Disclaimer: The franchise belongs to George Lucas and the Walt Disney Company.
Once upon a time, twin siblings named Luke and Leia Skywalker lived in a small cottage in the Kingdom of Naboo. Their parents had died when they were tiny babies. They were raised by kindly Aunt Beru and gruff but loving Uncle Owen. After they passed on, they ran their small dairy farm together.
The twins couldn't be more different. Luke was golden-haired and blue-eyed, a cheerful lad with a dreamy demeanor. He took care of the animals on the farm and tended to their small garden. Or at least, he was supposed to. His mind was usually in the clouds or imagining far-away places. His sister Leia was tiny, with long, dark hair and snappy brown eyes. She was practical and strong-willed where her brother was gentle and good-natured. It was she who ran the farm and sold their cheese and butter in the near-by town.
Now it happened that Naboo fell into a period of decline, around the same time the twins' aunt and uncle died. A terrible drought turned much of the formerly fertile kingdom into a near-desert. Luke found it harder and harder to feed their cows and water their crops. Most of their cattle and almost his entire garden withered. Leia had less and less to sell at market, until they, like most of Naboo,were starving.
“I'm sorry Luke,” Leia said one day, “but I just went over our finances. You're going to have to sell Artoo, our last cow. She just stopped giving milk. I know you're attached to her, but we can't afford to keep her anymore. I know a local butcher who'll give you a good price for her.”
“No!” Luke threw his arm around his favorite cow. Artoo nuzzled her human. She wasn't a big cow. In fact, she'd gotten rather scrawny in the last few years. She was a good cow, though, with slick black patches in her white fur that looked almost blue. “Leia, I couldn't let anyone kill Artoo! She's a good girl. She's given us so much milk and cheese over the years. Besides, she's my friend!”
Leia sighed. She went through this with her brother every time she wanted to sell one of the animals. He never wanted to let them go. “Luke, I understand. She was a good cow, but she's getting old, and she can't earn her keep anymore. She stopped giving milk two days ago. I was hoping she would start again, but it looks like she's dry. You're going to have to sell her.”
She put an arm around her despondent brother. “Think of it this way. If you sell her, we'll have enough money for dinner tomorrow. There may even be a little leftover to buy another cow, a younger one who'll be able to give us more milk we can sell.”
“I don't want another cow,” Luke whined. “I want Artoo!” In the end, there was nothing he could do. He knew his sister was right. They desperately needed the money, and poor Artoo was getting old. There was no choice. The next morning, he tied a rope around her neck and lead her to town to the butcher.
“Try to get a good price on her, brother,” Leia insisted as he left. “Don't let that old butcher bully you. And don't dawdle! Sell Artoo, buy our groceries, and come home.”
“I'll be all right.” He gave his sister a kiss on the forehead and was on his way.
He hadn't gotten too far when he encountered an old peddler on the road. He was a tall, gaunt fellow, with a scraggly silver-gray beard and thin silvery hair. He wore tattered old tan robes and an old, patched tan tunic. He pushed a cart filled with plants, from beautiful flowers Luke hadn't seen since the drought began to prickly cacti from the Kingdom of Tatoonie.
“Hello there, young Luke.” The old man smiled. “I was hoping I'd see you today. Rumor has it that you have a fine old cow for sale.”
“Yes, I do.” Luke put his arm around Artoo. “I really wish I didn't have to sell her, but my sister insists on it. We need the money, and she doesn't give milk anymore.” He looked the old man over more closely. “Aren't you Old Ben Kenobi? I heard you used to be a knight for the king, and a great magician besides.”
Old Ben nodded. “I was, at one time. Before...well, before the drought came. Before the dark times. Before the sorcerer.” His face darkened. “The sorcerer was the adviser for a great king and his wife. He enchanted the king, killed his beautiful queen, and stole their treasures.”
“Sorcerer?” Luke frowned. “I heard that rumor, too. People are saying that an evil sorcerer from the clouds is responsible for the drought. Some kind of curse on the land and the royal family. Leia says it's nonsense. We just haven't had rain in a long time.”
The old man continued to inspect the cow, walking around her to check her haunches. “What do you think, young man?”
Luke shrugged. “I don't know what to think. All I know is, I wish there was a way we could make more money, or that I at least could get some water for my garden. We haven't eaten anything besides old, hard bread in days.”
“I think I have the answer to your problems.” Ben reached into the his cart. He pushed several pots and pans aside before emerging with a small burlap bag. “These are very special beans, lad. If you plant them in your garden, something magical will happen.”
“Magic beans?” Luke peered at the bag in Ben's palm. “They don't look so special to me.”
“They will once you plant them.” Ben held the bag out to Luke. “Tell you what. I'll trade you Artoo for these beans. Put them in the ground as soon as you get home. They can grow in any soil, including very dry soil, and they'll grow overnight. After they come up,” he gave Luke a small smile, “you'll know what to do with them.”
Luke shrugged. “What do I have to lose?” He gave Ben Artoo's lead. “You'll take good care of her, right? You won't kill her, or harm her in any way?”
“Not at all. My knight order didn't believe in the slaughtering of animals. I need her to carry some of my extra wares. She has a stronger back than you might think and may make a good pack animal.” Ben handed him the beans. “Don't forget, plant them as soon as you return.”
“I will!” Luke waved him off. “Thank you!”
“You're welcome, young Skywalker.” Ben waved as the boy headed down the road. He sighed and turned to the cow. “I know he'll understand about the beans. I'm not so sure about his sister.” Artoo mooed her agreement.
Luke nearly skipped all the way home. He danced right into their front door. “Leia!” He swung his surprised sister around as she was setting the table for dinner. “You'll never guess what I got at the market!”
