Walking the Razor’s Edge – The Staff Revisits Infinities

The Infinities series of comics, recently highlighted here by Alexander Gaultier, was basically Star Wars’ version of Marvel’s infamous series What If? Each of the miniseries started with one of the Original Trilogy films, then changed one key moment to see what would happen. The end results were…varied, in this writer’s opinion, but the mere concept of deliberately altering movie continuity was unheard of before then, and it’s a premise that still holds, as Alexander said, unlimited possibilities.

Unfortunately, a few months back, writer Peter David revealed what I’d long suspected—that the series weren’t really as “unlimited” as it seemed. David was originally approached to write Infinities: A New Hope, but his idea was rejected for being “too dark” The story, according to Lucasfilm, still had to end with the good guys winning.

This makes a tiny bit of sense when viewed through Star Wars’ mythological lens; it was foretold that the Force would return to balance somehow, so to go against that would contradict somewhat the very premise of the overall film saga. Nevertheless, why bother with Infinities at all if you’re not willing to screw with things? On its face, the original trilogy is a nonstop razor’s edge, where the slightest tweak at almost any time could have brought ruin to the main characters and the galaxy at large. Giving too many alternate paths to ultimate victory, I believe, does a disservice to Luke, Han and Leia’s struggles—and even the role of the Force itself in the proceedings unfolding as they did.

In honor of the Infinities concept (and in the wake of the strongest sign yet that the Expanded Universe as we know it may soon become Infinities itself), I asked the others to share a “what if” of their own—and explore the fallout as they see it. Naturally, the earlier in the trilogy you change something the bigger the ripples become, so I thought it’d be interesting to present our picks in reverse-chronological order, starting with the Battle of Endor and reaching all the way back to the little ol’ Tantive IV

Lucas: I’m pretty sure I’ve found the culprit for the Empire’s loss at the Battle of Endor, and ultimately its defeat: Lieutenant Renz. Renz, for those of you not paying attention to the names Decipher assigned movie extras in its customizable card game, is the officer who captures Han, Leia, Chewie, and their team in the Endor bunker. The “You Rebel scum!” guy. Renz catches the Rebel scum, though, so how is he responsible for the Empire’s defeat? Through one crucial mistake.

After Renz captures the Rebels, he takes them outside.

The Rebel commando team was caught inside the Imperial base. We don’t see much of it, but from the movies and Expanded Universe both, it’s clear that it’s a fairly big base underground. The bunker is just the back door. Surely there is a brig somewhere inside the base where Renz could hold them. It’s the logical move. Going outside doesn’t make sense. Where exactly is he going? You could theorize that either Renz is marching them overland to the landing pad to send these important prisoners up to the Death Star, or he’s panicking a little on finding Rebels in the heart of the shield generator, and is just getting them out of the base and the hell away from the sensitive equipment until he finds out how extensive the threat is. But the base has to have access to the landing pad through the elevators we see built in without going outside, and without knowing if the Rebels have allies outside, he can’t be sure that it’s safe to march them out.

And, of course, the Rebels do have allies outside: the Ewoks. And the Ewoks attack, freeing the Rebel prisoners and creating a chaotic melee that ultimately allows the Rebels to snag an AT-ST, get Renz to open the otherwise impenetrable bunker, and blow up the shield generator. You know where it goes from there.

If Renz had been a little smarter, though, a little less arrogant, and marched his prisoners inside to the brig, none of that happens. The Ewoks’ spears and slings might be good enough to ambush Imperials in the underbrush, but there’s no way the Ewoks can storm that bunker and get through the blast doors. If Han can’t hotwire the door, Paploo sure can’t. With the Ewoks helpless outside and Han and Leia’s team locked up, the shield generator is safe and the Death Star’s shields don’t go down.

If the Death Star’s shields stay up, the Rebel fleet is screwed. Lando and Wedge can’t get in to blow up the Death Star. So the fleet, tangling with the Star Destroyers at close range, would continue to take heavy casualties until . . . what? Either they’re destroyed, or eventually they concede that Han has failed and, much reduced, they attempt to flee. Which is complicated by several factors. One is that they’re tangled up with the Imperial fleet and can’t maneuver to disengage easily. Another is that if they do achieve separation for a run into hyperspace, they open themselves back up to the Death Star’s superlaser for however long they’re in the clear. A third is that, per the Expanded Universe, we know that there was a ring of interdictors pinning the fleet in realspace; the fleet would have had to punch all the way through the interdiction ring to escape. Add all that up, and even if the Rebel fleet could survive, it would have taken horrifying losses. Most of the Rebellion’s military strength would be gone, and likely much of its leadership, especially if Home One doesn’t survive. The back of the Rebellion would be broken. Palpatine’s trap would work.

