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4.2 out of 5 stars
Crucible: Star Wars
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25 of 33 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
Crucible is a hard book for me to rate. I'm not the biggest fan of Troy Denning's Star Wars books. There's a lot to this book that I didn't like. However, there is a great payoff at the end so I definitely recommend reading it. I will try to keep this review spoiler-free, but with the recognition that I can't properly explain exactly what I liked about the book without at least mentioning the ending.

THE PLOT

At first glance, it's not very interesting. A pair of businessmen, the Columi brothers Marvid and Craitheus Qreph, have an evil plan to take over the galaxy. And unfortunately the actual plot itself never becomes very interesting. Crucible is really about the journey Han, Luke, and Leia take (especially Han). We see a few other characters, including Ben Skywalker, Tahiri, and Vestara Khai, but they're really ancillary.

TROPES

I've been critical of tropes in Star Wars writing for a while and Denning is one of the leading culprits. My Trope Rader went on high alert right on page one, when Crucible opens with a scene in a bar and we learn it reminds Han of that bar in Mos Eisley. The first half is filled with more tropes, including a high-stakes Sabacc game in order to obtain information about the villain, a big bar fight that descends into chaos, etc.

I was pleased that the second half of the book steers away from the common tropes and actually has some original and even interesting elements. We do see another Sabacc game, but unlike any other ever played. Denning also introduces some hard-sci-fi concepts into the book, although he doesn't develop these as much as I would have liked. Finally, the ending is just literally and figuratively out of this world. While I don't think Crucible ever manages to become a great book, I appreciate Denning's willingness to attempt to push the boundaries.

THE BIG THREE

Crucible has been promoted as a final outing for the Big Three (Han, Luke, and Leia). I think it actually works in this regard. I wouldn't be too sad if this were the last book starring Han, Luke, and Leia.

One thing I really appreciated is that Denning actually shows Han, Luke, and Leia aging. We know the characters are in their sixties or even seventies, but up until now we've never actually seen any sign that they're any older than twenty. I personally hated the approach of previous Star Wars books, that "sixty is the new forty." It made the characters stale. If the characters' age were frozen, so too was their character development. We never had to see them struggle with age.

Denning seems to have abandoned this approach. At first I thought Denning was hitting readers over the head a bit too much with the theme of aging, emphasizing the characters' age, wrinkles, etc. However, once it becomes clear that Crucible is at its heart a story about heroes getting old and finding their emotional core, I decided that the emphasis on aging made sense.

Denning is still careful to show that Han, Luke, and Leia are heroes and can still fight, but he also shows that they're old and aren't the same characters they were even 10-20 years ago. Han, Luke, and Leia in this book feel pain, both physical and emotional. They get injured and sometimes they heal, sometimes they don't. The injuries have consequences. If anything, there were a few moments where I thought Denning should have explored the emotional impact a bit more. There are a few events midway through the book that I thought probably should have had larger repercussions on the characters. Fortunately, as I discuss below, Denning really hits this theme out of the part with the ending.

THE VILLAIN

As readers of my reviews know, I think having a good villain in a Star Wars novel is at least as important as having an original plot. Unfortunately, this is where Crucible falls flat. The villains are two businessmen, Marvid and Craitheus Qreph. The brothers are Columi, an alien species that resembles the aliens from many alien abduction stories, with huge heads and tiny bodies. I don't mind that the aliens look absolutely ridiculous and that the Columi anatomy is probably biologically impossible. What does bother me is that I can't respect them as villains.

Denning wants us to view the Qreph brothers as hyperintelligent. Denning has the characters mention that the Columi are known for their intelligence and that the Qrephs always seem like they're several steps ahead. However, we never actually see the Qrephs acting intelligent. They seem very easily tricked and manipulated. They don't even win any major victories n the book. Having spies and Mandalorian goons doesn't make a villain intelligent or special.

Compare this to Thrawn, the model for the hyperintelligent Star Wars villain. In Timothy Zahn's books, we see Thrawn using logic and intuition to deduce the New Republic's strategy. We see him using his brain. Not every villain has to be intelligent. However, the Columi resembled the bumbling Nemoidians in The Phantom Menace far more than they did Thrawn. That's not an insult as I thought the Nemoidians worked well in that movie. Unfortunately, by trying to tell rather than show us that the Columi were intelligent, Denning only emphasized how pathetic the villains really were.

