Some candid advice for future despots in my home galaxy: if you’re going to blow up a planet, make it a dump nobody cares about. Don’t go after nice planets like Alderaan.
(Bear with me, I’m being sarcastic. I trust that my readers aren’t quite that evil.)
So, yes, a short time before the start of the Clone Wars, I got to go to Alderaan. Like my trip to Naboo, it was one of the better highlights of my padawan years. And I met more of the people you may have heard about. Well, not that you care about Bail and Breha Organa, but my master thought highly of them, and I had to agree.
The occasion was that Queen Breha wanted to hold a meeting for the people of her planet to discuss maintaining the peace while the Separatist crisis “escalated” in the galaxy. Her husband, acting as both Senator and Viceroy of his planet, invited the Jedi Council to send someone to give advice to his people and tell them what the Jedi felt about the state of the galaxy. In fact, he met with Master Nish and I at the Senate building on Coruscant so we could set off together. We went in our Republic transport, and he flew close by in his own vessel (I couldn’t tell you if it was the Tantive IV or not). He was a very nice man, and had a pleasant demeanor.
We landed at the Royal Palace in Alderaan’s capital. I had a great view of the mountains surrounding the city as we flew in for a landing--there are few mountains, even on Earth, that I have seen so beautiful, high and cold and draped with snow almost to their feet.
When we disembarked from our transport, the Queen came out to meet us. She was dressed in a gown of gray and blue that was cut in pretty layers and her hair was pulled back in a simple hairstyle. The Senator introduced us, and the Queen invited us into the palace for a quick luncheon.
We ate in a small room on the upper levels that had a view of the city and mountains. The table was square and seated four. Two servants dressed in white and pale gray waited on us. The Queen and the Senator mostly talked to Master Nish about their concerns about the growing violence and tensions in the galaxy--the Separatists were just barely becoming a movement at the time. During their conversation, of course, our hosts were kind enough to ask me about my training and my work with Master Nish.
“This is actually my first time out of the Temple for a while,” I said, eating a piece of the fried poultry with my hands (the grown-ups were eating with cutlery but they didn’t fault me). “Master Nish feels that I need to be more familiar with how the Force works before we spend more time out and about.”
“I dare say with all of the bustle in the galaxy these days you like to stay home as much as possible,” said Bail kindly to my master.
“Indeed, Senator,” said Phish. “If things get any worse, we might not be around there much anymore. So I want to train my padawan on the things that matter while I still can.”
“I don’t mind going out and doing stuff,” I said, munching on my salad. “I like seeing other parts of the galaxy, when I get the chance.”
“Yzil, please do not eat with your mouth full,” my master chided me.
Breha smiled at me kindly and glanced at Phish. “Now really, Master Jedi, do you need to be so quick to rebuke your apprentice?”
“Well, she’s already embarrassed herself once before royalty.”
“Yes, well she doesn’t need to hear about it right now,” said Bail.
I wanted to thank the good senator for sticking up for me, but my mouth was even more full and I didn’t want to spew my food on the table.
“Such a curious, happy child,” Breha observed. “Tell me, young one, your master worries much about the state of the galaxy, but do you?”
I waited a moment so I could chew. And then I swallowed. “Should I be, Your Highness? I’m more worried that if a war happens that my master’s hair will turn completely white from the stress.”
Our hosts both laughed quietly. Phish smiled at me and nodded slowly. “Yes, a war could do that.”
“But I’m not scared for the future now, Your Highness. My master taught me to focus on what the Force is telling me in the moment. Other people who worry about the future never get much done in the present, he says. Isn’t that right, Master?”
“It is indeed,” said Master Nish. “But of course it is always expedient to make preparations for what might certainly come. Which brings us to the business at hand.” Master Nish discussed the upcoming meeting with the Senator and the Queen while I finished my dinner. But as we were finishing, the servants came to take our plates, and then they brought a dessert--Alderaanian cheese and sliced fruit with a sort of cookie on the bottom.
Master Nish tried to tell the servers not to give any to him or me, but Bail kindly intervened. “She’s never tried our cheese before, has she?”
