The Star Wars Expanded Universe is a vast, winding saga, and I love it, but with a new trilogy of movie sequels on the horizon I’m more than ready to draw a line under the extended adventures of the entire geriatric Skywalker-Solo clan. And that seems to be what’s going on in Crucible, a standalone tale by Troy Denning releasing July 9 in hardcover.
Crucible takes the danging threads of the recently wrapped “Fate of the Jedi” series and offers only hints of where they may lead. A galaxy that just can’t seem to catch a break is enjoying relative peace, but there is a resurgent Sith threat out there following the discovery of a lost tribe of the Force-wielding warriors, the Jedi are outcasts after decades of war, and the lords of politics and commerce are up to their usual selfish tricks. In other words, it’s a Galaxy Far, Far Away, but not altogether different from our own.
There’s a lot of bloodshed in Crucible, as the bad guys scheme to force Lando Calrissian off their turf. That reformed gambler and conniver gets his best role in years, far better than the predictable Scoundrels gave him, and of course he serves to bring the Skywalkers and Solos into the fight.
It’s the villains of Crucible that bother me most. They’re classic Star Wars types: scheming crime lords, but cloaked in the legitimacy that the Trade Federation craved and our own unprosecuted Wall Street barons still enjoy. Denning reaches into his Star Wars Roleplaying Game roots to present two brothers, both diabolical geniuses, who give our heroes a run for their existence. But their motives are base and far too personal for a tale of galactic intrigue, even when they intertwine with the goals of the Sith. They’ve stumbled upon a celestial Fountain of Youth, or I should say a “Fountain of the Force” — yes, a source of that mystical power that can bestow the gifts of the Jedi and Sith upon those who would normally be limited to, say, a good blaster at their side.
For Luke, Leia and, yes, Han, to maintain the balance, they must do battle on another plane of existence — something that ties in nicely with recent and significant EU plot threads, but a device that is also getting rather old. It’s an obvious method of presenting a different style of action without incessant lightsaber and starfighter battles, but it’s also a paradigm that has no real grounding in Star Wars mythology. Still, this climax in the mystical realm is the catalyst for a decision that changes the game for the “Big 3” characters and their families forever.
If you pick up Crucible hoping to learn how Episode VII will open. you’re going to be pretty disappointed. Of course you never know what elements of the EU that Lucasfilm will choose to honor (just ask fans of Karen Traviss’ Republic Commando series), but the thrust of Crucible seems to be not so much a beginning or an ending, but a way station between generations. Possibilities are presented, and while it’s likely they will be explored in print, there is no promise of a big-screen continuation of these ideas. As a longtime EU fan, I take comfort in that, as I am content to enjoy the “canon” of the films and Clone Wars TV series while enjoying the parallel but possibly alternate reality of the books and comics. That’s the way it’s always been, since long before the sequels or even prequels were a given.
Crucible is good — very good — and it’s a thrilling adventure that must be experienced by fans who have stuck with the Expanded Universe novels for the long haul. But it tries too hard to be an epic capstone for the major characters’ careers while relegating them to the sidelines for too much of the action. Maybe that’s a good way to pass the baton, but it’s certainly not the best way to provide a bridge between generations in one of the most epic sagas of all time.