We rolling, Artoo? Okay, let's get this over with...
This is for you, Jacen. Although you won't be watching it for another few years. Or maybe decades. Heck, why don't we wait until I'm good and buried, huh?
I'm sorry, kid, I just don't like the idea of you listening to this. I mean, he was your grandfather and all ... and I guess he turned out okay in the end. Still, I wasn't going to do it ... I know I promised to tell you anything you asked. Well that's a promise I intended to break. I only met him once, and there wasn't anything Anakin Skywalker about him - it was Vader, through and through.
Your Uncle Luke persuaded me. Somethin' about being honest to history, an' it helping you see the Dark Side for what it is. I dunno ... sounds like your mother. You sure won't have any trouble getting her story. You'll find it all over the holonet. She thinks she "owes" it to the survivors of Alderaan to have the candid truth out there. Some nutty idea, airing your private laundry for the common good. Damn unselfish.
I guess that's why I love her.
So anyway ... Cloud City. Y'know, on Bespin - Lando's old outfit. That was after Hoth. We were on the run from the Empire, and we came to him for help. Some help. "A little refreshment," he says. Then the doors to the dining room open and guess who's come to dinner?
I gotta admit, I was good that day. I mean, really spectacular. It wasn't just nerves. I've won quick-draw tournaments in eleven systems, and shot down a Ossan torpedo-bat before it got within two meters of my head, but this was something else. You can't imagine how fast your old man was on the draw stepping into that room and coming face-to-face with Vader. Two shots, right into the chest plate, before you could blink.
Well Vader was faster. I guess that won't surprise you; you've grown up with Jedi around. Back then, I didn't believe any of that "Force" mumbo jumbo. Heck - I'm still not sure I believe it sometimes! I sure don't understand it any better now than I did then. All I know is, I never saw anything like Vader just knocking those bolts aside. I might as well have been throwing rocks. Futile as it was, though, I probably could have kept firing and kept him busy long enough for Chewie to get Leia to safety. Except my blaster wasn't in my hand anymore ... it was flying across the table, right into that black-gloved fist.
"We would be honored if you would join us," he says in that creepy voice. Then Boba Fett is there beside him, gun ready to fry anything that moves. As if Vader needed the protecting.
"I've just made a deal that'll keep the Empire out of here for good," Lando'd told me earlier, and suddenly the nature of that deal is crystal clear. Now he's looking at me. "I had no choice, they arrived right before you did," he says. He has the gall to say "I'm sorry."
Yeah, well I was sorry too. Sorry I ever trusted him.
Okay, I knew this was a bad idea. Lando's always been a friend to you kids, and I don't want that to change. You have to understand, things were tough back then. He and I hadn't parted on the best of terms, and when we showed up he had a lot of responsibilities. Years later, after it was all over, Leia pointed out that she might have done the same thing if it were her and Alderaan. I don't believe that, though. I don't think your mother is capable of betraying anyone. She knows that too - at least, she oughtta. It's just she's so blasted empathetic, always trying to see the good in people. Like she saw it in me, I guess.
Anyway, I've forgiven Lando. The guy risked his life to save me from Jabba the Hutt, and he risked it again destroying Death Star II. Your pop knows how to hold a grudge, believe me ... but I can't harden my heart to a guy who's looking for redemption and is willing to put his money where his mouth is. Sure, there are times when I jerk awake in the middle of the night and I can still taste the carbonite and I see Lando's face, guilty as Sith, and in those moments before I really wake up I hate him. But I forgave him. And so should you.
So where was I? Right, Cloud City. Darth Vader and Boba Fett - my two least-favorite people in the galaxy, together in one room. And I'm helpless. Not just me, but the two people I care about more than anything in the universe - Chewie and your mom. And I'm staring across the room at my runaway blaster, and I'm thinking "Fine, so the Force is real." So now I'm suddenly angry at it. Like, why didn't it warn us? What good is the Force if it's on Darth Vader's side? I'm sure you'll be a great Jedi philosopher by the time you watch this, so maybe you can answer that. But sometimes I still wonder.
Anyway, the doors shut behind us and Chewie lets out a howl. I know how he feels. I'm looking around, expecting stormtroopers to march in any second and escort us to the torture chambers. Imagine my surprise when Vader and Fett sit down and Lando escorts us to our seats. And for the first time, I notice the table is fully loaded. Are they serious?
"Eat, Captain Solo," urges Vader. "You'll be needing your strength."
"I'm not hungry," I say. I've been tortured before. It's not pretty, and you're gonna be hurtin' either way, so you might as well not have to worry about throwing up all over yourself. Chewie and Leia aren't looking real hungry either. Lando is still standing, and Vader and Fett aren't about to take off their helmets for us.
Lando pours wine. Or maybe it's punch. Chewie wrinkles his nose over it, but I don't go near it. Probably has some kind of sensitivity-heightening nerve stimulant, so that pain feels ten times worse. No thank you.
