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A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. . . .

The Clone Wars were over, leaving entire civili­zations in ruin. The Jedi Knights were all but extinct. And the Old Republic — the democratic galactic government that had prevailed for almost 25,000 years — had been replaced by the Galactic Empire.

Yet the Empire’s supreme ruler, the evil Emperor Palpatine, remained hungry for even more power. To expand his rule and crush all remnants of the Old Re­public, Palpatine had approved the construction of a secret weapon: the Death Star, an immense armored space station that could destroy an entire planet.

The Empire was not without opposition. The Al­liance to Restore the Republic — commonly known as the Rebel Alliance — led the fight to overturn the Empire and bring justice and freedom back to the galaxy.

After Rebel spies learned of the Death Star project, they managed to intercept an Imperial transmis­sion of the space station’s technical data. The Rebels hoped the data would reveal a way to destroy the Death Star. The Empire was determined to recover the stolen plans . . . now in the possession of a young Senator from the planet Alderaan, Princess Leia Organa. . . .


Bursts of laserfire streaked after the consular starship Tantive IV, which was racing for the planet Tatooine. The ship was fleeing from the Devastator, an im­mense Imperial Star Destroyer that was firing nearly all its turbolasers at the elusive ship. Both vessels had just entered Tatooine’s orbit when the Devastator’s lasers scored a direct hit on the Tantive IV’s primary sensor array. The array exploded, and the blast over­loaded the starboard shield projector — which caused another explosion, damaging the power generator system and triggering a chain reaction throughout the ship. With no starboard shield and no power to its engines, the Tantive IV was effectively crippled.

Inside the battered Tantive IV, the crew raced to extinguish fires as more blasts rocked the ship. Strug­gling to remain on their feet, Rebel crewmen and troops ran through a narrow white-walled passage­way, taking little notice of the two robots that stum­bled along with them. The droids were C-3PO, a gold-plated humanoid protocol droid, and his coun­terpart R2-D2, an astromech with a domed head and cylindrical body who moved on three legs.

“Did you hear that?” C-3PO said to R2-D2 as the Tantive IV’s engines powered down. “They’ve shut down the main reactor. We’ll be destroyed for sure. This is madness!”

More Rebel troops ran into the main corridor. The two droids stepped aside into a shallow alcove to avoid being trampled. The Rebels took up defensive positions and aimed their weapons at a sealed hatch at the end of the corridor.

C-3PO said, “We’re doomed!”

R2-D2 replied with a series of beeps and whistles.

“There’ll be no escape for the princess this time,” C-3PO said just loud enough for R2-D2 to hear. Mere minutes before the Star Destroyer attacked, the Tantive IV’s commanding officer, Captain Antilles, had issued command/control instructions to the droids, ordering them to restrict and protect all references to Leia Organa’s identity and presence onboard the Tantive IV.

The corridor was suddenly filled with the echo­ing sounds of metallic latches, clanking and moving around the ship’s outer hull. Hearing the noise, C-3PO asked, “What’s that?”

R2-D2 beeped nervously. The astromech suspected that the Star Destroyer had used a tractor beam to draw the Tantive IV into the Destroyer’s main hangar, and the clanking sounds were produced by a mag­netic paralyzing pincer lock as it secured the captured ship. Indeed, that was exactly what had happened: The Tantive IV was now nestled in the Star Destroyer’s underside hangar. Although the hangar remained ex­posed to space, the Tantive IV was trapped like a small fish in a sando aqua monster’s belly.

Inside the Tantive IV’s corridor, the droids braced themselves against the alcove wall as the Rebel troops kept their eyes on the sealed hatch. Suddenly, sparks blazed at the hatch’s frame as it was cut from the other side. Then the hatch exploded. Before the smoke cleared, a white-armored Imperial storm­trooper stepped through the shattered hatch and fired his blaster rifle at the Rebels. The stormtrooper was immediately cut down by a hail of return fire from the Rebels, but another stormtrooper appeared from behind him, firing as he stepped over his fallen predecessor. The second stormtrooper also fell to the Rebels, but there were more where he came from, and they kept on coming.

The stormtroopers were identical. Each wore a head-concealing white helmet that resembled a ro­botic face, with black polarized lenses for eyes and a grimacing vocoder for the mouth. Below the vocoder, jutting out from the helmet’s chin, a grilled breath­ing filter was set between two artificial air-supply nozzles.

More stormtroopers poured into the main corridor. From their alcove, the droids watched helplessly as several Rebel soldiers were shot down. The Rebels fought back, and the corridor was filled with deadly, crisscrossing projectiles. When a laserbolt slammed into the wall near the droids, R2-D2 responded with a loud electronic shriek, then rolled forward on his treads. Not wanting to be left behind, C-3PO stepped after his companion. Laserbolts whizzed past their forms as the droids crossed the narrow corridor to a hatch that faced the alcove. Incredibly, neither droid was hit during their quick but harrowing exit.

Overwhelmed by the stormtroopers, the surviving Rebels retreated hastily to other parts of the Tantive IV. A squad of stormtroopers secured the corridor, then instinctively moved away from the hatch as a tall, caped figure entered. He was clad entirely in black, giving him the appearance of a menacing shadow amidst the white-armored stormtroopers in the white-walled passageway. His head was concealed by a helmet with a fierce-looking faceplate, distinguished by two recessed black oval visual sensors positioned above a triangular respirator. A life-support system control panel was affixed to his chest plate, and he carried with him the sound of his mechanical, labored breathing. Everything in his outward ap­pearance suggested that the black-armored suit only barely contained the evil lurking within.

He was Darth Vader, the Sith Lord.

