Of the approximately eleventy billion books in the original Star Wars Expanded Universe, there are the hallowed (the Thrawn books by Timothy Zahn), the good (the X-Wing books), the bad (The Jedi Academy) and the mediocre (...most of them). And then there's The Crystal Star, a novel so bad it ruined me. Let this article serve as a warning to the rest of the galaxy.
The swirl is the void this book should be chucked into. (Cover art from Crystal Star by Drew Struzan)
In full disclosure: In the past, I've defended Crystal Star as being "not as bad you think". For one thing, unlike The Courtship of Princess Leia, it didn't ruin something fans were looking specifically forward to. (Yes, I'm still pissed Han and Leia got married after he kidnapped her to prevent her from ending up in an arranged marriage designed to get arms for the New Republic.) For another, I always said that one bad book didn't beat a bad series or trilogy of books, since it's confined to a single book.
I will admit to being stupid. It became abundantly clear from the very first page of Crystal Star that I had blocked out a lot of what made this book so awful. It's like my brain had deleted almost all of the details of Crystal Star in self-defence. I owe the Corellian Trilogy a massive apology -- I had merged the kidnapping of the Solo children from Crystal Star into the kidnapping in those books. In my defence, those kids get kidnapped a lot. Like, way more than they should, given how important their parents are and that they're really powerful in the Force. Han and Leia are really irresponsible parents is what I think I'm saying here.
Anyway, the point is that I didn't really know what I was getting into when I volunteered to reread the book for the next instalment of "Torturing Katharine by Forcing Her to Reread the Worst Star Wars Books in Existence". I was... unprepared.
Crystal Star is bad from the very first page. The poor quality of the prose hits you like a fist in the face. And then it just keeps punching you until you decide to that you and the pain are just going to have to live together forever now. I present page two of this nightmare:
A crater was ripped into the soft grass. The leafy blades had been flattened into a circle around the raw patch of empty dirt.
A pressure bomb! Leia thought in horror.
A pressure bomb had gone off, near her children.
They aren't dead! she told herself. They can't be, I'd know if they were dead!
The exclamation points don't make Leia seem like she's panicking, they make her seem like a simpleton. Granted, everyone in this book is an idiot, but this is where I point out that Leia is, at this exact moment, the political head of the New Republic. And this is her interior monologue!
Image: Cover art from Crystal Star by Drew Struza
The book opens with the attack on Munto Codru where Leia is on a diplomatic mission. Munto Codru is a planet where the people who inhabit it are humanoids with four arms. But they start life as giant six-legged dogs before entering a cocoon. The dog form? "Wyrwulves."
NO. Go back and look at that again. If I had to read about the fearsome child-dogs with the misspelled name, SO DO YOU. Every time I read the word "wyrwulf", another part of me died. This is rule one of bad science fiction and fantasy writing: Include something from our world, but spell it all X-TREME. I'm shocked it isn't peppered with random apostrophes, the other version of this trope that I've seen far too often.
Later in the book, there's a centaur who befriends the Solo children. A CENTAUR.
Munto Codru is a planet with a long tradition of kidnapping the children of important people. So of course Leia brought her kids with her there. Sounds like a solid plan, right there. LEAVE THE KIDS AT HOME FOR THIS ONE, LEIA. I swear to God this book says she had just sort of trusted in the Force to let her know when her kids were in danger. All of this is just the first chapter and, were I not under obligation to finish this thing as part of my job, I would have stopped here. But there is much more pain to come.
Because that is only chapter one, chapter two sends Luke and Han on a secret mission to look for some Jedi. Like so many characters here, Luke is a presented as an empty-headed moron. Why? Two reasons: 1) The book's plot doesn't work if characters aren't dumb, and 2) being stupid helps counteract Luke's Jedi powers. In fact, since Han and Luke are undercover, Luke doesn't use a physical disguise. He uses the Force to make himself look different to others. Hope that holds up when he's asleep or unconscious! Or that none of the Jedi Luke's looking for are real and evil and can see through the Force illusion!
And Luke being easily led and a moron explains this:
"Why'd you want to follow that guy all the way out here?" he asked Luke, who sat on his heels at the edge of the indoor pool, scooped his hand through the running water, smelled then briefly tasted it.
"We needed a native guide."
"We're supposed to have one," Han pointed out.
"And he might be useful to us," Luke said.
"I doubt it," Han said. "And … he reminded me of Yoda."
"You think he might be one of the Jedi?"
"I thought he might be. Now I don't think so. But he could have been."
