Thursday, March 26, 2015

"RETURN TO CRANFORD" (2009) Review

"RETURN TO CRANFORD" (2009) Review

Due to the success of the 2007 miniseries, "CRANFORD", the BBC aired a two-part sequel called "RETURN TO CRANFORD" (also known as the "CRANFORD CHRISTMAS SPECIAL"), some two years later. Like the original miniseries, it was adapted by Heidi Thomas and directed by Simon Curtis. 

"RETURN TO CRANFORD" was based on material from Elizabeth Gaskell’s two novellas and a short story - "Cranford","The Mooreland Cottage", and "The Cage at Cranford", were all published between 1849 and 1863. Also, themes from"My Lady Ludlow""Mr. Harrison's Confessions", and "The Last Generation in England" were included to provide continuity with the first miniseries. The new miniseries took place between August and December 1844. The citizens of Cranford find themselves facing major changes in their society, as the railroad continues to be constructed near the edge of town. In fact, I was surprised to learn that a great deal of the story surrounding the new railroad was not in any of Gaskell’s novellas and short story. Only the storylines featuring about Mrs. Jameson’s (Barbara Flynn) cousin, Lady Glenmire (Celia Imrie) and Captain Brown (Jim Carter), Miss Pole’s (Imelda Staunton) Parisian “cage” for her pet cockatoo, and a magician named Signor Brunoni (Tim Curry) putting on a show came from Gaskell’s works. 

I have to be frank. It did not bother me that most of the material featured in the miniseries did not come from any of Gaskell’s novellas and short stories. Thanks to some decent writing by Heidi Thomas, I believe that it all worked out fine. Unlike the 2007 miniseries, "CRANFORD", the screenplay for "RETURN TO CRANFORD" seemed tighter and more focused. In fact, I noticed that the majority of major storylines featured in the miniseries have ties to the main story about the railroad’s construction. Because of this, "RETURN TO CRANFORD" avoided the episodic style of storytelling that I believe marred "CRANFORD". My favorite storyline featured the budding romance between two newcomers to the town of Cranford – William Buxton (Tom Hiddleston), the Eton-educated son of a salt baron (Jonathan Pryce) and Peggy Bell (Jodie Whittaker), the daughter of a less-affluent widow (Lesley Sharp). Mr. Buxton wants William to marry his ward, the Brussels-educated Erminia (Michelle Dockery). But neither are interested in each other. And Peggy has to deal with her ambitious and greedy brother, Edward (Matthew McNulty), who dislikes William. What I liked best about"RETURN TO CRANFORD" was that most of the storylines were tied to the new rail line being constructed near Cranford - even the William/Peggy romance.

As much as I hate to admit it, "RETURN TO CRANFORD" had its problems. Another storyline featured the problematic pregnancy suffered by Miss Matty’s maid, Martha Hearne (Claudie Blakley). The problem arose, due to the lack of doctors in Cranford. And I found this confusing. The 2007 miniseries ended with two doctors residing in the town – the recently married Dr. Frank Harrison and longtime resident Dr. Morgan. A year later, both no longer resided in Cranford and Heidi Thomas’ script never revealed their whereabouts or fate. Thomas’ real misstep featured the death of Lady Ludlow (Francesca Annis) and the arrival of her ne’er-do-well son, Septimus (Rory Kinnear). The latter’s attempt to cheat young Harry Gregson (Alex Etel) out of the money he had inherited from the late Mr. Carter was a poorly conceived and written storyline. And despite the built-up, it failed to have any real impact upon the Harry Gregson character, due to its vague ending. As much as I found Signor Brunoni’s Christmas show rather charming, I thought it also reeked of a sentimentality that made my teeth hurt. Especially when Miss Matty’s reunion with Jem Hearne (Andrew Buchan) and his daughter entered the picture.

The production design for "RETURN TO CRANFORD" was top notch as ever. And Alison Beard’s supervision of the costumes proved to be just as first-rate as Jenny Beavan’s work in the 2007 miniseries. The cast continued its first-rate work from the previous miniseries – especially Judi Dench as Miss Matty Jenkyns, Imelda Staunton as town gossip Octavia Poole, Francesca Annis as the aristocratic Lady Ludlow, Emma Fielding as her assistant Laurentia Galindo, Alex Etel as Harry Gregson, Julia McKenzie as Mrs. Forrester, Jim Carter as Mr. Brown, Alex Jennings as the Reverend Hutton and Barbara Flynn as the pretentious Mrs. Jamieson. But the newcomers that impressed were Tom Huddleston as William Buxton, Jonathan Pryce as the tyrannical Mr. Buxton, Jodie Whittaker as Peggy Bell, Celia Imrie as the earthy Lady Glemire and Tim Curry as the warm-hearted magician Signor Brunoni.

