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Freedom on Endor

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So far, victory seemed to be a pretty good party.

Four years ago, Luke Skywalker had wanted to be a hero, to do his part against the Empire. He’d let the Rebellion put a medal on his chest on Yavin IV because Princess Leia Organa had told him it would do the Alliance good, and sure, he’d appreciated the adulation, and the acceptance that was part of it. But now, twenty-three years old and a Jedi Knight, he felt no particular need to be at the center of the celebrations on Endor. Seeing his friends—his family—alive and smiling, happier than he’d ever known them in some cases, felt like more than enough of a reward when he hadn’t expected to survive the day.

Luke was drinking some kind of fruity Ewok beer equivalent. He didn’t know how long it had been since he’d started; a few fires away, Lando and Chewie were telling Wedge and Nien Nunb some exaggerated story about the Kessel run and the job where they’d all met, while Han and Leia had slipped out together a while back. The party showed little sign of stopping: Ewok drummers were still playing merry tunes on their improvised helmet percussion sets and the fires still blazed brightly, and he thought that he might want to stay up to see the dawn. The first dawn of a galaxy free of the Sith in, what—a thousand years?

Yoda had told him to pass on what he had learned, and he meant to. And he knew too that while they’d won the decisive battle, the war wasn’t over yet; there was still so much to be done. But all that could wait until tomorrow.

He was considering getting more beer or more food when he felt the pressure of someone’s gaze on him; not a Force-user, just someone paying attention to him in particular, with close scrutiny but no sense of threat. Luke lifted his head and registered the man regarding him at his one o’clock: he looked about Ben’s age, burly, with a full white beard and closely-trimmed white hair. Luke recognized him vaguely; he was wearing the forest camouflage uniform, with a captain’s insignia on the collar.

Luke lifted his beaker of beer analogue to him in a friendly salute, and the man gave him a nod, standing and navigating through the party to come to stand in front of him. “This seat taken?” he asked, nodding to a tree stump across from Luke’s patch of log, and Luke smiled faintly.

“Not really,” he said. “Sit down, Captain—?”

“Rex,” the man said, sitting down and stretching his legs out in front of him. “And you’re Commander Luke Skywalker, am I right?”

Luke’s identity was well known to everyone in the Alliance, and they’d been on the Tydirium together. “That’s right.” He raised his beaker, and the man clicked his own wooden cup against it.

“To the Rebel Alliance,” he said. “And to victory.”

“To absent friends,” Luke said, thinking of the Jedi he’d seen earlier.

They both drank. Rex set his beaker down, studying him again, and Luke waited: he could tell that the other man was coming to some kind of decision. Eventually, Rex sat back slightly. “Any relation to General Anakin Skywalker?” he asked, too casual, and Luke swallowed hard.

“He was my father.” Distantly, he was glad that he was able to get the words out without any hesitation.

Rex nodded. It wasn’t exactly a common name. “I guess you didn’t know him, did you? If he died in the Purge.”

“No,” Luke said, blinking rapidly. “Not really. He—he was lost around the time that I was born.” He looked at the other man, suddenly clocking his age. “Wait a second—did you know him?”

There was an unmistakable pride in Rex’s expression. “I did, as a matter of fact. I served with my brothers in his legion in the Clone Wars, the 501st.”

The 501st. Vader’s Fist. Luke was still absorbing that information—it was so obvious, and so simple; of course no one had worked it out—when Rex leaned forward. “I knew quite a few Jedi besides your father, actually. General Kenobi; Commander Tano, your father’s apprentice.”

My father’s apprentice? Luke thought, but Rex was still talking. “Word is that you’re a Jedi like your father was now,” he said. “And that you did for Vader and the Emperor today.”

Luke looked down into his cup, painfully aware that there would be no stopping this framing of events. In the eyes of the galaxy, he was the Sith-killer, and he would remain so. “Well, from a certain point of view, I suppose—yes.”

Rex nodded, decisively. To him, and to so many other people, it must be so simple: the Sith were evil. Luke had gone into the throne room with two Sith Lords, and he had been the only one to walk out alive, a Jedi Knight. Trying to explain that Anakin Skywalker had fallen to the dark side, then turned away from it and back to the light and destroyed his former master himself wouldn’t even make sense to almost anyone else.

