Superman Returns by John Ottman
Listen while you read.
I left Earth once.
I was sixteen years old, home alone, watching Return of the Jedi. It was dusk, and I knew I would have the house to myself again, a medium-sized house in the middle of a mountain pass surrounded by nothing but forest and brush, all half dead and dried-out. I spent most of my hours alone in the Family Room, marathoning movies like Aliens and Star Wars until I’d had the entire series memorized.
This night felt different. My attention was split between the television screen (Luke, Leia, and Han entering the Sanctuary Moon of Endor’s atmosphere) and the red sun sinking behind the mountainous terrain outside my window. A blanket of star-studded black inked out the red sky. Luke and Han were being held hostage by the Ewoks. I felt a wave of yearning like little pinpricks across my skin. How I wanted so much to be apart of something else, to live in a different world and time, to travel beyond the mountains and the moon and the stars.
I blinked my attention back on the screen. Threepio just assisted in the release of Han and Luke’s capture, and Leia came out greeting them both. Blink—the sky was fully black with only half of the moon reflecting a soft silver light. If I wanted, I could go there. But I would have to do it now. This was my only chance.
I took a deep breath, looked back at the television screen, Luke and Leia were just discovering each other’s familial relationship, and I blinked hard.
I kept my eyes shut. A warm breeze floated by and the sound of night animals echoed in the distance. It smelled like pine and rich green lush, damp, with a hint of earth.
I opened my eyes. I was surrounded by trees, their tops disappearing in the darkness above. Distant stars glittered faintly through the thick foliage at the top, and the animal sounds became more distinct. They were the creatures called Ewoks, their tribal calls echoing throughout the jungle of giant tree trunks.
I shivered slightly, despite the warm air. I glanced down. My clothes had changed. I wore only a crude leather skirt and top, two pieces that barely covered me, and I wore sandals made of simple flatwood and string. The entire outfit looked to be more Ewokish than human, but big enough to be fitted onto me.
Why was I here?
Oh yes! I remembered. I was sent down to Endor by my father, the Emperor. I was on a secret mission, that’s right! To make certain that Vader did not betray my father and join Luke Skywalker in a revolt. I had to make sure that Vader took Skywalker to the Death Star and that he was brought before my father, so that, in the end, Skywalker and my father could negotiate a way of peace and end the war between the Empire and the Rebel Alliance. I knew that Luke was Vader’s son and so did my father. If Luke could be persuaded, the rest of the Alliance would follow.
Of course, I knew the truth. I knew the Emperor wanted Luke to join the Dark Side of the Force and that my “father” was evil. But I was here now. I had to play along, otherwise they would all discover I didn’t belong.
I heard footsteps suddenly, off to my right and further down a bit. It was Luke Skywalker, fully dressed in a black jumpsuit, lightsaber hanging by his side. He was moving towards the direction of the Imperial shield generator.
I couldn’t believe it! It was really him!
I moved to follow, quickly in order to catch up. I only made it a few steps before Luke whirled on me, his right gloved hand trying hard not to rip at his lightsaber. He was, after all, preparing to surrender to the Imperial forces.
Surprise washed over his sullen face, his blue eyes glistening in the dark. “Who are you?” he demanded.
I paused. Who was I, after all? I had to think up a name fast. Lee, Chris, Lilliya (no, that’s another story!) Christalee!
“I am Christalee,” I said. I was elated. I couldn’t believe this was really happening. It took all my willpower to keep myself from springing around in some sort of wild ecstasy. Focus, Christalee, or else Luke will become suspicious and I will lose this chance! “I am with the Ewok tribe,” I lied, grimacing at my pathetic excuse. I should have rehearsed something before… “I followed you here because I overheard that you were going to the shield generator—to turn yourself in.”
“That is true,” he said, cautiously. But he said no more, starring at me in bewilderment, probably wondering why he hadn’t sensed me following him.
“You shouldn’t go.” What?! Of course he should.
“I don’t know you,” he said, coming a step closer. “But I think it would be best if you returned to the village.”
“If you’re going to the generator, I’m coming with. You’ll need someone at your back,” I said.