For a while, I had been reluctant to watch "RETURN TO CRANFORD". Because it was a sequel to the 2007 miniseries, I figured that it could never be as good as "CRANFORD". I was wrong. I do not know if I would consider it better than the first miniseries. But the latter is certainly not better than the sequel. And ”RETURN TO CRANFORD” does have one major advantage . . . namely Heidi Thomas’ screenplay turned out to be more tightly written, due to her decision not to use much of Elizabeth Gaskell’s material. Personally, I find that rather ironic.

Monday, March 23, 2015

"CENTENNIAL" (1978-79) - Episode Four "For as Long as the River Flows" Commentary

"CENTENNIAL" (1978-79) - Episode Four "For as Long as the Water Flows" Commentary

The fourth episode of "CENTENNIAL""For as Long as the Water Flows", strikes as an enigma in the episode. Well . . . not exactly an enigma. But I found it rather strange. As far as I know, it is the only episode in the 1978-79 miniseries that is based upon two chapters in James Michner’s novel. 

"For as Long as the Water Flows" picked up some seven months following the end of the last episode. The story found Levi Zendt still mourning over the death of his bride, Elly, while isolating himself at the very cabin that Alexander McKeag was snowbound back in the second episode. Both McKeag and his wife, Clay Basket, have also become alarmed over their daughter Lucinda’s growing friendship with various mountain men and trappers at Fort Laramie. Clay Basket instructs McKeag to send Lucinda to Levi, in order to help the Lancaster man overcome his grief. In the end, Clay Basket’s plans come to fruition, when Levi and Lucinda fall in love. However, Levi suggests that Lucinda spends at least a half a year in St. Louis in order to become educated and learn Christianity before he marries. This suggestion nearly costs Levi his new love, when Lucinda falls for a young U.S. Army officer named John McIntosh. However, Lucinda remains in love with Levi and decides it would be best to be the wife of a pioneer and future storekeeper, than an Army officer’s wife.

The second half of the episode, which is based upon another episode, jumps another four years later to 1851. Major Maxwell Mercy has been instructed by the U.S. Army to facilitate a treaty between many of the Plains tribes and the U.S. government, regarding territorial claims between the tribes and guarantees of safe passage for westbound emigrants to Oregon or California. Although men like Jacques Pasquinel expresses doubt, the Treaty of Fort Laramie (1851) is signed and ratified. The event also featured a family reunion between three of Pasquinel’s children – Jacques, Marcel and their older sister, Lisette Pasquinel Mercy. The story jumps another nine years to 1860, when Northern Colorado is experiencing the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush (1858-1861). One of the potential gold seekers turns out to be the saga’s next major character, Hans Brumbaugh, a Russian-born farmer of German descent. He meets three other gold seekers, including an overeagerly man named Spade Larkin, who had somehow learned about the gold nugget discovered by Lame Beaver in ”Only the Rocks Live Forever”, thanks to an article written about Lucinda during her stay in St. Louis. But most of the second half of the episode focused upon the Laramie treaty and its eventual breakdown, as the number of westbound emigrants increased due to the gold rushes in California and Colorado.

I am going to be honest. ”For as Long as the River Flows” is not one of my favorite episodes in the miniseries. In fact, I consider it to be inferior, in compare to the other episodes in the first half of ”CENTENNIAL”. But I must admit that it featured a good number of powerful scenes and moments:

*Lucinda’s success in helping Levi recover from Elly’s death

*Clay Basket and Lise Pasquinel meet for the first time, thanks to Alexander McKeag

*Levi and Lucinda’s wedding/McKeag’s death

*Levi and Michel Pasquinel’s discussion about the American claim over tribal lands

*Jacques Pasquinel’s prophecy over the American government’s inability to maintain their promises to the tribes and the latter’s future 

*Hans Brumbaugh’s angry reaction to the murder of two braves by Spade Larkin’s companions

*Lucinda’s brief reunion with her former flame, John McIntosh, at Zendt’s fort

*Lucinda and Martin Zendt’s brief, yet violent encounter with Spade Larkin

*General Asher's revelation that the Fort Laramie Treaty has been considered null and void by the American government, reducing the tribes’ claims on the land

