THE JEDI OF OZ Scribbler's note:

There's a bit from more than the first movie on one side, and from more than the movie musical on the other. And more than a bit is changed to make a good tale - don't expect Skywalker to be related to anyone else, for instance (excepting perhaps his aunt and uncle back on Tatooine!)

Chapter One : The Storm

"Aunt Beru!" The lanky, tow-headed youngster leapt out of the battered landspeeder. "You wouldn't believe all the excitement at the power station today! There's a ship that just came in, and...!"

"Luke!" The woman pursed her lips. "You know I don't like you hanging around those older boys. That's just a whole bunch of trouble-makers that loll about that power station all day."

"I don't think it's the older boys we have to worry about, if you get my drift." Luke's uncle came out of the house, wiping his hands on a bit of rag. He winked at the boy, his face crinkling in a smile. "The boy's fourteen already, and growing so fast you can see it happen just standing there and watching. Seems to me he tries to meander out by that power station whenever the Scott's eldest is there. Cassie, is that the young'uns name?"

The boy blushed, but it didn't keep back his news. "There were two Imperial Storm Troopers there, looking for something. They were going through all the sale records at the general store, too. When I saw they were looking funny at Artoo I kinda slid down over the ridge then I drove as fast as I could all the way back here!"

"Pweet weebop!" agreed the little droid, popping upright in the passenger seat of the landspeeder.

Lars Owen turned serious, quickly. "Trouble with the Imperials we don't need. We got enough to deal with keeping the farm going and a roof over our heads."

"I told you that dealing with Jawas would lead to something like this. That artoo is probably stolen. But no, Lars, you needed to score yourself a bargain!"

"Hush, Beru. We don't know that droid is any cause of trouble."

"And he's a real good worker, Aunt Beru. He's paid for himself a hundred times already," the boy chimed in.

"Well, I don't want you hanging around that power station any more, you hear? I want you to stick close to home for the next few days, Luke."

"All right," the boy said. "It isn't the same since Biggs left, anyhow."

His aunt and uncle shared a glance. Luke's friend had left for the Academy just this last year. Luke, too, had often expressed his dream of becoming a space pilot. It just wasn't all that likely to come true for a farm boy from Tatooine.

"Well, finish those evaporators as quick as you can then come inside," Lars Owen said. He frowned at something only he could see. "I don't like the look of that sky."

"Hand me that number ten hydro...oh, thanks, Artoo." Luke took the tool, pushed at a stubborn bolt, backed off and gave it a whack with the back of the spanner. Suddenly the bolt gave, and in a moment green lights began to speckle the diagnostic panel of the balky evaporator.

"We'll have this one mounted and running again before dinner," the boy grinned. "I don't know how I got along without you before, Artoo."

"Wee-oop," the droid said cheerfully.

"Come on." The boy jumped to his feet. "Let's get this mounted out in the south forty, then we can catch the sunset before we clean up."

"Poo-wheep!" the droid agreed enthusiastically.

The twin suns of Tatooine were low on the horizon by the time they finished. Luke mopped his forehead with a sleeve and leaned back against the landspeeder. Artoo made a low trilling like a scrap of tune from an old harmonica.

The hard-packed, arid ground and the sloping mesa on the horizon were no longer a monotonous sameness in dusty beige and sand, but were being painted by the fading sky in swathes of violet and purple. Heat lingered in the desert floor but the air was already starting to chill. The boy turned up the collar on his loose tunic as the evening breeze began to kick up.

"I wonder how Biggs is doing," the boy said. "There's a whole universe out there I've never seen, and I'm beginning to think maybe I never will."

"Pweet?"

"And what's your story, Artoo? You're an astromech droid. You belong on a space ship, not grubbing in a moisture farm. I wonder where those Jawas found you. Maybe some captain down on his luck had to sell you off. Or maybe you were stolen."

"Blooo-whi," the droid said cryptically.

"Hmm." The boy turned back to the sunset. "You know, Artoo," he said softly, "Sometimes I wonder if somewhere out there is a place where the Imperium doesn't go. A place where Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen didn't have to worry so much all the time, and where I could get to be the pilot I've always dreamed of being."

"Tooo?"

"I know," the boy laughed softly. A gust of wind plucked at his tunic, shook the blond hair across his forehead. "I guess it couldn't be the kind of place you could buy a ticket to. Much less get to in a scrap heap like this old landspeeder."

