Years ago, I used to watch a great deal of old movies on late night television. My two favorite channels that offered these movies were Turner Network Television (TNT) and the American Movies Classic (AMC), which used to air movies without any commercial breaks.On TNT, I had stumbled across a Western movie originally released by MGM Studios in 1953 called "ESCAPE FROM FORT BRAVO" (1953) and fell in love with it. After viewing my recently purchased DVD copy of the movie, I could see why it became a favorite of mine.
Directed by John Sturges during the first decade of his directorial career, "ESCAPE FROM FORT BRAVO" told the story of a Union Army officer that served as the second-in-command of a prisoner-of-war camp located in the Arizona Territory in 1863. The movie’s opening pretty much set the stage of what kind of character Captain Roper was, as it depicted him dragging an escaped Confederate prisoner back to Fort Bravo. The fact that Roper was on horseback and his prisoner – a Lieutenant Bailey – was on foot pretty much established the Union officer as a hard-nosed and ruthless man. That flint-like personality was exacerbated by his cynicism, revealed in his reactions to the other characters’ disapproval of his treatment of Bailey. However, chaos soon arrived in the form of one Carla Forrester, a Texas belle who arrived at Fort Bravo to serve as maid-of-honor at the wedding of Alice Owens, the daughter of Fort Bravo’s commanding officer, Colonel Owens. Carla was also there to ensure the escape of the prisoners’ ranking officer, her fiancé Captain John Marsh and a few of his men. In order to keep their Union jailers distracted, Carla set out to seduce and romance the fort’s most feared man – Captain Roper.
When I first saw "ESCAPE FROM FORT BRAVO", I never thought I would become such a diehard fan of the movie. Do not get me wrong. It was not the best or innovative Western I had ever seen. Screenwriters Frank Fenton and an unaccredited Michael Pate had created a solid character study about conflicts – both political and personal – between the Union and Confederate troops in the Civil War Southwest, and the conflict between the Apaches and everyone else. The movie even had a happy ending – somewhat. Yet, Sturges, Fenton and Pate managed to lift a solid tale into something more fascinating by infusing a great deal of emotion and complexity in the main characters And it were these complex characters that truly made "ESCAPE FROM FORT BRAVO" for me. The characters seemed to seethe with an array of emotions that eventually burst forth as the movie unfolded. Many of these emotions seemed to center around the story’s main character.
One of those characters happened to be Carla Forrester. And Eleanor Parker managed to do a top-notch job in portraying the bundle of contradictions that simmered underneath her ladylike façade. Parker portrayed Carla as a cool Southern belle with impeccable manners and a talent for seduction. Her Carla also possessed the ruthlessness to browbeat a reluctant pro-Southern storekeeper into helping Marsh and his men escape; a boldness that allowed her to chase after Roper in an age where women were valued for being passive; and a great deal of passion for Marsh and later, Roper. One of the more interesting aspects of Parker’s performance was expessing Carla’s struggles to suppress her feelings for Roper. Recently, I learned that Parker had earned the nickname Woman of a Thousand Faces. Judging from her portrayal of Carla Forrester, I would say that she deserved the name.
I have been a fan of John Forsythe since his years as Charlie Townsend’s voice in "CHARLIE’S ANGELS" (1976-1981) and his work on the ABC nighttime soap opera "DYNASTY" (1981-1989). But I must admit that I found his performance in "ESCAPE FROM FORT BRAVO" somewhat perplexing. On one hand, Forsythe did a excellent job in portraying John Marsh’s patience, intelligence and slightly caustic nature - especially in scenes that featured Marsh's exchanges with his fellow Confederate prisoners. However, there seemed to be something not quite . . . right about the character. I do not know if the fault lay with Forsythe’s performance or Fenton and Pate’s screenplay. The problem with the Marsh character or Forsythe’s acting seemed to be Marsh’s successful ability to suppress his emotions. There were times when I wondered if the only true feelings that Marsh seemed able to truly express, centered around his desire to escape. And when he finally did express his his jealousy toward Carla’s feelings about Roper – it came off as slightly unconvincing. Either Forsythe had failed to sell it . . . or Fenton and Pate failed to allow Marsh to express his jealousy until it was too late in the story.
I certainly cannot accuse William Demarest and William Campbell for giving unconvincing performances. The pair portrayed two of the Confederate prisoners – the wise "old" man Sergeant Campbell and the cocky young Cabot Young. The pair seemed to be engaged in some kind of verbal warfare that I found a lot of fun. Yet, it also seemed to hint some kind of mild dislike between the two – until the ending revealed their true feelings for each other. Two other performances caught my attention – John Lupo as the cowardly Confederate officer Lieutenant Bailey and Richard Anderson (of "THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN" and "THE BIONIC WOMAN" fame) as the soon-to-be husband of Alice Owen, Lieutenant Beecher. What made these two characters interesting was that each man – in his own way – seemed capable of some kind of courage. Although a physical coward, Bailey possessed the courage to openly admit his limitations. And Beecher had no qualms about openly expressing his disapproval of Roper’s ruthlessness, despite being the captain’s subordinate.
