You 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.