Speaking of Palpatine, it’s true that none of these events would necessarily influence Luke’s redemption of Vader and defeat of Palpatine. There’s a chance that despair at the Rebellion’s utter annihilation drives him to the dark side, but it’s likelier that he’s better than that, and for this scenario, we’ll give him full credit. But even with Palpatine and Vader dead, what good does it do if the Rebellion has been defeated? With no one around to form a New Republic, and without the military chaos caused by the Endor fleet’s defeat, the likelihood that the Empire crumbles is far lower. The power struggles we see in the Expanded Universe may happen, but on a smaller scale, and without the New Republic exploiting them, the Empire would likely come out of any upheavals with a firm hold on the galaxy. The forces of good might recover, but not right away, and with the moment lost, the defeat of the Empire, if it happened, would be much delayed.

Plus, we have to consider that Luke’s escape from the Death Star was significantly aided by the fact that it was in the process of being blown up. Without panic and chaos reigning on the Death Star, Luke’s chances of getting off the Death Star go down; it’s possible he could be killed or captured in this scenario. Even if he escapes, he’s just one Jedi in a galaxy without a functioning Rebel Alliance. Even with Palpatine and Vader’s deaths, this is a bleak scenario, very unlike the heroic triumph of the film. The galaxy remains in a very dark place, if not even darker than at the start of the movie.

And it’s all because Lieutenant Renz made one dumb decision.

Alexander: When you think about The Empire Strikes Back, there’s usually one scene that comes to mind ahead of all others. You know what I’m talking about. The big moment. The shocking reveal. The quote that will live on for a hundred years. The “No. I am your father.” Widely (and rightfully) considered to be one of the greatest twists in cinematic (and fictional) history, and the phrase that elevated the franchise from something memorable to something legendary. Luke didn’t take the revelation quite as well as audiences and critics did, however, and we all know how it turned out after Luke rejected his not-as-dead-as-previously-thought father’s offer to join forces to overthrow the Emperor, but very rarely do we ask ourselves the question: what if he hadn’t? What if he had said yes instead?

While likely a greater risk than any reasonable filmmaker would be willing to accept, it’s not such a far-fetched thought if you look at it solely from an in-universe perspective. Everything Luke had been told about his father up until then was a lie, from his point of view, and Yoda’s Jedi training was clearly not producing the kind of results he’d been hoping for. The rebels had just been dealt a serious blow on Hoth, his friends had fallen into enemy hands, and here he was getting a job offer from the second-most powerful man in the galaxy (also, again, his long-lost father, making it the most awkward family reunion ever), along with a pitch to off his boss. Even if you discount the whole “certain death if you refuse” thing, that’s got to be a tempting offer.

Had he accepted, we’d obviously be looking at a dramatically different course for future films and the Expanded Universe. Rather than becoming the rebellion’s salvation, Luke would probably have to take their destruction upon himself to prove his loyalty to his new masters. His knowledge of classified rebel information and strategy would make him an invaluable asset to the Empire, especially if his defection was kept secret (at least temporarily). He’d be caught in a tug-of-war between Vader and the Emperor, each seeking to replace the other half in their dark side dyarchy: the Emperor tempting him with offers to take his father’s place, Vader training and preparing him for their coming coup attempt.

Without Luke to play the key role in his rescue plan, Han might still be hanging as a decoration in Jabba’s living room and Lando would be promoted to permanent pilot of the Millennium Falcon. Yoda and Obi-Wan would have to fall back on the “other,” in hopes of correcting their error with the brother with the aid of the sister (image how awkward that conversation would be), which would all be very Troy Denning of them, albeit likely much better written. Taking up the lightsaber, Leia would be charged with the daunting task of single-handedly bringing down the most powerful Sith in history: and given the grudge she held over Alderaan, and without Luke’s determination to see his father redeemed, her methods would likely fall more in line with what her new masters originally intended – the elimination of Vader, the Emperor, and now Luke, by any means necessary.

Just from this single point of divergence, the number of long-term possibilities that open up are nearly limitless. Does Vader overthrow the Emperor and establish a reigning Skywalker dynasty, or is Palpatine able to sway Luke to his side and turn him into a replacement for his father? If Vader has his way, does the Empire fracture into warring factions due to the loss of the spider at the heart of its galaxy-spanning web? How badly would the rebellion be hurt by Luke’s fall to the dark side, and how would they recover from the blow of losing one of their greatest heroes to the enemy? Is Leia forced to slay her own brother, or is he ultimately redeemed? Not only is this a change that would radically alter the course of events that we’ve all become so familiar with, but also the very nature of the story itself – from a redemptive tale to the fall of another hero, Luke Skywalker following in his father’s footsteps rather than forging his own path. It may be a story that will never be told, but despite its nonexistence, it remains a fascinating concept to consider.