While writing this review, it occurred to me that I had yet to comment on William Holden’s performance as the hard-nosed Captain Roper. The same year (1953) that MGM released "ESCAPE FROM FORT BRAVO", Paramount released Billy Wilder’s movie, "STALAG 17" - the movie that featured Holden’s Oscar winning performance. If I had my way, I would have given Holden the Oscar for his performances in both movies. What I found amazing about his portrayal of Roper is that in the hands of a lesser actor, the character could have easily ended up one-dimensional. Ironically, most of the supporting characters seemed to view him as a one-dimensional hard ass. Yet, Holden managed to effectively convey Roper’s complexity by perfectly balancing the character’s ruthlessness with an intelligent, witty and passionate man. In the end, he actor did a superb job in combining the many aspects of Roper’s personality into a complex and interesting character.
MGM’s Oscar winning costume designer Helen Rose added color to the movie with some lush costumes befitting the movie’s early 1860s setting. Unfortunately, Rose made one serious misstep with a yellow evening gown worn by Eleanor Parker:
The gown seemed more befitting of a movie set in the early 1950s, instead of the 1860s. It is not surprising that Rose had received her Oscar nominations and wins for movies in a modern setting. I also have to commend cinematographer Robert Surtees for capturing the Southwest landscape (Southern California and New Mexico) without overwhelming the performers. Surtees also made use of the Ansco cameras to give the movie a rich and lush aura, allowing the desert to seem more colorful than usual.
Surprisingly, Frank Fenton and Michael Pate’s script for "ESCAPE FROM FORT BRAVO" seemed to bear a small, yet striking resemblance to John Ford’s 1939 classic, "STAGECOACH". Both movies are basically character studies of a group of people in a Western setting – namely the Southwest – that included action against the Apaches in the final acts. And the Apaches in both films proved to be nothing more than plot devices to drive the characters’ situations forward. However, Sturges and the two screenwriters gave the Apaches’ roles a twist by portraying them as an organized military unit, instead of a bunch of rampaging "savages", during a sequence that featured Roper, Carla, Beecher, Marsh, Bailey, Campbell and Young under besiege by the Apaches’ "bombardment" of arrow similar to Henry V’s use of English and Welsh longbowmen at the Battle of Agincourt. And unlike the John Wayne and Claire Trevor characters in "STAGECOACH", this movie left the fate of Roper and Carla’s future romance in the air. After all, she had assisted in the Confederates’ escape.
It is a shame that "ESCAPE FROM FORT BRAVO" has never been considered when top Hollywood Westers are discussed. Or even when John Sturges’ career is discussed. Frankly, I believe the movie deserves to be considered. Sturges had taken Frank Fenton and Michael Pate’s sharp screenplay and a top notch cast to create a tense and complex Western that I feel is one of the best I have seen to come out of the Hollywood studio era.
Below is a reflection of the relationship between Don Draper and Pete Campbell, via Don's promotion of Peggy Olson in the Season One finale, "The Wheel".
PEGGY OLSON'S PROMOTION IN "MAD MEN" (1.13) "THE WHEEL"
Many fans of the show have made a big deal of Peggy Olson's promotion in the Season One finale, (1.13) "The Wheel". Actually, many have focused upon Peggy's upward mobility from the secretarial pool to her new position as one of the firm's copywriters - a professional. I had just finished watching this episode and another thought came to mind.
It finally occurred to me that Don had given Peggy that promotion in order to spite Pete Campbell. Pete had informed Don that he managed to acquire the Clearsil account due to his father-in-law being an executive of the company. One could say that Pete was simply being an asshole by trying to shove the achievement in Don's face. But I think that it was simply another tactic of Pete's to win Don's approval.
Unfortunately for Pete, the tactic backfired. I suspect that Don - feeling satisfied and perhaps a little smug over winning the Kodak account - had decided to strike back at Pete for the latter's blackmail attempt in the previous episode, (1.12) "Nixon vs. Kennedy". He promoted Peggy and handed the Clearisil account over to her in order to embarrass Pete. It was one of the most childish and despicable acts I have ever seen on that show. And yet, because Pete was (and probably still is) unpopular with many fans, a good number of fans failed to notice that Don had used Peggy to get back at Pete.
I find it amazing that both the critics and fans have accused both Betty Draper (Don's wife) and Pete of being immature characters. Yet, time and again, Don has proven that he could be just as childish or even more so than either of these two or any other character in the series. But so many seemed blinded by his "man's man" facade and good looks that they have failed to realize how emotionally stunted Don can be.
Many years have passed since I first saw "MIDDLEMARCH", the 1994 BBC adaptation of George Eliot's 1871 novel. Many years. I recalled enjoying it . . . somewhat. But it had failed to leave any kind of impression upon me. Let me revise that. At least two performances left an impression upon me. But after watching the miniseries for the second time, after so many years, I now realize I should have paid closer attention to the production.
Directed by Anthony Page and adapted for television by Andrew Davies, "MIDDLEMARCH" told the story about a fictitious Midlands town during the years 1830–32. Its multiple plots explored themes that included the status of women and class status, the nature of marriage, idealism and self-interest, religion and hypocrisy, political reform, and education. There seemed to be at least four major story arcs in the saga. Actually, I would say there are two major story arcs and two minor ones. The first of the minor story arcs focused on Fred Vincy, the only son of Middlemarch's mayor, who has a tendency to be spendthrift and irresponsible. Fred is encouraged by his ambitious parents to find a secure life and advance his class standing by becoming a clergyman. But Fred knows that Mary Garth, the woman he loves, will not marry him if he does become one. And there is Mr. Nicholas Bulstrode, Middlemarch's prosperous banker, who is married to Fred's aunt. Mr. Bulstrode is a pious Methodist who is unpopular with Middlemarch's citizens, due to his attempts to impose his beliefs in society. However, he also has a sordid past which he is desperate to hide.
