There can be nothing as serious as going into battle. Especially a battle where many on your side might be killed. But at the same time there is nothing more exciting. The Gungans may have looked odd and peculiar, but watching their soldiers rise dripping wet out the swamp dressed in leather and body armor and riding powerful kaadu was really something.
Even more amazing were the Gungan soldiers atop the fambaas. I'd never seen creatures like this before. They were huge and looked like giant, scaly salamanders. Each fambaa was outfitted with a shield generator that would (hopefully!) protect the Gungans from the battle droids' weapons.
While the Gungans marched bravely off toward the grassy hills beyond the swamp, Padme, the Jedis, a small number of Naboo troops and starfighter pilots, and I headed for the city. I knew Qui-Gon didn't want me to go, but with the whole planet about to go to war, there was no safe place to leave me.
We quickly and quietly entered the main city of Theed through secret passageways. For a moment, I was struck by the beauty of the domed buildings and towers, but one look at the central plaza sent a shiver down my spine. Among the rubble from a recent battle, there were Trade Federation tanks and battle droids everywhere!
The sight of the enemy and the destruction it had already done made my throat grow tight. This wasn't a game. It wasn't a fight that could be settled with fists, or even a Podrace where someone like Sebulba wanted you dead. This was much, much bigger--an enemy of hundreds, maybe thousands of killing machines. And in the blink of an eye each one could blast a creature into a small heap of smoking ash.
My feet felt like they had turned to lead. Suddenly, my heart was pounding and I was having trouble breathing. What was I doing here? I'd gone along with Qui-Gon in the hope of learning to become a Jedi. I was 9 years old! I didn't want to die.
As if he'd read my mind (maybe he had!) Qui-Gon turned and gave me an encouraging nod. I think he understood what I was feeling. But the look in his eyes said it was too late. There was no turning back.
Our immediate destination was the central hangar complex, where the Naboo starfighters were kept. The hangar was connected to the Royal Palace. We had to get the Naboo pilots into those fighters and send them up to disable the Trade Federation's Droid Control Ship. The lives of hundreds of Gungan soldiers depended on it.
As we divided into two groups, Qui-Gon took me aside and whispered that once we got inside the hangar, I should find a safe place to hide and stay there. I wanted to help him, but I had to follow his orders.
We waited while the other group of Naboo guards snuck across the central plaza. Padme sent them a signal and the guards began to fire at the droids.
Instantly, the Trade Federation battle droids and tanks in the main plaza returned fire. Meanwhile Padme's group rushed into the hangar. About a dozen bright yellow Naboo starfighters were inside. There were more droid guards in there and they started firing.
My ears were ringing with explosions and sirens as a battle began for control of the Naboo fighters.
Following Qui-Gon's orders, I ran under a fighter and hid there. The air sizzled with blaster bolts and lasers flying back and forth. I couldn't take my eyes off Padme. She led her troops well and fought bravely, ducking laser blasts and taking out droids with her blaster.
A laser blast blew a hole in the floor just inches away from me. So close I felt its scorching heat. A shiver ran through me. If that blast had hit me, I'd be nothing more than a few chunks of burned flesh. Feeling light-headed, I backed deeper into my hiding place.
The fight continued with the Jedi Knights, Naboo guards, and pilots. There were pushing the Trade Federation droids back! Padme gave the signal for the Naboo pilots and R2 units to get into their fighters. The next thing I knew, a Naboo pilot jumped into the fighter I was hiding under! He yelled at me to find a new place to hide, and before I knew it, the fighter was lifting off. I was in the middle of the hangar, totally unprotected!
With random laser blasts still rocketing over my head, I searched for a new place to hide.
I heard a whistle and turned to see the droid R2-D2 in an unmanned fighter. He looked safe in the starfighter. In the middle of the battle, with no place else to run, it sounded like a good idea. I climbed in.
By now lots of Naboo starfighters were zooming out of the hangar. Out in the central plaza, a Trade Federation tank whirled around and fired.
KA-BOOM! I winced as a starfighter burst into flames and crashed, Luckily, the others managed to take off unharmed.