OTHER CHARACTERS

As I said above, Crucible is about the journey of Han, Luke, and Leia. The other characters fade into the background. Sadly, Denning doesn't seem to take as much care writing them. We see them either behave out of character or become one-dimensional caricatures of their former selves. For example, in the beginning of the book, Lando is in a tense negotiation with the Qrephs, who have already threatened him. Lando then lets slip the name of his son, "Chance," but the Qrephs apparently did not understand the reference. Lando then proceeds to tell them that "Chance" is the name of his son. So, Lando, a professional gambler, intentionally gives his enemy leverage and puts his family in danger! Tahiri Veila meanwhile seems to serve merely as Ben's copilot. We see nothing about her that makes her Tahiri (and there's not a single reference to her walking barefoot). Vestara Khai, one of the few good things to come out of the Fate of the Jedi series, is just, well, there. Finally, Jaina Solo fans will be disappointed, as she plays almost no role in the book. In short, Han, Luke, and Leia become more interesting in this book, but it seems like all of the other characters were simply thrown in to support their journey and not as real characters in their own rights.

THE PAYOFF

If I had only read the first three-quarters of Crucible, I probably would have given it 2.5 stars out of 5. Denning isn't known for his ability to conclude stories so I didn't have much hope for the final quarter. However, Denning really does a great job bringing the emotional journey of Han, Luke, and Leia to a conclusion. I'll try not to reveal spoilers but will try to give readers a taste of why they should suffer through the first parts of the book and actually finish it.

One of Denning's strengths as a writer is his ability to explore the nature of the Force and see the "mystical energy field that binds all living things" in a whole new way. The finale of Crucible took this to a whole new level. I don't think it's a spoiler to say that in Crucible we see some of the repercussions from the confrontation with Abeloth from the Fate of the Jedi series and the Clone Wars Mortis Trilogy (so be sure to rewatch those!). I appreciate that Denning does all this without diminishing the mystical nature and wonder of the Force (unlike, say, midi-chlorians). Denning emphasizes this effect by adopting a more abstract writing style, depicting scenes in an almost impressionist style. It's a neat effect and definitely new for Star Wars.

I was also happy with the journey the characters took, particularly Han. While I criticized Denning for not focusing enough on emotional development during the first parts of the book, the ending partly makes up for it. In particular, Denning brings a sort of tenderness to some of the characters that I didn't expect. Obviously with the upcoming Sequel Trilogy movies this won't be the last we see of Han, Luke, and Leia, but Crucible does do a better job than I thought it would of providing closure.

CONCLUSION

There were parts of Crucible that I hated and parts that I loved. The book probably benefitted from my low expectations. I can't say I love the book. Parts of it really were disappointing. It seems like Denning had many ideas he wanted to explore in the book but didn't know how to make it all work. There are a lot of unfinished plot themes and things that seem like they should have had a greater impact on the story or characters, but didn't. However, as I said above, it is worth reading this book because it does lead to an interesting conclusion, albeit this probably isn't the way most fans would want the story of the Big Three to end.

Overall: 2.5 out of 5 stars.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on July 11, 2013
Format: Hardcover
From the very first chapter to the very end, this book is full of action and kept me excited throughout. As someone who has consumed most of the post-ROTJ books, I absolutely loved this one. There are also some more tie ins to the clone wars Mortis trilogy, so if you haven't watched those episodes, I would recommend it to understand certain parts of the book (they are also just really cool episodes). Also, it probably helps if you have read the Fate of the Jedi Series previously, but that's not absolutely necessary either. There is a good mix of new characters and old friends, and the book does as advertised, focusing mainly on the big three. I don't want to give anything away, so all I can say is I highly recommend this book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Format: Kindle Edition
Luke, Leia and Han are the main featured players in this installment of the Star Wars saga, with Lando Calrissian playing a slight supporting role. We start in a cantina and end up fighting our way out, but apart from the familiar action the lesson we really learn is that Han and Leia still have it but are getting older. This book has been promoted as the final outing for the Three. I'm not sure if that means we've gone as far down the timeline as we're going to go, (allowing for more Big Three books to be issued about earlier adventures),or if there really won't be any more books, set anywhere in time, featuring Han, Leia and Luke. Either way, if this is their swan song, it is quite satisfying, if not a jaw dropping blockbuster.