The fruit was very sweet and juicy and had to be eaten with a fork. But the cheese--oh, I mentioned this earlier, but hear me out: the cheese was savory enough to counterbalance the fruit. It was soft and kind of a flavor between mozzarella and cheddar--probably more like colby jack--but it also had a little bit of a spice in it. The cookie wasn’t very sweet and slightly hard, though mine was softened by the juices from the sliced fruit. The Senator ate his still-dry cookie with a bit of the cheese on it and I wished I had saved some of my cheese for that purpose. The whole thing was delicious.
Master Nish grudgingly watched me eat it slowly, savoring every bite. When I was done and the server took our dessert plates, he said, “All right, that’s enough, Yzil. It’s time to go to the summit. Senator, I assume we have transport to Parliament?”
“Right this way, Master Jedi,” said Bail, rising. “Breha, are you coming?”
“I will be arriving later, dearest,” said Breha, dabbing her lips with her napkin. “I have a small household matter to take care of.”
“Very well.” Master Nish stood up, but Breha remained in her seat. Bail leaned over and kissed her forehead tenderly. Through the Force, I had a glimpse of their feelings for each other--kindness, respect, a common interest in the welfare of their people and the galaxy and...sorrow? They were sad about something. I couldn’t help let my mouth drop a little as Bail walked away, letting his hand run through his wife’s.
“Yzil, come along!” Said Master Nish. He and the Senator were already standing in the doorway.
“Oh, yes, Master,” I said, rising hastily. “Thanks so much for the meal, Your Highness,” I told the Queen in passing, giving her a quick bow.
“Our pleasure, dear,” said the Queen.
Senator Organa and my master had already started down the hallway and I had to run a little to catch up. When I made it, however, my master was waiting with a rebuke.
“Shouldn’t you know better than to be using the Force to pry into people’s private feelings?”
“Forgive me, Master, I couldn’t help it. I only slipped for just a moment. I wasn’t prying!”
“Is anything the matter, Mater Nish?” Said the senator.
“Just a small issue of discipline, your excellency,” said Phish. He looked down at me sternly and gave me a warning telepathically. Their problems are none of your business, Yzil.
None of my business, Master? But do you know what they are?
He wasn’t going to tell me.
Bail Organa was a simple man, and he also took pleasure in driving his own transports. There was a speeder waiting for us at the end of a dock attached to the palace. The guard watching over it saluted, and the Senator thanked him and got into the driver’s seat. Master Nish took the middle and I took the side.
There wasn’t time for what Bail called a “proper tour” of the capital city, but I saw enough to please me. The capital of Alderaan was prosperous but not ostentatious. The architecture was sleek and metallic with most of the synthstone buildings ending in tall spires, clashing (in my opinion) with the majestic mountains behind. The speeders like the one we were driving in as well as other transports we flew past were utilitarian and comely but not overdecorated.
As we got closer to the Parliament building, the Senator took us down to the street level so we could have a look at the people. The humans of Alderaan were simple in taste, not pompous and grandiose like the Naboo. Most of the men wore simple tunics layered in shades of dark red and gray. The women wore gowns of either gray or white, not terribly revealing or tight compared to fashion worn elsewhere. The womenfolk of Alderaan shunned more elaborate hairstyles for simple buns and braids. Veils and capes were also a common wardrobe staple. Closer to the streets the buildings had a little more color. A few of the residences had plant boxes outside the windows, and women would lean out or go outside to water them. Alderaanian folk also liked to hang flags outside of their doors with emblems representing their families.
Master Nish was nearly humming with pleasure. You see, Yzil? he said telepathically, these are the kinds of people you should look up to.
Well, they weren’t that interesting to look at, but whatever.
The Parliament building was a domed edifice in the center of town with pillars on the sides. People were already gathered outside of the entrances when we arrived. A security guard arrived to take the senator’s speeder when he pulled up on the steps. We got out, and Bail nodded and exchanged greetings with the people close by as he led us forward. At the doors we were met by two of his aides, and we went inside with them.