However, two story arcs dominated "MIDDLEMARCH". One of them centered around Dorothea Brooke, the older niece of a wealthy landowner with ambitions to run for political office, and her determination to find some kind of ideal meaning in her life. She becomes somewhat romantically involved with a scholarly clergyman and fellow landowner named the Reverend Edward Casaubon in the hopes of assisting him in his current research. Dorothea eventually finds disappointment in her marriage, as Reverend Casaubon proves to be a selfish and pedantic man who is more interested in his research than anyone else - including his wife. The second arc told the story about a proud, ambitious and talented medical doctor of high birth and a small income named Tertius Lydgate. He arrives at Middlemarch at the beginning of the story in the hopes of making great advancements in medicine through his research and the charity hospital in Middlemarch. Like Dorothea, he ends up in an unhappy marriage with a beautiful, young social climber named Rosamond Vincy, who is more concerned about their social position and the advantages of marrying a man from a higher class than her own. Dr. Lydgage's proud nature and professional connections to Mr. Bulstrode, makes him very unpopular with the locals.
After watching "MIDDLEMARCH", it occurred to me it is one of the best miniseries that came from British television in the past twenty to thirty years. I also believe that it might be one of Andrew Davies' best works. Mind you, "MIDDLEMARCH"is not perfect. It has its flaws . . . perhaps one or two of them . . . but flaws, nonetheless. While watching"MIDDLEMARCH", I got the feeling that screenwriter Andrew Davies could not balance the story arcs featuring Dorothea Brooke and Tertius Lydgate with any real equilibrium. It seemed that most of his interest was focused upon Lydgate as the saga's main character, instead of dividing that honor between Lydgate and Dorothea. While the miniseries revealed Dorothea's unhappy marriage to Casaubon, Davies' screenplay in the first three episodes, Davies did a first rate job in balancing both hers and Lydgate's stories. But Lydgate seemed to dominate the second half of the miniseries - the last three episodes - as his story shoved Dorothea's to the status of a minor plot arc. Mind you, I found the Lydgates' marriage fascinating. But Davies failed to deliver any real . . . punch to Dorothea's story arc and especially her relationship with her cousin-in-law, Will Ladislaw. If I have to be honest, Dorothea and Will's relationship following Casaubon's death struck me as rushed and a bit disappointing.
Thankfully, the virtues outweighed the flaws. Because "MIDDLEMARCH" still managed to be an outstanding miniseries. Davies did a more or less excellent job in weaving the production's many storylines without any confusion whatsoever. In fact, I have to congratulate Davies for accomplishing this feat. And I have to congratulate director Anthony Page for keeping the production and its story in order with allowing the latter to unravel into a complete mess. More importantly, both Page and Davies adhered to George Eliot's ambiguous portrayal of her cast of characters. Even her two most ideal characters - Dorothea and Lydgate - are plagued by their own personal flaws. Some of the characters were able to overcome their flaws for a "happily ever after" and some were not. The period between the Regency Era and the Victorian Age has rarely been explored in television or in motion pictures. But thanks to "MIDDLEMARCH", I have learned about the political movements that led to the Great Reform Act of 1832. A good number of people might find Eliot's saga somewhat depressing and wish she had ended her story with a more romantic vein in the style of Jane Austen . . . or allow Dorothea and Lydgate to happily achieve their altruistic goals. However . . . "MIDDLEMARCH" is not an Austen novel.
I am trying to think of a performance that seemed less than impressive. But I cannot think of one. I was very impressed by everyone's performances. And the ones that really impressed me came from Juliet Aubrey's spot-on performance as the ideal and naive Dorothea Brooke; Jonathan Firth, whose portrayal of the spendthrift Fred Vincy turned out to be one of his best career performances; Rufus Sewell, who first made a name for himself in his passionate portrayal of Casaubon's poor cousin, Will Ladislaw; Peter Jeffrey's complex performance as the ambiguous Nicholas Bulstrode; Julian Wadham as the decent Sir James Chattam, whose unrequited love for Dorothea led him to marry her sister Cecila and develop a deep dislike toward Will; and Rachel Power, who gave a strong, yet solid performance as Fred Vincy's love, the no-nonsense Mary Garth.
However, four performances really impressed me. Both Douglas Hodge and Trevyn McDowell really dominated the miniseries as the ideal, yet slightly arrogant Tertius Lydgate and his shallow and social-climbing wife, Rosamond Vincy Lydgate. The pair superbly brought the Lydgates' passionate, yet disastrous marriage to life . . . even more so than Davies' writing or Page's direction. And I have to give kudos to Patrick Malahide for portraying someone as complex and difficult Reverend Edward Casaubon. The latter could have easily been a one-note character lacking of any sympathy. But thanks to Malahide, audiences were allowed glimpses into an insecure personality filled with surprising sympathy. And Robert Hardy was a hilarious blast as Dorothea's self-involved uncle, the politically ambitious Arthur Brooke. What I enjoyed about Hardy's performance is that his Uncle Brooke seemed like such a friendly and sympathetic character. Yet, Hardy made it clear that this cheerful soul has a selfish streak a mile wide. And despite his willingness to use the current reform movement to seek political office, he is incapable of treating the tenants on his estate with any decency.
