Crucible is a book that puts the fantasy back in Star Wars. The story takes the Big 3 (Luke, Han and Leia) through some wild extremes as they partake on their craziest journey yet. In an effort to help out Lando, they run into two Columi masterminds who give them a run for their money as they battle it out in the Chiloon Rift. There’s action, laughs, mystery and excitement. As a send off for the Big 3, Crucible gives them one hell of a last hurrah.
Geralyn: Make no mistake; this is the Big Three’s story. Everyone else is most definitely a supporting player, and this is a Big Three novel unlike any other. Han, Luke and Leia are really in this together and they are united in spirit, if not always in the physical sense. Crucible reminds us of the essential nature of this trio while encompassing the separate and collective journey to their present day. It also feels very reminiscent of the Original Trilogy in that Luke leads the way in strength, and growth in the Force. This is not to slight Leia or Han. It is just the way it is and has been.
Skuldren: Most good stories hinge on the quality of their villains. In Crucible, the book takes a refreshing break from the Sith we’ve seen in the last 18 novels and introduces readers to an entirely different kind of badguy. Marvid and Craethius Qreph are Columi, a species whose evolution has focused on brain power. They have enormous heads and tiny bodies that primarily exist only as a repository for their organs. Their limbs are vestigial and are of little use. But they are highly intelligent. On top of that, the Qreph brothers are highly motivated. Without the use of the Force, they’re able to stand toe-to-toe with Han, Leia and Luke. Their key to success, however, isn’t just brains. They also have a small army of Mandalorians led by the granddaughter of Boba Fett. Those Mandalorians are in turn backed by some truly impressive lizards known as Nargons who might actually be deadlier than Barabels and Noghri combined. Plus the Qrephs have a crafty Lieutenant named Savara Raine, aka Vestara Khai.
Geralyn: The Columni are grotesque in character and yet their unconscionable acts inadvertently provide levity. It’s black humor to be sure, but it is funny. Sometimes when you’re caught in the worst of circumstances, the real saving grace is the humor you find in it. I was both repelled and fascinated by the Columni and laughing at the outrageous results of their work. In their own way, they’re as bad as Palpatine, only the results are darkly funny. I found the Qreph brothers to be as interesting and entertaining a pair of villains as any we’ve seen in Star Wars. One thing about these villains is they are layered, and not the usual one dimension that is too prevalent with Sith villains. These guys are scary good at being bad. To give you an idea, they get the drop on Vestara and we all know how smart and ruthless she is.
Skuldren: And when getting the drop on characters, they often deal a ton of damage. Through Crucible, Han, Luke and Leia take quite a beating. In fact, we have an injury list.
- skull fracture
- multiple fractures to left arm
- facial lacerations
- eyelashes, eyebrows and half her hair burned off
- facial burns
- lacerations to back
- shot in the stomach
- lost an eye
- facial lacerations
- two black eyes
- cracked sternum
- stuck with needles
- simulated crushing of thumb
- simulated removal of fingernails
- kicked in the head
- hand chop to the head
- shot in the knee
- shot in the gut
- broken ribs
- belly wound
- torn ankle ligaments
- shot in the shoulder
- shot twice in the neck
- Force choked
- electrocuted by Force lightning
Have Han, Luke and Leia ever faced villains who have inflicted this much damage on them all in one book? I have no idea. Regardless, this one makes quite an impact.
Geralyn: Tsavong Lah did nearly kill Leia in, I think it was Balance Point. She nearly lost the use of her legs and had to endure quite a recovery. As a consequence she had to deal with Thracken Sal-Solo which is a special kind of torture and Tsavong Lah deserved death just for that. But no I can’t remember any single book where all three of the Big Three got so beat up. I know there will be complaints about it, but not from me. It was fine, and it fit in the context of the story.
Skuldren: Aside from the villains, I really liked how Crucible expanded upon the Star Wars universe without ever being sidetracked from the story. Troy Denning creates new locations, new droids, new ships, new species, and new weapons while also building upon the mythos of existing species and technology. He also drops a lot of tantalizing story threads that are just begging to be made into full fledged books. Near the beginning of the story, he fleshes out a Togorian struggling with his pride to become a Jedi. Right there is a perfect kernel for a story. Then Troy mentions that Jag is a commander of a group of Jedi commandos, that the Hutts are in a spice war with the Yaka, that there’s a Falleen using a religious cult to spread anarchy. All of those ideas would make great books. There’s even a story thread left open for more of the Qrephs biots. But while these ideas would make great stories, they work a subtle magic within this one. They get your imagination fired up with possibilities. They spur a sense of wonder. To me, that’s the essential ingredient of a good Star Wars story, whether it’s a book or movie. These stories are about escapism and adventure. Crucible takes you away to another galaxy. While some of us have grown quite familiar with the galaxy far, far away, Crucible takes us someplace new.
Yet one of the best things about Crucible was all the crazy-fun elements strewn throughout. This didn’t feel like a reserved, safe, play-it-by-the-numbers story. Instead, Denning unleashed his wild side with an adventure that tantalizes the imagination. I don’t want to spoil the book, but there are things that defy blasters, creatures superior to droids, mystical artifacts, fun with clones, and explorations of the Force. Throughout the entire book, there are elements of the unexpected. There are new things. It all adds to that sense of wonder.
Geralyn: To my mind Crucible took us back to the essential mystery of the Force. It seems to me there’s been too much of an attempt to quantify and confine it. Crucible reminded us that the Force is so much more than what we think it is. It will always be a mystery and Crucible reminds us of that.
There should also be some honorable mentions here:
While supporting players, Ben, Tahiri and particularly Vestara were well-written and without a misstep to their characters.
The two new characters, Dena Yus and Omad Kaeg, were also well-written and fleshed out with distinct personalities and motivations.
Although quite limited per their participation in this book, Jaina and Jag’s fairly early scene is significant. We get more of Jaina as a Council member, and it’s clear she’s a full member in both contribution and perception by the other Council members. Jag is also a valuable member of the Jedi Order. Han may have blazed the trail, but this subsequent inclusiveness by the Jedi benefits both Jag and them. Again, the characterizations are spot on.
Skuldren: In the end, there are a lot of questions. Is this it for the Big 3 as we know them? If so, it’s been a fun ride. Regardless, they deserve a break. Maybe we’ll get some more post-Return of the Jedi stories before Episode VII. Hopefully we’ll get the Sword of Jedi series. But in Crucible, Denning is able to give the Big 3 a sense of peace and a reason to step back for a while. It’s a wild and crazy ride, and possibly my new favorite Star Wars story.
Geralyn: I agree. It is a wild ride, and there’s nothing about this story I didn’t like. As I finished this book, my main reaction was how much more of this new Jedi Order I want to see. Denning perfectly positioned others to take of the reins of the Big Three. I doubt that’s going to happen, and the moment was bittersweet.
We give it an outstanding five out of five metal bikinis.