Review: Denning’s Crucible is just more of the same

Crucible I’m so glad there’s going to be a sequel trilogy, because I can only imagine how much more disappointed I’d be in Crucible if that wasn’t a factor.

It’s not that I was expected a masterpiece, mind you. I freely admit that Denning’s books have never been favorites of mine. But I was hoping for something a little bit different this time. Something at least a little fresher than what we’ve been getting in the ‘modern’ era of the Expanded Universe. Something that lets the Big 3 go off into retirement with one last fun adventure.

Crucible is not that book. It’s just more of same uninspired EU we’ve been getting far too much of in this era – very much a followup to Fate of the Jedi – trying too hard to be profound and failing.

(Yes, there are spoilers beyond this point.)

For those hoping this would be the final adventure of the Big 3, you may be in luck. Crucible anvils the ‘retirement’ aspect harder than anything we’ve had yet – a tone that has been ringing at the end of every big series since the New Jedi Order, yet never seems to stick. This time, I suspect it might, but due to that looming new trilogy, not because of anything that Denning tries to do.

There are lots of anvils in Crucible, actually. Torture for the sake of torture? Check. Our heroes in crazy disguises? Check. Borderline-disturbing imagery? Check. Characters who haven’t been away long enough for us to miss? Check.

The main villains, Marvid and Craitheus Qreph, do apparently date back to a role-playing supplement that I suspect most EU fans have never even heard of. But their underlings are a lot more familiar – Vestara Khai (of Fate of the Jedi) and Boba Fett’s granddaughter Mirta Gev (of Legacy of the Force.) We haven’t seen Gev since Invincible, so I’ll give her a pass, but Vestara? She wasn’t a particularly interesting character in FOTJ, and she’s still not someone I find intriguing here. (And a reference to her and Ben Skywalker as ‘former lovers’ sent me howling. They were 16-year-olds who made out, c’mon.) It’s a sad day when I’m happier to see a Mandalorian – a Fett, no less – than someone with actual angst potential for a Skywalker. And at least Gev had real motivation to be working for the slimy Qreph brothers.

Basically, there’s a lot of winceworthy things going on here. Another Mortis-esque monolith, because bringing in Mortis for Fate of the Jedi just wasn’t crazy enough, I guess. Insane Force-using Mandos. ‘Creepy Leia.’ And it all finishes up with in a crazy befuddled mess involving actual luminous beings. (Really.)

And the worst part? It’s all just so dull.

A few other thoughts:

  • The ‘exploration’ of the Force here makes me long for the days when the worst we could expect from a Denning book was bug sex. Bringing Mortis and Mortis-esque Force mysticism into the Legacy era isn’t ever going to sit well with me, but the execution thus far certainly isn’t helping matters.
  • Ben and Tahiri are partners, because let’s just forget she was molesting him a few years ago? Nope. Sorry. No pass. I don’t care how ‘redeemed’ she is.
  • They make an appearance, but Jaina and Jag are pretty much the only characters who don’t figure much into the plot here. Good luck in Sword of the Jedi, kids!

There’s a lot left laying here that could go very badly in the wrong hands, with some very dangerous precedents being set for the Sword trilogy and beyond – if there even is a beyond. I was hoping this would be a simple adventure, but the stakes always have to go higher, don’t they?

I’m a Big 3 fan, but maybe it’s best we spare the classic characters further disrespect, and hope the new movies offer them up something less crudely ridiculous. If Crucible is the best the EU has to shuffle our heroes off into the sunset with, than dear George yes, shut it down. Luke, Leia and Han deserve better, and so do we.

Grade: D-

A copy of this book was provided by Del Rey/Random House for review.

38 Replies to “Review: Denning’s Crucible is just more of the same”

  1. “(And a reference to her and Ben Skywalker as ‘former lovers’ sent me howling. They were 16-year-olds who made out, c’mon.)”

    Oh God, me too.

    “If Crucible is the best the EU has to shuffle our heroes off into the sunset with, than dear George yes, shut it down. Luke, Leia and Han deserve better, and so do we.”

    Also this. Can I just keep Vision of the Future as my ending? Or The Unifying Force? That would be great.

