Mar 13 2014 11:00am

Breaking Up is Hard to Do... When There Are Bug Vampires Involved. Star Wars: Planet of Twilight

Star Wars, Planet of Twilight, Barbara Hambly, Drew StruzanBarbara Hambly’s Planet of Twilight features a rocking cover by film poster extraordinaire Drew Struzan that is primarily awesome due to Leia’s wielding a lightsaber on it.

Is it weird that I’m starting out by talking about the cover? Yes. It’s mostly because thinking of how to explain this novel is basically me standing at the foot of a monstrous, craggy mountain with no climbing gear at my disposal—there is no way to do it in a safe, expedient manner. There are bugs. And sentient crystals. The end of Callista by and large. And a former Hutt Jedi? Don’t ask.

But you’re here. So you are effectively asking.

Okay. Brace yourselves.

Leia decides that being a very important woman in galactic politics means that it’s definitely a good idea for her to go on an unofficial mission to meet some guy who was exiled by the Emperor years ago, on a former prison planet full of bugs. This guy’s name is Seti Ashgad, and the former prison planet is a place known as Nam Chorios (I keep wanting to pronounce it “Nom Cheerios,” so that’s a great planet name). So on Nom Cheerios, there are two factions of colonists, one group called “Oldtimers”—I am being completely serious—who are descended from prisoners sent to die there. The other group are, shockingly, called “Newcomers.”

Nam Chorios isn’t supposed to have visitors, though. They have a population of drochs on the planet, which are big old bugs that use living beings as hosts and feed on their energy. When enough of them feed on enough people’s energies, drochs create this thing called the Death Seed. It makes the Black Death look like that one time you got the flu really bad. How on earth a bunch of bugs feeding on life energy suddenly morphs into a plague is never explained in a way that makes much sense. Oh well. The good thing is that Nam Chorios gets weak but constant sunlight from their nearby star. It is, you might say, a planet of twilight.


The reason why that’s a good thing is because the droch need darkness to do their feasting. (Hambly was writing a lot of vampire fiction at the time, so basically think of these guys as bug vampires? There are plenty of similarities.) As long as they’re contained on that world, they can’t do any damage. If they get off via a visiting spaceship… then we’ve got problems. So the planet is cut off, but Leia is still visiting it. She gets kidnapped by Ashgad because whoop-dee-doo, what was she expecting to happen once she went off the books? Luke decides to head down to the planet because his sister had already gotten word that Ashgad was a bad dude from... Callista! She’s somewhere on Nam Chorios and she knows bad things are going down. Luke figures he should just try to bump into her nonchalantly and look surprised, I guess. “What? You’re vacationing here too? Get outta town!”

Leia finds out that Ashgad’s plan is whack-a-mole crazy. He’s buddies with this Hutt named Beldorion, who used to be a Jedi Knight. (Which is an awesome idea! Hutt Jedi! So cool!) Beldorion fell to the dark side when he got to Nam Chorios on a mission and made himself ruler of the planet. (Uh, less awesome.) One of the drochs evolved into a sentient, genetically altered humanoid-looking dude named Dzym, and he’s helping Beldorion and Ashgad too.

With what? you ask vehemently, but it really does take that much background to secure your brain for the rest of the rodeo. See, there is another magical species on Nam Chorios called Tsil, which are sentient crystals. They are super needed because apparently they can be used to power unmanned star fighters that Beldorion, Ashgad, and this old Moff (REMNANTS OF THE EMPIRE, OH HAI THERE, SURPRISE) are hoping to put into play in a coup against the New Republic. In order to do that, they have to get the crystals off-world, so they also need people to land on the planet—thanks Leia!

But there’s more. Apparently drochs can give you life energy if you eat them? Because you absorb the energy they pull in from hosts? So that’s why Beldorion the Hutt is so old but still capable and tough. That, and the Tsil actually amplify Force abilities. Yes, all of these things do exist on the same planet, you know better than to ask that by now. Beldorion doesn’t know that he’s mostly being played by Dzym and Ashgad, who have no interest in pulling him in on their plan when they get to final stages. In fact, Dzym is draining life-force from the Hutt since he can’t infest other people as a humanoid droch. So Beldorion is sorta strong, but sorta not. Dyzm hopes that once his and Ashgad’s plan comes to fruition, he can get off Nam Chorios and into a galaxy of meaty beings that walk around at night, so he’ll never be hungry again. Like Scarlet O’Hara, if she fed on people’s energies. So... exactly like Scarlet O’Hara.

Luke basically wanders around the planet (he crashes on his way down… now that I think of it, this happens to Luke an awful lot) trying to commune with the Tsil and other people. Mostly he wants to find Callista. He misses her. He’s never had a girlfriend who actually liked him! But fandom had spoken at this point, and Callista was for the chopping block; it turns out that after giving Hambly her orders to write “the great love of Luke’s life,” a new editor came in and told her it was no-go. Fans were riled—and they were crying a foul because Luke had already met that women. Her name was Mara Jade.