Darth Vader ignored the two dead stormtroopers near the exploded hatch and surveyed the fallen Rebels on the corridor floor. He felt neither pity nor remorse for the lives that had been extinguished.

These men brought this upon themselves. They sealed their fate the day they chose to oppose the Empire.

Stepping over the corpses, Darth Vader proceeded into the Tantive IV.

R2-D2 stood in a dimly illuminated subhallway that linked the Tantive IV’s port airlock to the escape pod access tunnel. He had lost sight of C-3PO almost immediately after they’d made their hasty exit from the main corridor, and assumed the golden droid had either gotten lost or found a good hiding place. The only reason R2-D2 had not yet attempted to find C-3PO was because he was busy making a holo­graphic recording of Princess Leia Organa.

R2-D2 had run into the young woman as she hid in the subhallway. She had fair skin, dark brown hair, and wore a loose-fitting white gown and travel boots. She sounded distressed as she spoke, which was un­derstandable, given the circumstances. The droid was still recording when she glanced at a hatch be­hind her, then turned back and bent to insert a data card into the slot beneath R2-D2’s radar eye. The droid stopped recording.

From nearby, C-3PO cried, “Artoo, where are you?”

While Leia crept off to hide against the nearby wall, R2-D2 extended his retractable third leg to the floor and moved in the direction of C-3PO’s voice.

“At last!” C-3PO said when he saw R2-D2. “Where have you been? They’re heading in this di­rection. What are we going to do? We’ll be sent to the spice mines of Kessel or smashed into who knows what!”

R2-D2 rolled away from C-3PO, heading for the escape pod access tunnel.

“Wait a minute,” C-3PO said. “Where are you going?”

Princess Leia peeked out from her hiding place and watched the droids exit. She thought, Unless that R2 unit delivers my message, all will be lost!

As stormtroopers and captured Rebel troops marched by, Darth Vader stood in the consular ship’s operations forum and wrapped his black-gloved fingers around the neck of the ship’s com­manding officer, Captain Antilles. Vader was about to proceed with his interrogation when an Imperial officer rushed up and announced, “The Death Star plans are not in the main computer.”

Vader turned his visor to gaze at Captain Antilles. “Where are those transmissions you intercepted?” the Sith Lord asked as he lifted Antilles off the floor. “What have you done with those plans?”

Antilles gasped, “We intercepted no transmis­sions. Aaah . . . this is a consular ship. We’re on a diplomatic mission.”

Tightening his grip, Vader asked, “If this is a consular ship . . . where is the ambassador?”

When no answer came from Antilles, Vader de­cided the interrogation was over. There was a horrid snapping sound from Antilles’ neck, then his body went limp. Vader tossed the dead soldier against the wall, then turned to a stormtrooper.

“Commander,” Vader ordered, “tear this ship apart until you’ve found those plans and bring me the pas­sengers. I want them alive!”

The stormtroopers marched off to search the ship.

Soon, a squad arrived at the adumbral port subhall­way and moved quietly down its length. It didn’t take long for a stormtrooper to spot Princess Leia’s white gown against the dark-walled chamber.

“There’s one!” the stormtrooper shouted as he raised his blaster rifle. “Set for stun!”

Leia stepped out from her hiding place, raised her laser pistol, and fired at the nearest stormtrooper. Her blaster was not set on stun, and the fired projec­tile punched through her target’s armor, dropping him instantly. Leia turned to run but another stormtrooper fired a paralyzing ray at her back.

The princess was hit and went sprawling to the floor.

The stormtrooper squad stepped over to inspect Leia’s inert body. “She’ll be all right,” said the squad’s leader. “Inform Lord Vader we have a prisoner.”

The sound of blasterfire from the subhallway reached C-3PO as he followed R2-D2 through the adjoining escape pod access tunnel. C-3PO had thought R2-D2 was heading for the next chamber, so he was surprised when he saw the astromech stop, turn, and open the hatch to an escape pod.

“Hey, you’re not permitted in there,” C-3PO said. “It’s restricted. You’ll be deactivated for sure.”

R2-D2 moved into the pod and beeped back at the golden droid.

“Don’t you call me a mindless philosopher, you overweight glob of grease!” C-3PO retorted. “Now come out before somebody sees you.”

R2-D2 remained in the pod and whistled at C-3PO.

“Secret mission?” C-3PO asked, baffled. “What plans? What are you talking about? I’m not getting in there!”

Yet another explosion rocked the ship, violently rat­tling C-3PO’s metal joints. Without further hesitation, the golden droid stumbled through the open hatch and into the pod. He said, “I’m going to regret this.”

The hatch snapped shut behind the droids. Then there was a muffled explosion as the pod’s latches blew away and the pod ejected from the Tantive IV. The pod’s rocket engines propelled it out of the Star Destroyer’s open hangar and into space.

The ejected pod did not go unnoticed by the Im­perials. On board the Devastator, the chief pilot saw the pod’s image streak across his main viewscreen. The chief pilot said, “There goes another one.”

But the Devastator’s captain had already checked his sensor scopes and ordered, “Hold your fire. There’s no life-forms. It must have short-circuited.”

The escape pod continued to plummet away from the Star Destroyer. Inside the pod, C-3PO peered through the small circular window that was the vessel’s single viewport. Gazing back at the rap­idly receding view of the Tantive IV within the Star Destroyer’s main hangar, he commented, “That’s funny, the damage doesn’t look as bad from out here.”

R2-D2 beeped an assuring response.

“Are you sure this thing is safe?” C-3PO said, un­convinced.

Soon, even the Star Destroyer was just a distant speck from the droids’ perspective. And the escape pod kept falling, all the way to the harsh surface of the planet below.