The villains are pretty lame and the villainy is of a corporate/economic sort, until we get to the end of the book. Then we get the "monolith" and focus on the Force and some free wheeling mysticism. That's actually pretty interesting and is an interesting change from some of the purely action oriented books.

The book works as a standalone so it's a nice pickup for a casual reader. The treatment of the three main characters is consistent with what you might remember from the movies, so it has a comfortable and recognizable feel. I'm not deeply conversant with the Star Wars Expanded Universe, and I was just happy to enjoy a solid read with some old acquaintances.

Please note that I received a free advance ecopy of this book in exchange for a candid review. Apart from that I have no connection at all to either the author or the publisher of this book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on March 7, 2014
Format: Audio CDVerified Purchase
I recently finished The Fate of the Jedi series and decided to give this book a go for my long road trip. As usual Marc Thompson provided a great performance proving once again that he is the best audio book reader on the planet. This story is simply about Luke, Leia, Han, and Lando. Overall I really liked this book, though it was a little slow going for the first half hour to an hour. I wish however that Ben and Jaina would have been in the book more. Ben does get some face time towards the end but this book truly isn't about the kids. I feel this was a great book overall and a great exit for Luke, Leia, and Han. Of course they'll never be gone for good but it does feel as though they are handing the reins over to their kids in this book. It was great to listen to on my drive from UT to NM.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on February 23, 2014
Format: Audio CD
I loved this book because how much it shows the raw emotions of the characters. For example when Leia is missing Han you can feel her anguish. Denning's understanding of the force is remarkable. In the monastery that was shown at full throttle. This book is bitter sweet though I will miss the big three being at the front of the pack. I do hope they will still play a somewhat prominent role in the books ahead. I can only hope that the younger jedi can carry on this legacy. (particularly Ben Skywalker and Jaina Solo.) This book was one of the best books I have ever read and for any die hard sw a must read. Despite what some reviews say.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on March 10, 2014
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
The best stand alone Star Wars novel I have read set post movies. The Characters actually age, and get injured. Gone is the magical barrier that deflects every blaster bolt from Han and the gang. The gritty realism that hits in the 2nd half of the book wouldn't let me put it down.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on September 16, 2014
Format: Hardcover
I was not a huge fan of this book. It was billed as an ultimate showdown of sorts that would determine the future of the galaxy but all it really ended up being was a meta-physical mind trip that was, at times, a struggle to get through. The fact that this was a story of the core heroes of the EU (primarily Luke, Han, and Leia) was a nice change. Rather than leaping from sub-plot to sub-plot and from one end of the galaxy to the other, it stays rather focused in one tiny corner of the galaxy. The best part of this novel was the detail into Han's psyche and the scenes that focused on him. I enjoyed those very much. I also got a kick out of seeing Luke and Leia working together as a Jedi team without backup. Beyond that, however, it seemed like a rather boring plot that felt like it was reaching to find a meaningful story to tell. I had heard some say that the EU was painting itself into a corner and was particularly crippling the movie franchise in what stories were left to tell. I didn't believe that at the time but, after reading this novel, I admit that there may be something to the argument. It just seemed forced. I also found Vestara Khai's involvement to be contrived and opportunistic - thrown in just to have a familiar foil against the Jedi. The problem with that idea is that the Fate of the Jedi series did such a lousy job of clarifying her character. Was she good at heart? Was she pure Sith at heart? Was she deceiving the Jedi, the Sith, or just deceiving herself the entire time? That series ended without giving us a real sense of who she was deep down, which left her role as "supporting bad guy" in this novel feeling out of place. I kept wanting to look for a twist that would allow her to show her true side (hopefully a good side) but no, she's consistently written as just "bad guy." The ending also left much to be desired - it seemed like just another happy ending that didn't actually resolve anything. Worse yet, it left questions and openings for future plot development that the EU fan will now never see come to pass. For my last read in the EU about my favorite characters, it was disappointing.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on November 29, 2013
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Spoilers