Timothy Zahn has actually fluctuated on this front; in earlier interviews he claimed that he never intended for Luke and Mara to be a couple, just really cool equals. Later on, he claimed that he had always intended her to be the right woman for Luke, it was just a question of getting Lucasfilm to agree. Honestly, we may never know which was true from the beginning, and either is likely. But more importantly, it was what the fans wanted, so Callista had to be scrapped. Hambly brought her to life and was forced to shove her off in short order… you figure that has to hurt. Interestingly, Callista and Luke have no verbal resolution to their relationship—she simply sees him from afar, and they both know with a look that it’s over and better off that way. It’s oddly poignant for that, for the fact that this is rarely how love is handled on paper and especially not in Star Wars-type narratives. Luke’s maturity in his acceptance of Callista’s decision actually tells us more about how he’s changed in the years since the films than anything else. Still, I wanted better for Callista. Fine, she’s not shacking up with Luke anymore, but she could have made her mark in other stories.

In the meantime, Leia is hanging out with Beldorion as his captive and they eventually end up having a lightsaber duel because someone has to let this guy know that he’s outlived his welcome. Which is awesome because Leia defeats him—she just really likes killing Hutts, okay? But if we want to get picky here, the Hutt of the “Ruby Eyes” serves practically no function in this narrative other than getting his tail handed to him by Leia. This is because, in an effort to make Leia a more well-rounded figure and deal with her heritage, the Expanded Universe books go through many points where they decide Leia is getting Jedi training that she will suddenly ignore completely for no reason. I understand the impulse; if Luke is such a powerful Jedi, naturally Leia would be as well, and if anyone can balance the Force, a political career, and raising three kids, it’s her. But because it’s never consistent within the narrative, it ends up coming off as Leia only manifesting her Force skills when the plot needs her to. It’s… testing.

For the more comical side of life there are a lot of bits between Leia and her Noghri bodyguards, who insist on still calling her “Lady Vader” despite her protests.

On Beldorion: I feel like there’s a lot to be said for the fact that Hutts are always villains in the Star Wars universe. And of course, it’s easy to go with it because they’re billed as giant, gross slug beings. It’s just that after a while, you start to wonder where the nice Hutts live; it’s not like they can all be this megalomaniacal. Some Hutts must spend their time making casseroles and going to college and getting by in their 9-to-5 jobs behind fast food counters. So initially the idea of a Hutt Jedi is such a great move… until we find out that he’s going to be just as bad as all the other Hutts we know, with extra lightsaber badness attached.

As for how this tale resolves—well, it’s mostly Luke convincing the crystal dudes to rise up against Imperial-ish enslavement. Which they only agree to do if Luke makes sure that their brethren and sistren crystals are returned from those icky star fighters after the battle is won. Luke becomes a great big hammer of raw Force from tapping into the Tsil’s amplifying vibrations, so that’s cool. Also, Admiral Daala shows up at the end there and decides to fight on the New Republic’s side because she cannot believe Moff What’s-his-surname would dare associate with filth like Ashgad and Dzym. That part is hilarious.

So most of the bad guys are dead and plague is averted. Luke has no girlfriend, but Leia is awesome in a lightsaber duel. We all hope we never hear from the drochs again. We wave goodbye to a very odd chapter in Star Wars history. And to be fair, while I cannot attest to their overall lucidity or quality, I have never regretted reading these books. They were a weird, woeful ride.

Emily Asher-Perrin had a very hard time following the plot of this book as a kid. You can bug her on Twitter and read more of her work here and elsewhere.

1. Natenanimous
I know that I read this once, but I can't remember — is there an explanation for how a species that can only feed at night evolved on a planet where it is never night? And is it explained how people even know what they do at night, since it's never night there?
Kit Case
2. wiredog
Jedi the Hutt!

Would've been ane awesome short story collection.
3. Nanci
Still, I wanted better for Callista. Fine, she’s not shacking up with Luke anymore, but she could have made her mark in other stories.
Be careful what you wish for. She might end up absorbed by Abeloth and then die in Luke's arms in the Fate of the Jedi series. Oh wait...

As far as Zahn's statements are concerned, I believe he didn't intend for Luke and Mara to get together in Thrawn Trilogy, and at the time he thought that's all there would be. When more books were commissioned, I think that's when he said "okay, they should eventually get together." According to Zahn and Kevin J. Anderson, pretty much all the authors knew about Luke and Mara getting married.
Shariq Ansari
4. DarkeSword
This is one of the first Star Wars books that I actively decided to just stop reading. I was absolutely bored to tears with this book.

So many bizarre, decidedly un-Star-Wars-like ideas in the Bantam era, weren't there?
Chris Nelly
5. Aeryl
drochs create this thing called the Death Seed.

No, drochs are the Death Seed. Period. Them feeding on your energy is what was killing people during the Death Seed plague. Because they got absorbed into the body, there was never any evidence of a foreign substance, which led medical officials to claim it was a disease, not a flea infestation.

Also, Dzym was pulling the life forces from all the little drochs, and he didn't evolve, he was genetically engineered by that cook(that he ate).

You skipped the part where Leia learns her moves to defeat Beldorian from Callista!