“Dinner, I hope.” Leia looked around him. “Luke, where are the groceries? Didn't you bring any food home?”
“No, but I got something even better.” He pulled the beans out of his pocket. “Ben Kenobi, the old peddler in Theed Town, traded these to me for Artoo. He says if I plant them, something magical will happen!”
“Luke, are you crazy?” Leia's pretty face turned beet red. “How could you? I told you to sell Artoo and get the money! We can't live off magic beans!”
Luke shook his head. “Leia, listen. Ben says they'll grow overnight. Think of all the beans we could have tomorrow!”
“If they were real, which they probably aren't. That old man tricked you to get our cow. Oh Luke, when will you ever learn not to trust every person you see?” She grabbed the bag out of her brother's hand. “Here's what I think of your silly beans!” The angry girl flung the bag out the window before her brother could stop her.
Luke and Leia both went to bed hungry and out of sorts with one another. Leia was still upset with Luke. She'd trusted him to go to town and get food, and now they had no cow, no money, no nothing. How would they live? Luke, for his part, was more disappointed that he'd lost his best friend besides Leia. He'd probably never see Artoo again.
Luke had a hard time sleeping that night. He swore he heard voices, two male ones, a deep, deep bass and the slightly nasal tones of the mid-western plains of the Kingdom of Corellia. Something about going to the top and seeing what they could take. Thieves, Luke thought. When he stuck his head out, though, all he could see was a long dark shadow. He did wonder about the shadow, but he was tired. He went back to sleep before he could think much about it.
What neither of the twins knew was that the bag broke after Leia threw it. The beans spilled onto the brittle soil in Luke's garden. They quickly took root there. In the light of the moon, a stalk grew..and grew...and kept growing. Two figures traveling by night were so amazed, they took hold of the growing plant and climbed it to the top.
Luke knew none of this the next morning. All he knew was he was hungry, lonely, and still a little annoyed with his sister. He was still sleeping on his pallet of straw when a frantic voice and familiar pair of tiny fingers shook his shoulders.
“Luke!” Leia sounded genuinely shocked. “Luke, wake up! You've got to see this! You're not going to believe it!”
Leia and Luke quickly got dressed and hurried downstairs. The side of their house with the window where Leia had tossed the beans was now completely dominated by the tallest, widest, greenest beanstalk either of them had ever seen. It was so tall, it's top pierced the very clouds in the sky.
Luke's sunny grin nearly split his face. “I told you Old Ben wasn't lying! They are magical!” He raced to the bottom of the thick trunk and took hold of a vine. “Come on! Let's go see what's at the top of this thing.”
Leia rushed after him. “Luke, be careful!”
He shrugged. “What do we have to lose? Maybe there's gold or treasure at the top.”
“Or just clouds.” Leia finally started after him. “If you're going, then I'm going, too. Someone has to keep an eye on you!”
They climbed and climbed for what felt like hours. They stopped at least twice to snack on beans the size of their fists and admire the view. Enormous leaves and curling vines as long as rivers made quite comfortable couches.
“You know,” Luke mentioned as they started climbing again, “I swear I heard voices outside last night. One was really deep. I didn't understand it that well. The other kind of sounded Corellian.”
Leia shook her head. “It was probably the wind. Nobody comes out to these parts except for traders and wanderers passing through.”
Luke got to the top first. He couldn't believe the sight his eyes met when he arrived. “Leia,” he exclaimed, “oh Leia, you have to see this!”
“I'm coming!” Luke took his sister's hand and helped her onto the clouds. To her surprise, she was able to stand easily on the clouds. “How are we doing this?”
“Forget the how.” Luke waved his hands at the beautiful world around them. “Look at this! Everything is so green...and huge!”
Indeed, it was as if all the water drained from Naboo had been pent up here. The twins were surrounded by the most beautiful greenery they'd had ever seen. Wildflowers like a rainbow carpet grew in abundance around their feet. Trees with heavy, fat leaves rustled in the breeze. The stalks of grass were as soft as moss.
“I had no idea all this was up here!” Leia picked a wildflower. It smelled as sweet as honey.
Luke grinned. “I did.” He gently placed the flower in his sister's ear. “I've dreamed about it for years.”
“There's a reason for that, young Lord Luke.” The duo looked up as Old Ben Kenobi shuffled between the trees. He held a long, straight staff. “This was originally your home.”
Leia pushed protectively in front of Luke. “Who are you? How do you know who we are?”
“That's Old Ben, the man I sold Artoo to.” Luke hurried over to the gentleman. “Where's Artoo? Is she all right?”
“Artoo is fine. She's grazing outside my cottage.” He bowed before the duo. “Permit me to explain myself.” Their eyes widened as the old man pulled a long sword out of the wooden staff case. “My real name is Sir Obi-Wan Kenobi, of the Kingdom of the Sun Clouds. I was once the knight and adviser for the head of the kingdom, Lady Padme and Lord Anakin. They were good and kind rulers, who used their vast wealth to aid their people.”
Luke gulped. “What happened to them?”
Obi-Wan's blue eyes became haunted. “Anakin fell under the influence of the King of the Storm Clouds, an evil sorcerer named Palpatine. He murdered the beautiful Lady Padme and put a powerful curse on Anakin and their people. Anakin became the wicked giant Darth Vader, a great hulking brute with a heart made of stone that can feel no love. Their people were killed along with the lady, or trapped in the trunks of trees.”
He settled down on a large, flat rock by a glistening stream. “I was the only one to escape the siege of the castle. Padme had just bore twin children, a boy and a girl. Before she died, she entrusted them to me for safekeeping. I took them to Anakin's half-brother and his wife, simple farmers in the Land Below. I knew they would raise them as their own.”
