but that was a given.
Han draped an arm around each of their shoulders and pulled them close as they walked back down the aisle of cheering, clapping Rebels.
In a flash of insight (or maybe a nudge from the Force), Leia saw the Rebellion like the Falcon: a ragtag bunch of weary, hopeful pilots and gunners and mechanics and plain old people cobbled together from dozens of species and systems — they may not look like much, but they had what counted most. And together, they would defy everyone’s expectations and all the odds.
Leia’s inner copilot nudged again, and she caught an echo of Old Ben’s voice: Well done.
She let both roll over her like a wave. Today, at least, she didn’t need either of them to tell her what she already knew: this was where she was meant to be. This was where they were meant to be.