His mouth twitched into a wry smile. “Thank you for your concern, Christalee,” he said, shaking his head. “But what I’m doing must be done alone. Go back to the village. It’s safer there.”
He turned and continued steadily towards the shield generator. I followed (and I couldn’t believe that I was following!).
Luke stopped and turned around. “I’m very serious,” he said. “Please go back to the village. I won’t be able to protect you.”
“I’m not the one needing protection,” I said. “The Empire killed my family, Luke. I have nothing left. My decision here is my own and if I choose to follow you, so that I might have a purpose in life, to face the dangers with you, to fight next to you, that is my choice.” As the words tumbled from my mouth, I was astounded. My lie was getting better and better!
Luke stood there, struggling to argue back, but the expression on his face said that he felt pity. There was nothing he could argue against what I said, because he was that person too.
“I don’t know why you want to do this,” Luke said. “But I guess I can’t stop you. Remember, I won’t be able to protect you.” With that, his face fell sad, and he turned to continue towards the generator.
And I followed. I followed Luke Skywalker, the man with the green lightsaber. My adventure was beginning.
It all happened so quickly. Once we reached the perimeter, we were surrounded by Imperial troops. They shackled Luke and me, taking us into the base. There, Vader stormed in with his usual stride. I felt his surprise when he looked upon me (that’s right! I now had the Force). He recognized me and ultimately knew I was there to watch him. He gestured for the stormtroopers to take me into the shuttle, leaving himself and Luke alone for a minute.
As I sat inside the shuttle waiting, I could sense Luke’s struggle to convince his father to turn good again. The writhing battle of emotions: anger, sadness, and a strange hint of betrayal, all came at me in one blow. I choked, a wave of dizziness coming over me, and I fought back the urge to cry. I had to figure this Force stuff out fast before it overwhelmed me; it obviously took me by surprise that I had any connection at all.
But of course I did! I was the daughter of the Emperor, genetically engineered to be the strongest human in the Force. I had been bred in a tube, injected with midichlorians every growth cycle. I was one of many, but the only human to have developed successfully. All the others were terminated.
Soon, Luke joined me in the shuttle, Vader following a few minutes later. We took off for the Death Star.
Luke didn’t speak the whole trip. But I knew what he was thinking: that this was either the end or the beginning, that he might be on his way to die, that he would fail and the Alliance would fail…that this girl next to him might die too.
When we reached the moon-sized space station, Luke and I were separated. However, my experience was quite different. Everyone recognized me and stiffened noticeably when I walked by. I pulled an android aside to escort me to my quarters (because I had no idea my way around this station!) The android took me without question. (It’s all here, it’s all real!)
As soon as I changed into something more regal, a shimmery red gown, the material fitting around my sixteen year-old body in a way more appropriate for adults, I made my way to the Throne Room. I knew Luke and Vader would be there already, and I had no trouble finding this place. I reached out for Luke and found him. I also caught a glimpse of my so-called “father.” My skin crawled at the vast darkness I sensed in him. It was as if there was a deep, black hole in which something with teeth lurked, and if I got too close, it would grab me and drag me down to eat me.
I arrived at the Throne Room.
“Ah, my child,” the Emperor said, his voice drawing a shiver up my back. “Join us. We were just discussing the future of the galaxy.”
I made my way up the black, metal stairs, glancing at Vader who did not acknowledge me, glancing at Luke, whose eyes were full of accusation and shock as he stared me down, and then I finally dared to meet the Emperor’s burning gaze.
He smiled. Not a nice smile. It was full of evil and contempt, power and murderous desire. Pale light glinted off his rotten teeth. I repressed a shudder.
I stood by the left of my father’s chair. Vader was on the right. He hated me. I could sense it. Luke almost hated me too. It occurred to me that my father wanted this, so that I could assist in the turning of Luke to the dark side.
Luke gave me one more disdainful look before turning back to the viewport. Out in space, the battle was raging between Imperial and Alliance ships.
“…now witness the firepower of this fully armed and operational battle station!” I heard my father say.
And then it started. A few more taunts and Luke was ripping his lightsaber off the Emperor’s chair, swinging. I cried out, No!, before I even realized it. And Vader interjected his red blade to block Luke’s green one.
