The name Troy Denning can inspire a lot of emotion in Star Wars fans. “Believe me, I could relate to what George R.R. Martin went through after the Red Wedding episode of Game of Thrones aired on HBO,” Denning says. The prolific author has left an indelible mark on the Star Wars Expanded Universe, contributing to such epic series as The New Jedi Order, Legacy of the Force, and Fate of the Jedi — leaving a substantial body count in his wake, including those of Han & Leia Solo’s two sons, Anakin and Jacen. “I think it’s fair to say that between killing Anakin and killing Jacen my Amazon star rating has taken a hit.”
Now Denning’s returning with his first standalone Star Wars novel in ten years, Crucible, out today (and available here), a story that takes place about a year after the concluding events of Fate of the Jedi, which saw the Order leave Coruscant. “Han and Leia decide to help Lando with a favor that ends up getting far more complicated than they anticipated…as often happens with the Solos,” Denning says. “It’s a story that starts small and ends up big.” We caught up with Denning about writing the book, set 44 years after the events of A New Hope, that he envisioned as Han, Luke, and Leia’s “last hurrah” — at least until the announcement of Star Wars Episode VII. And after the interview click to the next page for an exclusive excerpt from Crucible.
This is your first standalone novel since Tatooine Ghost in 2003. How is the experience of writing a singular story different from contributing to large series like Legacy of the Force and Fate of the Jedi?
It was nice being able to collaborate with other people on those series, because as a writer you spend so much time in your own little cave that you sometimes miss out on interaction. That said, every time you’d ever want to make a story change you’d have to run it by a whole roster of other people, so writing a little standalone story like this allowed me more freedom. With Crucible, any big changes I wanted to make I only had to run by Lucasfilm not other authors whose stories I might affect.
Crucible takes us to a part of that Galaxy Far, Far Away we’ve never seen before. What made you want to add something new to Star Wars’ stellar map?
In any story universe you don’t just want to keep adding to it when there are places and planets that exist that will already achieve the same thing for you story-wise. You don’t want to just keep making it bigger for no good reason. It’s why when I have to have a character be a member of the Jedi Council, I’ll often go to Saba Sebatyne, or why I used the Squibs from Tatooine Ghost again in the Dark Nest Trilogy. But so many Star Wars stories are set on Coruscant, Corellia, Nal Hutta, Tatooine, and that can cause the galaxy to shrink in its feel. I wanted to get back to the idea that that Galaxy Far, Far Away is a vast, vast place, with countless stretches that you haven’t explored. And even somebody like Han Solo who’s been everywhere has only seen a thousandth of one percent of the galaxy. Part of what makes it so dangerous is its hugeness, because you’re never quite sure what it’s going to throw at you.
When we last left off, at the end of Fate of the Jedi, Luke and the Jedi had discovered the existence of Mortis, and that’s something that enters into Crucible. Why did you decide to involve Mortis in this new story?
It came about as an outgrowth of what happened in Apocalypse, when Luke sent ten Knights out to search for the Dagger of Mortis so he could deal with Abeloth in a final showdown. It’s very romantic, like the search for the Lost Grail. Through an intermediary I talked with Dave Filoni about the nature of the monoliths. It was me asking him a few questions about monoliths and then him coming back with an answer. I didn’t want to ignore Mortis, and it intersected with what I was asked to do in this book: to have Han, Luke, and Leia’s last hurrah.
Do you see Crucible as Han, Luke, and Leia’s “passing of the torch” moment?
Crucible was going to be a “passing of the torch” story. So something that was big enough to be worthy of that, that could show these characters being changed — along with their respective outlooks about life, the galaxy, and the Force — was Mortis. In Fate of the Jedi, Luke is already dealing with the more mystical aspect of the Force, and I thought, “You know, we just can’t drop that thread and have him say ‘I need to pass the torch.’” Something major needs to change in his character before he reaches that decision, because, let’s face it, Luke at 70 or 80 is still going to be as active as anybody else around so there’s no real reason for him to just say, “Hey, I’m done.” So it was really more a spiritual journey he needed, and that got back to the idea of Mortis.
Was the concept of Crucible being a “passing of the torch” novel affected at all by the announcement of the new movie trilogy?
The introduction of Episode VII made our understanding of what Crucible was going to be a lot less certain. The original idea was that, yes, this was going to be a “passing of the torch” book in which Luke, Han, and Leia hand off their legacy to the next generation, and begin to stand back and let them take the lead. Then Episode VII comes along and changes everything, because it’s uncertain exactly what’s going to happen to the EU after that. Shelly Shapiro said, “Hey, it’s the EU, we should keep our original intentions for the book.” So it is still a passing of the torch book, we just don’t know what we’re passing the torch to.
But nobody stepped in and asked you to change anything based on the announcement of the new films…
Nobody intervened and asked me to change anything about the book. But it became clear we don’t know what’s going to happen to the EU. Maybe Lucasfilm knows by now, but that’s way above my pay grade. I can tell you for sure that there wasn’t an answer when I was writing the book.