"MIDDLEMARCH" could not only boast a first-rate screenplay written by Andrew Davies, first rate direction by Anthony Page and a superb cast; it could also boast excellent production values. One of the crew members responsible for the miniseries' production was Anushia Nieradzik, who created some beautiful costumes that clearly reflected the story's period of the early 1830s. I was also impressed by Gerry Scott's use of a Lincolnshire town called Stamford as a stand-in for 1830-32 Middlemarch. And Brian Tufano's photography beautifully captured Scott's work and the town itself.
Yes, "MIDDLEMARCH" has a few flaws. And the photography featured in the latest copy seems a bit faded. But I believe that it is, without a doubt, one of the finest British television productions from the last twenty to twenty-five years. After all of these years, I have a much higher regard for it than when I first saw it.
Below is Part Two to my article about Hollywood's depiction about the westward migration via wagon trains in 19th century United States. It focuses upon the 1967 movie, "":
"WESTWARD HO!": Part Two - "THE WAY WEST" (1967)
Based upon A.B. Guthrie Jr.'s 1949 novel, "THE WAY WEST" told the story of a large wagon train's journey to Oregon in 1843. The wagon train is led by a widowed former U.S. Senator named William Tadlock (Kirk Douglas). A former mountain man named Dick Summers (Robert Mitchum) is hired as the wagon party's guide and among the last to join the train is farmer Lije Evans (Richard Widmark), his wife Rebecca (Lola Albright)and their 16 year-old son Brownie (Michael McGreevey); who were living near Independence when the wagon train was being formed.
During the journey to Oregon, the movie introduced audiences with the other members of the wagon train. They included a family from Georgia named the McBees (Harry Carey Jr., Connie Sawyer and Sally Field), and the recently married Johnnie and Amanda Mack (Mike Witney and Katherine Justice). Personal friendships and animosities flourished during the 2,000 miles journey. Summers managed to befriend both Lije and Brownie Evans. The latter fell in love with the McBees' extroverted daughter Mercy, who developed a crush on Johnnie Mack. The latter had difficulty consummating his marriage with a sexually unresponsive wife. Frustrated, Mack turned to Mercy for a brief tryst. Senator Tadlock proved to be an intimidating, yet manipulative leader. Only two people dared to question his decisions - Summers and Lije. Especially the latter. Although willing to question Tadlock's leadership, Lije was reluctant to replace him as the wagon party's new leader.
"THE WAY WEST" received a good deal of negative criticisms. It has also been compared to "HOW THE WEST WAS WON" to its detriment. I plan to write a review of "THE WAY WEST" in the future. But right now, I am more interested in how the movie fared in regard to historical accuracy.
II. History vs. Hollywood
The Tadlock wagon party headed for Oregon Territory in 1843, the year known as "The Great Migration of 1843" or the "Wagon Train of 1843", in which an estimated 700 to 1,000 emigrants left for Oregon. The number of emigrants in Tadlock's party and the year in which the movie is set, seemed historically accurate. "THE WAY WEST" also featured a few well-known landmarks along the Oregon Trail. Such landmarks included Chimney Rock, Scott's Bluff, Independence Rock and Fort Hall. Fort Laramie did not play a role in the movie's plot.
So far, "THE WAY WEST" seemed to be adhering to historical accuracy. Unfortunately, this did not last. One, the wagons featured in the movie came in all shapes and sizes. They ranged from farm wagons to large Conestoga wagons. I cannot even describe the wagon used by the McFee family. It was not as heavy as a Conestoga, but it was long enough to convey Mr. McFee's peach tree saplings across the continent. The draft animals used by the emigrants turned out to be a mêlée of oxen, mules and horses. The movie did point out the necessity of abandoning unnecessary possessions to lighten the wagons' loads. Only, it was pointed out when the wagon party attempted to ascend a very steep slope what looked like the in Idaho.
"THE WAY WEST" did not feature a large-scale attack by a horde of Native Americans. But the movie came damn near close to including one. The wagon party first encountered a group of Cheyenne warriors not far from Independence Rock. When one of the emigrants, Johnnie Mack, mistook a chief's young son hidden underneath a wolf's skin as a real wolf and shot him, the wagon train made tracks in order to avoid retribution. The Cheyenne caught up with the wagon party and demanded the head of the boy's killer. The other emigrants declared they were willing to fight it out with the Cheyenne, until they discovered they would be facing a large horde of warriors. In the end, Mr. Mack confessed to the crime and allowed himself to be hanged, in order to spare Brownie Evans from being handed over to the Cheyenne by Tadlock.
Dramatically, I found this sequence to be effective. I admired how director Andrew V. McLaglen developed the tension between the emigrants, Senator Tadlock and the Cheyenne demanding justice. Historically, I found it a mess. The number of Cheyenne warriors that had gathered for the sake of one boy struck me as very improbable. The only times I could recall that many Native Americans gathering at one spot was the council for the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie and the Battle of Little Bighorn. And considering that the Cheyenne nation were spread out from the Black Hills in present-day South Dakota to southern Colorado, I found this encounter between the Tadlock wagon party and the Cheyenne historically improbable.