Of the scenes featured above, at least three of them stood out for me. One of them featured Levi Zendt and Lucinda McKeag’s wedding, which ended with Alexander McKeag’s death. Watching Clay Basket mourn her second husband not only brought tears to my eyes, it made me realize how much she truly loved him. I do not recall Clay Basket mourning Pasquinel with such deep-seated grief. I was also impressed by Jacques Pasquinel’s arguments against the tribes signing a treaty with the United States. Jacques has always been an ambiguous character. He has a bad temper that can be murderous at times. And he nurses resentments like no other fictional character I have seen (his relationship with McKeag is a prime example). But after watching this episode recently, I must admit that he was a very intelligent man, who pretty much saw the dark future for the Plains tribes. Other leaders such as Lost Eagle and Broken Thumb were willing to make peace with the Americans. Lost Eagle was willing, due to Maxwell Mercy’s participation in the talks; and Broken Thumb saw no other way for his people – the Cheyenne – to survive. But Jacques knew that any peace with the Americans was bound to fail and that the latter would stab them in the back to gain their land. And when one consider how the American government managed to decimate or push away tribes that had resided in the Ohio and Mississippi Valleys some fifteen to twenty earlier, how could Lost Eagle, Broken Thumb and Maxwell Mercy even bother facilitating a treaty that was doomed to fail? And the treaty did fail by the end of the episode, in a powerful scene in which the tribal leaders were informed that they would have to be pushed onto land that would not sustain them. Watching that scene, I found myself feeling disturbed, frustrated and filled with contempt toward characters such as General Asher and the government he represented.

Despite those powerful scenes that I had mentioned, I still found myself feeling less than impressed by ”For as Long as the River Flows”. Quite frankly, it struck me as contradictory. At times, I thought I was watching two completely different storylines that had no business being part of the same episode. I realize that producer John Wilder wanted to begin and end the miniseries with an episode that was at least 150 minutes long. However, I wish that Wilder had allowed both ”The Wagon and the Elephant” (Levi Zendt’s introduction to the West) and the next episode, ”The Massacre” (the final decline of the Native Americans in the Northern Colorado region) to have a longer running time. After all, both episodes were based upon two consecutive chapters in Michner’s novel. And considering the importance of each storyline, both episodes would have deserved it. Instead, Wilder and his screenwriter Jerry Ziegman took the last third of Levi’s story and the first third of the storyline about the conflict between the Native Americans and the Americans . . . and meshed both together in a single episode. And in my opinion, it did not work. This reshuffling made”For as Long as the River Flows” look and feel schizophrenic.

I must admit that ”For as Long as the River Flows” featured some first-rate performances. I was especially impressed by Stephen McHattie’s portrayal of the intelligent, yet belligerent Jacques Pasquinel. He conveyed an interesting mixture of intensity, anger and intelligence into his performance that allowed his character to become one of the best in the miniseries. Another outstanding performance came from Chad Everett as the idealistic Army officer, Maxwell Mercy. Everett did an excellent job in generating admiration of his character’s tolerance and idealism . . . and at the same time, allow audiences to ponder over his lack of realism. I cannot count the number of times in which Everett’s Maxwell Mercy expressed some delusional belief that one man can generate piece between the encroaching Americans and the Native tribes. 

This episode featured Richard Chamberlain’s last major appearance in the miniseries as Alexander McKeag. And as usual, he was superb and poignant as the aging mountain man, who found peace with himself, before his untimely death. Barbara Carrera gave one of her better performances in this episode, as the older and wiser Clay Basket who set in motion emotional salvation for both Levi and Lucinda; and whose grief over her second husband’s death provided the miniseries with one of its most poignant moments. I also enjoyed her only scene with Sally Kellerman, in which Pasquinel’s two wives got to meet for the first and only time. Both women gave intelligent and poignant performances that allowed their scene to be one of the better ones in the episode. I have never harbored a high opinion of Christina Raines as an actress, but I must admit that this episode featured one of her best performances. I was referring to the above mentioned scene in which she finally helped Levi deal with his grief over Elly’s death. And she managed to create a strong chemistry with both Gregory Harrison and Mark Harmon (her future co-star in the short-lived ”FLAMINGO ROAD”). 