"Star Wars: Crucible," the follow-up to the climactic Fate of the Jedi series, delivers in many ways. This story was long rumored to be a tale that would pass the torch from the main three characters to the rest of the New Jedi Order, and this is done in way that allows for Luke, Leia and Han to return when appropriate. The mysteries of the Force that Luke has learned in his later years continue to baffle him, and coming off "Apocaplypse," Luke was already dealing with the realization that the Jedi and Sith must keep the balance together. In this novel he learns more about personal balance.
The suggestion of finding the Mortis Monolith, mentioned at the end of Fate of the Jedi, is carried into this story, as one of the quest knights finds what may or may not be the place Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi visited in The Clone Wars, Season 3. Nonetheless, amazing new Force aspects, including the monolith's ability to imbue Force powers onto the non-Force sensitive, driving them mad in the process, are detailed here. No real answers are to be found, but the quest continues, in the hopes of one day preventing the return of Abeloth.
This book is violent, from searing wounds in battle to a tortuous game of sabacc for Han Solo, and the graphic depictions head in the direction of the horror books "Death Troopers" and "Red Harvest," though not quite as grisly. Han goes through so much and emerges a new, rejuvenated person. Leia, meanwhile, sees red when her husband is taken from her, and sets off on a mission to rescue him that has Luke concerned about her loyalty to the light side of the Force. All great things.
The engagement of the main three characters, as well as the nods or homages to the original trilogy, make this book a yearbook of sorts, all the while creating new ideas to take things deeper. Our family of leads is up against a pretty tough foe (brothers, actually), and the emotional and physical wounds they suffer only serve to bring them closer together.
Luckily, Tahiri Veila, Vestara Khai (operating under the alias Savara Raine) and Ben Skywalker also appear. Vestara shows herself to be a practical Sith Lady. She admits openly that she cannot defeat Luke Skywalker alone, and she fears an encounter with Ben, knowing that he will hunt her down because of her betrayal of his heart in "Apocalypse," She escapes, and will no doubt be a part of the formation of the Sith Empire shown in the Legacy comics.
The biot concept is horrifying but also compelling. Dena Yus is a tragic villain who must act on her creators' plans or die. Delivering her to the Jedi Council at the end leaves her fate unknown, but I'm hopeful she'll appear again too.
Basically, heavy focus on Luke, Leia and Han, Vestara Khai up to no good, some good moments for Lando and the other supporting cast, creepy criminals, a new young Han named Omad, and a feeling that there is more to come makes this a marvelous read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on August 27, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Luke Skywalker feels a need for some action. Han Solo is seeing entirely too much action as he and Leia are chased by exotic aliens called Nargons. The chase leads Han to his old buddy Lando Calrissian, whose refinery in the Rift is bedeviled by Qreph-backed pirates preying on asteroid miners. The restless Luke decides to pay a visit to Lando, as well. When an attack on Lando's refinery kills thousands of workers, Lando, Han, Leia and Luke (eventually joined by Luke's son Ben) are called upon to get a handle on this latest threat, which includes some old enemies and a bunch of duplicate, force-wielding Jedi.

A fair number of Crucible's early pages are devoted to filling in the backstory (and at this point there's a huge amount of backstory to any Star Wars novel), but once the action gets going, it's relentless. Ship-to-ship battle scenes are tense and exciting, but the novel's best moments come during a psychological battle between Han and two Qrephs during a card game. And when Luke and Leia get tempted by the Dark Side after traveling to a place where the Dark Side is particularly strong ... well, that never gets old.

Speaking of never getting old, Han's ability to somersault and jump and roll and fight like a teenage ninja warrior is a little silly given his advanced age in this novel, but I guess indestructability goes with the territory of being an epic hero. Maybe marriage to Leia keeps him young. Anyway, it's silly but it's fun, and fun is all I ask for from a Star Wars novel. And decent writing, which Troy Denning provides. Crucible marks a transition of sorts (as do many Star Wars novels, movies, and comics) and I suppose it's notable for for that reason, but it's less eventful than some other installments of the Star Wars saga. That makes it no less entertaining.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on October 2, 2013
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Good read, kinda anticlimax, you know that the big three is going to take a break to give the younger characters their own novels and development adventures, However the way the SW universe is shaping up for the future, they will emerge to help out a hand now and then and i feel that in the future they will make a big impact on some major event,,,Han and Lea are reaching the point where they are journey into adventure of their own as they explore the galaxy,,and Luke well after all he been through and learned,, would save him for something so major that only he can do ,,probably have author Timolthy Zahnn pen Luke in this one,,,he is the only author i feel that can do justice for a galaxy shattering event with Luke Skywalker, novel in the future... otherwise amazon service was very good
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