"THE WAY WEST" fared somewhat better than "HOW THE WEST WAS WON" in regard to historical accuracy. But I found it lacking in some aspects of the plot. Like the 1962 movie, "THE WAY WEST" proved to be more entertaining than historically accurate.
The mid-afternoon sun beamed from behind the large white clouds in the sky and into several windows of a sprawling, two-story villa situated near a wide lagoon. Beyond three of those windows, two dark-haired women watched a pair of infants play with their respective toys inside a large playpen.
"I know I have said this once, but I'll say it again," the older woman declared affectionately. "They are absolutely darling!" Queen Breha Antilles-Organa of Alderaan glanced around the room. "And this nursery is quite lovely. Padme, my dear, you've managed to make quite a home, here. Haven't you?"
Padme Nabierre Amidala-Skywalker, former senator and queen of Naboo, regarded her children with a wistful smile. "I've tried to make this place as comfortable as I can." She heaved a light sigh. "I'm beginning to wonder if we'll end up staying here for good. It has been nine months since our arrival and I still have not found a permanent home for us."
Had nine months really passed since she had experienced so much emotional upheaval in her life? Since the galaxy had transformed from a republic into an empire? Padme sighed. Living on Alderaan seemed to have isolated her worldview from the galaxy at large to a modest island villa near a lagoon. The villa's isolation reminded her of one near a lake on Naboo. Varykino. She has tried not to remember those brief days with Anakin when she had been so happy. Tried and failed. Two months ago, she had dreamed of that idyllic period . . . and woke with tears in her eyes.
"Is there something wrong, Padme?" Queen Breha asked. Padme realized that the older woman was staring at her.
Smiling, the former senator replied quietly, "It's nothing. Just remembering old times."
The queen's countenance sobered quickly. "I understand perfectly. Nothing has been the same for a very long time. Since before the Empire . . . when the war had begun." She sighed. "Did you know that Bail had been against the formation of that clone army?"
"Yes, Your Majesty," Padme replied with a wry smile. "I had also been against it. Unfortunately, circumstances had prevented me from leading a vote against it in the Senate."
Nodding, Queen Breha added, "Now I remember. The entire situation regarding the clone army and the war had been so difficult for Bail. Many of his colleagues had derided him for resisting the idea of a war against the Separatists. And once he began to serve the Republic's army, many here on Alderaan had criticized him for his . . . non-pacifist stand. Even when General Grievous and his army had threatened the planet."
"Poor Bail," Padme murmured. "I remember how he had felt."
The queen continued, "Which is why he so fervently longed for the war to end. Yet, once it did . . . well, you know what happened."
The two women fell silent. Only the twins' gurgles echoed throughout the nursery. Then dark-haired Leia dropped the stuffed doll from her chubby hands and snatched the toy starfighter from her brother's. The fair-haired Luke promptly howled in protest.
"Leia!" Padme admonished her daughter. "That's not nice." She leaned into the playpen and removed the star fighter from Leia's grasp. The latter followed her brother's example and began to wail. Padme handed the toy back to Luke, whose own cries had subsided into a few happy gurgles. Then Padme picked up another one of Luke's toys and gave it to Leia. Satisfied with the new acquisition, the infant girl's tears immediately ceased.
Breha chuckled quietly. "It seems that young Leia can be quite a handful."
Padme heaved a long-suffering sigh. "Yes, she can. On the other hand, she is rather reserved, like Luke. But she can be haughty and a little temperamental." Wistfully, she added, "Like her father."
Smiling, Queen Breha said, "And I assume that Master Luke is a perfect gentleman."
"Yes, he is," Padme said, regarding her son fondly. "But he can be impatient. Something that he has inherited from both parents."
The queen shook her head in disbelief. "You consider yourself impatient?"
"Trust me, Your Majesty. I have quite a history of impatience that will make you think twice about me." Padme glanced out of the window. She saw a small shuttle descend upon the villa's sprawling lawn. "Someone else from the palace has arrived."
Several minutes later, C3-P0 entered the nursery. In his usual obsequious manner, he announced, "Pardon me Mistress Padme, Your Majesty, but His Highness Prince Organa has arrived. He is in the east drawing-room."
After Padme had summoned the twins' nurse to look after them, she and Queen Breha followed the protocol droid along one of the villa's wide corridors, until they reached the east drawing-room. Inside, they found Prince Bail Organa staring pensively out of a window. He spun around to face the two women with a vague smile. "Breha, Padme. Pardon me for interrupting your afternoon with the children, but I have just received some dire news."
"What is it?" Padme asked anxiously.
The tall senator inhaled sharply. "I've just received news that the Empire has recently annexed Andalia into direct Imperial control."
"What?" Padme cried out. "But that doesn't make any sense! Andalia was never part of the Separatist Confederacy!" Then a horrifying thought occurred to her. "Has this anything to do with the fact that Solipo Yeb had signed the Petition of 2000?" She spoke of a document that had been drafted near the end of the Clone Wars by a group of senators and other political officials (the "Delegation of 2000"), addressed to the then Supreme Chancellor Palpatine. The Petition stated that since the war's end was nearing, Palpatine should give up the emergency powers he had assumed since the end of the Separatist Crisis. Padme had personally delivered the petition to Palpatine - something she did not regret, despite all that has happened.
