For my inaugural review on this blog, I shall begin with a classic, of sorts. When Disney acquired the Star Wars franchise, they announced that they’d be jettisoning years of Expanded Universe continuity in favor of developing their own movie universe. Longtime fans were furious over the loss of extremely popular works and characters such as Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy and Luke Skywalker’s wife Mara Jade. But there were also plenty of bathwater being thrown out with the baby: novels nobody would be in a hurry to shed any tears over. One of them is a book frequently cited as candidate for worst Star Wars novel of all time: The Crystal Star, by Vonda N. McIntyre.
Princess Leia’s children have been kidnapped. Along with Chewbacca and Artoo-Detoo, she follows the kidnappers’ trail to a disabled refugee ship, from which children are also missing. Here she learns of a powerful Imperial officer with a twisted plan to restore the Empire. Meanwhile, Han Solo and Luke Skywalker are cut off from Leia by the death of a nearby star, which has caused a disruption in the Force. They have gone to the planet Crseih to investigate a report of a lost group of Jedi. Instead they find a charismatic alien named Waru whose miraculous healing powers have attracted a fanatic following. As Leia follows the path of her children across space, Luke and Han draw closer to the truth behind Waru’s sinister cult. Together they will face an explosive showdown that will decide the survival of the New Republic . . . and the universe itself!
The Crystal Star’s problems are myriad, but probably at the core of the issue is that it doesn’t really feel like it belongs in the Star Wars universe. Star Wars has always straddled the line between science fiction and fantasy: space ships on the one hand, Force mysticism on the other. McIntyre takes things a bit too far in the fantasy direction. I don’t think the Star Wars universe was exactly crying out for the existence of werewolves and centaurs – sorry, I mean “wyrwulves” and “chironians”. And then there’s Waru.
In a way, I actually respect that Waru was an attempt to do something different. Following Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy, many of the Expanded Universe books became painfully formulaic in an attempt to imitate his success: an ex-Imperial and a Dark-side Force-user would team up to use some type of superweapon to destroy the New Republic and re-establish the Empire. As novel after novel came out with plots cobbled together from the same cliche, the EU grew to be a ridiculous parade of secret Sith apprentices to Darth Vader and the Emperor wielding powerful but heretofore-unused Imperial superweapons like the Darksaber, the Sun-Crusher, and the Eye of Palpatine, just to name a few. So The Crystal Star gets credit for attempting something new and different: an interdimensional alien with incomprehensible anti-Force ability – a precursor to the Yuuzhan Vong of New Jedi Order, in a way. It’s just a shame that what came out of this attempt was Waru.
Waru’s name, as any weeaboo could tell you, is Japanese for “bad”; and what an apt descriptor for his execution. Waru’s powers are incredibly poorly defined: has some kind of “anti-Force”, but it’s never made clear what exactly this entails. While Luke Skywalker loses his connection to the Force in the novel, this is implied to be due to the influence of the titular Crystal Star rather than Waru’s anti-Force, whatever that may entail. Likewise, he is apparently dying from lack of energy, yet wastes what energy he does have healing people at Hethrir’s command, except when he arbitrarily decides to eat them instead; and despite his motivation for working with Herthir apparently being to find a way to return to his home universe, he seemingly demonstrates that he always had the ability to do so any time he chose at the end of the novel. His personality doesn’t help matters any. Though he is described as some kind of Lovecraftian abomination against all that is sensible, a giant slab of golden scales and gelatinous flesh which constantly oozes slimy ichor and is bigger on the inside than out, the effect is completely undermined when he goes and starts speaking Basic. He seems far too human-like to really be an incomprehensible alien being from a completely different universe with fundamentally different laws. Matters are not at all helped by his departure: rather than engaging in thrilling battle with the heroes, he just up and declares that he’s had enough of this tomfoolery and goes sulking back home like a petulant child.
“You did not keep your promise, Hethrir. You did not give me the child. You did not give me the Jedi. I owe you nothing. I am hungry, Hethrir, I am hungry and lonely and dying, and I want to return home.”
– Waru, to Hethrir
One way it unfortunately does not deviate from formula is the kidnapping of the Solo children. Every villain in the Expanded Universe seemed obsessed with snatching up the kids, usually to turn them to the Dark Side of the Force and mold them into proper heirs of Darth Vader; and even when the villain wasn’t interested in them from the start, they’d inevitably find some way of stowing away and getting dragged along on the adventure anyway. It makes sense that they’d be main characters in, for example, the Young Jedi Knights series; but they are painfully shoehorned into every story, whether they fit or not. Apparently, every Star Wars author believes that readers are endlessly fascinated by the juvenile antics of the pre-teen Solos – or, more likely, there was an editorial mandate that they be included in every novel to capture the youth demographic.
The part of the novel that skeeves me out the most, however, is undeniably the Ghostlings.
Ghostlings, you see, are a humanoid race from a low-gravity world. As a result, they are ethereally beautiful, but also fragile: even a light touch from an ordinary-strength human can bruise their flesh and break their bones. And yet, despite this fragility, they are sexually fascinated by humans; indeed, they long to engage in sex with humans even knowing that to do so would kill them. Go ahead and let that sink in for a few moments.
“I was fascinated with your kind. I followed, I teased…you are so exciting!…and I thought, it might be worth it just to partake of a human, even as the last experience of my life.”
– A Ghostling, to Han Solo
Yes, you read that right. A whole race who are incredibly beautiful, but die if you have sex with them, but are so enamored of humans that they want to have sex with you anyway. In Star Wars. Star Wars contains a race of beautiful but fragile humanoids who literally want to be fucked to death.
Childhood status: ruined.
Most aspects of The Crystal Star were wisely ignored by all future writers in the Expanded Universe, and some authors even seemed to take a sadistic glee in eradicating elements introduced by it in as mean-spirited a manner as possible: for instance, the New Jedi Order series goes out of its way to mention that centaur-girl Lusa was savagely torn to pieces by voxyn and that the entire Firrerreo species was driven to extinction when the Yuuzhan Vong conquered the world where they’d found asylum. And yet, despite the effort to disregard or purge all that had been spawned in the pages of The Crystal Star, the Ghostlings of all things were allowed to go on to make a further appearance – in the children’s series Episode I Adventures, no less! You see, Sebulba, in addition to cheating at pod races, also sold Ghostling children as slaves to a Hutt for use in her pleasure garden. Being a children’s book, so it doesn’t get explicit about what kind of “use”… but given what’s been said about Ghostlings’ only main defining traits, you can go ahead and draw your own conclusions.
Yes, that was really canon. Are you still upset over the Expanded Universe being declared non-canon? Because personally, I’m ready to make like Waru and depart in a puff of disgust.
Final Rating: 2/5