Leia picks up her glass. She's making a great show of it, totally composed, like this was some kinda state dinner.
"Please, drink," Vader says, as casually as Darth Vader says anything. I don't think he could wish his mother a happy birthday without it coming across as an implied death threat. He goes on and says: "The facilities will not be ready for several minutes yet."
Okay, so torture is confirmed. I'm about to tell Leia not to drink the wine, but it's like Vader reads my mind. Maybe he did. "You needn't worry, Captain Solo," he says. "Yourself and the Wookiee will be the only ones in danger of physical pain."
The wine glass is halfway to Leia's mouth when she alters trajectory, so to speak. Red fluid splatters all over Vader's faceplate. He just sits there for a moment, breathing like he does. Then Lando is at his side, wiping Vader down and muttering apologies. Vader grabs his wrist and forces him aside - no one dabs a Dark Lord of the Sith, I guess - and wipes himself off.
Meanwhile, Fett wipes up a drop of the stuff from the table and pulls out some kind of chemical analyzer. "It's clean," he says.
Vader's not interested. He's looking at Leia. Part of me is cheering her on, but a bigger part of me is absolutely terrified for her. I can feel Chewie go all tense next to me - two-plus meters of muscle, fur, claws and teeth. He'll die before anyone lays a finger on Leia. Which doesn't make me feel much better.
"Your devotion to your cause is admirable," Vader says. "You remind me of a woman I once knew ... though your ideals are as misguided as hers were." Knowing what we know now, I wonder if he was talking about her mother. I think maybe he was.
"I require another kind of suffering from you," he goes on. He pulls out a black box and gives it to Lando. Lando brings it down to us, and I can see it's some kind of portable holoprojector.
"What is this?" she asks.
"Planetary broadcasts," Vader says. "From Alderaan, taken the day it was destroyed."
Okay, so he wants her all weepy for some reason. But I know Leia, and I know she took the time to hunt down every surviving transmission from that day. "She's already seen 'em."
But she's gone and turned real pale. "Not these, Han," she says. "The moment the Death Star entered orbit, it jammed all frequencies and intercepted all transmissions."
Vader nods. "Considering the number of planetary news agencies, there are more than sixty thousand hours of cumulative feed in your hands. There's a coded message to you from your father, the late Senator Organa ... if you can find it."
The look on Leia's face ... it's like Alderaan all over again. I've got all the Force-sensitivity of an asteroid, and even I can feel the pain coming off her. Chewie roars, and I feel like joining him. Nothing gets me madder than people trying to hurt your mother. (As you can imagine, with your mother's lifestyle, I get mad a lot. But this was the worst ... so personal in such an awful way, I was ready to spit blaster bolts.) I was out of my chair in a second.
Bad move. Boba Fett fired one into my left shoulder. Not even a stun blast, but it hurt like twelve hells. I fell back into my chair. "I enjoyed that, Solo," he says. "Give me a reason to do it again."
An Imp officer walks in, uniform so neatly pressed it makes my eyes hurt. He whispers something to Vader, who gets up. "We are ready to proceed," he says. "A pity you lost your appetite." Then the stormtroopers are behind me, dragging me up out of my chair, makin' it feel like fireworks are going off in my shoulder joint. They shove me towards the exit, and I manage to look at Leia.
"I won't tell them anything," I tell her.
"I know," she says.
Then they took me to this room and strapped me into a chair. I was facing this grid-looking thing...
[pause; sound of clearing throat]
This, ah ... metal thing, with lots of little ... Aw stang, Artoo, shut it off.
Hey, kid. Sorry about that. I hope you got enough, 'cause I decided I ain't goin' any further. I'm sorry, I just won't. No kid oughtta have to hear that kind of stuff from his dad. It's not important, anyway. I hope to the Force you never know what it's like being in a situation like I was in - the Force knows I'm not gonna be the one to share it with you.
I guess you're probably wondering about those Alderaan tapes of Vader's. It'd be nice to tell you that even though Vader only let her have them for an hour, she found the message from Bail Organa. Well I'm sorry again, because she didn't. And as far as we know, no copies of those recordings have survived. Anything outside of Vader's private collection would've been destroyed for sure, since they contradict official Imp propaganda about Alderaan. We even offered a big reward, but all we got were offensive forgeries and more tears.
So that's it. Maybe you'll find something valuable in this record - search me if I know what. It was unpleasant as a nest of gundarks to relive, and the first thing I'm gonna do now is mix up a nice Corellian whiskey to help me forget.
I love you, kid, you know that. You and your sister and your brother. May the, ah ... may the Force be with you.
[sigh] I never know how to end these things. I'm done, Artoo. Bye, Jacen.
Original cover by John Takis. HTML formatting copyright 2003 TheForce.Net LLC.