They fought. The Emperor laughed. I stood helpless. There was an uncontrollable urge to run out there and stop them, father and son, from cutting each other down. Then Luke yielded, briefly, flying up to one of the higher-up walkways. Vader let loose his blade, vibrant red slicing neatly through black metal, sparks flying, and Luke’s platform crashed with him on it.
I moved forward instinctually, but the Emperor grabbed my wrist—knobby, cold fingers wrapping like an iron shackle.
“Wait, my child,” he murmured, his voice like a whispery husk.
I could feel Luke’s fear and pain and hopelessness. He was failing. And I couldn’t help him. And then a sudden rage built up from beneath the Throne Room’s floor where Luke was hiding and Vader was hunting. The rage was followed by a scream so strong it cut through the air as hot as a laser from a lightsaber: the word Never!
And then Vader was being overthrown by Luke wildly swinging his saber in every direction. One blow after another blow. Until Vader fell to his side against one of the bottomless shaft’s rail guards. Another blow, swing, crash, slice—Luke sheared through Vader’s right hand, it and the red lightsaber disappearing down the shaft. Luke pointed the tip of his green blade beneath Vader’s mask.
The Emperor laughed. “Good,” he said. “Good.”
Then something happened. Luke stopped, looked at his right hand, then disengaged his lightsaber. “I’ll never turn to the dark side,” he said. “You failed, Your Highness. I am a Jedi. Like my father before me.”
Silence. I watched my father carefully, who had moved ever so slightly down the metal stairs towards Skywalker. But he was perfectly still. And I felt it—what was coming. An unstoppable wave, dark and suffocating. I knew that if Luke didn’t join my father, he was to be killed.
“So be it,” the Emperor said. “Jedi.”
“No!” I screamed out, flying forward to intersect the arcs of lightning that shot out from my father’s fingers.
I crashed right into Luke, knocking us both down in writhing electrical spasms.
The Emperor’s golden, burning gaze stared at me in horror. Then anger. Then a strange mix of serenity and control reflected in his eyes. “My child,” he said. “You too, then, shall die.”
Luke and I lay there waiting for the coming blow. It came all too quickly, the flesh burning under the arcs of electricity. We couldn’t help but cry out in response. Seconds passed like hours, it seemed, and death couldn’t be any slower. The Emperor would stop and start and stop again just to torture us with words of victory.
And all Vader did was watch. But through all the painful spasms, lightning licking at my limbs, crawling up my skull and injecting my eye sockets with fiery needles, I could sense in Vader his own torment. His sudden sense of doubt.
I thought I heard Luke scream out Father!, but I couldn’t be sure. I was deaf from the pounding in my head. So I yelled out, “Vader! Do something!” My teeth clamped back down together in another violent wave of convulsions.
Suddenly, I heard a new voice join the screaming, an old man’s scream, and the burning ceased. I looked up and saw Vader carrying the Emperor—my father—towards the shaft. Lightning crackled down my father and into Vader. And then he released, throwing my father down the shaft, screaming all the way. A few seconds later, a blue energy erupted from the hole of the shaft. Vader collapsed. And my father, the Emperor, was dead.
Luke was next to me, watching too. He glanced at me, gasping for breath, and then forced himself up to cradle his own father, the father he never knew, and would never know. I watched, stunned, my skin smoking. It smelled like charred meat and metal.
After what seemed like the longest minutes of our lives, we were able to get to our feet, sling Vader’s arms about our shoulders and carry him to a shuttle. The Death Star was about to explode, the evacuate sirens were blaring. Luke and I collapsed at the shuttle’s lip. I ran inside to start up the engines. I don’t know how I knew, but things were starting to just come to me, as if I’d known all along. By the time the engines were warm enough to take off, Vader had died and Luke was dragging his father’s corpse onto the ship.
Metal beams and platforms were crashing all around the shuttle as it slowly lifted off the floor. A fireball followed closely behind us as we left the landing bay. Luke and I both gasped in relief. The Death Star exploded in a glittering firework frenzy behind us. And we rode the trip back down to the Sanctuary Moon of Endor in silence.
—TO BE CONTINUED IN PART 2—