Pernell Roberts (Harrison’s future co-star in ”TRAPPER JOHN, M.D.”) was superb as the arrogant, yet ignorant General Asher, who seemed determined to ignore the tribes’ plight at being driven from their lands. Kario Salem gave a poignant performance in a scene in which his character, Michel Pasquinel, discusses the meaning of land and its theft by the Americans with future brother-in-law, Levi. And I also have to mention veteran character actor James Sloyan whose portrayal of the obsessive gold seeker Spade Larkin struck me as both mesmerizing and rather frightening.

There is a lot to admire about ”For as Long as the River Flows”. It is filled with some powerful moments. And it can boast some first-rate performances from the likes of Richard Chamberlain, Barbara Carrera and especially Stephen McHattie and Chad Everett. Unfortunately, the episode also featured two major storylines that made it seem conflicting . . . almost schizophrenic. Pity.

Thursday, March 19, 2015


Below is a gallery of photos from the 1989 adventure classic, "INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE". Produced by George Lucas and directed by Steven Spielberg, the movie starred Harrison Ford, Sean Connery, Alison Doody, John Rhys-Davies, Michael Byrnes, River Phoenix and Julian Glover: 


Sunday, March 15, 2015




When the Disney Studios and producer Jerry Bruckheimer had first released news of their intention to make sequels to their 2003 hit movie, "PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: Curse of the Black Pearl", I reacted to the news with a great deal of wariness. In fact, I was against the idea. But after seeing 2006's "Dead Man's Chest" and 2007's "At World's End", my opinion had changed. I ended up enjoying the two movies just as much as I had enjoyed "Curse of the Black Pearl" . . . especially the second film. 

About two years after "At World's End" hit the theaters, the Disney people and Bruckheimer had released news of their intention to make a fourth film. Again, I expressed wariness at the idea. I thought the three movies released between 2003 and 2007 made a neat little trilogy. There was no need for a fourth movie. But Disney and Bruckheimer went ahead with their plans and a fourth movie was recently released. But unlike "Dead Man's Chest" and "At World's End", I found it difficult to enjoy "PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: On Stranger Tides".

I cannot say that I disliked the film. There were aspects of it that I genuinely enjoyed. Both Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush were in top form as Captain Jack Sparrow and Captain Hector Barbossa. But I noticed something odd about their characters in this movie. For once, Jack did not have a particular goal to attain in this film. In "Curse of the Black Pearl", he was after the Black Pearl. He was after the chest that contained Davy Jones' heart in "Dead Man's Chest" to be used to avoid a debt that he owned. And in "At World's End", he was still after Jones' heart in order to gain the opportunity to become master of the Flying Dutchman and immortality. In this fourth movie, Jack seemed to have become swept up in Blackbeard and the British Crown's agendas. And Barbossa seemed out of place as a privateer for His Majesty King George II and the Royal Navy. There was a scene that featured him eating slices of fruit arranged on a plate. He seemed to be doing his best to project the image of an officer and a gentleman . . . only he looked rather odd. However, both actors gave top notch performances and I could find nothing to complain about.

I could also say the same about the performances of Penelope Cruz, Ian McShane and Stephen Graham as Angelica, Edward "Blackbeard" Teach and a sailor named Scrum, respectively. All three were perfectly cast in their respective roles. Cruz did an excellent job in portraying the complex Angelica, who happened to be the daughter of Blackbeard. Although it is obvious that she is attracted to Jack - a former lover, she seemed to have this . . . need for her father's love that made her into some kind of twisted Daddy's girl wannabe. Unfortunately, McShane's Blackbeard seemed like poor father material. There were times when he conveyed the image of a concerned and loving father. And yet, he proved to be nothing more than an emotional vampire who would easily kill his daughter if she got in the way of his goal - the Fountain of Youth. And I must admit that not only did McShane made a witty and terrifying Blackbeard, he handled his character's twisted relationship with Angelica beautifully. Graham's Scrum almost struck me as a younger version of Jack's old friend, Joshamee Gibbs. And considering that the latter's appearance in this film seemed somewhat limited, it seemed just as well that Graham received more screen time.

There were other aspects of "On Stranger Tides" that I enjoyed. Or should I say, scenes? The mermaids' attacks upon Blackbeard's men and upon the H.M.S. Providence were among the most terrifying scenes I have seen in the franchise since the Kracken's attacks in "Dead Man's Chest". I also enjoyed the scene that featured Jack's mutinous meeting with members of Blackbeard's crew. Personally, I found it very funny and it brought back memories of former characters such as Pintel, Ragetti, Marty and Cotton. Jack's meeting with King George II proved to be somewhat entertaining. And it led to an equally entertaining chase sequence through the streets of mid-18th century London. But my favorite scene featured Jack marooning Angelica on a deserted island, following the death of Blackbeard. The humor not only permeated strongly in their verbal exchange, but also in director Rob Marshall's visual style. And I must admit that I also enjoyed the photography featured in the London scenes and the "island" where the Fountain of Youth was located. Cinematographer Dariusz Wolski did justice to the lush Hawaii jungle that served as one of the movie's settings.

