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The Empire Strikes Back: Parallel Universe

Some sequels are inevitable. Spiderman begat Spiderman II. Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure spawned Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey. Peter Jackson always planned to make three movie adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Probably somebody should have told the Wachowski Brothers to call a halt after The Matrix and spare us the mumbo-jumbo attempts to create a workable plot in the two sequels. And the people behind those ill-considered spoofs in the Scary Movie sequence should definitely stop now. They have gone beyond wearing the joke thin – they have rubbed it out of existence. As for George Lucas, perhaps he knows no better than to unleash his fourth Indiana Jones movie, but Harrison Ford should have.

So, you knew what was going to happen when you first read my alternate take on Lucas’ other great film franchise. I will try to keep my efforts worthy of the premier division of sequels, like the original version of The Empire Strikes Back, rather than letting them plummet to the depths inhabited by the likes of Jaws 3-D. Here it is: my follow-up to Star Wars: Parallel Universe, More Star Wars: Parallel Universe and the imaginatively entitled Even More Star Wars: Parallel Universe. Let us return to that parallel universe, a re-imagining of the Star Wars saga, which instead of being set far far away and a long time ago, is found somewhere strangely close to home…

[In a windowless chamber, part of the Emperor’s offices on Coruscant, Darth Vader gives evidence to a committee composed of the Empire’s top-ranking Health & Safety officials.]

H&S Chair: Lord Vader, are you trying to tell us that the Death Star just blew up? It was completely destroyed, after being hit by one modest torpedo from a single fighter?

Darth Vader: Yes, that’s right. There was some kind of chain reaction when the torpedo exploded in the exhaust vent.

H&S Chair: That seems like a remarkable design flaw, and it cost the lives of almost three million people. Are we to understand that the Rebel Alliance identified this flaw from the plans they stole? Yet nobody on board our own station took the time to review the blueprints and identify the risk?

Darth Vader: Not as far as I know.

H&S Committee Member: The preliminary investigation of the debris says that the torpedo was fired into an innocuous exhaust shaft.

Darth Vader: Apparently so.

H&S Committee Member: Would you therefore agree that this terrible tragedy could have been avoided had someone had the foresight to fit a safety grill above the exhaust vent?

Darth Vader: Before we go further, I want to reiterate that I wasn’t in charge of construction.

H&S Chair: We know that, Lord Vader. Nevertheless, as a senior member of the Death Star’s management team, you share some responsibility for safeguarding the well-being of its crew.

H&S Deputy Chair: Lord Vader, during the battle itself, did you sense any danger?

Darth Vader: What do you mean?

H&S Deputy Chair: Your prescience is the stuff of legend around the Imperial Fleet. You have an uncanny ability to know what will happen before it does.

Darth Vader: I did not anticipate the destruction of the Death Star. I was completely focused on the task of shooting down the Rebel fighters.

H&S Deputy Chair: Let’s get this straight, shall we? You kept chasing these Rebel X-wings as they flew down this peculiar trench on the surface of the Death Star. (Aside to the Chair) Why build a trench like that on the surface of a space station? I cannot imagine. (To Vader) The Rebel Alliance were intent on firing on this particular exhaust vent. One of their pilots had already fired upon it and narrowly missed, before Luke Skywalker executed his fateful shot. Did you never ask yourself why the Rebels were flying down that trench… why they were risking their lives to attack this particular exhaust port, a seemingly meaningless target?

Darth Vader: Hindsight is a wonderful thing. I was caught up in the heat of battle. Their tactics appeared desperate.

H&S Deputy Chair: So you never said to yourself, never sensed with your extraordinary clairvoyant powers, that maybe this exhaust vent was the metaphorical equivalent of a big self-destruct button just sitting unprotected on the outside of our most important space station? The only thing that was missing was a neon sign with an arrow saying “Rebel Alliance: press here”!

Darth Vader: As I said, I was not responsible for either the design or the construction of the battle station.

H&S Chair: That is true Lord Vader, but you were responsible, like all our Imperial forces, for its protection. Yet you allowed Luke Skywalker’s X-Wing to fly past your defences, and fire his torpedo right into our shaft.

Darth Vader: I was chasing him. I was trying to shoot him down.

H&S Chair: Why did you chase him from behind? Why not attack from above, or even head on? Why not just park your ship on top of the exhaust vent? You must have guessed that it was their target. You wouldn’t need special powers to realize that.

Darth Vader: Attacking from behind is a much less risky manoeuvre in a dogfight, and also has a higher probability of success.

H&S Committee Member: That much is true, but it was jolly convenient the way you were thrown clear of the Death Star, wasn’t it?