NEXT: An Exclusive Excerpt from Crucible
From the book, STAR WARS: Crucible by Troy Denning. Copyright © 2013 by Troy Denning. Reprinted by arrangement with Ballantine Books, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.
… Leia switched her transmitter back to the group channel, then waved to get her companions’ attention.
“We don’t have time for this,” she said. “If an emergency evacuation takes fifteen minutes, we’re out of time already. Even if we connect with someone— ”
“Hold on,” Han said. He turned to Dena. “Emergency evacuation? What triggers that?”
“Plant control sounds an alarm, of course,” Dena said. “But I don’t see how— ”
“I mean what triggers it automatically?” Han interrupted. “Say something big explodes. Would that do it?”
“Of course, if it was big enough to be seen,” Dena said. “But I don’t see how— ”
“Get in,” Han said. “I’ve got an idea.”
Leia went for the front passenger seat. Lando took the seat behind her. Dena, who until then had been the group’s driver, went to the pilot’s seat.
“Sorry, sister.” Han jerked his thumb toward the seat behind him. “Get in. I’ll take it from here.”
Dena’s jaw dropped behind her faceplate, and she made no move toward the rear door. “Captain Solo, this is my— ”
“Han’s driving,” Lando interrupted. “Take the backseat. Now.”
Leia felt a wave of outrage roll through the Force, but Dena obeyed. Han hit the throttles before the doors had even dropped shut, and the vehicle shot down the narrow road, weaving and bouncing as it descended toward the production basin.
“We need something that will go up with a big fl ash,” Han said.
“Maybe a processing core or something.”
“The closest processing core is down in the slag well,” Dena said.
“About ten kilometers from here.”
“Too far,” Leia said. Given the long series of switchback curves, it would take at least five minutes to travel that far— even with Han behind the controls. “We need something closer.”
“What about those storage tanks at the bottom of the scarp?” Lando asked Dena. “Didn’t you put them out here to protect the plant if there was an accident?”
Dena did not reply immediately. A green light activated in the ceiling panel, indicating that the land speeder interior was now fully pressurized. She covered her pause by making a show of deactivating her suit’s air supply and raising her faceplate.
Leia chinned a release tab inside her own helmet. She didn’t quite trust Dena. The woman had a habit of thinking too long before answering a question, and Leia didn’t like the way Dena had offered to secure the closures on Han’s pressure suit. That was just too familiar— oddly familiar, given that he was her boss’s married best friend.
Leia flipped her own faceplate up, then turned to ask, “Is that a difficult question, Chief Yus?”
“It isn’t,” Dena replied, a little too quickly. “I’m just trying to recall what we have in each tank at the moment— and wondering whether we can breach them. They’re triple- walled durasteel, sandwiched around two ten- centimeter layers of duracrete. Crashing a landspeeder into one wouldn’t even crack it.”
“Crashing a landspeeder . . .” Han let his sentence trail off, then asked, “Are you crazy? We’ve got a Jedi with us.”
He started to elaborate but stopped to fight for control as they rounded a blind corner and discovered a hairpin curve coming up fast. Han decelerated hard and spun the yoke. The landspeeder’s stern swung around, tipping the vehicle onto its left side, and Leia felt the repulsorlifts starting to flip them. Then Han hit the throttles again, and the speeder shot forward. Dena let out an audible sigh of relief as the vehicle dropped onto its repulsorpads and sped down the next straightaway. Leia’s gaze returned to the sky. The first two astroliths were almost on the horizon, their streamers so long and bright that Leia could see the jagged notches of the crash pits beneath them. But the third streamer remained high up, its tail so short that it was visible only as a fan of orange. Before Leia’s eyes, the head blossomed into a red fireball the size of her fist, and by the time she comprehended what she was seeing, it had grown as large as her head.
“We’re not going to make it,” she said.
In the time it took her to speak the words, the fireball had swelled to the size of a starfighter, and the entire sky was orange.
“Han, stop!” Leia cried. “We’re too late!”
Han was already decelerating, braking so hard that Leia had to brace against the dashboard.
The fireball continued to swell, blotting out the sky, burning so bright it hurt Leia’s eyes, continuing to expand until . . . it touched ground.
A white flash filled the dust basin. Leia saw the smoking cones of the smelters tumbling sideways before they were engulfed by a curtain of flame and dust. The curtain rolled out toward the edges of the silver plain, hurling the white flecks of landspeeders and the dark polygons of buildings high into the air. It swallowed everything in its path, growing ever higher and brighter as it drew near.
Han slammed the landspeeder into reverse, then started up the switchbacks backward, struggling to put some distance between them and the rolling curtain of fire. A pillar of yellow- white flame rose from the impact site, climbing thousands of meters into the sky before the atmosphere finally grew thin enough for it to boil across the heavens.
A wall of billowing dust began to climb toward them, and Leia knew the legendary Solo luck had finally run out. No way, she thought . . . no way could they outrun a shock wave. She laid her hand over Han’s, then reached out in the Force and pushed. The wave hit. The landspeeder bucked, hard, and the world shattered.
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