Luke's blue eyes were wide. “Why didn't you tell us this before?”
“Owen wanted me to have no contact with you. He blamed me for not protecting his brother better and letting him fall so easily to Palpatine's wiles.” Ben frowned. “Then, Palpatine attacked the Land Below. It's he who ordered that drought. He's keeping all the water in the cloud for himself and his followers.”
Leia looked skeptical. “How could this be true? There's no such thing as magic.”
Her brother rolled his eyes. “Leia, we just climbed a beanstalk that's taller than a mountain!” He turned to the older knight. “How can we save our father and restore his treasures and his people?”
Ben Kenobi sheaved his sword. “I'll take you to Twilight Castle, Vader's home. His housekeeper, Ashoka, will be willing to help. She was once the king's ward, but he forced her to become a servant when Palpatine took over. She wants nothing more than for her guardian to be himself again.”
The castle was even taller than the beanstalk. It was the biggest building any of them had ever seen. It was also the ugliest. Crumbling gray stone walls were surrounded by a deep, murky moat. Sharp towers stabbed black needles into the soft blue sky.
The trio floated over to the castle on a boat made of a green leaf. They used poles made of twigs to paddle their way across. When they arrived, Ben lead them right to a heaven oaken door. He knocked hard on it with his wooden scabbard.
Luke gulped. “What if the giant answers it?”
“I don't think he will. He's usually out at this time of the day.” Ben gently pushed them away from the door as footsteps were heard. “This should be her.”
The person who opened the door was huge. She was the tallest person Luke had ever seen. She was also not too old, and really quite pretty, in her blue and white headscarf and brown caftan. The young woman held a dusty rag in one hand that could have dusted the entire contents of sixteen palaces down below. Her big blue eyes gazed down at them in shock.
“Obi-Wan?” Her red lips pursed with worry. “What are you doing here? I thought you fled years ago! Palpatine's still trying to eliminate all of the Knights of the Sun Clouds.”
“Hello, Ashoka.” She scooped him in her palm and let him give her cheek a kiss. “I told you I'd find help.” He put his arms around the twins as soon as she put him back on the ground. “This is Luke and Leia Skywalker. They're going to join us in restoring Anakin to his former self and expelling Palpatine from the castle.”
The woman shook her head. “Ben, I can't have them here. Skyg...Vader eats youths for breakfast now. Those two would barely make an appetizer. He already has one human in a bird cage in the dining hall that he's planning to roast for supper, and there's another one who's still at large.”
“Please, madam,” Luke insisted. “We're terribly hungry. We haven't eaten in days.”
“Of course,” Leia added quickly, “we don't want to impose...”
The woman looked thoughtful. “Skywalker...” She swept the trio into her arms, her deep blue eyes staring intensely at the twins. “Any relation to Lord Anakin Skywalker?”
Leia nodded. “We're his children, or so Sir Kenobi told us. We only just found out ourselves.”
The blue eyes grew wider, like two great, stormy lakes. “The twins! Our twins! We were told that you were killed with Lady Padme!” She held the two to her breast and very gently hugged them. “I'm so glad you're safe.”
“But we won't be if we don't do something about Father.” Leia pulled away from her caftan. “Where is he? And Palpatine? Isn't there anything we can do to break the spell?”
“What if we discussed that over lunch?” Ashoka set them down on the longest, widest dining table Luke had ever seen. It was so long, they couldn't see the end of it. It seemed to go on forever. The end of the table was covered in all kinds of good food – fine cheese, bread, sausages, hams, bacon, cups of wine and juice, fruits and vegetables, desserts of every kind. “Eat hearty, kids. I'll just tell Skyg...Vader that the mice got into it.”
Luke gave her his sunniest grin. “Thank you!” He ran right for a bowl of fruit salad and started stuffing one of the grapes in his mouth.
“This is very kind of you, Miss Ashoka. Thank you!” Leia gave her finger a hug, then went to eat a hunk of cheese.
Sir Ben sat down on a spoon, cutting off a slice of bread for himself. “Ashoka, there has to be a way we can all put our powers together to defeat Palpatine.”
Ashoka spread a thick slice of bread with a pat of butter as big as a hill. “I don't know, Obi-Wan. I've tried everything I can think of, including fighting him. That curse just won't come off.”
“Have you tried talking to him?” Luke swallowed his mouthful of grape. “Maybe he just needs to be reminded that he still has you and Ben, and that Palpatine isn't his friend.”
“I've tried dozens of times.” Ashoka shook her head. “He gets angry and turns something into a tree or a footstool instead of listening.”
Obi-Wan sighed. “That's Anakin. He never did have the best temper.” The older knight cut a piece off a near-by sausage. “When's he coming back, anyway? I want to get the children at least out of his sight before he arrives.”
That was when they heard the door open and the booming voice that shook the castle. “Ashoka, where's my dinner? Did you finish roasting those six oxen?”
The woman in the scarf quickly finished her bread and butter. “Yes, Master Vader. They're ready in the kitchen for you.” She pushed the trio along, dragging Luke from his grapes. “I'll hide you in the stove. I did the oxen in the fireplace in the kitchen. I haven't used the stove since yesterday.”
Ashoka took them off the table and tossed Luke and Ben in the iron stove. She didn't see Leia tumble out of her hand and onto the floor. The girl didn't have the time to duck away before a pair of long, black legs strode into the dining hall.
“Ashoka, why do I smell human?” He was the ugliest, most fearsome creature Leia had ever seen. He wore heavy black robes and leather gloves, with a mask covering his face. His breathing was labored and raspy, and his voice shook the room. “I smell the blood of a child of Land of the Clouds!”
