This was written years ago when the stories section at CHUD.com was still a going concern. The idea was to go “beyond the screen,” and tell a story that happened before, after, or just off to the side of a famous movie. So I decided to take one of the more famous on-screen goofs in movie history and run with it, using it as a chance to explain an aspect of the Star Wars movies that has bugged people for years. I liked the results enough that I wrote two more entries, completing my own little trilogy, but this first one remains my favorite.
“Dammit!” Henn Kiril swore as he entered the barracks and clanged his helmet on the top of the door frame. “Ketch, remind me why I signed up for this again?”
Ketch Borillon shrugged and continued polishing his helmet for his shift. He’d almost gotten the large scrape mark on the front burnished back down to the original white, although right now he was happily and quite obliviously polishing a patch of empty air a few inches to the left of the helmet. “Don’t exactly recall us having much choice in the matter. Besides, even if we did, you gonna say no to serving on board the Empire’s ultimate weapon?”
Henn sighed, took off his helmet, and sat heavily on his bunk. Or rather the floor, as he just missed the edge of the bunk and fell with an armored thud. “What’s so ultimate about it if they can’t make the doorways high enough that we’re not constantly slamming our heads into them?” he asked, pulling himself up off the floor.
“Dammit!” Toric Pan said as the door to the barracks whooshed open and his helmet struck the frame with a loud crash.
“See!” Henn shouted. “That’s what I’m talking about!”
“What’s he on about now?” Toric asked, staggering a little unsurely towards his locker. It took him three tries at the lock before he realized he was four lockers off.
“The usual,” Ketch replied.
“The doors,” Toric sighed as he found his locker and began removing his armor. “Look. this was a huge project. And a significant drain on the resources of the Empire. They sure weren’t gonna cut corners on armament and defense, so they saved the credits by shaving the dimensions down a tad. A fraction or two per door times, what, a couple hundred thousand doors? It adds up.”
“So to save a little money we have to walk around with concussions?” Henn asked.
“You’ve got a helmet,” Ketch shot back.
“Fat lot of good that does me,” Henn spat. “This stuff is so thin I wonder why we even bother sometimes. Besides, helmet or no, all those hits can’t be good for you. I swear my aim is starting to drift.”
Toric finished pulling off his armor and stretched out on his bunk, aided greatly by the fact that one side butted directly up against the wall. “Really, you too? I thought maybe my sights were just off.”
Henn shook his head. “Nope, had ‘em checked out down in Maintenance, they’re fine.” He stood and started pacing nervously. “You don’t see this happening with the planet-side units. I got a telecom from a buddy of mine on Tatooine, you should have seen the shooting job he and his squad did. I don’t think I could hit what they were shooting at if I walked up to it and swung my blaster at it. I’m telling you, they’ve gotta fix these doorways.”
Toric laughed. “Come on, this sounds like the time you swore there was a monster in the sewage system.”
Henn turned to face Toric. “I don’t care what anyone says, there was a tentacle in that drain!”
“So just adjust your aim a little,” Ketch said. “No way they’re gonna spend the time and credits to fix all these doors. Hell, I’ve even seen Vader duck a few times. You gonna tell him about your problems? As long as the Emperor can drag his bent-over old carcass through ‘em, that’s all that matters.”
Ketch rose and put on his helmet. “Look, you can get the reputation for being a whiner and end up digging through Kessel. Me, I’m keeping my head down. Literally.” He ducked and walked out the door, then turned and waited. “We’ve got guard duty on that captured freighter. You coming or not?”
Henn hesitated, turning over his scuffed helmet in his hands.
“Henn, we gotta go. We waste any more time and we’re talking to Vader, and I like my breathing passages open, thank you very much.”
Henn let out an exasperated groan and put his helmet back on. “Fine, but I’m doing this under protest. They’d just better hope I don’t have to shoot at anything today.”
“They’re scanning a freighter and we’re standing guard,” Ketch said as Henn joined him. “What could possibly happen?”
“I know, I know,” Henn said. “I just wish sometimes somebody would just blow this thing up and build another one.”
Toric laughed to himself as he watched them march smartly down to the hangar bay. “Right. Like that’s gonna happen.”
