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Groundhoth Day

Stage One

They call Hoth “the ice planet,” because that’s exactly what it is. I found that out immediately upon arriving at the Rebels’ Echo Base mere days ago. The word “Hoth” even sounds frigid, like the exhale of visible breath in winter. We’re out in the middle of nowhere on Hoth, a tiny speck on an uninhabited world of permanent freeze. The remote location of Echo Base helps us to escape prying Imperial eyes, but as an extra precaution, the fort itself is dug out of snow and mountain rock, hidden from plain sight by all but the most discerning of gazes. And now it’s gone, or at least we’re gone from it.

Imperial forces that managed to scout our location attacked us. A shield, powered by a massive outdoor generator prevented their space brigades from conducting a direct assault, but their ground troops were undeterred. They destroyed the generator and we were forced to evacuate the base. I managed to escape in one piece, but I was lucky. Maybe we should have seen the assault coming and began the evacuation sooner. I don’t know, I’m just a speeder pilot, part of the Rebels’ Rogue Squadron. I follow the orders I’m given. All we could do was deflect fire from our transports as they fled to safety.

Command ordered us to take out Imperial probe droids first. Easy enough business, really. Probe droids are these little hovering pods with gangly pincer arms. Their black, metallic shells make them pretty simple to spot out against the gleaming white drifts. A couple blaster rounds seem to trigger their self-destruct functions. The sounds of their robo-scatting transmission signals are burned into my brain, mocking my subconscious from their ashen craters.

Next, the walkers came. First it was the bipedal AT-STs—“chicken walkers,” we call ‘em. Basically metal pillboxes on legs. Their outer casings are resistant but still they can only take so much targeted blaster fire. I managed to take one out from behind in my speeder. Their heads can rotate about 180 degrees, but based on the direction they were striding, it was clear they had our shield generator in their sights.

I managed to escape in one piece, but I was lucky

The AT-ATs were the real trouble. These gigantic mechanized cows (or bantha, if you prefer) are heavily armored and can traverse the deepest of snow banks without issue, plodding forward like elephants. “That armor’s too strong for blasters.” I heard over the comm system. Someone had the ingenious idea of tying up the AT-ATs legs with our speeders’ tow cables. It’s a tricky maneuver even without the warzone crossfire. Still, despite the odds we managed to string up a couple and send them tumbling into the frost in a tangled mess. No matter the tactics though, we were ultimately outsized and outgunned. Once the walkers got in range of the shield generator, it was over. Our mission was a success only insofar as retreating and permanently losing your position can be considered successful. I am alive though, I suppose.

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Stage Two

I’ve seen this all before. Hell, I’ve DONE this all before. Somehow, magically(?), I’d returned to Echo Base. Everything played out as it did yesterday, or at least the broad strokes as best I can recall. That I can’t reason what has actually transpired and what I’ve only imagined leaves me unsure of what is real. Perhaps I’ve been knocked unconscious on a patrol and am conjuring frozen nightmares of arctic battlegrounds from my own imagination.

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I don’t have an explanation, but something was a bit curious about the battle on Hoth this time around. I knew what was going to happen before it occurred. I knew how many probes were deployed. I knew shooting the AT-ATs with blasters was a fool’s errand. Yet I listened to my squadmates come to these realizations in the moment. I didn’t know how to explain my preexisting knowledge of the AT-AT tow-cable strategy, but I followed through with the process all the same. Down went more bovine mechs, but not enough of them to prevent the destruction of the shield generator once again.

Could I have warned Command and prevented all this? I can’t be certain. I woke to emergency sirens, and there was no time to consider. Soon enough the screeching Imperial lasers began echoing through the corridors of our ice fortress. I saddled up my speeder to enter the fray with the rest of Rogue Squadron. Unfortunately, the encounter concluded with the same seemingly futile resolution as last time.

To my dismay, I’m faced with the possibility that I’ll awake in Echo Base once more tomorrow and this battle will recommence a third time. I have no desire to repeat this tragic course of events again, but if it must be, I want to be prepared. Perhaps we could rally more than simply a safe retreat, even a counterattack. Maybe it would be possible to hold off the Empire with a pre-emptive strike. If Hoth greets me in the morning, I’ll be ready for it.