“N...no, Lord Vader.” Ashoka shook her head. “There's no children here. Your children died when your wife did. You're probably just smelling the oxen.”
“You're lying, girl.” Vader reached out and slapped the young woman hard on the cheek. “I don't like it when servants lie to me!” Ashoka glared at him, but said nothing.
Leia couldn't stand seeing anyone treated so badly. She went right over and kicked Vader in the foot! “Leave her alone, you big bully!”
Vader picked her up by the collar of her white peasant blouse. “What is this?” He sniffed. “A human girl. I haven't had a human girl for dinner in a long time.”
“Let me go!” Leia struggled, swinging this way and that, her little fists raised. “From what I've heard, you're just some lap dog to Palpatine anyway. You have no right to abuse a servant!”
He slammed his fist over the girl, leaving her breathless. Luke and Ben watched in horror as he took a bird cage down from the high hook he'd had it hanging on. He pulled out a big brass key, opened the door, shoved Leia in, and locked the door again. They could vaguely see the form of another human in the cage, a tall man in a dark vest.
“I'll deal with these intruders myself.” He handed the cage to Ashoka. “Take this to the kitchen. I'll eat them both as an appetizer with supper.”
Ashoka glared at him, but all she said was “Yes, Master Vader.” Leia looked helplessly at the stove as the towering housekeeper took her away from her beloved brother.
Luke looked out in horror. “Ben, we have to rescue her! I'm not leaving here without my father or my sister. I think I saw someone else in the cage, too.”
“We'll have to wait until Vader's occupied.” The older knight jumped as more booming steps were heard in the hall. “There's also Palpatine to consider. He's the most powerful sorcerer in the entire land. He can take down whole armies with his dark magic lightning.”
“Vader!” called a cackling voice that echoed off the stone walls. “Vader, bring me my gold. I wish to count our wealth.”
He was little more than a skeleton in a stiffing black cloak. Long, bony white fingers and a stark white face were all that could be seen of him. He sat at the long, polished table as Vader returned with a high pile of small, lumpy sacks.
“Yes,” the aged voice chuckled. “Yes.” The bony hands dumped out bag after bag of gold coins that glittered wanly in the soft light. “Between this and your hen, this is all the money we need to amass an army and invade the Kingdom of Naboo in the World Below. Vader, bring me the hen. I want to see her lay.”
Vader did as he was told. He came in, carrying a tiny white bird on his palm. She looked like any ordinary chicken to Luke. She had feathers, and a yellow beak, and a red crest on top of her head. To be honest, she did look rather frightened when Vader put her down in front of Palpatine.
“Lay, bird,” the old sorcerer demanded. “Lay, or we'll be having chicken fricassee for dinner!”
To Luke's shock, just moments after the poor, nervous fowl sat down, something golden appeared under her. When she stood, a shiny gold egg lay where she'd been. He'd never seen anything like it. His few remaining hens lay ordinary white or brown eggs.
“Those were your father's treasures,” Ben explained. “The gold and the hen belonged to him and your mother. They kept the Kingdom of the Sun Clouds prosperous and happy for many years. They're rightfully yours and Leia's now.”
Luke's eyes were fixed on the duo at the table. “How are we going to get on the table?”
“Lady Tano,” demanded Palpatine, “I wish for some refreshment while I count. Bring my apprentice and me two glasses of our favorite wine.”
Ashoka entered a few minutes later with two glasses of rich burgundy wine and a blue bottle on a blue enamel tray. “Here you go, masters.” She set the tray on the table between them, right next to the hen. “I made it with mulled spices, just the way you like it.”
“Thank you, girl.” Palpatine took the cup first. Vader sniffed his suspiciously.
“Oh, go ahead, Sky...Master Vader.” Ashoka gave him a rather sly smile. “It won't kill you.”
“It had better not.” Vader managed to lift his visor long enough to down the entire contents. “If I die from this, every demon and dark fairy in this land will be after your hide, girl.” Palpatine continued sipping his.
After only a few minutes, both men yawned. “I didn't know how sleepy I was for this time of day.” Palpatine tried to stretch his bony arms. “I suppose...a short nap...wouldn't hurt...”
Vader started to stand, but his head was already nodding. “Master, something was wrong...the wine...” His head dropped to the table before he could finish that statement. Palpatine lay his head on his thin hands, his cloak spreading over them. Snores that shook the entire room emerged a minute or two later.
Ashoka opened the oven door. “Hurry! Get the gold and the hen. I'll keep an eye on them. The kitchen is in the next room. Leia and the thief Vader caught earlier is in a bird cage hung on a hook from the ceiling.” She rushed them along. “Go! The sleeping potion won't last for very long.”
They ran up the swirling carvings in the table legs, getting onto the top of the table with a little help from Ashoka. The hen let out a loud squawk at first. Luke had to calm her. “Easy, girl. We're going to help rescue you and your people.” He turned to Ben, who had a bag of gold under his arms. “Ben, what are we going to do about those poor people in the trees? Not to mention, stop Vader and Palpatine from invading the World Below.”
“Let's get your sister and get the gold out of here first.” Ben's eyes widened as the hen let out another squawk. “Then we'll figure out what to do about Ana...Vader.”
“The rest of the gold and the Golden Harp are in the Treasure Room.” Ashoka gave them a small grin. “If you run, you'll never make it.” She took a small wooden cart down from a shelf and tied a mouse to the harness. “Here. This will get you where you need to go. The kitchen is the next room over. The treasure room is at the very end of the hall.” The hen chose to let out a very noisy cackle at that moment. Vader's head jolted awake with a start. “Hurry little mouse!” She handed Luke some cheese to dangle in front of it, encouraging it to rush off just as Vader lifted his head from the table.