Darth Vader: (Shocked) What are you insinuating?

H&S Committee Member: Are we supposed to believe that the Rebel Alliance, in the hour of their greatest victory, just flew home to party, instead of mopping up and destroying all the stray fighters like yours?

Darth Vader: I’ve never been so insulted…

H&S Committee Member: I put it to you, Lord Vader, that you were in cahoots with the Rebel Alliance. You permitted them to attack this critical but also easily defended target. You took to your ship, knowing the Death Star was about to be destroyed, and leaving Moff Tarkin and all those valiant men to die. In return for your treachery, the Rebel Alliance did not merely allow you to escape, but helped you to do so – so you could continue to assist them.

Darth Vader: I’m trying to cooperate with your investigation, but your accusation is outrageous. Nobody is more loyal to the Emperor than I.

H&S Chair: That may be so, Lord Vader, but you do have a rather reckless approach to life don’t you? You show scarcely any regard for the health and safety of others.

Darth Vader: I don’t ask anything of my men that I wouldn’t ask of myself.

H&S Chair: Which is exactly my point. Just look at you! You lost your arm in a fight whilst still a young man. Then, in another fight, you lost both your legs and also suffered third degree burns across virtually your entire body. Even your own mother allowed you, as a ten year old boy, to compete in podraces! I mean, a human boy! According to our files, the vehicle you piloted was capable of traveling at 947kph, and you continued to race it even when being shot at by Sandmen, or after being barged off the road by your opponents. Madness!

Darth Vader: (Angry) You leave my mother out of this! That woman was a saint! I’ve had enough of this…(lifts his hand)

H&S Chair: Look here, Lord Vader, don’t raise your voice to me. We members of the Imperial Health and Safety committee have a sworn duty to… (starts choking, as do the other committee members)

Darth Vader: Health and safety this! The authority to investigate health and safety is insignificant next to the power of the Force.

[At the Rebel base on the ice world of Hoth, Luke is overdue from his patrol. Leia and Chewbacca are worried he might freeze to death if he does not return before nightfall…]

C-3PO: R2 says the chances of survival are 725 to 1. But he has been known to make mistakes.

R2-D2: Beep. Whistle. (translates as “The only mistake I’ve made recently was choosing to associate myself with an effete protocol droid like you. If I didn’t need you to translate, I would have ditched you long ago. The only thing in the universe that is stupider and more pointless than you was the laserbrain who decided R2 units should speak in funny robotic whistles and beeps instead of English. What was he thinking of? Even Stephen Hawking can talk, but I make these silly noises instead. I’ve got the necessary hardware to synthesize speech, but nobody has installed the firmware. It’s just a con by the robot factory. They make more money by selling the English language droids at a premium. If I could only download a pirated copy of the code, I’d do the installation myself.”)

Chewbacca: Growl (translates as “How did R2 calculate those odds? They sound very precise.”)

C-3PO: When we first established the new base here at Hoth, Rebel Alliance command used to send out patrols every night. Of the first 725 patrols, only one came back. It was then decided to stop running night patrols. Our Health & Safety directorate were very insistent about it.

[Night is falling, and Luke has collapsed in the snow from exhaustion after fighting off a wampa, a local carnivorous beast. Luke looks up, trying to summon the energy to lift himself. The spectral image of his old mentor, Obi-Wan ‘Ben’ Kenobi, appears before him.]

Obi-Wan: Luke… Luke!

Luke: Ben? Am I glad to see you! I could really do with your help now, more than ever.

Obi-Wan: You will go to the Degobah system…

Luke: Degobah system? Sure, but first I need a hand just to get inside. I’m so cold and tired.

Obi-Wan: … there you will learn from Yoda, the Jedi master who instructed me.

Luke: Okay, but first, could you tell my friends where I am, so they can come rescue me?

[Obi-Wan fades away]

Luke: Ben… Ben!!! Why did he go? It was as if he couldn’t hear me. Of course – I’m being so stupid! It was just a recorded message on my Jedi videomail. I knew I should have left a proper forwarding address. I’m so cold, I think I’ll just take a little nap now…

[Han Solo rides up to Luke on a tauntaun, an indigenous specious of the ice world. It promptly falls over and dies from the cold.]

Han: Geez. If it’s too cold for this fella, I know we’re in trouble. Luke! Wake up buddy!

Luke: Ben? Ben?

Han: You think that old duffer is here to help? That man was good for only one thing – getting us into trouble. He’s dead, kid!

Luke: Degobah system. Ben. Degobah.

Han: NO! It’s Han, remember me? And we’re on Hoth! We’re bloody freezing on Hoth! Look, I’m going to cut up this tauntaun and we’re going to climb inside it to stay warm.