So, if I had so much to enjoy about "On Stranger Tides", why did it fail to resonate within me in the end? What went wrong? At least for me? My main problem with the movie is that I felt it tried to repeat many aspects of the first film, "Curse of the Black Pearl". This is odd, considering that "On Stranger Tides" was allegedly inspired by Tim Powers' 1987 novel, "On Stranger Tides". The fourth film did not come off as a remake or anything of such. But there were too many aspects of the first film that seemed to be repeated in "On Stranger Tides". One, Jack's reunion with Angelica in a London tavern almost seemed like a remake of his first meeting with Will Turner in "Curse of the Black Pearl". Scrum almost seemed like a remake of Joshamee Gibbs. This is not surprising, since he had more scenes with Jack that Gibbs and the latter (along with actor Kevin McNally) seemed wasted in the movie. Two of Blackbeard's crew turned out to be zombies (if you can call them that). And they seemed like remakes (physical and otherwise) of Barbossa's first mate from the first film, Bo'sun. More importantly, the romance between missionary Philip Swift and the mermaid Syrena almost seemed like a remake of the Will Turner/Elizabeth Swann romance . . . but without the character developments. If I must be honest, Philip and Syrena's romance nearly put me to sleep on several occasions. I feel sorry for actors Sam Claflin and Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey. They seemed like two decent actors forced to work with a pair of boring and undeveloped characters.

There were other problems I had with "On Stranger Tides". The movie saw the return of Royal Navy officers Theodore Groves (from the first and third film) and Gillette (from the first film). What on earth did Terry Rossio and Ted Elliot did to their roles? Both characters almost seemed lobotomized. Well, Gillette did. Groves seemed to have lost his sense of humor. I recalled that he was a big fan boy of Jack in the first and third films. Yet, when he finally met Jack . . . nothing happened. He was too busy being a rather boring and stiff character. What happened to Jack and Barbossa's own quests for the Fountain of Youth, which was first introduced in"At World's End"? After a few years of failure, the audience is led to believe that Jack simply lost interest. And Barbossa's earlier encounter with Blackbeard and the latter's ship, Queen Anne's Revenge, led to the loss of one leg and the Black Pearl. And how did Barbossa managed to survive the loss of his leg. Apparently, Barbossa had to cut off his leg to free from Blackbeard's enchanted ship lines. So, how did he manage to keep himself from bleeding to death in the ocean? How did he manage to swim to safety with one leg? 

And then we come to the mermaids. How did the mermaids manage to destroy Barbossa's ship, the H.M.S. Providence? It was one thing to lure men from small boats or smash said boats. It was another to do the same to a large frigate. I have never heard of such a thing in the mermaid mythology. One last major problem I had with the movie dealt with the presence of the Spanish. Like the British, they were after the Fountain of Youth. Only their leader, known as the Spaniard (portrayed by Óscar Jaenada), called himself destroying the Fountain in the name of his king and the Catholic Church, as some kind of stance against paganism. Worse, he possessed the very chalices that needed to be used to drink the Fountain's water. Yet, he did not bother to smash them, until he was at the Fountain's location. Why? And what in the hell were Elliot and Rossio thinking? Why include such a storyline that proved to be irrelevant, epsecially since Jack was able to use the Fountain's water after its so-called destruction?

I hear that Disney Studios and Bruckheimer are already filming a fifth movie. I can understand this decision, considering that "On Stranger Tides" raked up a great deal of profit at the box office. Frankly, I wish they had not gone ahead with this new movie. I honestly do not care how much money the 2011 movie had made. After watching it, I realized that a fourth movie should not have been made . . . at least from an artistic point of view. It featured too much sloppy writing and characterizations for me to truly enjoy. "On Stranger Tides"might prove to be the first PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movie that I cannot consider as a favorite.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

"The Corellian Connection [PG-13] - Chapter 8




The Corellian freighter sped below the Imperial war cruiser, the Agamemnon. On the warship's bridge, the Executive Officer turned to face his commanding officer. "Shall I order the tractor beam to be used, sir?" he asked.