Luke looked over his shoulder as they dashed down the hall. He could hear angry shorts and yelling from behind them. The cart was nearly knocked off its wheels by two heavy booted feet raced after it. “Come back here! I know that's you, Obi-Wan! You'll return my gold and my hen, before I eat you and those thieves you brought for supper!”
The poor mouse was so frightened, it darted into the nearest mouse hole rather than for the kitchen. “No, mouse, don't!” Luke tried to pull it to the other side, but the poor creature wouldn't listen. It got into the hole just in time. They barely avoided Vader's leather-gloved fingers reaching out to smash them.
The boy was sure that no road in Naboo had as many twists and turns as that mouse hole! The mouse kept racing down, down, down. It was pitch-black. A lot of the time, he couldn't see where they were going. “Whoa, mouse, whoa!” Luke tugged on the reins. “Isn't there any way to get her to calm down?”
Obi-Wan leaned over, listening to the mouse chatter. “She's quite afraid of Vader. He's ordered Ashoka to put out huge traps for her and her family. She lost her mate and six of her thirteen children. She says she knows a place where we'll be safe.”
Luke's mouth dropped open. “You can talk to animals?”
“It's part of the powers of a Sun Knight.” The older man chuckled. “I suspect you might be able to as well, if you work on it. I know you were able to communicate with Artoo.”
“Me?” Luke shook his head. “I'm not a Sun Knight! I'm just a farmer.”
“That's what your uncle told you.” Ben sighed. “He'd always said Anakin should have stayed down below and not gotten involved with the knights' quests here.”
The mouse finally pulled into an enormous room. Chests overflowing with gold and precious jewels covered the floor. The shelves groaned with trunks of silver coins and ancient armor. A golden harp with what appeared to be a rather crude, angular figure of a man carved into the front sat on one shelf.
“Master Kenobi!” the harp called from the shelf. “I'm so glad to see you, and all of you! You've all come to rescue me!”
“Hello, Threepio.” Ben chuckled as they climbed out of the cart. “It's good to see you again, too. Are Vader and Palpatine taking good care of you?”
“They don't take care of me at all, sir.” Threepio sniffed. “Lady Tano is the one who tunes my strings and polishes my body. They only demand that I sing for them or have conversations with them. Though I can't imagine why. Every time I say something they even remotely disagree with, they threaten to pull out my strings! Can you imagine the nerve? And Master Vader used to be such a good, appreciative man. He was the one who made me. He thought his dear old mother Lady Shmi might want some music to ease her sorrow after his father died.”
“He...it...” Luke's jaw dropped open. “The harp talks!”
The golden man sounded quite annoyed. “Of course I talk, sir! What else would a harp do?”
“Shut up occasionally, mate.” A tall, muscular man in a heavy tunic, a bandoleer and crossbow slung over his shoulder, stepped out from behind a chest of pearls. “All you've done since I've bloody gotten 'ere is talk me ear off! I just wanted directions to the kitchen.” His beard was so thick, it was hard to tell it apart from the shoulder-length chestnut mane.
“Who are you?” Luke reached for a knife with a sapphire-encrusted handle in one of the chests. “What are you doing here?”
“Name's Chewbacca, mate.” The big man easily swung down from a tapestry, carrying Threepio on his back. “Me and me partner Han Solo are thieves. We saw this crazy beanstalk growin' in the middle of the night an' thought we'd investigate. Snuck in the castle through a mouse 'ole. Some over-sized piece of walkin' metal 'ad a hen that laid golden eggs sittin' on his table. Do you know how much a solid gold egg would bring in the markets in Naboo?”
“I can imagine,” Ben said dryly. “What happened to your friend?”
The blue eyes under all Chewbacca's hair darkened. “The walkin' tin can caught Han when we were tryin' to escape. I shot at the giant, but it didn't do no good. The armor's too thick. I ran in a mouse hole instead an' got lost. Ended up down 'ere. Ain't no one 'ere to give me directions but this bloke.” He poked at the harp. “An' all 'e does is go on an' on about what a splendid chap 'e is.”
Luke frowned. “I know how you feel. Vader and Palpatine have my sister, too. I think we saw your friend when Vader locked her in the bird cage.” That was when he remembered something. “That was you! I heard someone climbing the beanstalk last night. I thought I was hearing things.”
“Right you are, li'l mate.” Chewbacca set Threepio and several bags of jewels in the cart. “That beanstalk of yours was bloody 'ard to resist. I knew we should have continued to town, but Han said 'you ain't gonna see that again' and insisted we go.”
Luke took the reins. “Ben, ask Miss Mouse if she knows the way back up to the main floor. We'll need to find our way out of here.”
Ben and Miss Mouse exchanged several squeaks for a moment, before the older man turned to them. “She says there's a shortcut around the dungeon areas and through the parlor rooms. It shouldn't take long.”
It actually took a little bit longer to get back up than it did to get down. They had someone else riding with them, not to mention more weight in the back. Luke was very worried about his sister. What if Vader had already eaten her? Not to mention, Ben had said Vader was his father...but he was more like a monster now than a parent. How could he restore him? He wasn't a knight, like Ben.
They came into the kitchen through a hole next to the fireplace. Luke had never seen such a big kitchen! The shelves groaned with dishes the size of fields. Long bunches of herbs and garlic hung on the walls. As in the dining hall, the table seemed to go on for miles, covered with every food Luke had ever seen.