  2. What are you talking about? I’ve firmly decided that VOTF *is* my ending. TYVM. /denial.

  3. Wow. I was prepared for a review of the “not quite psyched” variety but this I did not expect. ;-)

    But your opinion seems to mirror mine, except that you stuck to the novel EU a lot longer than I did. My suggestion: Bring in Matthew Stover and let him write a ROTS novelization type last adventure for the Big 3 that ends with them riding into the (twin) sunset and their eternal happy end. And then shut down the EU timeline and prepare for a new, sequel dominated one.
    Because judging from what few EU novels I have read these past 10 years or so, the whole thing is – with a few minor exceptions – either broken or simply dead. Time for the mercy kill.

  4. I get the strong impression that this is the last novel for the Big 3 for some time. Unless we get a novel about Han and Leia’s vacation on a beach planet.

  5. Didn’t Mr. Denning do Han-and-Leia-visit-the-beach planet? I believe it was called Tatooine Ghost?

  6. It’s a D-, actually. (Why the Aurebesh D looks like an F… I don’t know. But if you hover over the grade images, they show the translation.) I have read worse… Just not in a long, long time.

  7. Thanks for the review, Dunc. I’ve not picked up very many books after quitting halfway through the NJO (unless they occur in the OT era like Zahn’s recent work or Stover’s Mindor) and this review just reaffirms why. I’ll skip this and wait for Kenobi.

    1. Aaron: I sure wish this book had been more in the vein of Tatooine Ghost. :\

      Emily: The buzz on Kenobi is really good! I have an ARC, but I just finished my second read of Crucible this weekend so I’m reading some general fiction to detox before I get into it.

  8. //Off topic ;-)
    @Stooge: I actually enjoyed most of Corellia’s hells out of Tatooine Ghost, one of the few novels that brought together the prequels and the post Endor universe in a “more than a gimmick” kind of way. Plus: It was one of the few post Endor novels that didn’t try to be “epic” at all costs which personally I found extremely refreshing.

  9. Reading Kenobi after reading Crucible made me wonder how those two books are even in the same universe.

  10. @ Stooge – good call. Tatooine Ghost was a Han and Leia beach trip, but without the ocean ;)

    Agree on the buzz re Kenobi. Easily one of my top 5 Star Wars books. I posted a review on my site, and others have posted on Shelfari (no embargo on my ARC). It’s very much a Star Wars Western.

  11. In regards to the Ben and Tahiri teaming up thing.There are things that are okay to handwave and forget about. Things that are okay to pretend didn’t happen.

    Tahiri molesting an underage Ben is not one of them. Having those two team up is very much not okay and shows a stunning lack of awareness.

  12. Honestly, you don’t like the book, ok., fine. But “borderline-disturbing imagery”? “Stunning lack of awareness”. “Creepy Leia?”C’mon! I think it was perfectly fine to have Ben and Tahiri team up! In a galaxy where you send kids to war age 16, and Leia loses her entire home planet without batting an eye – I’d say what happened in Invicible isn’t one bit worse. Then again, I’m obviously bordenline something myself since I can’t see what’s so unsettling about Leia in this book. I seriously can’t!

  13. There’s no in-universe justification that makes Ben and Tahiri teaming up okay. She molested an underage boy and a few years later, everyone is behaving as if it didn’t happen.

    That can easily be interpreted as a tacit endorsement of a pretty grave crime. Having it happen on-page in the first place was inexcusable. Pairing them up now and pretending that it either didn’t happen or it’s okay that it did might be just as bad.

  14. Change “pretty big crime” with “the most unexcusable crime around year 2013”. And I’m not endorsing molestation of children. I’m just saying that if you read what de facto happens between the characters in the book, it’s shown like Tahiri’s screwd up – a Ben in fact is the grown up in the situation. Plus he’s not particularly upset by her advances – he just decides they’re wrong. Later in the novel (I), he even considers her actions a proof as for how bad a state she’s in. I think their co-operation in Crucible was a sign that they’ve both grown over the bad experience.

    That’s my POV on the matter. You don’t have to agree. I can certainly see your point – SW is supposed to have some moral standards. A couple of years ago I saw a discussion on the net whether Han was close to date-raping Leia when he kisses her in ESB. Well, that’s a point too. In a way I’d even say ESB was worse, since Han’s kiss was shown as purely positive – and successfull, I might add. At least Tahiri was indoubtedly a screwd-up Sith when she applied salva on Ben’s wounds.

    1. Kataja: “Borderline disturbing imagery” is torture, everyone getting gravely wounded just ’cause they can, etc.

      “Creepy Leia” is the biot Leia, who Han actually, in the text, refers to as ‘Creepy Leia.’ She’s implied to be basically an intended sex doll for that crazy Mando dude, which is also some pretty disturbing imagery. (Why did they want Han and Leia biots, anyway? That’s one of the things I can see folks like Denning doing very bad things with in the future, BTW, no matter how much they claim to have destroyed. Some things, once unleashed, don’t just go away.)

