One of the most significant events between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens is the birth of Han and Leia’s son Ben. In this exclusive excerpt from Empire’s End, the final installment in Chuck Wendig’s Star Wars: Aftermath trilogy, it turns out Lando’s been a bit too busy to pay much attention to his old friends or their babies.
The Aftermath novels have been chronicling the continued fall of the Empire and rise of the New Republic following the Emperor’s death. While they primarily follow a small group of rebels who hunt for missing Imperial officers (and occasionally Han Solo, when he goes missing), each book checks in with characters all over the galaxy; in Empire’s End, due out February 21, that includes Lando. In this excerpt, he recollects how he took back Cloud City, but also has the best idea for a baby gift in any galaxy.
First, here’s the official synopsis of the book:
EVERY END IS A NEW BEGINNING.
As the final showdown between the New Republic and the Empire draws near, all eyes turn to a once-isolated planet: Jakku.
The Battle of Endor shattered the Empire, scattering its remaining forces across the galaxy. But the months following the Rebellion’s victory have not been easy. The fledgling New Republic has suffered a devastating attack from the Imperial remnant, forcing the new democracy to escalate their hunt for the hidden enemy.
For her role in the deadly ambush, Grand Admiral Rae Sloane is the most wanted Imperial war criminal—and one-time rebel pilot Norra Wexley, back in service at Leia’s urgent request, is leading the hunt. But more than just loyalty to the New Republic drives Norra forward: Her husband was turned into a murderous pawn in Sloane’s assassination plot, and now she wants vengeance as much as justice.
But Sloane, too, is on a furious quest: pursuing the treacherous Gallius Rax to the barren planet Jakku. As the true mastermind behind the Empire’s devastating attack, Rax has led the Empire to its defining moment. The cunning strategist has gathered the powerful remnants of the Empire’s war machine, preparing to execute the late Emperor Palpatine’s final plan. As the Imperial fleet orbits Jakku, an armada of Republic fighters closes in to finish what began at Endor. Norra and her crew soar into the heart of an apocalyptic clash that will leave land and sky alike scorched. And the future of the galaxy will finally be decided.
And here’s the excerpt. We hope Lando actually got baby Ben the gift. Or maybe that’s what turned him to the Dark Side?
“Lobot, we’re home.” Lando lifts a dubious eyebrow as he looks around, exasperated. “Guess the Empire didn’t keep up with housekeeping.”
This is the Casino level. Game machines line the smooth blue alactite floors far as the eye can see. Sabacc tables, too. And pazaak. And jubilee wheels. Along the far wall are banks of holoprojectors meant to show the latest swoop race down on the track-tubes piped through Bespin’s toxic Red Zone atmosphere. Once, this was a shining pillar of gambling excess: classy and bright with light coming in through windows looking out over the sun-kissed clouds. Now it’s wrecked. Trash drifts and tumbles. Machines have been turned over, their credits cut from inside like food from a beast’s belly. The windows are covered over with metal. The holoprojectors are dark. Lobot steps up alongside Lando. The computer forming a half-moon around the back of the man’s bald head blinks and pulses, and at Lando’s wrist is a communication from his friend and cohort:
I’ll look into rehiring staff immediately.
“Do that,” Lando says. Then he thrusts up a finger. “Ah. But make sure we’re hiring some refugees, will you?” The galaxy’s like a cup that’s been knocked over, and now everything’s spilling out. Whole worlds have been displaced by the war. Lando can’t let Cloud City turn from being a city of luxury to being a tent city of expats and evacuees, but he can damn sure give those people jobs. That’s his favorite kind of arrangement: the kind where everybody gets something for their trouble. They win. He wins. The ideal for how everything should work.
Cloud City was always that, for Calrissian. It was a respite—a refuge from the Empire while at the same time not existing to spite the Empire, either. He thought, Hey, everybody can be happy, baby. The Empire didn’t have to care. The rebels didn’t need to care. Cloud City could hang in the air above Bespin, separate from all the chaos, from all the strife. Come here, taste a little luxury. Meanwhile, he could mine the Tibanna gas, sell it to whatever starship manufacturer wanted it (the stuff was perfect for making hyperdrives, because with Tibanna, a little went a long way). Meanwhile, Lando could sit back, have a drink, roll some dice, find a lady or three.