IIRC, this one was not done in sequence with the other two, several other novels, like Black Fleet Crisis, came out between this one and Darksaber, which probably influenced a lot of where the plot comes from in this book.

This one, as with New Rebellion, also has a C3P0 and R2-D2 roadshow.
6. Colin R
I had forgotten how the drochs work, and your explanation makes me think of Pitch Black. How much sense does it make that species which require darkness would evolve on planets that are always bathed in light, anyway? Oh well!

I didn't hate this book or anything but to this day it remains the most confusing stories I can remember. All the details, I remember--drochs, plague, sentient crystals, Hutt Jedi, check. But what actually happens? Even reading your summary here, my head feels full of fog. Seems like everyone just kind of muddles around and then it's over.
Chris Nelly
7. Aeryl
@1, They didn't evolve. Hutts eat bugs. Beldorian had a chef that liked to use genetics to create interesting and tasty bugs. The chef experimented on the drochs and kept them in the dark so they could grow, ending up with Dzym, who could telepathically control smaller drochs. There is even a scene wher Dzym is hunting other drochs that have gotten a bit too big for their britches.
Steve Oerkfitz
8. SteveOerkfitz
Wow. Rocking and awesome in the same sentence. Couldn't manage to include amazin or kickass?? Cover looks rather generic to me.
9. Colin R
@7 Totally forgot that! So Hutt Gastronomy is deadly.
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
10. Lisamarie
I have to agree with you Emily, I can't quite regret reading any of these books, as cheesy as they are, and as convoluted as some of the plots are. In some ways (mostly nostalgia), I enjoy the Bantam era more than the NJO/Legacy of the Force stuff. Mostly a matter of tone - the writing and stories are not always as good or as coherent.

But, yes, I actually distinctly remember while readnig this book, and some of the ones that came after it, that I was in a low point in the timeline. I felt like New Rebellion was the next 'good' Star Wars book.

Nom Cheerios made me literally laugh out loud, that is the best. Thank you :)
Emily Asher-Perrin
11. EmilyAP
Actually... I'm pretty sure the drochs are not native to Nam Chorios? It's pretty confusing with the background given elsewhere, but the suggestion is that the drochs were originally put on the prison planet in hopes that they would wipe out the prisoner population with the plague. Of course, they couldn't because of the light. Dzym is created by Beldorion's chef, but that's not why they're there.

@8 - I reserve kickass for truly special situations, much like Spock's distinction between "fascinating" and "interesting." Though I maintain the cover is great. The color scheme in those warm tones is weirdly soothing to me, and everyone looks oh-so pretty.
12. 2nihon
There are some genuinely creepy moments in this book, having to do with the drochs, and also what about that weird hag who pretends to be Luke's mom? What a strange book...
Alana Abbott
13. alanajoli
Oh, man, I'd forgotten all about this one -- and I don't think I'm sad about that. :) I rememer disliking the Hambly EU books because they never felt to me like they were happening in the same shared universe -- it was always sort of like she was writing about different characters than I knew, only they had the same names and genealogies. Ah well. I didn't like the Dave Wolverton one much, either.

Callista as a character was pretty awesome, but the whole falling for Luke and then reincarnating into the body of one of his dead students always made me feel like it was a romance doomed to failure, if only due to squickiness.
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
14. Lisamarie
I agree, this cover is actually one of my favorites!
Joseph Newton
15. crzydroid
I'm pretty sure I never got to this one. I think Nom Cheerios is a better idea for a planet though. That can be where the nice Hutts live...and they are serving lunch to annoying high school kids who always make fun of them and tease them about being criminal overlords.
Joseph Armao
16. joeyesq
I'm pretty sure this was the novel where my 15 year-old self realized that most of the EUnovels were objectively terrible, and I was only reading them because they had the words "Star Wars" on the cover.

I stopped reading anything not written by Zahn, Stackpole or Allston when I put down book 1 of the Black Fleet Crisis about midway through chapter 3.

Edit: Actually it m ay have been Darksaber, because Black Fleet predates this by a year.
Michael Ikeda
17. mikeda

Or they could call it Nom Chorizos.

And have Luke grumbling about how all the food on the planet is spicy...

Mike Kelmachter
18. MikeKelm
I'm with joeyesq@16 here... these just sort of started sucking after awhile. Actually the issue is that the Bantam era paperbacks had the same issue that the Star Trek paperbacks had- the publisher realized that the title was the selling point and the story was just a secondary concern. After all, crisis would occur, hillarity would ensue, crisis would be averted, and for the most part, nothing had really changed. Later authors did heroic efforts to start trying to incorporate all of these random pieces together, but things like this, the Black Fleet Crisis, the New Rebellion were all just bad titles that made little sense in regards to anything else and would have probably been better served not existing.
19. StuartB
I always liked Callista and wanted more from her, the ending just left me feeling unresolved. Although the Luke and Mara Jade romance was perfect and expected later on.

Yeah, this was a weird book, weird sort of trilogy, but The Crystal Star will always be the worst Star Wars anything for me.

Perhaps after the EU reading is done, someone could do listen alongs to all the radio dramas? I've always thought they were the best depictions of the Star Wars stories, even better than the movies.

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