The boy squinted against the growing breeze, staring at the setting suns as if to unlock their secrets. "As long as we're dreaming, Artoo, how about a place where everything is green, not all dry and dusty? And the people are happy all day long. Do you think there could ever be such a place?"

"Too-whit!"

"You're right," the boy said. "It's getting dark. And I wouldn't bet there isn't a storm in the air. Come on, Artoo; let's get home."

"Luke?"

"Right here, Uncle Owen!" Luke ran lightly up the stairs to the main room. Then skidded to a stop as he saw the company.

"This is Mir Gul'ach," Lars Owen said, no expression in his voice or eyes. The man was like a dried-up stick inside the dark Imperial uniform. His narrow lips creased in an unctuous smile.

"I'm afraid we're going to have to turn over that new artoo," the farmer said. "Could you get down to the shed and fetch it up here, Luke?"

"But why?" Luke couldn't keep it from bursting out. It hurt, deeper than he might have imagined. Already he and the droid were more than a team. Artoo was like the pet he'd never had. Maybe more.

"Oh, it does no harm to explain," Mir Gul'ach said. His voice held only a false warmth; it was clear he enjoyed his duty far more than he should have. "The An Suc Ran, one of our newest light cruisers, is on a mercy mission to find a missing ship. It seems that one of their droids may have managed to find an escape pod and land in the wastes not far from here, although it was unfortunately picked up not long after."

"Picked up?" Luke echoed, one foot still on the stairs.

"Jawas. Vile little creatures." The Imperial sniffed. "We hope the droid will lead us back to Lord...to the missing ship."

"And what makes you think Artoo is the droid you're looking for?"

"I don't." The Imperial made a wiping-the-hands gesture. "Orders are orders, though. You bought a droid off the sandcrawler in question. It is a pity Jawas don't keep detailed sales records. Not that it would help now, in any case."

"Go, Luke." Uncle Owen gestured. "Let's not trouble this officer any more."

Luke went, reluctantly. He couldn't help noticing how the Imperial didn't watch him go. As if I'm not worthy of his continued attention, the boy thought.

Artoo was plugged into the power center near the center of the vehicle shed. As Luke approached the droid unhooked himself and came up on his treads with an inquiring beep. Luke had to detour around the rounded fender of the landspeeder to reach the droid.

"Artoo," he said. "I'm sorry. You're going to have to go away."

"Too-wheet?"

"It isn't any fault of yours!" Luke said angrily. "It's those blasted Imperials again. Why, if it wasn't that..."

He was so close to the landspeeder he could put a hand on the fender. He did. His voice changed. "Get in, Artoo," the boy said.

I can't just turn over Artoo, the boy thought as he turned the landspeeder in the tight confines of the shed. I don't want to get Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru in trouble. If it's Artoo they want, though, they should follow us and leave them alone.

He tapped the control to open the door then hit the accelerator. The landspeeder nosed through the opening door, the edge of the door knocking Artoo back into the seat.

"Careful there, little guy!" Luke laughed, the nervous energy bubbling over. They rocketed around the corner of the house. Luke saw the white blocky shapes of two Imperial Stormtroopers in full battle armor turning as he shot past.

"He's got the droid!" one of them shouted in an amplified voice. "Stop him!"

Luke punched in everything the landspeeder had. It shot forward, drivers howling, dust spraying behind them. "Yeee-ha!" Luke shouted. He couldn't help it.

"We'll head North until we can duck into the Palisades," Luke shouted back to Artoo against the wind roar. "We could hide for years among those rocks." He straightened the landspeeder and their speed picked up rapidly.

"Pweee-aa!" Artoo trilled.

It was not quite fifteen minutes when Luke felt something coming up behind. He turned. Sure enough, there were two gray specs in the desert behind them. The specs grew larger as he watched. He could hear the whine of higher-pitched engines as they closed in on him.

In a shocking suddenness they were on either side of him, flying in close formation. Two speeder bikes, high-power engines whining. The white-armored Stormtrooper to his right cocked his thumb down in an unmistakable gesture.

They're not even worried enough to pull their guns out, Luke thought bitterly. He kicked in the air brakes then twisted in a violent turn.

It took only a moment for the speeder-bikes to match him again. The Stormtrooper on the right gestured angrily.

Maybe it's a bad idea to anger them, Luke thought with a shiver. Suddenly, with two large and fully armed men right there it didn't feel so much like a game. Luke found himself wondering what had happened to the Jawas they'd questioned earlier.