The interior of the parliament had halls and chambers that nearly all had vaulted ceilings, and they echoed loudly, even when people were speaking quietly. The meeting was scheduled to be held in the central hall beneath the dome. Most of the seats for the planet’s delegates were on the floor, arranged like desks in a school, only bigger. On a dais at the front of the room was a long table with seats for the more prominent members of the assembly, officials known as Regents, and in the center a royal banner hung over the seat reserved for the queen. Senator Organa took his chair to the right of this, and he invited my master to sit next to him. I stood behind Phish. There was also a rostrum on the side of the dais for speakers to talk from. A few people were in the central hall, talking or in their seats waiting for the meeting to start. A few people came up to greet Bail, and he introduced my master and I. As the time grew closer for the meeting to begin, more people entered the central hall and took their seats. At the appointed time, when the hall was filled to near-capacity, two servants with trumpets entered and played a fanfare. Queen Breha entered, followed by her security and the Regents. The people she passed closest to bowed in respect. Bail remained standing with us, and we bowed to her as well and waited to take our seats until the queen herself was seated.
The Speaker of the Assembly opened the meeting, and then the Queen went to the podium to speak to the assembled parliament about her desire that life on Alderaan would continue as normally as possible if violence erupted elsewhere in the galaxy. She did not openly encourage her people to openly join the fighting but, if war began, to make efforts that would contribute to restoring peace in the galaxy and if necessary to defend their homeworld. Her remarks concluded, and the MPs gave her a respectful applause.
The next to speak was a female delegate who read a list of resolutions for maintaining security and peace on Alderaan in the event of a galactic crisis. The response to this from the MPs was more resounding.
Senator Organa, speaking as viceroy of his planet, came to the podium to address his people. He spoke very lovingly of his wife, the Queen, and encouraged his people to support her. Then he spoke of his recent firsthand observations of the Galactic Senate. He mentioned how different parties were clamoring to take arms against the separatists or to create oppressive sanctions against them. The laws of the galaxy, he said, were being changed to suit the interests of the few and privileged and increasingly oppressed the poor and the middle-class. But then Bail mentioned that he and a group of senators were working to defeat any resolutions supporting war or promoting violence. One of the colleagues he mentioned was Padme Amidala of Naboo, who had recently stepped down as queen and had begun to serve in the senate. Queen Amidala’s fame was known here on Alderaan, and the mention of her name generated a healthy applause--Master Nish caught me clapping, too, but then he glanced over his shoulder to give me a look. The situation, Bail Organa concluded, was not hopeless, and that with the support of his people here on Alderaan he would continue to work for their best interests and to encourage the use of diplomacy and negotiation to resolve the growing tension in the galaxy.
The senator sat down, and then the speaker went to the podium to open and moderate a discussion about galactic affairs. He recognized my master and I and invited us to speak. Master Nish, of course, urged me telepathically to keep silent and observe.
Bail Organa, of course, asked my master to share his thoughts on the state of the galaxy. Master Nish remained in his seat but addressed the assembled parliament. He remarked on the growing anger and discontent of different groups of people across the galaxy. There was a lot of resentment, he noted, towards how the Republic and the Senate was failing to see to the needs of the people. The Jedi were under increasing demand from the Senate to keep these tensions in check, but there were more problems in the galaxy than there were qualified Jedi to solve them.
My master continued, the Separatist movement was not at that point so much a desire to break away and form a different government but to protest the current system. The question was not whether or not the individual systems could see to their own affairs but whether the galaxy needed any sort of government to provide order. The Republic was flawed, of course, but it allowed for stability in the galaxy and under more ideal circumstances would give each system a voice. Hopefully, Phish said, people would soon remember this and realize that there were better ways to deal with the galaxy’s problems than by going to war over them. He warned, furthermore, that for every action that the Senate took to curb the crisis, the Separatists would have a response. Before too long, mobilizing for war would seem like the most attractive recourse. The well-being of everyone in the galaxy, he concluded, depended on a balance between a firm government for the galaxy and economic and political freedoms for the inhabitants.
The MPs had listened attentively during my master’s remarks. He didn’t mention the Force so much as his feelings and only gave a few specific examples to illustrate his comments. After he finished, he nodded. The audience members murmured assent. Then the Speaker of the house asked the Regents for their opinions about the different events in the galaxy and how they would possibly resolved. Most of the comments expressed a fairly negative outlook with how things were going. Either there would be a war, or there would be a stalemate with the Separatists that could make commerce and government within the Republic more difficult. Unpleasant as it was to say aloud, most people thought war was the most likely path. Senator Organa was asked more than once about how he and his coalition within the Senate could possibly block a military creation act. He spoke for a few minutes about getting votes and trying to build relations with indecisive senators but didn’t bore us much on that topic.
