Mar 20 2014 11:00am

Baby-Snatching as a Viable Sith Career Path. Star Wars: The Crystal Star

Star Wars, The Crystal Star, Vonda McIntyre, Drew StruzanYou know, Vonda McIntyre’s Star Trek books are kind of a big deal, and for good reason. On the other hand, The Crystal Star is a book that elicits a very specific sort of (non-complimentary) reaction from Star Wars fans. Is it the great big flesh blob? Maybe the tiny super Solo kids? Luke’s general weirdness throughout?

I won’t lie to all you stalwart souls—I loved this book when I first read it. Maybe I can pass on some of that weird enjoyment to you this time around?

There’s this guy named Hethrir, see? And he wants unlimited power, like most dark side users do. He was trained by Vader himself, so he’s pretty sure he deserves it. (This is one thing that the EU has cropping up everywhere that really falls flat once the “Only Two” rule comes to light in the prequels—stop training so many Sith, you guys.) And he’s got this operation that he keeps afloat by selling all these people into slavery that he had cryo-frozen years back. He lives on a worldship and he has a teenaged servant named Tigris.

Hethrir has made friends with this weirdo blob thing called Waru, who has magical healing powers. He tells Hethrir that if the guy brings him a really powerful Force-user to eat (he basically absorbs things into his blobby flesh between the gold plates that encase his... blobbiness), he will top Hethrir up with some kind of dark side steroids that will make him all powerful. So Hethrir’s magical plan is to kidnap the Solo kids while their mom has them out on a diplomatic galactic tour. This shouldn’t work, but it totally does and Leia and Chewie are pissed. They set out to find the kids with R2 and so does Leia’s old childhood friend, Winter.

It turns out that Hethrir has a big old compound full of Force-senstitive kids that he’s been training up under his evil wing. He tries to convince the Solo kids that their whole family is dead and he was named their “Hold-father,” a permanent guardian in place of his parents. The Solo brood may be young but they’re definitely not stupid, and they debunk that myth by tricking the dude into agreeing with one key fact about their birth that they deliberately botch. (It’s which of the twins was born first—it was Jaina, by the way.)

So Jacen and Jaina know that Hethrir’s a problem, and then he separates them from toddler Anakin to try and prevent trouble. Worst plan ever, as it only galvanizes the twins to lead a liberation front. They are five years old, by the way. And they make a friend! Her name is Lusa, and she’s basically a centaur with two horns on her head. Together, the three of them work to free the children from their cages and get the wee Solo back. Anakin, in the meantime, has been put in the care of Tigris. Hethrir has decided Anakin is the ideal candidate for blobbening, so he prepares to head on over to Waru’s place. Tigris is bonding with the little tyke and trying to deny it.

Leia is furious and deadly effective as she and Chewie quickly parse out the BS and figure out where all this is headed. It’s really just fun to see Leia and Chewie hang out, honestly. They are having none of it. They are the MVPs of this book, hands down. They find some of those unfortunate frozen slaves and discover that one of them is Hethrir’s wife. She tried to run away from him once she got pregnant because she wasn’t so happy with his Sith-happy arbiter of justice job that Vader got him. Turns out he destroyed his home planet and killed most of his people to prove he was in it to win it. She just wanted to get away with their baby because he wasn’t Force-sensitive anyhow, so Hethrir wouldn’t get that heir-to-Vader that he was hoping for.

Their kid, by the way? Yeah, it’s totally Tigris.

And where are Han and Luke in all of this? Funny you should ask... Han got a tip that he should check out Waru’s operation, so he and Luke go undercover, which basically amounts to painting 3PO purple and Luke growing a beard. This has the added hilarity of poorly addressing the problem with being galactically known; we either have to assume that news crews just don’t film rebel heroes and new order diplomats that often, or we’re forced to wonder why the major trio aren’t always disguised. But addressing it by painting your golden droid... is that really the most conspicuous part of the operation? Really? (Also, the answer is to paint him? It isn’t easier to give him different colored casings?)

It turns out that the place where Waru is holding up comes close to a crystalizing star that conveniently blocks Luke’s ability to feel the Force. It’s making him queasy. Then he sees Waru’s faith-healer routine on the populace and is enthralled. Han, unsurprisingly, is skeptical, and then he finds out that his anonymous tip hailed from ex-girlfriend Xaverri. So know he knows his skepticism is well-founded because she is cool. But Luke really thinks that Waru can fix this Force-absenteeism issue, and considers offering himself up for healing. (Rather than, you know, leaving the planet and seeing if some distance helps the condition.) He sees Han talking to the ex, and rather than be the level-headed young man we know and love, decides that the most logical accusation to make is OMG HAN STOP CHEATING ON MY HOT SISTER.

I may have added the “hot” part, but it all goes down the same river, so...

So Luke is laughably out-of-character, but we’re meant to buy it because his barometer is all off from lack of Force-juice. Okay. Han is trying to figure out how to fix the problem when some guy walks by with a baby and Solo’s all, “Whoa, pretty sure that was my kid.”

