Sunday, September 15, 2013

Star Wars: Crucible review

 Warning - This book contains spoilers for Star Wars: Crucible.

    Wow, this book is terrible.

    I love Troy Denning, don't get me wrong. I'm a huge fan of his "first" Crucible book (Crucible: The Trial of Cyric the Mad), the Prism Pentad, and the Dark Nest Trilogy. I also think Star By Star is one of the few NJO books to really feel like Star Wars. If he ever reads this review, I want him to know that Jedi's Honor is one of my all-time favorite pieces of Star Wars fiction.

    However, this book flat-out doesn't work. Given this is meant to be the Grand Finale of Luke, Han, and Leia's adventures--it's just sort of strange that so little actually deals with it. It's a difficult job explaining why a bunch of heroes will permanently step down from their roles as heroes.

    The best work to do so, IMHO, was Batman Beyond. Bruce Wayne continued to fight right up until the time he physically could not do so anymore and still continued fighting until he had to use a gun to defend himself. After which, realizing what he was becoming, he stepped down and bought a dog. Even then, it was a constant struggle between Bruce and Terry over who was really in charge. Here, at the risk of spoiling the book, the "Big Three" of the Star Wars universe step down more or less because God tells them it's time to.

    There's a whole sequence which, more or less, takes place in the Force. It's about as sensible as the Beetles' Yellow Submarine movie, which tells you Troy was going for something mystical but just came off as weird. I feel hypocritical saying this, especially since I've asked for years to have more Force mysticism, but this is a bridge too far.

    A subplot of the book deals with the Mortis planet where Obi Wan Kenobi, Anakin, and Ahsoka encountered three Force-personifications (later identified as Celestials). I was really eager to have Luke deal with the fallout of the Abeloth issue and her role as the Mother. So, what happens? Here's a non-spoiler--nothing related to that. Luke, Han, and Leia don't do anything related to Mortis so it seems like a colossal wasted opportunity.

    What's amazing is there's an amazingly important in Luke Skywalker's understanding of the Force. Luke gets an encounter with the the Will of the Force, more or less, and decides that the Dark Side of the Force isn't evil. That it attracts people who are evil and it's important to face it but the revulsion other Jedi feel for it is stupid. It's handled in about two paragraphs and we never hear about it again.


    What's strange is there's plenty of individual things to like in this book. I enjoyed the return of Mirta and Vestara to the narrative with both characters getting plenty of development. Troy isn't afraid to take the characters in odd directions and I loved seeing what he did with these two. Mirta wearing a black cocktail dress in a casino, muttering all the way about how this wasn't very Mandalorian, made me laugh outloud. Vestara continues to degenerate further and further--so much so I wonder if it's possible to redeem her. She and Ben could probably never get together now that she's murdered 30,000 people but I think she could still be brought back from the Dark Side.

    I enjoyed the villains too. The Qrephs are a pair of non-Force-users who manage to threaten the galaxy using their superior intellects and wealth. They remind me of Bantam's old villains given they're simultaneously threatening and a wee-bit-humorous. The fact they are aware Mirta and Vestara aren't the slightest bit trustworthy also puts them above most other Star Wars bad guys in terms of common sense. No, I never felt they could seriously threaten the Big Three but too many writers feel the need to make us believe our heroes have never faced something equal to the current threat. The fact Troy Denning repeatedly highlights how outclassed the Qrephs are helps sell the narrative.

     Other parts of the book, though, are just plain weird. In addition to the Acid Trip where Luke visits the Force with Leia (and Han!) there's a clone of Leia. Just, outright, out of the blue. She doesn't add anything to the story but exists solely so Han Solo can be creeped out by a duplicate of his wife from A New Hope. I would never accuse an author of being high on Kessel spice but this book makes me wonder. What's amazing is this isn't even the weirdest part of the book! I'm serious, there are actually stranger bits in this story.

    Finally, this is going to seem like a very strange complaint but the book feels oddly stuck between being a novel all Star Wars fans can enjoy and those who are die-hard fans of the Expanded Universe. There's too much information about the Fate of the Jedi and Legacy of the Force series while not enough information to feel like a full-on sequel. Given every Star Wars book is someone's first, I understand this is a hard balance to strike but I had to think this book was incomprehensible for new readers.

    I'm not saying to avoid this book, it has value as the final bow of the Skywalker-Solo clan, but it's not Denning's finest. I'm going to give it a five out of ten for the individual parts which are still enjoyable as opposed to the somewhat messy whole.


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