The hangar bay was a bustle of activity as Henn and Ketch approached the battered old freighter docked at its center. A flustered officer, in the midst of brow-beating the scanner crew, noted their approach and hurried over. The two troopers snapped smartly to attention.
“XJ-126 and TK-421 reporting as ordered, sir,” Ketch said.
“As ordered a good ten minutes ago,” the officer snapped. “This is what happens when you make a battle station the size of a damned moon. It takes all day to get anything done.” He raised his jaw and looked down his nose at them. “Well I don’t have all day, so I want you two in position. Now.” And without a look back, he stalked up to the control room overlooking the bay.
“He’s in a better mood than usual today,” Ketch said off-comm as they each took a position on either side of the lowered gangway of the ship. They could hear the scanner crew already banging around inside.
“I bet you the doors to his quarters are just the right height,” Henn grumbled.
Ketch shook his head. “Let it go already.”
“Hey down there! Can you give us a hand with this?”
Henn and Ketch looked at each other. “Damn techies,” Ketch said as he turned to head up the ramp.
“Hey, he told us to stay here,” Henn protested. “We’re supposed to guard the ramp.”
“You afraid of some manual labor? Besides, it looks like there’s plenty of clearance,” Ketch chuckled.
Henn looked around nervously. “All right, but if this goes nova on us, it was all your idea.” He followed Ketch into the freighter.
It was a standard YT-1300, cluttered with the usual smuggler detritus. There was a gaming table that looked like it had been shut down mid-play, and a beat-up target drone rolled off a chair onto the floor. “Buncha slobs, just like all the other pirates we’ve boarded,” Ketch said.
But Henn didn’t answer. He was looking at the tumbled contents of the scanner kit and the sprawled, unconscious bodies of the two scanner crew members.
And at the gigantic Wookiee standing over them.
“Henn, get down!” Ketch shouted, raising his blaster with uncanny swiftness. Henn dropped to one knee, bringing his weapon up as well. With the skill and precision of years of Imperial training and experience, they took aim at the massive hairy chest and squeezed off a carefully measured shot, all in the space of two seconds.
Both shots ricocheted harmlessly off a bulkhead a few feet wide of the growling giant.
“You see?!?” Henn shouted.
“Wow, I guess you were right,” Ketch said, before a pair of slaps from a wide hairy paw made any further conversation rather unlikely. Henn thought he heard an exasperated “TK-421, why aren’t you at your post?” in his ear before drifting off into a slumber filled with drink, women, and adequately proportioned doors.
Thinking back on it later from his bed in the infirmary, Henn came to the realization that the only thing worse than being stripped naked and shoved into a cargo hold was being stripped naked and shoved into a cargo hold along with an equally naked Ketch. Which was still not quite as bad as an entire squad of Rebel troops finding you in that condition.
Hasty attempts at mumbled explanations failed to break through the gales of laughter as the troopers pulled the two up out of the hold. An amused growl turned Henn’s head, and there was the Wookiee, the source of all their current torment, arms crossed smugly as he stood next to a scruffy-looking man in a black vest. “Thanks, buddy,” he said, “I wanted to be here to see the looks on their faces.” With that the pair strolled away, the guttural laughs of the Wookiee still echoing in Henn’s ears.
The Rebels were as kind as anyone finding two naked stormtroopers in a cargo hold could be expected to be, and Henn and Ketch were well looked after, even in the midst of what seemed like a fairly major attack that came a few hours after their arrival. There was a lot of running and screaming and general panicking, and then suddenly everything got very quiet.
About half an hour later their medic walked slowly into the infirmary. Something seemed to be bothering him, and he couldn’t bring himself to look at Henn or Ketch directly.
“So this it,” Ketch said. “They’re losing the battle so it’s time to toss the baggage.”
“What?” the medic said. “Oh, no, no, we’re not going to kill you. In fact, you’re both free to go as soon as you’re well enough.” He paused. “There’s … something else.”
“Cut the dramatics and tell us,” Ketch snapped.
The medic took a deep breath and continued. “The Death Star – the station you two were serving aboard when you were, ah, captured – has been destroyed. It’s gone. And all your friends with it.” He looked down at his feet. “I’m sorry.”
“So,” Henn asked, settling back into his pillow, “how high are the doorways around here?”