The bird cage sat on the table, next to the flour and a giant carving knife. Leia was trying to open the cage with an arrow the other human in the cage handed her. He was tall and handsome, with messy reddish-brown hair and a rather lopsided smirk.
Luke got out of the cart first. “I have to get to my sister! Leia!” He was so excited, he started towards the cage without thinking. Ben and Chewbacca hurried after him, Chewie carrying the harp on his back.
“Luke!” Leia looked up as her brother managed to get to the top of the table. “You're all right!” She'd just managed to pry the lock open when he arrived.
“Chewie?” The man's grin got wider as the remaining duo came after them. “What's with the giant music box?”
“Nice to see you too, Han.” Chewbacca dropped Threepio on the table. “He could tell us how to get out of here.”
“Ouch!” The harp's strings waved, letting out several discordant notes. “You could treat me a little better, you mop-headed ape!”
Chewbacca growled. “You'll be lucky if I don't pluck out all your strings for that remark, mate.”
“Look folks, this is a bad time to argue,” Ben began.
“I agree.” Leia started towards the table. “We have to get out of here, before Father returns.”
“Father?” Han's hazel eyes widened. “Those giants are related to you?”
Luke nodded. “Only one of them, but yes.” He turned to his sister. “Leia, we can't leave him like this, or all these poor people. And what about Ben, and Ashoka?”
Han waved his hands, frowning. “Oh no. I'm not gettin' involved in any of this. Chewie n' me just came up here to check things out, not to fight giants.”
“Mate, they need our help.” Chewbacca pulled out his mechanical crossbow. “That giant probably weren't always like that, if 'e's their dad.”
“Right you are, Chewbacca.” He turned to Luke and Leia. “You two are the only ones who can truly save him. The spell can only be broke by an act of love that will break the stone around his heart.”
“How can we do that?” Leia shook her head. “We can't even reach him!”
They all wobbled on the table as the pounding of giant feet were heard outside the kitchen door. Han couldn't help his small grin when Leia was tossed into his arms. “Well, you better figure it out quick, Princess, 'cause here comes Ugly.”
Leia glared at him. “I am NOT a princess!” She didn't have the chance to try to hurt him. They all made for hiding places behind various cans and bowls of food. Han and Chewie tried to take the harp with them, but it was too awkward to carry. They didn't make it before Vader stormed into the kitchen.
“I smell the blood of World Below humans!” the giant bellowed. “When I find them...” He turned his visor on Han and Chewbacca. “You thieves!” Luke and Leia watched in horror from a bowl of apples as Vader scooped the duo into his hands. “You're the ones who tried to take my hen!”
“Hey, hey, pal, we're not even stealing it this time!” Han complained.
“Yeah,” Chewie added. “We're just movin' it. No 'arm done.”
“This is true, Master Vader.” Threepio's strings rippled. “They're not trying to steal me. Actually, they just wanted directions out of the castle. I would have been more than happy to give it to them. They weren't really bad about it at all. Well, perhaps that hairy ape could have carried me a little better, but...”
“Silence!” Vader took the harp's strings between his fingers. “I want you to play beautiful music for me. I enjoy a good song while I eat.” He turned towards the fireplace. “I'm going to roast these two slowly over an open fire. They might make a rather enjoyable appetizer.”
“Aw, come on, Ugly.” Han tried to give him one of his lazy smiles. “You don't want to eat us. I'm too skinny. No dark meat. And Chewie has too much hair. You'd probably hack up a fuzz ball.”
Luke's eyes widened. “How are we going to get them down from there?”
Leia sighed. “He may have flirted outrageously when we were in the cage, but even he doesn't deserve to be roasted.” She waved her hand at Threepio. “Psst! Hey!”
The golden harp looked over his shoulder, surprised. “Young lady, I think you're in the wrong place. You don't at all resemble an apple!”
“We need you to distract Vader while we get Han and Chewie.” She nodded at Vader, who had thrown a heavy clay bowl over Han and Chewie while preparing herbs to toss in his stew pot.
“That's right,” Luke added. “Play a lullaby or a really boring song. Put him to sleep.”
Ben popped his head out from behind the bowl. “Not only is that a good idea, but I'll help it along.”
“Very well.” Threepio made his strings ripple into a beautiful, calming melody. “As long as he doesn't really decide to pull out all my strings!”
Vader's head began to nod. Within a few minutes, his head lulled to one side, and his breathing became slightly raspy snores. Luke had to admit, he was feeling a little drowsy himself...until Leia smacked his arm. “Come on!” She pointed to Vader as his head lulled.
“Wow.” Luke's mouth dropped open as Leia helped him out. “I'm impressed. He can sleep standing up!”
“Shh!” Leia nudged her brother. “Vader might hear us.”
The pounding of small fists could be vaguely heard through the thick bowl. “Get us out of here!” The bowl moved slightly, as if something had run into it. “Chewie,” Han said in exasperation, “this clay must be at as thick as you are. I don't think we're gonna get out that way.”
Luke looked around, finally grabbing a table knife. “Leia, Ben, help me get this under here.” It took all three of them and Chewie and Han lifting the bowl as best they could to finally get it up. Even then, they were only able to move it just long enough for Han and Chewie to duck out.
“Ok, great. Thanks.” Han reached for one of the bags of gold. “Let's get this stuff out of here, before Ugly realizes he's passed out.”
Chewbacca and Ben raised the harp. “Oh, do be careful,” Threepio fretted. “I don't want to crack anything!”
Ben patted him. “You'll be fine, old friend.”
They'd barely made it across the table and down to the floor when blinding purple lightning lit up the entire kitchen. Ashoka went flying through the door, hitting the back of the wall. She crashed through a shelf of pots and pans, falling unconscious to the floor.