Having freed the starfighters, Padme, the Jedi, and the Naboo guards turned toward the palace. The next part of the mission was to capture the viceroy. As they started out of the hangar, I began to climb out of the starfighter I'd been hiding in. Suddenly, Qui-Gon saw me and shouted that I was to stay inside the cockpit. I tried to argue with him, but he insisted that it was the safest place for me. I can't say I was happy about it, but I did as I was told.
I watched as the rest of the group headed for the doors leading out of the hangar. Suddenly, they froze. In the doorway, blocking their path, stood the Sith Lord!
His yellow eyes were intense, his red-and-black face terrifying. Padme and the Naboo guards quickly backed away. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan threw off their capes and ignited their lightsabers. For a split-second I wondered how any warrior could hope to fight off two Jedi, let alone kill them. But then the dark warrior lit his own lightsaber. Both ends glowed ominously. His lightsaber was double sided!
They began to fight. The fury of their battle was like nothing I'd ever seen. The Sith Lord could spring 20 meters into the air while still holding off both Jedi. I was so amazed that I didn't even notice the other battle brewing behind me. R2 beeped and I turned just in time to see 3 new Trade Federation droids roll into the hangar behind us. At first they looked like shiny metal wheels. But then they unfolded into heavily armed battle droids!
Padme and the Naboo guards were trapped. The Sith Lord was fighting Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon at one end of the hangar and the destroyer droids were firing from the other end. If they took either path, they would die.
It looked bad. I knew I had to help and started hitting switches. Suddenly the starfighter lurched up and began to rise! I steered the fighter toward the destroyer droids. I was going to get those 3-legged death machines. All I had to do was find the trigger for the laser guns. I stared down at the banks of brightly lit switches and buttons. Which one? Which one?
Oops! I pushed a button, but instead of firing lasers, the starfighter bucked. I must have tripped a stabilizer.
Meanwhile, the destroyer droids were closing in on Padme and her team!
I tried another button.
ZAP! BOOM! The nose lasers fired and one of the destroyer droids burst into smoke and flame!
All right! R2 let out a whistle-cheer and I blasted another droid, and then the last!
With the droids out of the way, Padme and the Naboo guards could escape. They hurried into the palace. Meanwhile, the Sith Lord and the Jedi were locked in deadly combat.
WHAM! My starfighter took a shot and heeled over. I jumped around. More droids had entered the hangar.
And now they were firing at me!
Suddenly, we were in a storm of explosions. R2-D2 was beeping at me like crazy. Of course I wanted the fighter's shield up! I just wasn't sure which--
Whoa! I hit a switch and we went from 0 to 60 in a microsecond. R2 didn't have to tell me I'd accidentally flicked the afterburners. I could feel it!
The good news is that I managed to steer the starfighter out of the hangar without crashing into any walls.
The bad news was that we were now rocketing upward and I still didn't know how to pilot a fighter!
We shot out of the city and over a vast grassy plain. Below us the Gungans and the Trade Federation's battle droids were fighting fiercely. The plain was littered with shattered droids and dying Gungans. Lasers and energy bolts were rocketing back-and-forth. The air was filled with explosions and smoke.
R2 kept beeping at me, something about the autopilot searching for other ships. But I didn't see any.
Something was bothering him about those other ships. I told him that if he didn't like where the autopilot was taking us, he should try and override the system.
Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a bright explosion. There were ships out there! Naboo starfighters were battling the Trade Federation's fighters that had emerged to protect the ship controlling the droid armies below.
In fact, the autopilot was steering us right toward the enemy!
For a moment, I froze with disbelief. Equal parts of fear and excitement shot through me. What was I doing? A slave boy from Tatooine sitting at the controls of a lightspeed-fast starfighter hurtling toward an enemy battleship? If only Kitster could see this!
Out of nowhere a laser blast rocked my starfighter. I screamed at R2 to get us off autopilot and he beeped back he just did. I grabbed the controls and swung the starfighter. It went left! R2 had done it!
He beeped again, reminding me I had to go back. But I hold him, no way. Qui-Gon had insisted I stay in this cockpit and that's exactly what I intended to do.
