Review: ‘Star Wars: Crucible’ by Troy Denning

Forgive the self-indulgent review.  I will give my honest opinion for this newest Star Wars book, but I also want to chime in my thoughts on the Expanded Universe in general.  Specifically, with the possibility of a reset coming after the Disney buyout what I hope to see in the next go around.

First for a review of the book at hand.  I will not even begin to bother with a recap at this point, there is no point.  This book would be completely impossible to read without knowing the full and total backstory of all the Star Wars books before it, and even managed to throw some curve balls at me, a man who has been reading these books for over fifteen years.

It was alright. ‘Meh’ may sum it up better.  Certainly an improvement over the horrible books I slogged through from Fate of the Jedi.  What I appreciated the most in this book was the smaller scale of the conflict.  While eventually it became apparent the fate of the galaxy could be at stake, most of the book dealt with a smaller conflict in an out of the way area of the galaxy.  This allowed the book to focus on a smaller cast, spend more time with the characters, and lent a bit of believability to the scale of the threat that has been lost in the Star Wars universe for a while.  So that was nice, and something I want to get into after the actual review.

What wasn’t so nice was the stupidity of some of the plot lines.
My biggest gripe is a common one.  If an author puts a genius/mastermind type character in the book they better be able to back it up.  I am not as a reader going to buy their skills if I don’t see it on page.  Thus the two main villains of the book lost all credibility for me.  Their amazing mental capacities were mundane; they were outsmarted at almost every turn despite us being told otherwise by the narration.  They were completely dependent on Vestra, the only compelling character from the Fate of the Jedi series.  Their insane method of interrogation involved a card game with a known expert on the game.  They backstab almost everyone they deal with yet still find people willing to deal.

Smaller gripes.  Han battling a force user and somehow getting a shot into his knee.  A space station that stretches time yet the author only using that detail when convenient, otherwise characters outside and in seem to be moving at the same pace.  The inconstancy with Mando’s strength here vs earlier books(specifically their lack of it).
The final nail for me was an incredibly dumb ending.  Some type of timeless alternate universe where death requires specific circumstances otherwise people come back to life.  Or something.  Then because it is a timeless area one person has to tell another their entire history together because of unexplained amnesia (but has time to do because time is timeless here).  They leave the area by wishing their way out, or clicking their shoes, or something equally outlandish, it didn’t make much sense.

3 Stars.  Doesn’t really deserve it, but it was better than the Fate of the Jedi series throughout, so that is something.

Copy for review received through Netgalley.

Now, as promised, a quick word on the state of the EU and what could be a complete reset.

My credentials?  Just a longtime fan who has been reading these books for over 15 years.  Truth be told I have not really enjoyed the new books since about half way through NJO, I just keep reading to keep up with the story.  Staring with Fate of the Jedi I have been more and more lost due to knowing nothing about the Clone Wars era EU.
What got me thinking about this was how hopeful I was for this new book.  I saw what I would like to see if a reset happens in the blurb.  Specifically smaller scale conflicts rather than the constant escalation that has taken the EU beyond the point of silly.  A larger universe where every major threat wasn’t dealt with by the same five people.  Of course I didn’t get this from the book, but damn I was hopeful.

So I will lay out what I hope for, and then leave it at that.  I want the SW EU to take the Warhammer approach.  It is time to leave behind the overreaching arcs, the characters we all know, and instead let every author do their own thing.

-Smaller conflicts/Bigger Universe- The stakes can be just as high, but the later books have tried to focus on everything at once and ending being highly shallow.  Let’s do more books like the X-wing series.  A small cast of unknowns doing to amazing things, but only within their own roles.   It doesn’t always have to be about the fate of the entire galaxy, I would be just as intrigued it was about the fate of one planet, or one unit, or one family (Yes it has been done in a couple books, but few and far between).  Larger conflicts have just lead to constant escalation to the point of pure silly.  Of course the worse example is the Sun Crusher as a one up to the Death Star.  But just as bad is the series of events leading to Abaloth, who is what exactly, pure dark side energy?

-Drop the timeline/characters- The timeline was problematic early on as trilogies were squeezed between other books, and suddenly those later in the sequence had scenes that made no sense.  So drop it.  It isn’t important if you’re dealing with single systems or groups of people.  I have heard people say the best storyline in the EU is from the video game Knights of the Old Republic and its sequel, was it hurt by not being in a known timeline?  I think not.  And it certainly wasn’t hurt by not having a recognizable character.  The fact is focusing on Luke/Leah/Han has gone on for far too long.  They have their hands in everything and it is not believable.  It also makes the universe feel tiny, as no matter what happens you know the whole gang will soon be there.

  Worse, with every author dealing with the same characters and timelines the better authors are forced to live with stupid decisions from lesser ones (KJA turning Mara Jade into nothing more than a prize Lando is hoping to win, with Zahn basically retconing the story line by making it all an act later on).

Besides making more compelling stories I see to major advantages to my suggestions.  The first is a new reader can truly start anywhere.  When reading NJO I often had to look up backstories from the silly Jedi Academy books that it was assumed I knew.  In the last installment I had to look up the Mortis Monolith.  And of course Aboleth requires a bit of back story for FotJ to click right.  The second is I can skip books that get universally bad reviews.  Read Zahn and Stackpole, skip KJA and Hambaly, and not lose any of the stories by doing so.  Feels good!

Of course none of this will happen.  The EU made a lot of money doing it the way they did, and I fully expect that once the new movies come out we will see a new set of books following the continued adventures of about six people as they save everyone from everything.

The End.

Oh, and I have said it before and not stuck with it, but I am so done with these extended story arcs.  My Star Wars reading will be limited to X-Wing books and a few old favorites when I need a familiar face.

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