Shaking his head, Bail replied, "No, it seems that a fugitive Jedi Knight had been discovered on Andalia. A native Andalian. Her name was Anjuli Nab."
Padme's skin crawled at Bail's use of the word 'was'. "You mean, she's dead?"
Bail's face tightened. "Apparently Master Nab was killed by a Sith Lord." He paused dramatically. "A young man who had introduced himself with the title of 'Darth'. I did not catch his entire name."
Padme did not want to believe it. She did not want to believe that Anakin had resumed his position as Palpatine's apprentice. When Bail had revealed his actions on Mustafar - walking away from the duel with Obi-Wan and leaving behind his lightsaber - she had felt a glimmer of satisfaction. Of course, she felt disappointed that Anakin deemed it necessary to stay away from. But at least he had not resumed serving Palpatine's tyranny. Now, she began to wonder if she had been wrong.
Disbelief shone in Queen Breha's dark eyes. "You mean to say that the Emperor has taken over an entire planet, due to the presence of one Jedi fugitive?" she cried.
The possibility also appalled Padme . . . but for reasons other than Andalia's fate. "Bail," she added, "if the Emperor ever learns that the children and I are here on Alderaan, it could mean . . ."
The prince/senator quickly reassured the two women. "First of all, I suspect that the Emperor had his eyes on Andalia for quite some time, thanks to the Andalians' protests against Imperial treatment of the former Separatist worlds. Discovering a Jedi Knight on the planet merely gave him an excuse to invade. Apparently, the Andalians should have followed your advice, Padme, by keeping quiet. As for you and the children . . . it has been nine months since your arrival here on Alderaan. Surely, the Emperor would have detected all of you by now."
However, Padme refused to be placated. She never had any intention of remaining on Alderaan for so long. The royal couple's warmth and the comfort of the villa had made her forgetful. Learning of Andalia's fate made Padme more determined to find a permanent home for her family. "I realize that Bail," she finally said, "but I don't think we should take advantage of your hospitality any longer. I feel that it's time for us to consider a new home."
Bail seemed to understand. However, the Queen seemed saddened by the thought. Padme understood. The childless Breha had grown very fond of the twins. She and Bail had been named their godparents. Padme promised herself that once she finds a new home, she would ensure that Alderaan's queen would have many chances to be with the children.
The Emperor Palpatine aka Darth Sidious of the Sith, sat inside the office he had occupied for the past fourteen years. Not long after the ascension of the Empire, he had commissioned architects to reconstruct the old Presidential Palace into a new Imperial Palace. A palace that would contain formal gardens, a grander office and a new throne room. Unfortunately, the reconstruction had not finished and he remained stuck using the old Chancellor's Office.
In his hand was a data pad that contained the official report regarding the Andalian invasion. Palpatine allowed himself a satisfied smile. Everything had proceeded as planned. The galaxy was deprived of one less Jedi Knight. The Andalians were no longer in a position to continue their treasonous protests against his Imperial policies. The Empire had acquired new territory directly under his control. Most importantly, the invasion should give a message to other systems that the Empire would not tolerate any dissent against its policies or the new Emperor.
Sly Moore's voice crackled over the office comlink. "Pardon me, Your Highness, but Lord Rasche has arrived."
"Send him in," Palpatine ordered.
Over a minute passed before his new apprentice of the past nine months strode into his office. The young man paused before the Emperor's desk and bowed. "Lord Sidious."
"Ah! Lord Rasche," the Sith Lord greeted cheerfully. "Congratulations, my friend, on a job well done. Andalia is now directly under Imperial control, the dissidents there are no longer a threat and you have rid the Empire of one less Jedi." He paused and noticed the slightly pleased expression on Rasche's face. Then he heaved a dramatic sigh. "Pity that Senator Yeb had managed to escape."
The dark-haired man frowned and stiffened slightly. "Yes, my Master," he replied tersely. "And I had conveyed such thoughts to Lieutenant Necros. Just before his death."
Impudent young man, Sidious thought. Darth Rasche possessed a beguiling mixture of competence, brashness and impatience that had made him so ripe for corruption. Now, all Sidious needed to do was hone that mixture into a warrior and leader that would guarantee the Sith's presence in the galaxy, forever.
Another sigh left Palpatine's mouth. "So much for Lieutenant Necros. I really need to integrate more regular officers into both the Imperial Army and Navy. Speaking of which, as soon as the matter regarding the remaining Jedi is satisfactorily completed, I want you to serve some time under Grand Moff Tarkin and take part in the super weapon project."
"I don't understand," Lord Rasche exclaimed. "Why not give me overall command of all forces? I'm a veteran of the Clone War. And I had commanded a regiment just before the war ended."
Palpatine curbed his annoyance. "Yes, my young friend. I am well aware of your military experience. However, Lord Tarkin happens to have more. You could do well to learn under his tutelage. I want to ensure that you will be prepared to take over all forces when the time is right."
"When the time is right?" Rasche heaved an impatient sigh. "Fine. What about Skywalker? He remains at large. I would prefer searching for him than serving under . . . Lord Tarkin. I had hoped that Anjuli Nab would know of his whereabouts."
Frowning, Palpatine asked, "Why would she know?"
