A few weeks ago I read and reviewed the new Dawn of the Jedi novel. It was the sort of few and far between novel that makes me excited about Star Wars and the EU. Although it’s had the most publicity and promised to be the biggest novel of the year, Star Wars Crucible was the sort of novel that reminded me why I mostly just put up with the EU. It was the sort of book that had enough good in it that you aren’t completely sorry you read it, and it didn’t scar you for life or anything (Crystal Star, anyone?), but you have to genuinely care about Star Wars to wade through looking for those moments.
Which is honestly my biggest criticism of the book. You have to care passionately about Star Wars to read it. You have to have read the last thirty books and watch the Clone Wars show to have a clue what the heck is going on. This was touted as a Big Three novel. In fact, in many ways, it was touted as the last Big Three novel. Even if we never really believed that Han, Luke, and Leia were retiring, that’s enough to draw the interest of a lot of casual readers. And I suspect mostly of them will give up part way through. So, negative number one is Crucible’s inaccessibility for all but faithful EU readers.
But even for those of us who read anything with the words Star Wars on it regardless of how much we’ll live to regret the lifestyle, Crucible is a hard book to follow. There is simply too many different plots and characters for one novel to adequately keep up without feeling cluttered. Few of the new side characters were distinct enough for me to remember who they were between their scenes, and I did plenty of flipping back and forth.
However, in an unusual twist, I’m not sure that I blame anyone involved with the book for these problems. And I’m not sure how Crucible could have been fixed. In many ways it’s doomed by where it occurs in the timeline. When you look at the rest of the books we’re certain will be published, it’s glaringly obvious that there are no books slated after the events of Crucible. Both Kenobi and Razor occur before the end of the original trilogy. I can’t help but assume that Crucible is the end of the pre Episode VII EU timeline. It is possible this will be the concluding book in over 20 years of publishing. And when I step back and look at it in that light, I am impressed by what Troy Denning has done whatever other criticisms I might have.
As fans wait to find out what will happen to the saga as whole, and to the EU in particular, Troy Denning gently proves that the film universes and the book universes can coexist quite happily. By bringing in plots from the Clone Wars TV series without completely recounting the episodes, he demonstrates that with a galaxy this big, it’s possible to pick and choose which elements you want to focus on and which ones you want to ignore without completely destroying continuity.
Best of all though, he has listened to what fans are asking for and takes the time to show the fallout of the previous series in the lives of the characters. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I nearly danced as he picked up the storyline of a character from Legacy of the Force I never expected to see again. And he used that character’s past and present interactions with the Big Three to show how emotionally raw the last galactic crisis has left them all. I think sometimes in plotting a novel, it’s easy to for Star Wars authors to get caught up in the excitement of the current battle and forget the big picture of what these characters have been through. Yet Crucible takes the time to acknowledge how much loss and strife Luke, Han, and Leia have been through, and that their status as heroes comes as much from them continuing to fight for their cause as it does from their major victories.
So no, this wasn’t the story of the Big Three “passing the torch” to Jaina, Ben, and Allana. And no, it wasn’t even necessarily even Leia, Han, and Luke’s moment in the spotlight. But Crucible has provided more answers and more closure than any of its preceding novels. It might be weakened by having been scrambled together in response to the sale, but there’s a profound sense that Del Rey and Denning have done their level best to rise to occasion. It’s just an occasion I wouldn’t wish on any book.