"Not yet," Captain Hardy replied. "Let's give this . . ." He glanced at the data pad given to him by CorSec Officer Bastra. ". . . Captain Horus a chance to cooperate, first." He nodded at the other officer.

Commander Jaffe switched on the ship's communication system. "Corellian vessel, this is the Imperial starcruiser, the Agamemnon. Be prepared to be tractored."

The freighter captain's voice crackled over the com system. "This is the captain of the Javian Hawk." Hardy noted that the man did not identify himself by name. "What is the meaning of this?"

This time, Hardy replied. "We're searching for two fugitives of the Empire, last seen on Corellia. According to the Coronet port master, your ship had departed from there, five hours ago. Be prepared to be tractored."

"There are no fugitives on board my ship," the freighter captain protested. "Just me."

Hardy turned to Commander Jaffe, who checked his console. "I'm reading four life signs, Captain. Not one."

"Four?" A frown creased Hardy's forehead. "Not three?"

Jaffe confirmed his findings. "Four life signs, sir. One of them might be a child."

"Three, four . . . it doesn't matter," Hardy decided. "This ship has three too many passengers and its captain is not cooperating. Activate the tractor beam."

The First Officer nodded. "Aye, aye sir." He turned to a subordinate. "Activate the tractor beam."


The Javian Hawk jolted, catching Anakin by surprise. "We've been caught in a tractor beam."

"That's it," Senator Yeb declared mournfully. "We're done for."

Thalia Yeb appeared by her brother's side, wearing an anxious expression. "What's going on?"

"An Imperial ship has caught up with us," the senator answered. "It's over for us."

Anakin tapped into the console's computer and found what he was looking for. "Not yet, Senator." He grabbed the ship's blaster and fired. The Hawk's laser blasts struck the Imperial war cruiser's starboard side. Seconds later, the Hawk found itself free from the other ship's tractor beam. "There's a gun turret near the ship's bow," he added. "Is there anyone qualified to use it?"

Thalia spoke up before anyone else could. "I am. I've used a gun turret a few times during the war." She quickly left the cockpit.

"Is there anything I can do?" Senator Yeb asked.

Anakin replied, "You and Han can take a seat and strap in, Senator. Hopefully, this will be all over before long." As the senator left the cockpit, Anakin noticed that Han had remained in his seat. "Why haven't you left?"

"You need someone to handle the ship's blaster in here," Han said. "And I'm the one to do it."

"You're familiar with starship firearms?"

A cocky smile appeared on Han's lips. "I'm probably better with a blaster than you are, Mr. Jedi," he boasted. "I've had experienced aboard Shrike's starship."

Anakin allowed himself an amused smile. "If you say so. I suggest that you make sure that your seat strap is secure. Because this is where the fun begins."


Captain Hardy glared at one of his junior officers. "What happened to the tractor beam?"

"Uh . . . the um . . . the pilot disabled it . . . sir," the young officer replied nervously.

"Dis . . . Then repair it!" Hardy growled. "And tractor that ship! Now!" The young officer quickly focused his attention to his task. Hardy turned to his executive officer. "Jaffe, send out a squad to . . ." He glanced out at the bridge's viewport window . . . and inhaled sharply, as the Javian Hawk zoomed toward the Agamemnon with blasters firing. Hardy felt inclined to sneer at the smaller ship's efforts, when the war cruiser shook ominiously. "What the . . . What was that?" the captain demanded.

Jaffe replied, "Our starboard engine, sir. It's . . . just been disabled." His voice trembled anxiously.

"First our tractor beam and now our starboard engine." Hardy rubbed his throbbing forehead and roared, "Will someone please destroy that ship before it takes us apart, piece by piece?" He glared at Jaffe. "Order Zeta Squad to intercept it."

The first officer stood at attention. "Aye sir." He turned to the junior officer. "Summon Zeta Squad to intercept that freighter."

Seconds later, the junior officer made the announcement over the ship's communication system. Hardy allowed himself a satisfied smile. He felt certain that a half-decade old Corellian freighter would be no match against the Agamemnon and a squad of ARC-170 fighters. No match at all!



"Romulus Wort!" Former Jedi Master Roan Shyrne regarded Darth Rasche with disbelief and disgust. "So, you've finally caught up with us, again." He turned to the young padawan who was engaged in a duel with the Sith Lord. "Step aside, Olee, I'll deal with Wo . . ."