No, for real.

Everyone handily makes it to Waru’s altar at the same time for the final showdown. Hethrir tries to offer Anakin as a tiny Force sacrifice, Han and Leia are like “oh very hell no,” and Luke is like “take me instead! I’ve got more muscle!” So Waru slurps him up, which leads to Han and Leia diving into the blob monster and swimming around after him. It’s sort of the book equivalent to seeing everyone covered in gross pink slime when you’re watching Ghostbusters II. Actually, it’s worse.

Eventually, Luke hears the cries of Han and Leia (and also the kids, who are outside fleshy heap) and decides he’d rather live to find out if there are easier ways to get his groove back. He exits, which gets Waru in a bit of a state. He’s angry at Hethrir for not holding up his end of the bargain, so he swallows the guy and disappears, ostensibly back to the alternate universe he heralds from. Why he didn’t just do this in the first place, we have no idea.

Oh and yes, I did say alternate universe. The theory they end up with is that Waru came from another one where the Force was a very different sort of thing. His arrival (which was probably not intentional?) is what caused the crystal star in the first place, and his desire to eat a Force-laden being was the only way he could get enough gas to go home.

Children are freed, Tigris is sad to know his dad never loved him, Luke starts acting like a normal person, and everyone goes home with some interesting psychological scars.

So... why did I enjoy this book so much?

Honestly? It’s a little bit of everything. I always enjoy the Solo kids, even if they are too young here to makes sense as viable heroes. There’s an element of the Ewok Adventures to it, which was also something that kid-me liked. Leia and Winter get to be awesome in the book, which is an easy plus. I thought painting 3PO purple was the best idea ever at the time. Hethrir and his bad parenting made Darth Vader look all kinds of cuddly by comparison, and I always did want Tigris to come out the other side happier once he realized that his mom was alive and honestly a pretty cool lady.

I suppose a simpler answer is that I love Star Wars books that break up the set groups; it’s like everyone assumed that because Empire and Jedi featured Luke constantly breaking away for his own adventures with R2, that was how it always had to be. And as a result, you really don’t get many chances in the EU to see Han and Luke hanging out and having an adventure together. Or Luke and Leia for that matter, which seems worse seeing as how they have all this lost sibling-hood to make up for. So even if Luke is yelling at Han for imaginary cheating, I’d rather see them together than not. I’d rather they had this weird shared experience.

Even so, it doesn’t make this tale any less... I’m not even sure there’s a word for it. It’s better to just sit back and let it all sink in. Accept it. Revel in it. And remember that if it sounds kind of like a gelatinous cube, it’s probably not your friend.

Emily Asher-Perrin wants a purple 3PO for her very own. You can bug her on Twitter and read more of her work here and elsewhere.

1. srizzo00
Part of the reason that it was weird to see Luke react this way when the Force was taken away from him was because it had been portrayed before (in Zahn's Heir to the Empire trilogy) when he was on Myrkr with all of its Force-blocking ysalamiri, and he didn't behave anything like this at all.
Drew McCaffrey
2. PallonianFire
I'm loving these EU re-reads! Brings me back to my early teens. Any chance we'll see the X-wing books or some of the Thrawn stuff, or are you sticking to the...ah...odder EU offerings?
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
3. Lisamarie
I think I figured Waru and/or the star was somehow hypnotizing him, but that might just be my own fan wank.

Man, this book is so awful it's good. I've been eagerly anticipating this reveiw :) I think for me the biggest thing that jolted me out of the story was the whole 'alternate dimension' thing which just hasn't really been a part of the Star Wars mythos/cosmology so it just doesn't quite fit. It's kind of like she had this idea for a story, got asked to write a Star Wars book, and smushed it all in, but it doesn't quite fit. And then the end is just so...anticlimactic. Waru just decides to eat the villain and go home, the end.

I will admit, I love the Solo kids though. I probably really enjoyed those parts when I first read it. That said, even reading this summary kind of gave me a mini panic attack because I couldn't get past the horror of somebody kidnapping my children and or seeing somebody try and sacrifice my child to a gelatinous cube.
4. David Landon
This was the book that finally turned me off the Star Wars EU. I love Vonda McIntyre's Star Trek books, but The Crystal Star is bad. It's worse than The Phantom Menace.
Margot Virzana
5. LuvURphleb
I loved this book. Mostly because of the kids. I love how jaina can reason out hethrir's bad side. And it makes sense even if it is a bit of a stretch. Her parents told her that their protectors would know a safe word. When hethrir evades the question, she throws him the curve ball birth thing.
To buy the "rule of two" thing i always figured it was mostly arrogance on palpatines part. He won the war. He was able to obliterate the Jedi. But there are still force sensitives out there. He thinks he is all that and can never be beaten because hes got vader- the chosen one- as a henchmen. So he goes overboard with the emperor's hands. (I especially like how none of them realize there are others) and vader, perhaps in weak rebellion, perhaps to break hid melancholy, also trains some students. It is only natural for the student to want to take down the master.