You thought he might be a Jedi because... he looked like Yoda. Luke can use the Force to change his features, can't sense another Jedi.
Also, in this chapter a succubus hits on Han and he reminisces about his previous encounters with them. Because this book came from Hell to test me.
Meanwhile, Han and Leia's three children have been taken by Hethrir, who tells them he is their "hold-father" (I assume that's the Star Wars equivalent of "godfather"). He convinces the children that their whole family died and they live with him now. Of course, he's a moron because the kids know that Han and Luke are on a secret mission. Of course, the adults are idiots because the preschoolers managed to find out about their secret mission.
Hethrir is supposed to be an evil Force-user trained by Vader himself, but he's outsmarted by the kids a lot. They figure out he's a liar right away by saying Jacen is the oldest kid, when it's Jaina. I'd assume the kids of Han and Leia had a very documented early life, but sure. The kids also find ways to rebel and keep making escape attempts.
Leia goes searching for her kids in her ship, The Alderaan. And she uses the totally believable pseudonym of "Lelila". And she dies her hair brown and green. That's sure to hide your identity, Leia! Enjoy this bit where Leia imagines disguising herself as man, which is one of the only things I have retained of this book for 15 years:
She envied Han his beard. Such an easy way to hide one's face. She considered disguising herself as a man, but only for a moment.
In stories, she said to herself, princesses always disguise themselves as princes. But princesses in stories never have any hips. They never have any breasts. No. I'd look like a woman in disguise; I'd only draw more attention.
Better to be invisible.
I hate this writing so much I think it may actually be a personal attack. This prose has invaded my dreams, where it taunts me. Blandly.
The scales with ooze next the Threepio is the Big Bad. I know. (Image by Bill Hughs from The Essential Chronology via Wookiepedia)
Understand that I'm only about halfway through the book right now. But suffice it to say, the evil plan involves Hethrir trying to bring back the Empire. He's allied himself with a transdimensional blob of golden semi-liquid, semi-gelatin covered in scales (LOOK, I DON'T KNOW EITHER) called Waru. Waru wants to go home and he wants to use the life of someone powerful in the Force to punch through the dimensional walls. Hethrir promises to get him someone if Waru will grant him power over the Force. The whole thing.
While Hethrir sets his plan in motion, Waru sets himself up as a magical healer, gathering acolytes by convincing them they need his healing. He's actually sucking out their life force to keep himself alive. Han and Luke are lead to Waru, where Luke's Force affinity and the weird location of the station they're on makes him fall for Waru the evil scaled Jell-O cube's healing scam. LUKE. You're supposed to be a Jedi master!
Oh, but it gets better. Hethrir's plan was to give Han and Leia's youngest, Anakin (oh, the fact that Leia named one of her kids after the dad that tortured her is a debate for another time), to Waru. Leia and Han arrive in time to save him, but not before Luke the Idiot offers himself in Anakin's place. And is engulfed in Waru's golden jelly mass. Leia jumps in after him. AND HAN. YOU HAVE JUST RESCUED YOUR THREE CHILDREN, ONE OF YOU SHOULD REALLY STAY BEHIND.
By the way, if you guessed that Crystal Star would blackout the trope bingo board by ending the evil plot with "the love of children saves the world", congrats! Because it's the kids calling for their family that snaps Leia and Luke out of it so they can wade out of Waru, who turned into a whirlpool. It's Crystal Star, I promise that's what happened and that there isn't a real explanation.
Waru eats Hethrir and uses him to leave -- why he didn't do that in first place, I don't know and I don't care any more -- and then everyone has to flee because a star's collapsing. Much like my will to live as this book goes above the 400-page mark.
Crystal Star is so much worse than I remember. It lives up to its reputation in every possible way. The writing is as simple as the minds of its characters. The villains' plan makes less than no sense, and they do not live up to being either an apprentice of Darth Vader or an intergalactic traveller with amazing powers. The inclusion of succubi, centaurs and wyrwulves makes it even more absurd. I don't know what happened, Vonda McIntyre isn't a bad writer, usually. But every single decision in this book is bad.
To end this, I will share with you a bit of Han's inner monologue. Note the lack of flow to the thoughts combined with the hilarity that Han has had two sons, in two different Star Wars timelines go evil. The Force Awakens loses points for going this obvious and boring route, but gains them back for not being as bad as the Star Wars Legends' many books on that theme:
Han seldom admitted his nightmares, but he had nightmares about what could happen to his children if they were tempted to the dark side.
I've read those books, I have those nightmares, too, Han.