"Because she was one of the few knights in the Order, who had managed to befriend him," Rasche replied in an impatient voice. "She was among the few who believed in that 'Chosen One' nonsense. Unfortunately . . . she didn't know where he was."
"Not surprising, since the surviving Jedi are scattered throughout the galaxy," Palpatine said dismissively. "As for the traitorous Skywalker . . . do not be so eager to seek him. He will cross our paths, one day. I have foreseen it. By then, you shall be ready to face him."
Rasche protested, "I'm ready to face him, now!"
"No, you are not!" Palpatine shot back in a steely voice. "You are strong with the Force, my Lord Rasche, and you have great potential. But you are not ready to face Skywalker! In time, you will . . ."
"In time?" Rasche snorted with derision. "I'm ready to face him now, Master! In the past nine months, I have faced . . ."
Palpatine swiftly shot to his feet. Using the Force, he grabbed his lightsaber, leapt over his desk, and began to attack his apprentice. The latter managed to grab his weapon in time to parry the Sith master's attack. For several minutes, master and apprentice engaged in a fierce lightsaber battle inside office. The battle almost reminded Palpatine of his duel against the late Jedi Master Mace Windu. Like Windu, Rasche managed to surprise him with powerfully Force-enhanced skills and an aggressive style. Only, Rasche had yet to reach Windu's level of power and skill. Which the Sith Lord proceeded to prove. After noticing that his apprentice's swings had grown increasingly wide, Palpatine immediately took advantage of one wide arc and disarmed his younger opponent by burning the latter's right wrist with the tip of his lightsaber. Rasche cried out in pain and dropped his weapon.
The Sith Lord aimed the tip of his lightsaber at his apprentice. "I will only say this one more time, my Lord Rasche," he said in an icy voice. "You are not ready to face Skywalker. Not yet. When you have fully learned to utilize the power of the Dark Side, then you will be. You must learn to be patient."
Breathing heavily, Lord Rasche glared at the older man. Then he humbly dropped to one knee and murmured, "Yes, my Master."
"And one last thing," Palpatine added, "in another six months, you will served under Grand Moff Tarkin and assist him in the weapon project. Despite your military experience during the Clone War, you need to learn command at a higher level. One day, you will assume command of all my military forces."
"Yes Master," Rasche replied in a more contrite tone. He hesitated before picking up his lightsaber. "Is there anything else?"
Feeling more benign, Palpatine nodded. "Yes. Continue the search for Solipo Yeb. He must be made an example to the entire Senate. The Empire will not tolerate dissension within its borders." He took a deep breath. "That will be all, my young friend."
The apprentice bowed respectfully and strode out of the office. For the second time, Palpatine allowed himself a satisfied smile. Yes, he had been right to turn young Rasche, those nine months ago. Impatience aside, his new apprentice seemed to be turning out to be more than he had originally hoped for.
The spirals of Corellia's capital loomed before Anakin Skywalker's gaze, as he guided his decade-old Corellian freigher, the Javian Hawk, into the city's airspace. Finally, Coronet's spaceport appeared and he landed the ship upon one of the landing platform.
Anakin leaned back into his seat and sighed. This last trip had been a particularly difficult one for him. A Corellian merchant hired him to pick up and deliver a shipment of Carsunum, an illegal spice mined on Sevarcos II. The merchant, who had hired him nearly a week ago, claimed to be an agent for the Healer's Guild. But Anakin suspected otherwise. Orlan Renar never struck him as the charitable type or someone willing to assist a public service organization like the Healing Guild. However, Anakin did not care. All that mattered to him was the job. Not for the sake of money, but as a means to keep him occupied.
After switching off the engine, Anakin climbed out of the pilot's seat. He made his way toward the cargo hold and checked on the goods. Everything seemed to be intact. He closed the cargo hold's hatch and punched in a code. Then he slid several crates of Andoan wine over the hold. With the Carsunum aboard, he needed a shipment of legal goods to deceive any of the spaceport's custom inspector.
The Javian Hawk's boarding ramp lowered to the ground. Anakin disembarked and found a uniformed customs officer met at the end of the ramp. "Anything to declare?" the officer demanded.
Anakin heaved a sigh. "Just a shipment of Andoan wine," he replied.
The customs officer gave a sharp nod. "Let's take a look." The former Jedi Knight-turned-smuggler led the officer back aboard the Hawk. He held his breath, while the man searched through every crate. By the time the inspection ended, nearly a half hour had passed. "Everything seemed to be in order. The import charge will be 100 credits."
"You can charge it to Orlan Remar of Remar Mercantile," Anakin replied. "Limited."
The officer recorded the name and gave Anakin another sharp nod. "Thank you, and good day."
Relieved that the Carsunum spice had not been discovered, Anakin left the ship for the second time. It seemed odd that a former Jedi Knight and Sith apprentice would end up as a minor freight pilot and smuggler. Anyone would consider his new role as a step down for Anakin. His former master, Obi-Wan Kenobi, certainly would. But then Obi-Wan believed that he had already taken that step when he became Darth Sidious' apprentice.
Money had not been Anakin's motivation for becoming a pilot and smuggler. Oh sure, he needed money to survive in the galaxy - for food, shelter and transportation. But his main factor for his present position came from a deep desire to keep himself occupied and forget the mistakes and heartache from the previous year. Flying his freighter from one end of the galaxy to the other and occasionally dodging the Imperial authorities gave him that outlet.