Ben: First, you must read the title in the style of Hollywood voiceover kings Don LaFontaine or Hal Douglas:

It Was A World Without Lando

How on earth might such a terrifying prospect come to bleak fruition? Easy – by the simplest of methods! The Millennium Falcon’s hyperdrive never conks out in the Empire Strikes Back! Yes, this time, Han and Chewie’s repairs work, the hyperdrive works – with a singular devastating consequence – no Lando. Oh Lando’s still there on Bespin, but without the hyperdrive failing, there’s no reason for Solo to head there, indeed with the hyperdrive working they don’t end up stranded at all.

From this perhaps insignificant technical triumph, the consequences ripple outward. Luke still goes to Dagobah, but does he have any need to leave his training prematurely? As without his friends being on Bespin, there is no trap for Vader to set. Nor does Vader get to drop his revelatory bombshell on his son, following his saber victory. Without going to Bespin, Han is not carbonited either.

But, one thing remains clear – the Empire would have still built the second Death Star and the Endor trap remain. Without Lando – what happens there? Remember it is not Admiral Ackbar that ensures the survival of the Rebel fleet against the Death Star superlaser by using the Imperial Fleet itself as a shield! Take away Lando and who’d be mad enough to come up with that idea at all?

The picture only gets worse: As the fleet is systematically massacred, the pressure on Luke to go to the dark side as the only way to win goes up and up and up. What happens when he has been forced to watch the death and destruction of the entire fleet? What is Luke’s response to seeing the Rebellion he has fought die? What happens when he feels his sister die? Either in the battle or the likely Imperial bombardment of Endor. Will Han even be on Endor or will he be legging it from bounty hunters, including one unconsumed Boba Fett?

Intellectual exercises like this can be fun chains of what-if scenarios. They can also draw attention to how carefully constructed the original plots are and the surprising delicacy they have. Something as insignificant as a working hyperdrive tips over the entire structure of Empire Strikes Back and, with Lando’s absence, has major ramifications for Return of the Jedi. Narratives can be quite delicate houses of cards and all it takes to send them tumbling is removing a piece or two, in exactly the wrong spot. It’s an often invoked claim by fans that of course, they could do better! The answer suggested by the results of this little scenario is that that is pure bluster!

Mike: First, a little background. In 1995, the short-story anthology Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina told the story of BoShek, the so-called “rockabilly spaceman” who refers Obi-Wan to Chewbacca in A New Hope—kicking off, well, everything. In the book, it’s explained that BoShek was a pilot himself, but currently without a ship of his own; most interestingly, he had a latent touch of Force sensitivity himself, which is why Obi was drawn to him in the first place. At the end of their exchange, Ben gives BoShek a cursory warning to “beware the dark side”, and moves on.

Anyway, things move on normally from there. Han meets with Luke and Obi and agrees to take them to Alderaan. On his way out of the cantina, he’s accosted by young, feckless Greedo. Han tries to stall, but the skittish Greedo’s blood gets running, and…he shoots Han dead. He tosses the bartender a coin, apologizes for the mess, and runs off to collect the bounty from Jabba.

A short time later, Luke and Obi arrive at Docking Bay 94 to find a nervous Chewbacca still waiting for Han to return. Chewie knows Han was walking the razor’s edge with Jabba already, and is starting to sense trouble. Normally he wouldn’t leave strangers alone on the Falcon, but old Ben feels like the trustworthy sort (they actually met decades earlier in the EU, but even disregarding that, it’s clear that Obi has no qualms about revealing he’s a Jedi). Chewie tells them to cool their heels on the ship while he goes to investigate.

Around this time, BoShek is having his own troubles with the law nearby—who of course are closing in on the Falcon at the same time. Knowing their time is running short, Obi senses BoShek’s presence and decides that it’s time for more desperate measures. Breaking out his lightsaber once more, Obi rescues BoShek from his own batch of stormies, and offers to train him in exchange for getting them off the damned planet already.

Now, it’s reasonable to think that he and Luke could have piloted the Falcon themselves if they had to, but Ben hasn’t touched so much as a toaster in twenty years, and is thinking two other things besides—one, BoShek is familiar with Han and Chewie and could theoretically return the ship if all goes well, and two, it couldn’t hurt to have another Force-sensitive around (one he really did offer to train).