      I think the Tahiri/Ben issue has been thoroughly addressed, but I think it was an unwise move if only because it made a good chunk of us sit up and go “What? Seriously? Ew.”

      Jason: Well, different stuff strikes gold for different people, obviously, but… Yeah.

  15. I was thinking of starting this era of books because I’ve been so jazzed about Episode VII. I didn’t actually expect any insight into Episode VII from these books, but if this is the capstone to that era, I think I might just wait and start reading Star Wars fiction with Episode VII’s eventual onslaught of novels.

    Because of grad school I haven’t had a chance to read much fiction for fun in years. I’m looking forward to it.

    Pre-ordered Kenobi.

  16. The real problem with Tahiri is that she seems like she was just thrown to warm the co-pilot’s chair. Nothing about the book necessitated that it had to be her character. You could have replaced “Tahiri” with “Random Jedi X” and it would have been the same. I was surprised there weren’t even any references to Tahiri going barefoot.

  17. I haven’t quite finished yet (I’m in the build up), but here’s my question.

    Why is it that both Leia and Ben seem darker than Vestara? I mean… really, when you have a line about Ben being sure to hunt Vestara down and kill her… or Leia wanting to hunt folks down… I mean… these are JEDI.

    Denning just doesn’t get Star Wars.

  18. And now I have finished… and here’s the problem. Denning is the “Tim the Tool Man Taylor” of Star Wars. His solution is always “more power!”

    Seriously – when are any of his books resolved by something other than, “I’m a Skywalker/Solo, and I have MORE POWER!”

    Add on to this the fact that this wasn’t really a stand alone but rather book 10 of the previous series… oh, I can’t believe how much I am actually looking forward to a reboot.

    1. I’ve been pretty open about the hoping for a reboot thing, but my reaction after reading Crucible the first time was literally BURN THIS MOTHER DOWN.

      I think my Tumblr GIF review actually sums up my reading/reaction process best.

  19. Thanks for the review, Dunc. It’s sad that the EU novels have come to this. I stopped buying them outright after Invincible. Now I’m not sure I even want to reserve Crucible at my local library.

    *BURN THIS MOTHER DOWN* — I know that feeling! I had it about 3 books back, reading Conviction, and I like Allston’s SW work. Sigh.

  20. Whelp. I just finished the book and this is, for the first time, the point where I’m more than ready for a reboot.

    I’ve never wanted an EU reboot because I feel like there are plenty of fun stories out there, maybe just not in the vein that we’ve been getting. But, the fact that this crap got published shows that the folks in charge of everything are so far out of line with the type of story I enjoy (and, I would wager most EU fans enjoy) that I have no confidence in whatever comes next (in the timeline, anyway. Kenobi looks good.

    You know what the worst part is? The fact I paid $20 and bought a copy. I stopped buying the books, especially the hardcovers, a long time ago. When the quality tanked I started getting them from the library. But, I decided to buy Crucible because if it was going to be the “last” of the post RotJ EU then I might as well have it for the ol’ collection…

    Now I’m just angry at myself.

  21. My favorite chapter was in the beginning when the masters are at Shedu Maad watching a young padawan go through the an obstacle course. Probably the most pleasing exchange of characters through the whole book. Sadly, it was too little, way too soon. To end an overall “meh” story with a “surprise! we’re retiring” scenario was pretty weak; even for the last twenty or so books.

  22. Although I haven’t read it yet, mainly because I despise Denning, I have been staunchly against a reboot, however if Disney were to take Star Wars the way of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, picking the gems of the plots and ignoring Bug Sex, Molestation, and some pretty terrible plots. The sad thing is that the EU has cultivated some wonderful characters, Corran Horn, Mara Jade, Kyle Katarn, Clighal, Jagged Fel, Tahiri (at times), Ben Skywalker (at times), the Solo kids, and even some rather unknowns. I would be ok with a reboot as long as there was some fan service and they tried to keep childrens names similar and added Clighal and either Kyle or Corran as advisors to Luke in 7.

  23. The ultimate goal of any Jedi: Retirement???

    In a day when most people no longer look forward to retirement, or even consider it particularly desirable, the ending seemed bizarre. You can’t just quit being a Jedi. Disappointing.

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