A Trade Federation fighter made the mistake of crossing into the airspace ahead of us. I got on his tail and had him in my sights. Blasting that guy out of the sky was going to be a cinch. I just needed to know where the trigger for the laser cannons were!
R2 beeped and I did what he told me to do.
The starfighter shot forward with a jolt. Instead of firing on the enemy fighter, I shot right past him. Now he was on my tail!
"Darn it, R2!" I yelled.
R2 beeped a meek apology. But the Trade Federation fighter now had us in his sights. And that wasn't the worst of it. The really bad news is that we were headed straight for the Droid Control Ship!
I put the Naboo fighter into a spin. And not a moment too soon. A laser blast from the fighter behind us shot over our left wing, barely missing us!
But we were still headed for the Droid Control Ship. I yelled at R2 that the only way to get us out of this mess was the same way we'd gotten into it. He beeped back and I hit a button, hoping that this time it really was the starfighter's reverse thrusters.
It was! With a jolt, the starfighter slowed down. Now it was the fighter's turn to shoot past us.
KA-BOOM! It crashed into the Control Ship!
I swung the starfighter around and stole a glance at the rest of the Naboo craft. They were taking shots at the Control Ship, but nothing was getting through the deflector shield.
This was bad. Unless they disabled that ship, the Gungan troops on the ground would be slaughtered. R2 beeped again. Another fighter was on our tail!
Once again we were being chased back to the Droid Control Ship. I guess R2 didn't approve of the way I was handling the starfighter because he kept beeping that this wasn't the same as Podracing.
As if I couldn't figure that out on my own!
THWANK! Something hit us from behind. It must have been a shot from the Trade Federation fighter. R2 screeched as smoky sparks flew and lights flickered in the cockpit. Our starfighter went into an uncontrollable spin.
We were going to crash into the Control Ship!
By the time I got control of the starfighter, it was too late to avoid the giant ship. I had no choice but to steer toward the only open space ahead: a huge open hangar.
Suddenly, we were inside the hangar, inside the Trade Federation's Control Ship, still going much too fast. I was busy dodging transports, fighters, and other ships on the hangar deck.
Jamming my hand down on the reserve thrusters, I managed to stall the engines and bring the starfighter to a stop just before we hit the hangar wall.
For a second, everything was silent. R2 gave me a low, worried whistle. Here we were dead center in the middle of enemy territory! I tried to restart the engines, but the whole instrument panel went red with warning lights. I knew I must have blown something during the emergency landing. Or we'd just plain overheated.
But now we were surrounded by battle droids!
Not knowing what else to do, I ducked down in the cockpit. A battle droid captain came forward. He demanded to know who was piloting the starfighter. R2 whistled back that he was the pilot. The battle droid appeared confused and asked to see identification.
Just then the lights on the cockpit control panel went from red to green!
I jumped up from the pilot's seat and flicked on the ignition. The starfighter powered up instantly. The battle droid saw me in the cockpit and ordered I come out or they'd shoot me.
I answered by switching on the fighter's deflector shield. We started to rise and I swung the fighter around, knocking over the captain. The other droids were firing, but their shots were all deflected by the shield.
I aimed and fired at the droids. But I pressed the wrong button and set off two torpedoes!
The fighter recoiled as the torpedoes launched. With a jolt I realized it was too much and close. My torpedoes missed the droids and flew across the hallway. I had a feeling that once those torpedoes made contact, things were going to get very, very messy.
It was definitely time to say good-bye.
I swung the starfighter around and hit the thrusters. Unfortunately, the hangar was full of droids by now and I had to knock a lot of them over. The funny thing was, it was just like Podracing!
KA-BOOM! As we reached the mouth of the hangar, a huge explosion erupted behind us.
WHOOSH! The force of the blast pushed our starfighter right out of the hangar. I twisted around in my seat and watched as the Control Ship disappeared inside a huge ball of yellow and orange flame. Giant chunks of red-hot burning debris were shooting out into space in all directions.
We'd done it! We disabled the Trade Federation's Control Ship!
Gripping the fighter's controls, I expected to feel a surge of happiness as I steered the starfighter away. But I was suddenly overcome by a dark wave of pain and sadness. At that moment, I didn't know what caused it. I only knew that something terrible was happening nearby.