Rasche brusquely corrected the former Jedi Master. "The name is Darth Rasche, Shryne!" He shot a quick glance at Commander Appo's decapitated head. "And you're under arrest for murder and treason.

Disgust now dominated Shryne's eyes. "We'll see . . . Lord Rasche." He turned to Starstone. "Leave now, Olee. I'll deal with this Sith scum." Slowly, the young padawan backed away from Rasche. As she and the other rebels dealt with Appo's squad, the Sith Lord's red lightsaber blade clashed with Shryne's and the fight commenced.

Just as Rasche had expected, fighting the Jedi Master proved to be more difficult than his duels with Starstone and the other Jedi here on Kashyyyk. Rasche utilized all of his speed and skills to keep Shryne off-balance and from killing him. The two combatants finally paused near one of the great wroshyr trees near the city's outskirts.

"What happened to you, Wort?" Shryne demanded. "How did you turn to the Dark Side? What made . . .?" He broke off, as Rasche swung at his head. Shryne ducked just in time.

The Sith Lord snarled, "Once again, the name is Darth Rasche! Nor do I have to answer to or any other Jedi scum regarding my actions!"

"Jedi scum?" Shryne's voice rang with disbelief. "When did the Jedi become scum to . . .?" This time, Rasche attacked in earnest before he could finish his question.

The two combatants continued their brutal duel. Rasche sensed a hint of surprise radiating from the older man. Apparently, the latter had not anticipated someone of his age being able to successfully duel against an experienced Jedi Master. Explosions rocked the ground around the pair. The Imperial Destroyers had commenced upon the aerial bombardment of Kachirho and other cities being defended by the Wookies. The Sith Lord and the former Jedi Master found themselves inside one of the wroshyr trees. There, Rasche decided to embark upon a new tactic. Using the Force, he battered Shryne with wood planks and other debris. One of the planks managed to strike Shryne directly in the face. Then Rasche elevated Shryne into the air and flung him off the bridge.

Rasche levitated to the ground, next to Shryne's body. Blood flowed from the former Jedi Master's mouth, while bruises covered his body. "I . . ." He gurgled slightly. "I . . . don't under . . . stand. Why?"

Instead of answering the other man's question, Rasche switched on his lightsaber and struck the Jedi Master directly in the heart. The latter died instantly. "Too bad you're not Skywalker," Rasche muttered. "Your death would have had more meaning."

Returning to the shuttle's landing area, Darth Rasche discovered that Starstone and some of Shryne's companions had managed to kill a good number of clonetroopers before fleeing the scene. He gathered the remaining survivors and guided them back to the Theta-class shuttle. Once inside the vessel, the Sith Lord contacted his executive officer back on the Exactor. "Commander Heth," he announced, "I will be shortly returning to the Exactor. Commander Appos is dead. What is the status of the attack?"

"All star destroyers have descended to the planet's surface, my Lord," Heth replied over the shuttle's communication system. "Kashyyyk should soon be completely secured." The officer hesitated before he continued. "However, I've just learned that a detainer interdictor cruiser has just been destroyed and many of the refugee transports have managed to escape the system."

A small sense of dread gnawed at the center of Rasche's chest. "How did this happen?" he angrily demanded.

The first officer hesitated. "Apparently, some of the enemy managed to reactivate an old damaged droid-controlled destroyer from the war and programmed it to ram the cruiser."

The report infuriated Rasche. Olee Starstone, along with some of her companions and Wookie allies must have been responsible. "Commander, I want you to contact Lord Tarkin aboard the Executrix."

"My Lord?"

Rasche continued, "I have a message for him. Tell him to order all fleet commanders to initate a full orbital bombardment of the entire planet. The entire planet, Commander!"

A long silence followed before Heth nervously replied, "Aye sir. Heth out."

Breathing heavily, Rasche turned off the shuttle's communication system and leaned back into his chair. He became aware of the silence that filled the shuttle. Ignoring the other troopers, he activated the engines and commenced upon the shuttle's ascent from the planet's surface.



Inside the Javian Hawk's cockpit, Anakin allowed himself a quick glance at the viewscreen beyond. "Oh no," he muttered to himself. Then he switched on the freighter's communication system. "Miss Yeb! Keep a sharp eye ready! We have visitors. A squad of ATC fighters!"

"Understood," the Andalian female coolly replied.

Anakin turned to Han. "Good job in dealing with that warship's engines. Are you ready to try your luck with starfighters?"

