Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Star Wars Crucible: I Have Made a Terrible Mistake

I am very behind in the Star Wars Expanded Universe. Chronologically, the only book I have read that is set after the New Jedi Order is X-Wing: Mercy Kill. That is one book in the primarily focused on time period of the galaxy in over ten years.

Until now.

Recently I liveblogged my reading of Troy Denning's Star Wars: Crucible, the book that was meant to be the final adventure of the main trio of the Star Wars books before handing the main focus of the series off to the younger generation. A few days later it was announced that the Star Wars Expanded Universe is getting a fresh start and the previous books would now be "Star Wars Legends." This effectively makes Crucible not only the final adventure of Luke, Leia, and Han but also the final book in the timeline of the Expanded Universe as we know it (not including the Legacy comics, which are kind of their own thing).

This was not a good sendoff book, either for the Big Three much less the EU as a whole. I did not find it to be a good book in general. Before getting into the issue that really stood out to me as a poor way to end this universe that I am rather attached to, a quick rundown on some of my thoughts about the pros and cons of this book. There will be spoilers.


  • There are robot dinosaurs and they are called Nargons. That is amazing and I love it.
  • The robot dinosaurs are introduced by walking into a bar. This sound like the beginning of a joke that is much more interesting than this book and makes me happy. "So some gun-wielding robot dinosaurs walk into a bar..."
  • The basic starting premise of Lando's having a risky new business venture and calling Han and Leia up to help him with a pirate problem is a fun idea that's appropriate for a sendoff to that era of stories. 
  • Lando was in this.
  • This book led to me creating a headcanon in which there are locales in the Galaxy Far Far Away that require all guests to wear slinky black dresses. Because that is the only explanation I can think of for why someone who despises slinky black dresses would have NO CHOICE but to wear one to enter a place that requires formal wear. There's no way they would give all humanoid females only one clothing option unless they have a general "slinky-dress-only" policy. Slinky black dresses are now the only acceptable garments for formal occasions and clearly Han and Lando and everyone else in that scene were wearing them.
  • The prose was pretty decent and easy to follow.
  • There are robot dinosaurs and they are called Nargons. As gleeful as this idea makes me, it really doesn't seem to fit in this universe. While the delightfully 50's pulp sci-fi feel of the name "Nargon" fill me with glee, it felt out of place in a Star Wars book and pulled me out of the story every time it was brought up.
  • All the robot-clones besides the Nargons seemed redundant in the Star Wars Expanded Universe. We've done clones before, way back in the Thrawn Trilogy, aka those books that launched the Expanded Universe to begin with over twenty years ago. Heck, we've even already had slightly off evil clones of main characters who are somehow connected to the Dark Side. And then it was actually a main part of the plot. These new kinds of duplicates add absolutely nothing to either the book or the universe; the artificial being aspect held under tight control could have been used without bringing in duplicates at all.
  • Do we really the old jokes? I don't think the answer is "yes."
  • For some reason Han is the one who handles negotiation scenes instead of Leia despite Leia being maybe the most experienced and qualified negotiator and diplomat in the galaxy. But no, she just sits quietly and let's Han do the talking. Why.
  • The female characters are all sexualized, even when it makes no sense, such as in chapters told from the point of view of non-humanoid aliens with non-human beauty standards. As in, the writing and consistency of the book suffers for the sake of commenting on how hot the ladies are.
  • Of course, there are already some consistency problems with the alien point-of-view chapters, as one line an alien will be thinking about how tiny and silly looking human heads are and later that page he'll be thinking about how handsome Lando is. Or the alien will be lusting after one of the human lady characters and constantly thinking about how gorgeous she is and then make a robot-clone of her that is altered to fit his completely different beauty standards. Human imperialism (ha) is well established in the Expanded Universe and this could potentially have been developed into commentary on cultural imperialism but it really doesn't go into it at all so it doesn't even feel like that's what Denning was going for. It just comes of as sloppy.
  • There is an object that flies through space named "Ship" and no one is ever confused when it's brought up in dialogue. Because they could all hear the capitol letter, I guess? It made the constructed nature of the dialogue really stand out. No explanation given for the name, no comment on how weird it is, it everyone just acts like it's a perfectly fine and nature proper name for a thing flying through space.
  • There is a lot of body horror in this book. For all that Denning seems to be setting up Han as the only capable non-Force-using being in the galaxy, he seems to take great joy from maiming him.
  • Jedi can apparently do anything now, including survive being fried. I guess Denning missed the memo about why Vader's in that fancy armor of his in the Original Trilogy.
  • Everything is always all about Force users always. No exceptions.
  • Reiterating that last point a bit, this book starts off as a potentially fun small-scale standalone story and then makes everything about the struggle between Jedi and Sith, pulling a lot of elements that I assume are from the Fate of the Jedi series and not really explaining them. It's like it's not allowed to do it's own thing and tell a new story, it has to part of the larger storyline about Jedi and Sith because that's clearly the only interesting thing you can get out of Star Wa--you know what, I can't even finish typing that sentence. Because no. There have just been how many books all  bout that struggle? And Denning really thinks that the best thing for a standalone book is too just keep going on about that struggle? No. No no no. No. The Star Wars Expanded Universe is huge and expansive and has more than enough material for other stories.
  • There is even a scene where Luke, Leia, and Ben outright tell Lando that he would be completely useless in a space battle because he is not a Force user. Lando, who led the second Death Star run at the Battle of Endor. It's not even just implied that only Jedi and Jedi-related skills matter, it is stated.
  • And, finally, everything about Luke's characterization in this book, my biggest problem with the book.
This is not Luke. It is so not Luke that I started thinking of him as Luuuke, Luke's second, extra douchey and hypocritical clone. All of the other things bothered me but Luke's characterization enrages me.This was the thing that made it really, actively not Star Wars to me. Because Luke in the movies in not just a new hope, he's hopeful, despite everything that's happened to him and to those he cares about. He's optimistic about people. He believes in the good in people, in redemption, and that is a core part of his character. Here, Luke is cynical and jaded and cruel, the kind of person who shoots live rounds at his student with no warning during a test because the student seems uppity (chapter two of this book, by the way). The kind of person who refuses to forgive character flaws in his students because he fears that one day they might turn against him, even when he clearly has his own dark side and flaws. The kind of person who arrogantly looks down on the abilities of his close friends because they do not share his superpowers. The kind of person who thinks that people cannot be redeemed once they have fallen, despite he himself having once turned to the Dark Side, despite his wife having grown up under the toxic influence of the Emperor, despite his father's redemption, despite everything about him. Yes, people do loose faith in humanity and become jaded and cynical and, yes, Luke has seen far more than his share of horrible things at this point but Star Wars, even at it's darkest, has hope. And this character does not reflect that hope at all. This is not Luke and this is not Star Wars. It is a tragedy that the Expanded Universe ended on this note.

I would give this book a 1.5 out of 5 for some of the ideas and for the fairly decent prose but...I would not recommend it to anyone. I have no desire to ever read another book by Denning after this. Only read it if you are invested in the story of Fate of the Jedi and what to find out how some of the threads are tied up. Otherwise, just avoid this. Go read something by Allston instead.

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