He kicked the landspeeder into another turn, letting it skid like a flat stone before shoving down the accelerator again. This time it took the Stormtroopers longer to catch up with him. But not long enough. The landspeeder was no match for their bikes, and the shelter of the Palisades was still twenty minutes away.

One speeder pulled in front of him. Luke had only a moment to think. He yanked back and the landspeeder reared. Suddenly the flat bottom of the chassis was presented to the air stream and it shot up into the air, losing speed rapidly.

The other speeder-bike swerved by with a shouted curse from the Stormtrooper riding it. Then Luke was in the air and fighting to bring the landspeeder's nose down as it flopped through the air like a falling leaf. The ground-effect drivers had no effect up this high, and the landspeeder made a lousy glider.

The boy clenched his teeth, fighting at the primitive controls with everything he had. The drivers whined desperately as they bit into the ground too fast, at a shallow angle. I've got to hold it just another moment, Luke thought. I've almost got...

The blaster bolt tore the rear of the landspeeder away. The engine blew up suddenly and Artoo hurled out of his seat with a shocked "Aoorrrr!"

Luke slammed into dash and fell back across the seat, stunned, as the landspeeder hit and skidded. It slewed to a broken stop in a great cloud and a spray of broken parts, and Luke fell out onto the dirt. In the sudden hush he could feel the dry dirt against his face, and a trickle of blood, and smell burning plasteel and the ozone of damaged electronics.

A shadow moved across him. One of the Stormtroopers, heavy and menacing in his enclosed helmet and blocky armor. Above him was a larger shadow. Dust kicked into the sky under the vibration of heavy lifters as an Imperial Light Cruiser came slowly down towards the ground to make sure of its catch.

"We have the droid," he heard someone say.

"Take the boy, too," said another voice. Then unconsciousness closed over him.

His head hurt. His head hurt a lot. Even breathing made it hurt more, and the pain made him want to throw up.

It was never like that in the stories. The hero would always come to in his cell and immediately jumped to his feet to begin his escape plans.

Luke looked briefly around, constrained a bit by the way he was holding his head in both hands. They had wasted a lot of perfectly good metal in making the cell walls. A maddened Wookie wouldn't be able to bust out. A maddened Wookie in an exoskeleton wouldn't be able to bust out.

No convenient over-sized ventilator openings offered themselves, either, much less sleepy guards with dangling code-keys. Just solid metal walls and a door with all the electronics on the wrong side.

If there was access to the electronics, and if Artoo was here, he might see about picking it. If the Imperials didn't detect and stop him, of course.

Artoo. Where had they taken Artoo? What were they doing to him?

And suddenly Luke understood one truth of the stories. His friend was in danger. And beside that the pain in his head was unimportant.

Luke had felt the great engines of the light cruiser operating, and he guessed they were out in the far reaches of the Tatooine system. Looking for the missing Imperial ship, no doubt. He'd heard that other ships had vanished in the Tatooine system over the years. Most recently, a yacht from Alderaan rumored to be carrying one of their royal family.

"So what's this Imperial ship they are so hot to find now? Must be somebody pretty important on that ship." Mir Gul'ach had been about to say the name of some lord. And his expression had been interesting; as if he was as much in fear of this person as he was interested in doing his duty by finding them.

"Not that that's so unusual in the Imperium," Luke said bitterly. "It didn't used to be like this, back in the old days of the Republic. But the Imperials like spreading fear about. They make us fear them, and they fear each other even more."

A faltering note in the great throb of the engines. "What was that?" the boy wondered. A long moment, then the song of the engines took on a new urgency. Luke could actually feel the change in vector as they attempted a radical change in course.

The pull strengthened, and Luke found himself sliding along the smooth metal bunk. "Ow! Man!" he cried as he fetched up against the wall hard enough to jar his aching head into new agonies.

The engines had taken on a pronounced laboring tone. It was if they were fighting to escape the pull of something, like some great tractor beam. But what could toss around a light cruiser like this? Luke wondered.

The engines faltered again. Then stopped dead. Luke glanced around for one shocked moment before the engines came back up, their sound now strained and sour.

Sparks ran down one wall. The lighting tubes exploded, showering the protective enclosure with particles and plunging the tiny cell into darkness. The ship shuddered with a brutal shock, then another.

The cell door slid open a crack. "The electronics must have shorted out!" Luke jumped up and ran. The door slid closed with vicious force. He eyed it warily. It opened again. He stuck an arm through. Then he yanked his arm back; just in time, as the door snapped closed hard enough to set the walls to vibrating.

The door whined open again, barely a third of the way.