A wide grin stretched Han's lips. "Like you said . . . this is where the fun begins."

Anakin chuckled. "Is that right?"


At that moment, a squad of ATC-170 fighters raced toward the Hawk. Blaster fire filled the dark space between the two ships. Although a few blasts managed to rock the freighter, Anakin made sure that it had not sustained any serious damage. On the other hand, Han managed to inflict devastating damage upon the ATC fighters by destroying four of them. Anakin checked his sensors. He noticed that Thalia Yeb had destroyed at least two fighters. However, Anakin realized that shooting down starfighters would not save them from the Agamemnon. An idea came to him. "Miss Yeb, cease fire and return to your brother!" Han stared at him, as if he had lost his mind. Meanwhile, the Andalian woman managed to destroy another fighter. "Miss Yeb, please do as I say and return to your brother!"

"You want us to cease fire?" Thalia's voice crackled with disbelief over the com system.

Anakin retorted, "Yes, Miss Yeb! I want you to cease fire. Now!"

Han shot down one more ATC fighter, while Anakin waited for the senator's sister to rejoin Yeb. Then he heard her say, "I'm at my seat!" She did not sound very pleased.

"Okay," Anakin began. "Everyone, hold on!" With the ship's throttle firmly in one hand, he flew the Javian Hawk circles around the Agamemnon. The remaining three ATC fighters followed in an attempt to destroy the freighter. Anakin then guided the Hawk directly toward the war cruiser's port side. A quick glance at the sensors told him that two of the fighters were on his tail.

Han shot a nervous glance at Anakin. "Uh, you do realize that we're heading for the . . . oh!"

At that moment, Anakin veered the ship sharply to the left, causing the Javian Hawk to miss the Imperial cruiser by millimeters. The two ATC fighters on the Hawk's tail were not so lucky. They spiraled out of control . . . and slammed right into the Agamemnon's port side.


Two major explosions rocked the Agamemnon. Anxiety gripped Captain Hardy, as he grabbed hold of his chair's armrests. "What was that?" he yelled at one of the junior officers. Red lights flooded the bridge, while the ship's klaxon filled his ears.

It was Commander Jaffe who replied. "Our port engine has been disabled, Captain! Along with all decks on the port side. The landing bay has been completely destroyed!"

Which meant that the remaining two ATC-170 squads assigned to the Agamemnon no longer existed. Captain Hardy struggled to suppress his growing anxiety. "Commander, shoot down that piece of junk, or we'll all end up . . ."

"Captain! The Corellian ship is returning!" a frightened junior officer cried out. "And it's heading straight toward us!"

Hardy glanced straight ahead. Sure enough, the Javian Hawk seemed to be spinning toward them, with the last remaining fighter close behind. He could not believe his eyes. Surely, this Captain Horus did not mean to . . . The Corellian ship veered a sharp right, avoiding the Agamemnon's by millimeters. The last thing Captain Hardy saw was an out-of-control ATC fighter hurtling toward the bridge.


Anakin heaved a sigh of relief, as he flew the Hawk away from the Imperial war cruiser. Then the freighter rocked slightly, as a series of explosions completely destroyed the Agamemnon.

"Wow!" Han cried gleefully. "That was . . . that was incredible!"

"No kidding," Anakin murmured. He felt uneasy that the Imperial ship's destruction also spelled the end of so many lives. But he could see no other way out of their situation. He could have surrendered to the Agamemnon or attempt an escape . . . ensuring that the Empire would hunt down the Javian Hawk from one end of the galaxy to the other.

Both of the Yebs appeared inside the cockpit. "In Zaahl's name!" Senator Yeb exclaimed. "You've destroyed it! You've completely destroyed an Imperial warship!"

"I believe that all of us had contributed to its destruction," Anakin added wryly.

Thalia Yeb regarded Anakin with shining admiration. "Now, I see how you had earned the name, 'Hero With No Fear'," she exclaimed. "My goodness!"

Anakin inwardly winced at his former wartime moniker. He had never liked it and said so to the Yebs. "Right now, I'm more concerned with delivering both of you to Averam. And getting rid of those laser burns on my hull. Chances are the Imperials will catch up to me, sooner or later. I don't want to leave any evidence of our encounter with the Agamemnon." He checked the Hawks' coordinates to ensure that it had returned on course. "Is everyone strapped in?" The Yebs returned to their seats and the Javian Hawk resumed its journey toward Averam.