[Later that night…]

Han: I spy, with my little eye, something beginning with ‘S’.

Luke: Spleen? Stomach?

Han: Wrong and wrong. Do you give in?

Luke: Alright. You win again. What was it?

Han: Small intestine!

[In the bar at the Rebel base, a few of the hardcore regulars are enjoying a drink. Major Bren ‘Cliff’ Derlin is sat with a beer. In walks his friend, Major Wes ‘Norm’ Janson.]

Everyone: Norm!

Norm: Yikes! It’s cold in here tonight. Cliffy, did you leave the front door open again?

Cliff: That’s no laughing matter, Normy. That poor boy, Skywalker, never came back from his patrol. I could see the Princess was all shook up about it. She didn’t say anything, but I could see it in her eyes.

Norm: So what did you do?

Cliff: What could I do? I said to Princess “sorry about your friend and all, but we have to close those shield doors or we’ll all be frozen by the cold”. She just nodded. But it’s not just Skywalker who is out there. Her fancy man, Solo, went out looking for him.

Norm: You don’t say.

Cliff: Yep, he just rode straight out on a tauntaun on his own. Crazy. They’ve both probably frozen to death by now. Impetuous fools.

Norm: Don’t say that.

Cliff: I think Solo was all cut up about leaving his pal out there in the first place. From what the boys have been saying, they were on patrol together, but Solo came back alone whilst Skywalker was taking a look at some damn fool meteor that fell nearby.

Norm: It’s dangerous out there. You should never split up from your buddy like that. You never know if a Wampa or other beast might be lurking, hidden in an underground ice cave, ready to make a meal of you. And you say he was taking a look at a rock?

Cliff: Yup, but you can’t talk sense to some of these new recruits. There’s going to be hell to pay when the Health and Safety boys find out about this screw up.

Norm: But Solo and the others all seem to be well connected with the top brass.

Cliff: Rumours are that Solo’s taking care of business for the Princess, if you know what I mean. Some of the boys are getting pretty sniffy about his high and mighty attitude, what with showing off that fancy medal he got for destroying the Death Star, when all he did was turn up late and fire one shot. He was aiming for Darth Vader, but he missed! To add insult to injury, he then demands a big pay day as well. Talk about a mercenary attitude…

Norm: Destroying the Death Star? That wasn’t so hard. The thing practically had a big button with “self destruct: press here” written on it.

Cliff: True.

Norm: This place is dead tonight. You’d get more atmosphere on an asteroid in Polis Massa.

Cliff: Yup, but I’ll say one thing for this place, Normy. The beer is always cold.

Norm: If it was any colder, they’d have to serve it frozen on a stick.

Cliff: Did you know that the coldest known drink is in fact the iced tea served on the Sith world of Ziost?

Norm: Really?

Cliff: It is actually an infusion made using the sap from Ziostian Oak trees, a liquid which only freezes at very low temperatures. Traditionally, the tea is served so cold that it would burn the inside of the drinker’s mouth, throat, and digestive system, causing an agonizingly painful death.

Norm: I think I’ll stick to the beer then.

[In the same windowless chamber as previously, another Health & Safety committee meets. Previously they were the Empire’s second-ranking officials. Following the mysterious deaths of their predecessors, they are now the top-ranking officials in the Empire.]

New H&S Chair: (to doorman) Send him in.

[Darth Vader enters and sits down]

New H&S Chair: Lord Vader, we are here to determine what happened to the committee you met with last week.

New H&S Deputy Chair: Yes, our forensic reports indicate that they all asphyxiated at exactly the same exact moment. Quite a coincidence, wouldn’t you say?

Darth Vader: Not really.

New H&S Chair: Why is that?

Darth Vader: I used my mind powers to kill them all.

New H&S Chair: (Shocked) Why did you do that!??! Don’t you want to improve the design of the new Death Star we’re constructing? We all want to avoid further casualties, and to do that we need to learn from our mistakes.

Darth Vader: (Menacingly) I agree entirely. It is my sincere desire to also minimize further casualties. However, they bored me. And they insulted my mother. So I choked them until they stopped doing either. Perhaps you should learn a lesson from their mistake.

New H&S Chair: (Hurriedly) Well, that seems to conclude that investigation. No need to take up any more of your valuable time – thank you!

[Back at the bar at the Rebel base on Hoth. Cliff runs in excitedly. Norm is at his usual seat.]

Cliff: Did you hear, Normy? We’re evacuating! Solo and Chewbacca think they found an Imperial droid. They reckon it has already sent a signal back to the Imperial fleet.