“Vader,” the ancient sorcerer hissed, “your...ward...drugged both of us. I want her eliminated at once!”
“Anakin, no...” Ashoka tried to pull out of the pile of pots. “You're not...like that...”
Palpatine saw movement out of the corner of his eye. “Vader!” He shot the ground under his apprentice's feet, making him jump. “Those thieves! And...” he squinted “...Sir Obi-Wan Kenobi. I thought I felt him. We were told you were dead.”
Vader blocked their way. “The circle is now complete, Obi-Wan. When we last encountered each other, I was a mere human noble, and you were a great knight. Now I'm the true master.”
“Only a master of evil.” Luke watched in horror, ignoring Leia tugging on his shoulder. Obi-Wan pulled a blue-steel sword from under his cape. “If you destroy me here, I'll become more powerful than you could possibly imagine.”
“Noooo!” Luke screamed. The moment Vader put his foot down over Obi-Wan, he just...vanished. The younger man snatched the sword into his hands. “What have you done? Where is he?”
“The important question is,” Vader scooped the boy into his hand, “who are you?”
He looked up at the visor with his big eyes. “I'm Luke Skywalker.”
Palpatine reached for him. “Skywalker? That name's quite familiar, isn't it?”
“That name,” Vader hissed, “no longer has any meaning.”
The boy in his hand shook his head. “It's your true self, Father.”
Palpatine was blocking the door. Han pulled the reins on the mouse, trying to veer towards the right, but the cart was laden with gold and a harp and wasn't moving as well as it did before. He just barely skirted the lightning that shot from the sorcerer's fingertips.
“What are you doing?” Han protested as Leia grabbed a gold-handled knife out of one of the bags. “We need that! We could get at least a hundred credits for it!”
“We need our lives more!” She hurled it at Palpatine with as much force as she could muster. “Someone has to save our skins!” The knife entered his leg right at his ankle, piercing the skin.
Palpatine screamed, clutching his ankle. Vader went to him, holding onto Luke. The boy pulled the knife he'd filched from the treasure room and jabbed it into Vader's palm. The giant dropped him...but a hand reached out and just got him before he hit the ground.
“You're going to be all right, little one.” She put Luke in her pocket. “I'm going to help you get out of here.”
“No, you're not.” Vader stood back as Palpatine got to his feet. “I want that boy. He'd be a great asset.”
“I'm not going with you!” Luke leaned out of the pocket. “I want you to restore Father. He's not a real giant!”
“I...” Vader seemed confused. “Ward...Ashoka...what happened to my children? After Padme...”
“We didn't die, Father.” Leia called from the cart. “Ben took us to the World Below.”
Ashoka nodded. “We thought it was for the best.”
“No, Vader!” Palpatine reached for Ashoka's pocket. “I want him! If he's anything like you, he'll be another perfect giant! I'll have my army yet!”
Vader finally grabbed Palpatine's hand. “Don't do that. You won't be getting anywhere.” He took Luke out of Ashoka's pocket and very gently rubbed his back. “It's too late for me, son. Take your sister and your friends and go. I'll deal with Master.”
Leia looked up, worried. She and Han were both reaching for their bows and arrows. “Luke, come on!”
“Yeah kid,” Han added, “let's get out of here while Palpatine's down!”
Luke gave his father's huge thumb a hug before he set him right next to Leia on the cart. He rubbed her back as well. “Leia...my daughter...”
“Will we see you again, Father?” the young woman asked.
“More than likely not.” Palpatine was nearly on his bleeding foot. “I have to go. Be careful, children.”
Vader and Ashoka turned to Palpatine just as Han flicked the reins again. The mouse darted for another mouse hole in the hall, this one leading straight to the drawbridge. Luke could hear crashing and the sound of sizzling lightning, even as they made their way out and onto the clouds.
They took the drawbridge over the moat this time, racing as fast as they could towards the beanstalk. “Oh my,” moaned Threepio. “I've forgotten how much I simply hate traveling by cart! It makes my strings wavery.”
“Well, try to hold on, mate.” Chewbacca gave him a big grin full of large teeth. “We're almost at the beanstalk. I hope you don't mind heights. It's a long way down.”
The top of the beanstalk continued to spire majestically into the clouds. Luke sighed as Han pulled the cart up to the topmost leaf. “I wish Ben could have come with us. I wish...I wish I could have saved him.”
Leia put a hand on her brother's shoulder. “I wish it, too, but there wasn't anything we could have done.”
“Yeah, kid.” Han got off the cart with two bags of gold under his arm. “Old man did what he did so we could have a future.”
Luke sighed and gently put the hen under his arm. “You ok, girl?” The hen gave him a nod and a slight cackle. “I hope you aren't afraid of heights! We have a while until we get down there.”
Chewbacca looked up as he slung the harp on his back. “I don't think we have that much time, mate!” Purple lighting lit up the sky, cracking open clouds and causing the white fluff under them to shake badly. “We have to get down there as soon as possible!”
Leia took the last bag of gold. “That's right, boys. We're going to have to do this double-time.” She nearly fell onto Han as the ground shook again. Loud, angry voices boomed behind them.
Han grinned at her. “Well, hello down there, princess.”
She pushed him away. “Flirt later, when we're on the ground.”
It took a lot less time to get down the beanstalk than it did to climb up it. Luke couldn't help noticing as they decended that, for the first time in months, the clouds looked dark and threatning...enough for rain. “Leia,” he yelled down to his sister, “we have to move. I don't think we want to get caught in a storm on this thing!”
“Master Luke is correct.” Threepio's strings glided up and down in a shudder. “This beanstalk would likely be a huge lightning rod. I alone could be a magnet for electrical discharges.”