Yeah. It didn’t work out that way.
He knows now: In a war like this one, you don’t get to be in the middle. You can’t play both sides. He’d lived his whole life shooting right down the middle, never taking up a cause except the one meant to support his own empty pockets. Those days are over and so is his love of sweet neutrality. When Vader came here, everything changed. He lost Han, for a time. He lost Lobot and Cloud City. He lost nearly everything.
But he gained a little perspective.
And he picked a damn side. Because sometimes, you want to win, you gotta bet big. You gotta put your stack of chits in one place.
It paid off. The Empire is gone. And now he’s a hero of the Rebellion (and oh, you can be sure he used that to con more than his fair share of free drinks, not to mention the attention of beautiful admirers). But all he wants is his city back. After Endor, he thought he would just be able to sweep in here like a handsome king retaking his throne in the sky—but then that son-of-a-slug Governor Adelhard formed the Iron Blockade. He kept the people here trapped not only by a well-organized Imperial remnant, but also by a grand lie: that Palpatine was not dead. And Lando knows that old shriveled cenobite is dead—because he’s the one who took out the Death Star’s reactor core. And because Luke said the monster was dead. Can you believe it? Palpatine and Vader. Both gone. Two scourges, scoured from the galaxy.
Suddenly he had a second war to fight. Here he thought the Empire was done for and Cloud City was once again his. What an eager fool. Nothing’s ever that simple, is it? It took months and months. He had to stage an uprising. Had to interface with Lobot on the inside. Had to cash in favors with a handful of scoundrels—like Kars Tal-Korla, that pirate. All because the New Republic wouldn’t commit a military action to retaking the city. He respects it, he understands it, and Leia put it best when she said, “The Rebellion was easy, Lando. Governing’s harder.” The chancellor was just trying to hold on to whatever advantage she had—and then with the Liberation Day attack on Chandrila . . .
Well. All that is over and done. No need to dwell.
Cloud City is his once again. Lando starved out Adelhard. Most of the Imperials surrendered. It’s over. Thank the lucky stars.
He steps forward into the Casino level, and he and Lobot aren’t alone. He’s got a ragtag force with him: some of his Wing Guard security forces, but some New Republic soldiers, too. It’s just enough to perform cleanup on those who linger behind, clinging to the illusion they can still win this thing.
Together they march forward through the wreckage of the Casino level. He asks Lobot: “The holdouts are ahead?”
Yes. In the Bolo Tanga room.
“Fine, fine, let’s get this over with and evict our final tenants.”
As they walk, Lobot looks over at him as a new communication flashes across his wrist: I am told to remind you that the princess will soon give birth and you have not yet procured for them the standard natal gift.
“What? That’s impossible. She was just—I swear they just got married—didn’t I just get them a nuptial gift?”
It has been the proper biological time. You just do not realize how much time has passed. We have been busy.
“So have they, I guess.”
Also, you never got them a nuptial gift.
He sighs. “Okay, okay. Buying gifts for a kid. Can we get him a cute little cape and a mustache so he looks like old Uncle Lando?”
Lobot doesn’t respond, offering only a humorless stare.
“Fine, fine, I’ll think about it.” His mind drifts briefly to Han and Leia. Han, one of his oldest and greatest friends. And sure, one of his greatest rivals, too. He misses that old reprobate. The crazy times they had!
Good times even when they were bad. And now, Han is with Leia. Hoo, boy. Those two are a pair of rocket boosters firing full-bore. Lando just hopes those two engines are both firing in the same direction—because if they’re ever pointed at each other, they’ll burn each other up.
That, from Lobot. Ahead waits the door to the Bolo Tanga room. Lando can see it’s been sealed with mag-alloy. He turns to Captain Gladstone of the Wing Guard. “We got imaging?”
Gladstone nods. “They’re holed up in there. They’ve broken through to the beam outtake shaft, which in theory would lead them to the engineering sublayer—”
“But the fumes coming up through the shaft will kill them if they try.”
“That’s exactly it, Baron Administrator.”
“So they’re trapped.”
“Like crete-bugs in a beetle-bag.”
“All right, let’s open it up.”
From the book STAR WARS: AFTERMATH: EMPIRE’S END by Chuck Wendig. Copyright © 2017 by Lucasfilm Ltd. Reprinted by arrangement with Del Rey Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.