One of the Regents asked the Senator if he thought the Supreme Chancellor supported creating a military and going to war.
“Well, he certainly supports creating a military, that much is certain,” said Bail. “Whether or not war does break out, I think he and some of his closest associates feel that a military would be able to protect the Republic in whatever circumstances. He is very understanding, though, towards those of us in the Senate who do not support a military, standing or active. But the Senate would never let him create an army on a whim no matter how much support he had for the measure. They’d tie his hands first thing in order to hammer out the details to their preferences. And they would not allow him to declare a war, either, if it came to that. At the moment, there is far too much debate on the issue. They would drag it out the moment he made any suggestions. I think he’ll do what he thinks he has to. He doesn’t want to go to war unless absolutely necessary, but it is his personal interest to protect the galaxy, and he will do what he must to accomplish that.” He looked over at my master. “Master Jedi, what is it you think?”
“I cannot say I know the Chancellor well enough to know his mind,” said Phish. “I prefer not to mingle with...less principled politicians, with all due respect to the Chancellor, of course--”
A few chuckles broke out on the floor. Bail laughed quietly.
“It is a pity I do not see more of you, Master Nish.”
“But, anyway,” said my master, recovering, “I think the Chancellor wishes that there was more he could do to stop the crisis. But he is willing to cooperate with whatever the Senate decides.”
The Speaker motioned for one of the members of the parliament to speak.
“I have a question for the honorable Jedi Master,” said the MP, speaking into a sound amplifier attached to his desk. “Some might consider this question unorthodox, but is it really necessary to coerce the Separatist systems to remain in the Republic? Do they not have the right to leave it in the first place? I thought a planet’s membership in the Republic was voluntary.”
There was some muttering across the room at this statement.
Master Nish cleared his throat. “The Jedi Council is in agreement with the Supreme Chancellor that if the Republic becomes divided, then it would lead to more conflict, not less. A single government in the galaxy is the most efficient way to promote commerce and trade and safeguard interests. With multiple factions in the galaxy, there is less opportunity for understanding and more excuse for conflict. More importantly, the Separatists have little incentive to coexist peacefully alongside the Republic, if they create their own government. The leader of the Separatists, Count Dooku, is not encouraging his followers to support dialogue with the Republic.”
Someone else gave a question. “Is it true that Count Dooku was once a Jedi?”
Master Nish squirmed in his seat a little. “Yes, indeed. However, he voluntarily renounced the Order about ten years ago or so. For the record, I did know him personally before then, and I never liked him. Do not ask me for reasons. I simply didn’t. Mr. Speaker, if you would kindly not allow any more questions about the Jedi Order or Count Dooku’s former association with us.”
The Speaker nodded. The room was buzzing with chatter now.
The rest of the discussion during the Q&A session focused on safeguarding Alderaan’s trade vessels and spaceports. One female MP close to the very end asked about discouraging weapons and violence on Alderaan in wartime, to which the Queen gave a very moving response. Afterward, the Speaker called the meeting to a close, and the MPs rose to their feet to give an ovation. My master and I and the others standing on the Regents board rose with the Queen and Senator to thank them for their participation. The Queen led the other regents from behind the table to greet the MPs. Master Nish and I were standing close behind the Queen near the edge of the dais. My master was talking to the Speaker, but I was listening to Queen Breha talking to a female colleague of hers, an MP who was on a number of important committees. However, the Queen asked this woman about her family, and the woman answered her with a laugh and told her they were doing well, the children were growing up so quickly. Breha nodded gently and told her friend to give the family love from her and Bail.
After saying goodbye to this friend, the Speaker informed the Queen that it was time for her to exit. She called Bail to her side and they prepared to leave the central hall together--but before they did, she asked Phish and I if we would like to come back to the palace for a state dinner. My master was barely able to accept the invitation before the trumpets sounded again and the Queen and the Senator made their exit. Master Nish and I headed the procession that followed them. Bail and Breha returned to their separate transports, with Nish and I accompanying the Senator. A sizeable crowd had gathered on the streets, and security personnel on speeders had to clear the roads for Senator Organa and those following him to the palace, but they were content to cheer us on from the sidelines. Just happy, well-dressed, patriotic people. I couldn’t help waving back to a few of them.
