The Crystal Star by Vonda N. McIntyre (1994, Bantam)
Drew Struzan’s cover art for this novel, with the swirling black hole behind Luke Skywalker, lightsaber drawn and wearing a knowing expression, promises the adventure, danger, mystery, and wonder one might expect from a Star Wars story and, indeed, any good space opera. The title—The Crystal Star—also speaks to those sensibilities.
Well, you know the old adage…
The Crystal Star begins with a fundamentally flawed premise. The Solo children—Jaina, Jacen, and Anakin, are kidnapped. This doesn’t seem like an inherently bad idea until it’s revealed that the planet they’re taken from—the planet to which Leia knowingly took her children—has a tradition of carrying out abductions for honor and prestige. The notion that Leia, the intelligent, capable woman we met in the Star Wars Trilogy, now the New Republic’s Chief of State, would not think twice before bringing her children to such a world, is absurd.
It makes matters worse that this is a more or less unnecessary detail, since a “traditional” Munto Codru kidnapping isn’t what happened at all.
The kids’ abductor is Hethrir, a former Imperial official who (shocker) wants to turn back the clock to the bad old days. Author Vonda McIntyre draws a few parallels to Hitler and the Third Reich with Hethrir, whose growing army consists of what he calls the “Empire Youth.” Hethrir and his underlings have kidnapped many children, and they spend most of their time verbally abusing, neglecting, and training the kids to mistreat one another in bids for power and superiority. This allows for some decent moments with the kids, but I only believe McIntyre’s portrayal of small children a little more than Kevin Anderson’s in The Jedi Academy Trilogy.
Meanwhile, Han and Luke visit a remote space station poised on the brink of a black hole. Here they encounter Han’s old girlfriend Xaverri and a cult centered around the miraculous healing claims of a being known only as Waru.
Waru, of course, turns out to be far more sinister than he seems. In fact, in a stroke of wild coincidence, Waru and Hethrir turn out to be in cahoots. That may be this novel’s greatest failing: it relies on coincidence for plot advancement at virtually every turn. Aside from the aforementioned coincidental alliance between villains, Leia allies herself with a woman who just so happens to have a son in Hethrir’s custody. Furthermore, it just so happens that she had that son with Hethrir himself. What a coinky-dink.
At least as bad, however, are the weak characterizations we see here. Luke, with shaky evidence and only the excuse of being unable to access the Force (not his first time in that situation), decides that Han must be fooling around with Xaverri behind Leia’s back. Leia, while undercover, starts to lose herself in her cover identity, as if she’s never pretended to be someone else before.
Han and Threepio are written competently here, and Waru is a decent Lovecraftian-style antagonist. There were some alright ideas in this book (most of which are done better in Ann Crispin’s Han Solo Trilogy). With an extra draft or four, it might even have been halfway decent. As it is, though, The Crystal Star kind of sucks. It’s four hundred or so pages of fairly large print that seem twice as long. I’d recommend saving yourself the slog.