Tonight though, I’m determined to dream that I’m somewhere very unlike Hoth, somewhere warm and secluded. I hear Dagobah is nice this time of year.

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Stage Three

… Hoth … again.

Did this cursed ice ball somehow manage to freeze space-time itself? Is it my fate to hogtie robo-cattle for eternity? At this point I’ve begun to wonder if there’s some other external condition that God or The Force or whatever power is out there is cryptically pressing me to satisfy, and I’m missing all the clues. Try as I might, I couldn’t prevent, halt, or counter the Empire’s assault. I took down 3 AT-ATs singlehandedly and yet they still blew up the shield generator right on schedule.

Try as I might, I couldn’t prevent, halt, or counter the Empire’s assault.

It was pointless to warn Command; preliminary evacuation was already underway when I came to. I thought my advance knowledge out on the field could have stemmed the tide in our favor, but there was always another walker lurching over the horizon. I’m beginning to think there’s no true win state for the Rebels on Hoth, and perhaps, more dishearteningly, for myself either.

Let’s say tomorrow I’m back on Echo Base once more and I figure something out. Something big. Let’s say I uncover a way to cause a massive, ground-splitting tremor and Hoth itself opens up like a wintery maw and devours every last Imperial walker, enveloping them in its dark, white abyss. Does that make the cycle stop? Or is this internal? Am I the broken spoke on the wheel?

Strangely, the detail I find myself obsessing over is that I’ve fought in other battles. I’ve been in dogfights with TIE Fighters in the depths of space. I’ve blown up turrets on Imperial battlestations. I’ve evaded capture through asteroid fields and outrun bandits in narrow canyon systems. What’s special about the Hoth conflict that I must relive it and not the others? I’m fearful of the amount of time I may have to find an answer.

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Stage ∞

I’ve stopped questioning why this is happening anymore. Having relived the battle on Hoth dozens, maybe hundreds of times now, I’ve become totally disconnected from the meaning of the fight in relation to the larger war between the Rebels and the Empire. There are no stakes for me at this point, only the design of the encounter, which has become my defeatist sandbox. I’ve drawn maps and marked enemy positions, but nothing carries over except my memories. It’s amazing how once-random, complex systems can seem so purposefully articulated after enough repetition.

Numbers aside, I’ve been considering whether the Rebels or the Empire actually has the advantage here, and finding it a relatively even matchup despite how asynchronous the tools and methods are between the two. It turns out Hoth itself is ostensibly neutral terrain (no one on either side wants to be here). Sure, the Rebels have trenches to take cover, but their infantry fire isn’t felling any Imperial vehicles of consequence. Ultimately, it’s a speeder versus walker fight, where all players are literally out in the open. Maneuverability and accuracy are the Rebels’ roguish attributes (the Rogue Squadron title, perhaps no mere coincidence), while the Empire are the tanks, absorbing high levels of damage with a singular, destructive goal in mind.

I started inventing little challenges for myself to “maximize” my time on a particular run. For example, I like to see if I can hunt down all of the probe droids before the shield generator goes down, or fly through all of the AT-ATs’ legs without taking a hit. Once I managed to disorient and trick an AT-ST pilot into firing on one of their comrades, which took a great many attempts to carve a successful flight path. My reward is ultimately only whatever satisfaction I can derive from the moment of my performance, since these are the only moments I have to experience.

We’re all just following orders after all. Well, everyone else is anyway.

A long time ago, when this was first beginning, I asked myself, “Why Hoth?” I still don’t know that answer, but I can at least say that, divorced from the reality of the consequences of war, the Hoth battle is an elegantly designed encounter, and I now possess a deep appreciation for it. It’s an epic military drama where the underdog can only triumph through ingenuity and sacrifice, fittingly tragic in the Rebels’ inevitable defeat. While I’ll always be sympathetic to the Rebels’ cause, I’d be quite interested to witness the skirmish from the Imperial side and better understand their perspective and mentality. We’re all just following orders after all. Well, everyone else is anyway.

I’ve resided that Hoth may just be the way of things, and even if I were to break out of this loop, I may never really leave the snowy field. I’ll continue circling, tying up the loose ends.

One more pass…

Star Wars Hoth battle