The state dinner was not due to start until a couple of hours after we returned to the palace. One of Bail’s servants showed Nish and I to a room in one of the towers where we could meditate and rest before the next event. Once we were alone, however, I confronted my master.
“You never told me you knew Dooku,” I said to him.
He looked down at me. “Was there any reason I should have?”
Making me question why I wanted to learn certain information was his way of shutting me off, but I persisted.
“How did you know him?”
He gave a short sigh and glanced out the window. “He was Qui-gon Jinn’s master,” Nish said, with a note of emotion in his voice that I didn’t quite understand. “But my own master didn’t like him very well. And I never liked him either.” He looked at me. We both sat down on the couches in the tower room.
“Why didn’t you like Count Dooku?” I asked him.
“He was not what I or my master thought a proper Jedi should be. Dooku advocated seeking for power, using the Force in ways the Council didn’t agree with--even studying ways he could tap into the Dark Side. And he was...a political zealot, not impartial the way a Jedi should be, but actively seeking to involve himself in galactic affairs, meddle with...people who didn’t support the Republic. That was why he left the Jedi Order. He didn’t think the Order was doing any good, just negotiating through everything. He felt like he could do more good for the galaxy elsewhere--well, he’s certainly doing more these days. But don’t ask me about that again, Yzil.”
“Yes, Master.” Phish Nish wasn’t close to Dooku the way he’d been close to Qui-gon, and he’d loathed the man simply because he was so different from the other Jedi. In fact he hadn’t been too surprised when Dooku had renounced the Order. But Dooku had always made him feel, well, for lack of a better word, uncomfortable. Even when just thinking about him.
My master and I did not communicate again while we remained in that room. We each meditated on different matters. Master Nish was wondering about the state of the galaxy and if Alderaan would survive the turmoil everywhere else.
I started out thinking about the meeting we had just attended at Alderaan’s parliament. My thoughts were drawn towards Bail and Breha Organa, not so much by the Force but by my own fancies. They were so good to me. Such kind people. They were the rulers of a happy, prosperous planet. Their subjects loved them. They had everything.
But I couldn’t help thinking about that sad, tender caress that the Senator had given his wife after our luncheon. Why were they sad? It wasn’t a sadness that consumed them, but one that tugged at the fringes of their lives filled with service to their people and to the Republic.
Then I remembered Breha talking to the friend of hers after the meeting. She had inquired after the friend’s children.
That was when it hit me: they had no children.
I mean, I had already noticed--if you had asked me, I would’ve told you they didn’t have any kids, and I wouldn’t have thought anything of it, lots of couples don’t have children and often voluntarily so. But the Organas--they wanted children. They wanted to raise a family of their own. But for some reason, and perhaps not for lack of trying, they had not been able to produce biological offspring. But in the meantime, they were extremely kind to other children in their acquaintance, most of them in the families of their political associates.
So that’s why they’re so nice to me, I realized. I suddenly felt guilty about accepting their generosity earlier in the day.
But one thing I’d learned from Master Nish on a different occasion is that a person’s ability or desire to reproduce is not anyone else’s business. So I wasn’t going to say anything to him about it. Or to our kind and gracious hosts, no matter how badly I wanted to tell them I felt sorry for them. A Jedi must always show restraint.
Master Nish and I went to the state dinner. We sat on the far side of the dining table from our hosts, but I didn’t mind. The Senator and the Queen were the center of sociality--looking at them, you would never be able to tell that they suffered personal heartache. They just continued serving others. My master noticed me observing this, and he approved.
Although Senator Organa offered to arrange lodgings for Phish and I so we could stay longer, my master wanted us to return to the Jedi temple. So at the end of the night, we said farewell to the Senator and the Queen. We bowed to them as was customary, but then the Queen had the generosity to hug me suddenly. I just laughed. I thanked her profusely for her kindness. Master Nish shook his head and told me to get on board with him. Bail took his wife by the arm as I waved goodbye to them and ran up the gangplank. They watched us departing, and in my mind’s eye I can still see them there, to this day.
I expected my master to tell me off for thinking too highly of them, letting myself get attached, even. But he didn’t say anything. I was getting to that age where I could figure out for myself the futility of all attachments. But there was a part of my heart where I kept my feelings for the people I cared about. It was a good place to put this visit to Alderaan.
Bail and Breha were such good people. They didn’t deserve their fate.