Luke's OOC- yes he lost the Force on myrkr but that was more of a natural dampening. Like he was shielded from the One Power. He knew it was there, just beyond his reach.
I havent read this book in a while but i always felt that the crystal star and Waru were changing that area of space due to his unnatural presence. Kind of like star trek tng: schism. It was like building a pocket of his universe in star wars universe and because its Force Related, it messes with Luke in the head.
Chris Nelly
6. Aeryl
The best part of this book is the Leia and Chewie roadshow. I was just tired of the kids as plot movers stories by this time(their behavior here is no worse than when they got lost under Coruscant and started acting out their bedtime story), which is why I liked the NJO so much(never got into the Junior Jedi Knight books).

This one is SO WEIRD. Plus, it loses points for NO MARA(which is something the Corellian trilogy GOT RIGHT).

Your point that too many of the books followed the movie formula is a good one. On one hand, it makes sense that Han and Leia spend the most time together, but it does miss out on a fun dynamic.
7. Colin R
Chewbacca has to be the bane of every author. How do you write a character whose primary character trait is incoherence? You can't even write a conversation between Han Solo and Chewie, best buds, because either it's just a monologue with the occasional "Chewie whuffled a reply," or you have to actually write a translation for Chewie and risk alienating readers by putting words in his mouth where there were none before. Even the best SW novels have this problem. R2-D2 suffers this fate a bit too--they're characters who work in an audio-visual environment but suffer in a novel.

Anyway this book... I don't even have anything to say, I read it once and never again. Is Xaverri supposed to be a Zatanna analogue? I really remember her more from The Hutt Gambit, but it seemed like they just wanted to say "Yeah Han Solo used to date Zatanna." The idea of a stage magician in Star Wars seems so odd for some reason.
Chris Nelly
8. Aeryl
@7, Zahn got around that by having a Wookie with a speech impediment.
Dave Thompson
9. DKT
@7: James S.A. Corey in Honor Among Thieves had a lot of fun with this, by introducing a character who also understood Wookie, and was impressed with Chewebacca's inventive profanity.

Wookie will never sound the same to me :)
Alan Brown
10. AlanBrown
This is the third Star Wars EU book where I don't recognize the plot. So I had definitely given up on the EU by this time. Except for the X-Wing books, and any Zahn-penned books, that is.
11. Vortimer
I read this one last week; I try and read them blind as much as possible, but I went into this expecting the worst, as I was aware it's regarded as something of a low point of the Bantum EU novels, and I've read, and not hugely enjoyed, a couple of VNM's Star Trek novels.
I didn't enjoy it, but it wasn't as painful as I expected - I had a similar experience with The New Rebellion, where I'd picked up a very negative vibe before I started (and had not enjoyed the KKR & DWS authored ST novel I read last year) but found what was just a weak novel rather than a travesty.
The Crystal Star was better at least IMO than the Jedi Academy trilogy I waded my way through a couple of weeks ago.
The two big problems I have with TCS are firstly that I never got a SW vibe off it - I can't describe why, or even clearly what I mean - the music just didn't play in my head.
The second problem is rather like the one I had with VNM's Enterprise The First Adventure. Established male charactors are rather weak in her stories, while established and new female charactors drive the action.
Luke, the most powerful warrior in the galaxy, is almost a damsel in distress, Han is rather an ageing man child going out on the beer and gambling when out from under his wife's thumb. Han's brooding, still in the game ex girlfriend is the brains and guts of this part of the story.
The Solo kids are been held in Sith Hogwarts, where the female twin leads the resistance and escape attempts; The male controls some ants to irritate the prefects, following the lead of his sister who has just used the force to put sand down thier clothes. (coming soon, Dark Side Chinese burns)
Then you've got Leia, already a strong female charactor, charging to the rescue of her kidnapped brood like an advenging angel picking up another warrior momma on the way.
I've no problem with a novel written from a feminist view point, but IMO VNM rather sacrifices the established charactors of Han and Luke (and Kirk and Spock) to do so.
Henry Lightfoot
12. Henry Lightfoot
This is one of those books that I feel sad about it not being better. It has arguably the best cover art of any early EU novel, and I consider the Firrerreo species (Heithrir, Tigris...but especially the wife, Rillao) to be one of the more interesting alien/cultural groups.

Unfortunately, the overall story just struck me as very bland when I read it way back then, and the kids, Waru, etc. I feel like this one was a huge missed opportunity, but unfortunately not a near miss.
13. Tomatobird
Haha I first read this book when I was in third grade, and read it about ten more times after that. I really really loved the Solo kids escapades and the weirdness of it all, even though it probably would be a cringe-worthy read for me today. (painting C-3p0 Purple??? What??). However it did inspire me to create a couple of Firrerreo padawan original characters and fill a whole notebook of rather awful family AU Star Wars fan comics, which incidentally motivated me to start learning how to draw , and in a roundabout way contributed to my present pursuits going into illustration now, ten years later ...interesting how the world works.

OOC Angsty Luke did kinda bother even then, even with the explanation of "force bending scaly creature" Waru.

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