Thursday, February 11, 2016

Visions of Dark and Light (A Star Wars Story)

My friend Izzy recently ran a short story contest (the theme being Star Wars). I did not win the contest, but it was fun to write something quickly for it and she has asked the participants to share their stories. I decided to do a little speculating in mine as to what Rey's training under Luke might look like in Episode VIII. This being a work of fan fiction, all characters and related terms are copyright their respective owners, etc.

On with the show...

On an unnamed planet far from the traffic of interplanetary travel, in the ruins of the first Jedi Temple, Luke Skywalker sat contemplating the next task he must set his apprentice Rey. For several months he had shown her the ways of the Force, teaching her everything Obi-wan Kenobi and Yoda had taught him and many things besides. She had strength to match that of any Jedi Luke had known, but strength without training could not save her from Ben – Luke refused to think of him as Kylo Ren, refused to believe that the light had gone out in his nephew completely – and Supreme Leader Snoke. Out in the farther reaches of the galaxy, Luke could sense Snoke pushing Ben to grow in the strength of the dark side. So he must also push Rey to grow in the Force, albeit with a different strategy. Whereas Snoke would manipulate and coerce, Luke had learned that the greatest way to train a Jedi was through honesty. Though he valued the teaching Yoda and Obi-wan had given, he still found himself angered by their half-truths and sidestepping that had kept the truth from him for so long – that Darth Vader had been his father, that the call of the dark side was as strong in his family as that of the light, that he had a sister, Leia. His openness might have contributed to Ben’s falling to the dark side, but Luke could not make himself regret telling Ben about his grandfather’s true story.

In the lower courtyard, Rey balanced R2-D2 and several large rocks with the Force, keeping them in orbit around her like a tiny human sun. One of the boulders wavered in its course and Luke resisted the urge to reach out and touch Rey’s mind to see what was troubling her. He knew that she would come to him in time, as she had done to begin her training.

Luke pushed aside the anger that had stirred at the thought of secrecy and focused on the hope that Rey represented. She could bring balance to the Force as Luke and his father had done. She could right the wrongs Ben Solo and Snoke had wrought since the fall of Luke’s Jedi academy – if Luke’s training did not fail her as it had Ben Solo.

Unbidden, the image of his students slain by their former classmate, their lifeless and broken bodies almost drowned by the falling rain, pierced Luke’s thoughts and shattered his concentration. The boulders Rey had been balancing crashed to the ground, but R2 was luckier and fell gently. Luke took several minutes to regain balance in his own mind. Whether the image of Ben’s treachery had sprung from Luke’s own fears or from some outside source – Luke briefly pondered the possibility of Snoke having tracked his location before dismissing it as idle worry – Luke could not allow his fear of that day and the possibility of its repetition in Rey and Ben cloud his thinking. Balance the Force seeks, as Yoda might have said. Balance in the universe, and balance within ourselves. Fear and hope working together to create a better perspective that might lead to the best outcome for all. His fear of losing his father and the hope that there was still good in the man who had once been Anakin Skywalker had blended in Luke’s final confrontation with Emperor Palpatine – and though his father had also died that day, he had died in the light side of the Force, saved from the darkness that had plagued him for so long. Though Luke had seen his father’s Force ghost on Endor after the Emperor’s death, he had not seen it since. He was grateful for the memory, though, to counteract the image of Darth Vader that had haunted him on Dagobah.

The cave on Dagobah had confronted Luke with his own deepest fear and now, just as Luke had faced the shadow of his father so many years ago, now his apprentice must face her own darkest fears.

“Something troubles you, master,” said Rey.

Luke opened his eyes and turned to face her. She still wore the fatigues of her home on Jakku. Though she had grown strong in the Force and the ways of the Jedi, Rey remained the scavenger she’d had to become to survive. That independent spirit – and the longing for community that it brought with it – would serve her well.

“Old memories,” he told her, pushing the sight of Darth Vader surrounded by the swampy caves from his mind. In the Force vision he had faced himself and his father – mirror images of each other. What would Rey see in her vision?

“I must put you to another test,” he said. “Are you ready?”

“Is this about the boulders? I only dropped them because –”

“Because you sensed my own uneasiness. The boulders are fine. When I had to balance rocks, R2 had a much rougher landing.”

The astromech droid beeped in agreement nearby.

Rey rolled her shoulders, flexing her right hand as though it ached for her staff or lightsaber. “What is the test?”

“You will see when the time comes,” Luke said. “It is different for each person. When I faced this test, I saw my father.”

He stood and turned, beckoning for Rey to follow. He led her through the ruins past faded stone walls and fallen pillars. “In the heart of the temple, the Force is strongest. There you will be shown what you need to see and how you face your vision will determine whether you succeed or not.”

“And how will I know?”

“Believe me, you will know.”

They crossed an open grassy courtyard whose mossy walls showed the faded remnants of ancient Jedi art – images whose subjects and messages Luke could not even begin to guess.