And Luke leapt! Before he had even thought it through he hurled his body through the narrow gap. The door snapped shut again just behind him; this time, apparently, for good.

There was no-one in the main bay of the detention center. In fact, the free-standing guard's booth and the multiple barred doors were gone, along with a big chunk of the bulkhead. Most of the lights were out and electronics smoldered in a smoky mess.

Luke ran, jumping over a jagged pile of debris. He slid between the wreckage of the last set of bars and ducked under a fallen raceway. Sirens were going in this part of the ship, and he could hear boots clattering on steel ahead.

"Hey! Hey, you!" He heard behind him. He kept running.

The ship shuddered again. It threw Luke off his feet and he slid across into the other wall of the corridor. Then a blaster bolt sprayed red metal not a meter from where he was sitting. One of the Imperials had been less shaken than the boy by that last surge. Or was a really lucky shot.

Luke scrambled madly on elbows and knees even as another blaster shot ripped into the floor behind him. He shoved his palms against the deck plates, kept driving with his legs, managed somehow to end up on his feet and still running in the right direction...and another jolt threw him to the floor again.

It was a nightmare. Luke rolled desperately over and over, feeling the heat of blaster fire on his face and expecting at any second to feel his own flesh scorching. He was at a crack in the structure of the ship before he saw it. "Yow...!" he cried as he fell right through the deck.

The boy fell several times his own length into the corridor running below. Just before he would have hit the deck plates the light cruiser jumped under him and swatted him with one of the walls instead. Luke gasped in pain...then crashed into the floor.

Someone screamed not far away. A man's voice was shouting hoarse orders. A whining sound from the engines meant they wouldn't be serving the ship for very much longer.

"Artoo!" Luke cried. He jumped to his feet again and set off at a run. It was obvious, now; whatever had swallowed those other ships was about to take this one as well.

"The hanger deck!" Luke realized. There should be a brace of escape craft there. And Artoo, if he was free to move, would have headed that way as well.

He had only the vaguest plan of the light cruiser in his head, but heading down and towards the sound of the engines should work for him.

An Imperial in a fancy uniform appeared in front of the boy. "Why," the Imperial cried, "How dare you...oof!"

Luke hit him in the stomach with both fists and kept going. A soldier with the officer dove for a tackle but he misjudged his timing; Luke jumped high and let the man strike floor instead. A hand snatched at his ankle as he passed but didn't get a good hold.

He made a quick turn. Slid under a closing blast door. Then another turn. Ahead, a brace of heavy canisters held by just one weakening chain threatened his passage. Luke covered his head with both arms and kept running.

"There's that boy! Stop him!" Blaster bolts came from behind him. Luke threw himself sideways, turning back to see a whole squad of Stormtroopers clattering up the corridor behind him.

He took three steps back and kicked squarely at the weakened chain. The canisters spilled out into the corridor, most of them rolling in the direction of the Stormtroopers. Luke hopped over one himself and kept going. Behind him were curses and cries and a great clattering of falling armor.

The boy couldn't help a grin. But then a door was in his way. "Hanger Bay 1-b," he read. "Just what I needed." He knelt to study the complicated lock.

"Pwee-too!"

"You said it!" Luke shook his head in chagrin. "It would take us both over twenty minutes to...Artoo! You made it!"

The ship groaned. It had done with shuddering and shaking; either it had fought free, or it had not. Either way it was content to coast. The engines quit in a shocking silence. Then all the lights went out.

"Pweet!" A light flared from the little droid, and focused on an access-way.

"Artoo, the hanger deck is this way." The droid made an insistent sound. "You think we should go that way instead?" The droid took off rolling. "Hey, wait up!"

In just moments there were at the round hatch of an escape pod. "Trust the expert," Luke said wryly.

Boy and droid crammed into the tiny spherical space. The moment the hatch sealed Luke flipped up the protective cover and fired the thruster charge. The pod ripped itself free of the damaged Imperial craft and slid into the dark.

The pod hit hard. Of course, they had been designed to hit hard. Luke found the handle with numb hands and shoved. A puff of foul atmosphere vented and the cool clean air outside came wafting in.

Luke lifted the droid out, first, lowering it as far as he could. Then he turned around and crawled out the hatch himself.

About them was forest. Green forest, massive forest, as far as the eye could see.

"Pweet?"

"You said it, little guy." The boy ran a hand through his sweat-soaked hair, and looked around at the new world in wonderment. "Artoo, I've a feeling we're not on Tatooine any more."

Converted with HTML Markup 3.0