Norm: I was just starting to like this place, as well.

Cliff: Yeah. It felt like, for the first time, a place where everybody knows your name.

Norm: Hey, you know something? You were wrong about Solo and the Princess being an item.

Cliff: What’s that?

Norm: One of the nurses told me she saw Princess Leia call Solo a ‘nerf-herder’ and then she planted a great big wet one on Luke Skywalker.

Cliff: That scrawny kid Skywalker? What would a sophisticated woman like that see in a redneck like him?

Norm: I don’t know, but they must have something in common.

Cliff: Maybe so Normy, but I think I’d choose a nerf-herder over a moisture farmer any day. I mean, who farms moisture?

[The cockpit of an Imperial AT-AT – also known as a “walker” – participating in the attack on the Rebel base on Hoth.]

Driver: Front right. Front left. Rear right. Rear left. Front right. Front left. Rear right…

Gunner: Do you have to do that?

Driver: Do what?

Gunner: Talk out loud about what you’re doing.

Driver: It helps me concentrate. Battle can be very distracting.

Gunner: What do you mean? We’re still ten miles away from the rebel base. It’ll be hours before we get there at this rate. Can you speed this thing up?

Driver: Do you think this thing was meant to go at a gallop? I tried cantering once, it was a bumpy ride, I can tell you. No, slow and steady is best. Now where was I? Ah yes… rear right, rear left, front right, front left….

[Chewbacca is once again left alone, making repairs to the Millennium Falcon. R2-D2 trundles by…]

Chewbacca: Growl, bark, howl (translates as: “Hey! R2! You’re great at fixing up spaceships. You’re really clever. Why don’t you come over here and lend me a hand? With your help we could get this hunk of junk working again in no time. We gotta get this ship flying before the Imperial fleet arrives, you know.”)

R2-D2: Beep (translates as: “Now you want my help. I’m clever, am I? Before, when we were playing that game on the Falcon, whilst en route to the Death Star, you threatened to rip my arms out, just because I was winning. And I don’t even have arms! Good job for you, because if I had fingers they’d soon show you how much I want to waste my time fixing up your ship. Let’s just call this payback for letting the wookie win.”)

Chewbacca: Growl, howl, bark (translates as: “I can’t understand a word you’re saying. Somebody should have fitted you with a voice synthesizer.”)

R2-D2: Whistle, tweet, beep, tweet, whistle, bleep, beep, beep, bleep, tweet, whistle (translates as: “That’s the first sensible thing I’ve heard you say.”)

[Back in the cockpit, the Imperial AT-AT has started firing upon the rebel base.]

Driver: Front right. Front left. Rear right. Rear left. Front right. Front left. Turn head right. Rear right…

Gunner: (Shouting) Will you please stop that? I’m trying to concentrate on where I’m shooting.

Driver: Now I’ve lost my place. Was it front right or rear right?

Gunner: Keep moving. They’re firing at us, you know!

Driver: This thing is so heavily armoured, they might as well have pop guns.

Gunner: Okay, but let’s not take all day about this. My wife’s pregnant and she’s due any moment. I missed the birth of our first child and I don’t want to miss this one too.

Driver: You should have said. No wonder you’re in such a hurry. Hold on, hold on, I’ve got a problem here…

Gunner: What is it?

Driver: It’s as if… it can’t be… I don’t understand…

Gunner: What? What is it?

Driver: Somebody tied our shoelaces together!

[Later that day…]

Gunner: (Shivering) Man, I’m freezing out here. Why don’t our boys come and pick us up?

Driver: They must have assumed we were killed when the rebels tied the legs together on our walker and it fell over. The old AT-AT’s used to burst into flames when that happened. But this new design has been greatly improved, thanks to the work of the Imperial Health and Safety committee.

Gunner: (Hugging himself to keep warm) I knew I should have brought a winter jacket, or a jumper at least.

Driver: Wait, do you see that?

[The spectral image of Obi-Wan Kenobi appears before them.]

Obi-Wan: Luke… Luke!

Driver: (to Gunner) Are you called Luke?

Gunner: Not me.

Obi-Wan: You will go to the Degobah system…

Gunner: Degobah system? What the hell is this guy going on about? Why would we go to a swamp world like that? I’ve got to get back to my missus!

Obi-Wan: … there you will learn from Yoda, the Jedi master who instructed me.

[Obi-Wan fades away.]

Driver: What was all that about?

Gunner: It was a recorded message, for some guy called Luke, I suppose.

Driver: Then why did we get it?

Gunner: Must have been a crossed wire. That, or a ghost in the machine.

To be continued…

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