“Although you must face this test alone,” Luke continued, “know that your connection to the Force is never far. Remember that your emotions can guide you –”

“—as well as mislead me,” Rey finished. “But abandoning my emotions is as dangerous as letting them control me.”

“You’ll be fine,” Luke said, grinning through his thick gray beard. “R2 and I will be waiting when you are done.”

Rey nodded checked for her lightsaber still clipped to her belt, and entered the heart of the temple.

Although most of the temple had fallen into disrepair in the millennia since its founding, the heart of the temple remained in as good condition as could be expected of anything this old. The inside of the temple remained dark and cool. The moisture of the world’s oceans had lent the building a damp, salty smell. Little cracks in the walls and ceiling allowed fragments of light to slip inside like living grains of sand filtering through the atmosphere. Rey moved slowly away from the doorway, allowing her eyes to adjust to the darkness. She didn’t know how long the test might take, but she wanted to be prepared for whatever the Force and her master had in mind. If Master Luke had faced his father, Darth Vader, what might she have to face?

As if in response to her thoughts, a figure stepped into a tiny shaft of light. The vaguely feminine face echoed with something in Rey’s memory, but as she reached for the connection it vanished.

“Who are you?” she asked.

“Don’t you recognize me?” asked a voice that, like the face, was achingly familiar.

“Should I?”

“I should hope any daughter would recognize her mother.”

“Or father,” said another voice from behind her.

Rey turned, instinctively drawing her lightsaber but not igniting it. The man spoke with a voice like Master Luke’s but the face was clean-shaven and the form wasn’t right. If not for the voice, she’d have guess Han Solo stood in the shadows beside her.

“It isn’t every day there’s a family reunion like this one,” said an older voice. This figure stepped between the man and the woman who claimed to be Rey’s parents. He was tall and thin with a beard like Master Luke’s, though his was trimmed more closely.

This was her test? The memory – or dream – of the family that had abandoned her? The family she’d never known. It couldn’t be that simple.

“Nothing in life is simple,” said a voice she recognized immediately. Rey spun back toward the older man, igniting her lightsaber and holding its blue blade toward the newest addition to her vision.

Kylo Ren.

Ben Solo.

The student who had betrayed Master Luke and killed the other Jedi padawans. The man who had killed Han Solo, his own father. The servant of Supreme Leader Snoke and the man who wanted to lead her to the dark side.

This was more like it.

“There’s no need for that here, Rey,” said the vision of Kylo Ren.

Rey noted that this version of Kylo Ren did not wear a mask or – as far as her growing night vision could tell – a lightsaber. Even so, she knew him to be capable of powerful things through the Force. Finn and Poe Dameron had even seen Kylo Ren stop a blaster bolt in midair. Rey didn’t trust even a Force vision of Kylo Ren to be totally unarmed.

“We’re all family here, Rey. And your legacy is ours.”

Light filled the ancient temple, but Rey did not flinch from it. Kylo Ren, Master Luke, General Leia Organa, Han Solo, the old man, and the strangely familiar masked form of Darth Vader surrounded her. Another figure emerged from the shadows of the temple’s farthest corners. This one wore a mask like Darth Vader and Kylo Ren, but was of a size and shape with Rey. It held a long lightsaber handle in its right hand, and Rey thought the blade – or blades – emitted by that lightsaber must be at least as long as her staff from Jakku. When the figure had reached the circle of “family,” it stepped between Darth Vader and Kylo Ren, paused for a moment like the final link in a chain, and then with an almost palpable effort entered the inner circle to stand within arm’s reach of Rey. Rey held her lightsaber at the ready, willing to strike down this newcomer at the slightest indication of harm.

“Whether Solo, Skywalker, or Kenobi, you will find that we all have darkness inside us,” said the masked figure, its voice only slightly distorted by the mask and its attached apparatus. Rey’s mind whirled with outrage and confusion and fear and denial as the newcomer reached a gloved left hand up to unstrap the mask and reveal a face not so different from Rey’s. This version of her had aged, been in battle, perhaps lost a few more fights than she’d expected to, but it was undeniably Rey.

“That is the secret you must accept, and that no one else will,” said the older Rey. “No matter who you are, or where you come from, the darkness is always waiting just outside your vision. It will be there when you decide to come home.”

Rey eased her lightsaber’s blade toward the older Rey’s neck. “It will be waiting forever.”

In a moment, the light and the figures had vanished, and Rey stood alone in the heart of the temple, her lightsaber casting a pale blue glow on her face.

Rey deactivated her lightsaber and backed toward the door. Her heart swelled with so many emotions she wasn’t certain she could find the calm Master Luke insisted she have before any of their lessons began. As she reached the doorway, she turned and blinked at the bright sunset outside. She had passed the day in the heart of the temple.

As her vision cleared, she saw Luke and R2-D2 standing not far from where she had left the Jedi Master. Luke gazed at Rey, pride and concern wrinkling his face like that of a grandfather watching a small child learn the first step in a long and dangerous task.

“It’s time,” he said, opening his arms to embrace her. “Now our hope is renewed.”

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