He’d tell Leia in the morning; she deserved to know, even if their father hadn’t asked him. Even if she couldn’t forgive him for what he’d done, to her adopted parents and her home planet and the galaxy at large.

“Your father would be proud of you,” the captain said, and then smiled. “You bagged two Sith Lords at once. He and General Kenobi only ever managed one each.”

Startled, Luke let out a laugh. “I didn’t realize anyone was keeping score.”

“Well, there were quite a few dark siders running around in our war,” Rex said, his eyes going a little distant. “We saw some freaky shit, to tell you the truth.”

Presumably Rex knew far more about the Jedi—about Ben and his father—than he did. “What was it like?” Luke asked. “The war, and the Jedi, and—my father?”

Unthinking, he lifted a hand and floated a flagon of the beer over to them using the Force, refilling first Rex’s cup and then his own. Rex saluted him with the cup, smiling a little.

“Well, that was a very Jedi thing to do,” he said. “But your father and the Negotiator—that’s General Kenobi—and Ahsoka, they were—” He shook his head. “I can’t tell you how the galaxy was before the war started, Commander. My brothers and I were born into it, and we weren’t given a choice about fighting it. Most of us didn’t start thinking we should have had a choice until long after it ended.” His expression darkened. “By that time, many of us were serving the Empire.”

Luke nodded. He remembered, as a child on Tatooine, hearing about the clone armies of the Old Republic, who’d formed the backbone of the Imperial military in its infancy before being supplanted by the all-volunteer force. The cloners of Kamino had been destroyed in the end of the war, just like the droidmakers of Geonosis.

“I wish Kanan Jarrus was still around to answer your questions,” Rex was saying. “Or Ahsoka. I’ll do my best, but they were actually Jedi in the war; I was just a soldier.”

“What happened to them?” Luke asked. “Kanan and Ahsoka?” The names were familiar. Mon Mothma had said to him, just after he’d returned from Bespin, something about having a Jedi in the Alliance again—

Rex sighed. “Kanan died saving his family, including General Syndulla, just before the liberation of Lothal. His apprentice Ezra Bridger sacrificed himself to take out Grand Admiral Thrawn and his fleet. Ahsoka—” In the Force, Luke could feel the pain of loss that he wasn’t showing in his face. “She and Kanan and Ezra went to a Sith planet, Malachor, a year or so before the Battle of Yavin. She didn’t come back.”

So many losses. “I’m sorry,” Luke told him, and he meant it.

The captain nodded. “There’s a Jedi saying—you probably know it, a couple of generals said it to me and some of the brothers a few times. ‘There is no death, only the Force.’” He eyed Luke, skeptical. “That mean anything to you?”

Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. “Something,” Luke said, and took another drink of his beer. “Though it doesn’t precisely help with missing the people we’ve lost.”

It felt a little daring to say it. He’d learned the Jedi Code on Dagobah, though Yoda had been frustratingly cagey about how to interpret its strictures; but he had gleaned enough of the Old Republic’s history since joining the Alliance to know that Jedi in those days weren’t supposed to have attachments, whatever that meant. At the least, it seemed to explain why none of the records about Jedi General Anakin Skywalker mentioned his wife, whoever she’d been.

But Luke very definitely had attachments: to his sister, to his friends, to his comrades in arms, to his teachers and his aunt and uncle, even though they were gone. And he very definitely was a Jedi Knight.

“Sounds about right,” Rex said. His eyes were on the nearest fire, reflecting its sparks. “As for your father, well, he was a brave warrior and a good commander. Not quite as reckless as General Kenobi, but he kept us on our toes. Let me think where to start…”

Above them, beyond the canopy of the great trees of the forest moon, the stars wheeled overhead, each of them a world unto itself. Luke had lit the funeral pyre for the father he’d barely known but loved all the same this very night. Tomorrow, they would begin to finish setting the galaxy free.

Not the last of the old Jedi, then. The first of the new.