Chewbacca groaned. “Good to know, mate. Next time, Han carries you.”
Suddenly, the beanstalk began to shake violently. More lightning sizzled above them. “I'm coming for you, children!” Palpatine hissed. “I'll have you as giants yet!”
Luke grinned up at him. “You have to catch us, first!”
Han's eyes widened. He was just barely able to hang on to a leaf. “Vader's coming, too!” He pointed to the black armor that gleamed in the light of the storm.
Leia was almost at the bottom. “Hurry! The storm's getting closer!” Indeed, thunder rattled the earth under the beanstalk, shaking every leaf on the plant and under them.
It had just started to shower when Luke made it to the ground. Leia was already there, having rushed inside their cottage to stash the gold. Han and Chewbacca quickly followed after. She ran back out with an ax and a large cutting knife. “Luke, go get the saw,” she ordered. “We have to get that thing down!”
“Are you crazy?” Han heard her as he jumped off the last leaf. “That's our ticket to unlimited riches up there!”
Luke frowned. “And what about Father and Ashoka?”
“What about our lives?” Leia grabbed Luke's hand. “I wish we could have gotten to know Father and Ashoka, Luke, but they made their choice. They belong in the Kingdom of the Sun Clouds. We belong here, together.”
“I agree.” Chewbacca slid of the last leaf, which was by now soaking wet. “If we don't do something soon, those giants may come down here and decide to tear apart the bloody countryside. This land has seen enough trouble.”
Han grabbed both twins by their collars, yanking them all back as Chewbacca darted for the house with Threepio. “Uh, you guys might want to give Palpatine some room. He's coming down.”
Indeed, even as they looked up, the sky continued to darken. Purple lightning swirled around the ancient sorcerer. Vader picked him up as if he were a child's toy and hurled him into the Dark Star Mountains between Naboo and Alderaan. He landed there with a great crash that almost drowned out the storm and shook them off their feet. He landed so hard, ground piled up around him, imprisoning his body in a new stone cliff, the Sith Ridges.
Chewbacca came back with the ax, saw, and a heavy, sharp knife. “Don't forget, mate, there's still a giant up there. You saw what he did to his master.”
Luke and Han took either side of the saw, pushing back and forth with all their might. Chewbacca handled the ax. Leia sliced at tendrils of vines with the knife. The storm soaked them all through and made the stalk slippery, but little by little, their blades sliced through the green fibers.
It wasn't until he and Han had almost finished cutting that Luke's eyes moved up to the storm. He expected to see a giant clutching the leaf...but to his surprise, he saw an ordinary man in a slightly tattered cloak. “Leia...” he started, “there's someone up there!”
“Too late!” Leia took her brother's arm as Chewbacca and Han gathered their tools. “The beanstalk is falling!”
Han couldn't resist adding a mischievous “Timberrr!” as they dashed for the safety of the twins' farmhouse. When the stalk landed, it made a noisy thud that matched the last of the thunder. To everyone's surprise but Luke's...the body that crashed to the ground after it was that of a normal man, not a giant.
“Father!” Luke rushed out. “Father, I'm so sorry. We didn't know...”
“Luke.” The older man reached up and held his son's hand. “I realized...that you were right. I couldn't let...Palpatine have you...or Leia.”
Leia emerged on his other side. He reached for her hand. “Daughter,” he wheezed. “You're like your mother...just as beautiful...as strong...” The older Skywalker gazed into his son's blue eyes. “ Ashoka...she's fine...she'll be a good ruler.” He smiled at his children. “You were right about me. If you see Ashoka...tell her...you were right.” He died in their arms, the last things he felt being his son's tears.
The twins hugged and hugged one another, sobbing. Han frowned and finally put his arms around both of them. “I'm sorry, kids,” he murmured. “At least the old guy did the right thing in the end.”
“That's right, mates.” Chewbacca emerged from the farmhouse. “You saved him, and rescued his treasures. I think that's all he really wanted.” He laughed, throwing his arms around the trio. “You cubs, you! It'll be all right.”
Luke sniffled. “Do you think so?”
Leia managed to smile at her brother. “I know so.”
Indeed, it was. The bags of gold were more than enough to pay for repairs to the farm and Luke's garden and buy a whole new herd of cows. Luke was even able to get Artoo back. Between the prosperous farm and their gold-laying hen, the twins never wanted for money ever again.
They buried Anakin Skywalker in the green fields behind their house. Luke brought flowers to the headstone, which simply read, “With Padme and Obi-Wan again.”
On dark, stormy nights, the people of Naboo still say that strange purple lightning can be seen in the Dark Star Mountains, lightning created by the Wicked Sorcerer of the Sith Cliffs. He became a legendary figure, often used to frighten children into behaving.
Han Solo and Chewbacca had originally planned to go on their way...but something always kept them around. There were repairs to make to the farm, and golden eggs, not to mention butter, milk, and cheese, to sell. Han helped Leia with all business matters. Chewbacca tended to the buildings and kept Threepio oiled and in good condition. Threepio, for his part, was just happy to be back in the hands of people who cared about him and enjoyed his chatter and occasional concerts.
That huge storm lead to a series of storms, the first in Naboo in nearly two years. It refilled the lakes and rivers and helped the country become green and beautiful again. The people flourished, happily buying Han and Leia's dairy products and Luke's vegetables.
Ashoka Tano became the new ruler of the Kingdom of the Sun Clouds. Palpatine's death released the people from their tree prisons. The female giant never saw the twins again, and she often thought of them, but she was happy to be able to aid her people.
As for Luke and Leia, they lived happily ever after, with their beloved farm and their new, dear friends.