Review: “Star Wars: Crucible” by Troy Denning

Title: Crucible
Author: Troy Denning
Series: Star Wars (Legends Canon)
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Del Rey, 2013

I’ve recently fallen a bit behind the Star Wars publishing schedule for, ah, budgetary reasons. But with an influx of birthday cash, that problem is solved! So now I’m catching up, and can share my thoughts on these newfound treasures with my helpless adoring readers. Lucky you! Next up, Crucible by Troy Denning.

Crucible is a standalone title in the ongoing Star Wars Expanded Universe, occurring about a year after the close of the Fate Of The Jedi series and X-Wing: Mercy Kill, or about 45 ABY.* We open on Han and Leia in a bar waiting for Lando. Lando owns a refinery in the Chiloon Rift, and has been having trouble with some pirates who coincidentally showed up right about the same time as the Qreph brothers, owners of an outside outfit who wants to buy Lando out. Oh, and they’ve got Mandos and bioengineered cyborgs running their security system. Throw in a couple other “coincidences” and one or two unsubtle power grabs, and you’ve got a crooked game even Leia can see without resorting to her Jedi powers. But when an “industrial accident” comes close to taking out his friends, Luke decides its time to join the investigation himself. What he finds is chilling–the stakes of this hostile takeover bid are far higher than Tendrando Arms’ small operation. The Qrephs want nothing short of controlling the entire Galactic economy. Sounds far-fetched? They might pull it off, between their Columi mental abilities and their cloning efforts. And into the bargain they have a shot at taking out Han Solo, with whom they have unfinished business. He doesn’t know them, but they know him–and they are not happy about it. Throw Vestara Khai into the mix, several missing Jedi and the ongoing hunt for Mortis, and you come up with Crucible.

Crucible is a standalone, and it does manage to stand fairly well on its own. The events of last decade and a half of publishing have shaken the Galaxy Far Far Away to its core, and everyone has to deal with that, but on the whole this book is divorced from the politics of the wider Galaxy. This is Han, Leia, Luke and Lando, joined later by Ben and Tahiri, fighting in a barren corner of the galaxy–to save it from an insidious threat, sure, but more viscerally to save their loved ones. So yes, you’ll need a basic overview of recent galactic history, but more importantly you’ll need to be aware of the character beats that have gone before. Most of them get explained in the book, but it’s good to know going in.

Galactic History for the newbies! Recently, Han and Leia’s oldest son Jacen fell to the Dark Side and plunged the Galaxy Far Far Away into civil war once again. Jaina, his twin sister, was forced to take him out to stop him and save innocent lives. In a surprise move, the war ended with Natasi Dalaa ruling the Galactic Alliance from Coruscant. After settling into power, Dalaa blamed the Jedi for the war and exiled Luke for the crime of failing to foresee Jacen’s fate. Luke and his son Ben set off on a quest into the Unknown Regions to determine why Jacen fell. Meanwhile, the descendents of the crew from a wrecked Sith warship set out to return to a galaxy much changed in the millenia they’ve been stuck on their lone world. Luke and Ben are forced to join forces with a small group of them to fight a powerful Dark Side creature, Abeloth, who may have been partially responsible for Jacen’s fall and has strange ties to The Ones seen in the Clone Wars TV series trilogy Secrets Of Mortis. Ben and Vestara Khai, a young Sith girl, even fall in love. This ends about as well as you would expect when the Sith attempt to seize control of the galaxy and even occupy Coruscant before the Jedi can stop them. In the wake of this invasion, the Jedi are once again pariahs. There are those in the Alliance who don’t blame them for what happened with the Sith, but these voices are few in number and the Jedi have relocated to Hapan space….**

I really enjoyed this book. It’s been a while since there’s been a standalone novel focusing on the original characters has been published in this part of the timeline–quite a few of them filling in explored episodes between films, but the later part of the timeline has been largely dominated by sprawling epic series that tend to have a darker tone, such as The New Jedi Order, Legacy Of The Force, or the most recent Fate Of The Jedi. I’m not saying this is lighthearted, by any means, as Del Rey is perfectly capable of killing off major characters in a standalone, but the focus on the original characters lends an air of the adventure of the classic films that has been slightly overshadowed by the darkness of recent events. That said, this is a VERY violent book. Our cast of characters gets shot, tortured, blown up and burned so badly that for a while I had a sneaking suspicion that one purpose of the book was to get the characters looking as rough as their actors currently do–with the possible exception of Harrison Ford, the cast has not aged nearly as well as the book covers would suggest their characters have. If you’re an old hand at the Star Wars EU, you’ll enjoy this. If you’re a newcomer unwilling to backtrack and marathon everything since The New Jedi Order, this is a decent jumping-on point. You may want to consult Wookieepedia occasionally to get a reference or two, but you shouldn’t be too confused.

CONTENT: PG language. PG humor and flirting, mostly between Han and Leia (what else is new?) Quite a bit of brutal violence, more than usual for a Star Wars book. Not too gory, generally, but Luke and company get banged up pretty good.

*Star Wars dates are typically given the designators Before the Battle of Yavin (BBY) or After the Battle of Yavin (ABY), functioning similarly to our BC/AD, with the Battle Of Yavin (Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope) as the turning point.

**Incidentally, the Columi come from a 1990 Choose Your Own Adventure book also by Troy Denning, Scoundrel’s Luck. Its not required reading, I had never even heard of it until I went digging.

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