Anakin strode out of the hangar and merged into Coronet's bustling streets. Although he did a lot of business with many of Corellia's merchants, he did not live on the planet. The housing situation was too expensive and Anakin had invested most of his earning into the Javian Hawk's maintenance. The Hawk happened to be the very ship he had flown for his first job - smuggling Kabalian refugees from Tatooine to a planet in the Lamaro System called Lamaremm. Kabal had originally been a part of the Separatist Confederacy. Once the Clone War had ended, the new Emperor set about annexing those systems that were a part of the Separatist movement, enslaving many of their races. The refugees that Anakin met on Tatooine had managed to escape from their homeworld just hours before the arrival of an Imperial ship.
Following his first job, Anakin had ended up helping his employer, a Serenno businessman named Kiram Raynor, smuggle Separatist refugees for a period of four months. After hauling eighteen refugees from Dallik to the Almania Sector, Anakin's employment with Raynor finally ended. He used the credits he had earned and purchased Raynor's ship - the Hawk - for a low price. The young pilot found a permanent home on the smuggler's moon of Nar Shaddaa and refurbished his new freighter before resuming his newfound career.
The late afternoon sun barely hovered over the Corellian capital's skyline. Anakin did his best to avoid the colorful crowd that he weaved through. He kept a sharp eye out for the hotel he usually stayed at whenever he was on Corellia, the Torvian Blue Hotel. His eyes immediately spotted the twenty-story, L-shaped building. And he also became aware of a pair of eyes following him. Eyes that did not belong to an adult.
Anakin took a deep breath and focused upon his surroundings. Corellia had the good fortune to possess temperate weather, spectacular terrain and a prosperous economy thanks to its shipwrights. Unfortunately, Corellia also possessed a lawless reputation for breeding pirates, smugglers and other criminal activities. Anakin suspected that he may have attracted the attention of one such criminal - a pickpocket.
Before he could become the victim of a street crime, Anakin finally reached the Torvian Blue Hotel. Ignoring the stares of well-dressed patrons - including appreciative ones from females - he made his way toward the front desk, where an attractive young woman with blond hair greeted him with a bright smile. "Welcome back to Corellia, Captain Horus."
Anakin returned her smile. "Thank you, Radha. Um . . . I'll have my usual room."
Radha typed in some information into her computer terminal. Then she handed Anakin a code key - a rectangular-shaped piece of blue plastic. "Room 415, as usual." Anakin thanked the young woman and headed toward one of the lobby's turbolifts.
Once inside his room, Anakin dumped his duffel bag onto the bed. He stripped away his clothes and took a shower. After he finished, he switched on the holo monitor and listened to the HoloNet news, while he donned fresh clothes. According to a newscaster, Corellia had lost a prominent senator named Garm Bel Iblis. Apparently, Separatist fugitives on Anchoron killed Senator Iblis and his family. The senator's name struck a familiar chord within Anakin. He recalled that Iblis had been an opponent of the Clone War and a political rival of Palpatine's for years. Anakin wondered if the Separatists really had killed the Corellian senator. Or had the perpetrators been Imperial agents?
After donning his dark blue jacket, he heard a shattering news report. The Empire, according to the newscaster, had just annexed the planet of Andalia for harboring a fugitive Jedi Knight. The reporter also revealed that the Andalian senator, Solipo Yeb, had escaped Imperial authorities and is now considered to be a fugitive. But what really shook Anakin to the core was the name of the Jedi Knight killed by an Imperial agent - one Anjuli Nab, a native of Andalia.
Stunned by the news, Anakin unconsciously sat down on his bed. Anjuli dead? Despite the number of Jedi that had been decimated by his hands and by Sidious' Order 66, Anakin never considered that his old friend, Anjuli, would end up dead. She had been one of the few within the Jedi Order who did not view him as a Jedi savior, an outsider or a freak of nature. Ten years older than him, Anjuli had treated the Tatooine native as a friend and a highly regarded colleague. Unlike Obi-Wan and other Jedi, she had not demanded that he engaged in ideal behavior. Anakin could only take small comfort that he had not been directly responsible for her death. Then again, he felt quite certain that his brief spell as a Sith apprentice had led to her doom. Anakin took a deep breath. Then he turned off the holo monitor, as he wiped away the few tears that streamed down his cheeks. Unable to deal with his memories in isolation, he left the room.
The hotel could boast of at least three excellent restaurants. But Anakin preferred some of Coronet's less prominent eateries, namely the local cafes and diners, over the hotel's highly-priced restaurants. Upon reaching the lobby, he curtly greeted Radha and made arrangement for a message to be sent to Orlan Remar's home.
Slightly disoriented over the news of Anjuli's death, Anakin left the hotel and merged back into Coronet's busy streets. He barely noticed the other pedestrians that surrounded him. All he could think about was Anjuli and his own guilty over his contribution to her death. Finally, a burly man in an expensive tunic bumped against Anakin's shoulder. The former Jedi Knight snapped out of his deep funk - just in time to spot a small hand reaching for his jacket pocket. Anakin quickly snatched the hand and gave it a twist. The hand's owner cried out in pain, as Anakin glared into a pair of fearful brown eyes.