So that gets them off Tatooine. BoShek’s no scrub, so they still outrun the patrolling Star Destroyers, but here’s the kicker—he’s also less stubborn than Han is, and more inclined to listen to Obi-Wan, so they don’t bother chasing that lone TIE Fighter at Alderaan, and manage to escape the system before the Death Star grabs them.

Once the Falcon flees the remains of Alderaan, I think, you hit a singularity—it’s hard to see past it. But the possibilities are fascinating: you’ve got Chewbacca stranded in Mos Eisley with no ship and a murder investigation on his hands. I think it’s safe to say Greedo wouldn’t live to enjoy his bounty for very long, but after that, does Chewie consider the life debt settled, or does he go after Jabba single-handed? I don’t see how he makes it out of that, but it’d be awesome to watch.

Meanwhile, Leia’s still captive on the un-infiltrated Death Star. The last word on Leia before the Falcon‘s arrival is an “immediate” termination order, but I’ve always found it interesting that she lives long enough for Vader to reconsider. I wonder whether he wanted to keep her around anyway; her resistance to interrogation was likely a strong hint of her Force potential, and visions of apprenticeship may have been dancing in his head. Or maybe she’d be dead—who can say?

Last but not least, you’ve got Obi-Wan, the droids, his two apprentices, and potentially no clue where the Rebel base is. The easy solution here is that Artoo might have known, in which case they’d have headed straight to Yavin and the plans to defeat the Death Star would’ve proceeded normally sans Leia. Without the ticking clock of the station’s arrival (or even any idea where to find the thing) it’s possible that when the Rebels finally did take their shot, Luke wouldn’t have been trusted to fly with them just yet. Conversely, Luke (and BoShek, for that matter) might have had more time to prove his worth and could’ve been the first person to take the shot—potentially saving the lives of most of Red Squadron, meaning the Rogues would never have come to be. Another question is how the galaxy would’ve handled the Death Star’s continued existence; rebellious planets may well have begun cooperating, but we also know that Tarkin was at least considering taking the damn thing straight to Coruscant and holding the entire Empire hostage.

One final thought: say the droids really didn’t know where the Rebel base was. Without any clear idea what to do next, Obi-Wan has second thoughts about Chewie—he was clearly sympathetic to the cause, and didn’t Yoda mention working with a Chewbacca once? Hoping he still has contacts that could lead them to the Rebels, the Falcon then covertly returns to Tatooine, where the gang reconnects with Chewie just in time to lend the muscle of a Jedi Master and his two scrappy novices to the crusade against Jabba. Sounds like better odds, if you ask me.

Jay: The gunners on Devastator shoot the escape pod. Trilogy over.

2 thoughts to “Walking the Razor’s Edge – The Staff Revisits Infinities”

  1. Re: Alexander’s “Luke Takes the Job Offer” scenario:

    Forget about the ‘how’ of Obi-Wan & Yoda turning to Leia to become the last, best hope for the galaxy. Would they? Leia is an incredibly strong woman, a leader of the Rebellion, last princess of Alderaan, etc. But she’s seen her planet destroyed, and her long lost brother has turned to the dark side and joined the Empire after years of struggle together. She’s strong, but not that strong – would they be able to turn her into the weapon they turned Luke into, or would the threat of her going over to the Dark Side be too great? Would her allegiance to the ideals of the Rebellion or her love of Han Solo be enough to keep her from succumbing as well?

    To me, this is a greater “what-if” than anything else.

  2. Re: Trilogy Over

    That actually got me thinking. Presumably, Leia is interrogated and then killed after Alderaan is destroyed. The “great disturbance” causes Obi-Wan to decide it’s time to reveal himself to Luke and begin training him. Uncle Owen is furious, but there’s no stopping Luke now that his dreams of destiny are coming true.

    Possibilities: Is Han still on Tatooine, increasingly desperate for a job that gets him as far from Jabba as possible? Maybe the added days of being hunted have made him so desperate he’s willing to join a lost cause just to escape the now even greater price on his head.
    Maybe the death of Chewie in a shootout with the goons Jabba sends after Greedo finally breaks Han’s spirit and he’s forced into servitude under Jabba. The Falcon is taken from him and he becomes a mere hired gun, distant second-fiddle to Fett amongst Jabba’s bounty hunters.
    Of course, when the Empire puts out an enormous bounty on a rogue Jedi terrorist and his student, Han finally has a chance to prove himself and buy his freedom.

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