Interesting bit of trivia I found while researching this: this book was written originally as a possible low-budget sequel if Star Wars wasn't successful. That is why Han isn't in it - Harrison Ford never signed a contract for multiple movies - and why it all takes place on one stupid planet with pretty limited action or big-budget elements. Other unfortunate fact: Obviously this occurs before anyone had any idea that Luke and Leia were siblings, so expect ickiness throughout.
I first discovered the existence of Star Wars books when I was sixteen, and there were plenty of EU novels already out there to choose from. But the ones I read all took place after the movies. If I didn't buy them myself I'd borrow them from my cousin who already had the ones that had come out, mostly nice, fat hard covers. Then one day I noticed a small little paperback with Luke, Leia and Vader on the cover. "Is this book any good? When does it happen?" "Oh, that one is after the first movie. It's... kind of weird." "Is Han Solo in it?" "No." "Okay, I don't care, then."
So, a synopsis. Luke and Leia are flying near Mimban and wind up crash landing. They are both in separate vessels, Leia with Threepio and Luke with Artoo (just about the only thing that actually makes sense or resembles what Star Wars usually is). They wind up wandering around until they find a mining town and steal some clothes to look like miners. Some creepiness ensues right away with changing clothes in front of each other, or at least pretending to look away.
They have to spend a night in the woods which requires the building of a fire and... wait, I threw up a little in my mouth... sleeping in each other's arms. Luke has lots of un-brotherly thoughts about the sister he doesn't yet know about.
They wind up in a bar to get some food and an Imperial comes and starts asking them some questions. Luke tells him that Leia is his servant. At some point during this exchange for some reason Luke finds it necessary to slap Leia across the face. Yep, he hits her. I still can't figure out exactly what he was hoping to accomplish there and it just comes out of nowhere. Eventually the Imperials leave them alone and this old woman, Halla, comes over and starts talking to them when she senses that Luke is a Force-user. She takes out the Kaiburr crystal which magnifies and focuses the Force. She only has a small piece of it and it is agreed that if Luke and Leia help her find the rest she will help them get off planet. Apparently they don't have Han's number on the Falcon to call him so he can come pick them up.
Upon exiting the bar, Leia kicks Luke in the shins to make up for his slapping her - which I don't think at all makes them even. And then she just quickly goes, "No hard feelings?" Oh, yeah, sure, that makes it okay to slap a woman. It doesn't end there though, as for some reason they start fighting in the mud. Now they're eleven I guess or something, being brother and sister fighting in the mud. Because, you know, that will never draw unwanted attention. Oh, but wait, that backfired because they are noticed and arrested by Imperials.
Once they are in jail they get questioned some more and Leia takes another beating from the supervisor. She gets kicked around some and then he threatens to punch her before Luke finally admits that she means something to him and he doesn't want to see her get hurt. There is talk of an Imperial governor and Leia starts to have Vader and Tarkin interrogation flashbacks and is so overwhelmed that she.... faints. That sounds like the Leia you know, right? The crystal is confiscated and they are thrown in jail with some big, hairy aliens that might have killed them if Luke didn't communicate with them. One of these guys is named Hin. Maybe so we sort of feel like Han is in the book.
Halla helps them all escape and they get into a stolen vehicle to go where Halla believes the rest of the crystal is and they drive for literally days. They get attacked by some weird creature and all scatter, leaving Luke and Leia to escape by some floating thing in a lake, and they paddle and paddle and stay on the stupid thing for so long that they sleep... for twelve hours. When they finally go to get off the boat, Leia freaks out and Luke carries her like some damsel in distress with her eyes shut tight and she tells him she can't swim and is afraid of water. Yes, most princesses with privileged childhoods don't know how to swim. But the farm boy who grows up on the planet that is so dry that they have to farm water apparently has no problem with it.
Luke has to fight some Coway - think the weird South American guys by the City of Gold in Indy IV - in a sort of gladiator-esque match once they meet up again with Halla and the droids. Of course he wins (that's why we got a second movie) and then the Coway become their allies, much like the 180 with the Ewoks in Jedi from wanting to eat them to welcoming them to the tribe and helping them defeat the Empire.
Luke eventually senses Vader arriving, and he shows up with some other Imperials but the Coway help make the battle a bit tougher than anticipated and Vader winds up retreating. Yeah, that sounds normal, too. They make it to the temple where they think the crystal is. Rubble falls from the ceiling and hurts Luke and Vader shows up. So what now? Leia grabs his lightsaber and steps up. Somehow, randomly, she apparently knows how to spar well enough against a Sith as powerful as Vader and avoids getting her arm and/or head sliced off.
She does not, however, do well enough to prevent Vader from getting a few hits in, mostly slicing away portions of her clothes. This definitely reminded me of one of the few things I recall about Episode II - the part where Padme's shirt is gratuitously ripped perfectly at the bottom to expose her midriff. As if I needed another reason to lose complete respect for the prequels.
Leia is fairly badly injured and Luke finally steps up and takes over, somehow not only holding his own but cutting off Vader's arm. What is it with Jedi and arm severing? Vader falls into a pit and Luke has to use the crystal to heal a badly wounded - and dangerously overexposed - Leia and of course they make it out alive.
There is.... so much wrong with this book. It's hard to even know where to begin. For starters, the two main characters? They're not Luke and Leia. You'll never convince me that they are, and for so many reasons. Leia goes back and forth between acting all high and mighty to acting like a helpless little girl, needing the big strong man to keep her warm at night and carry her over the water because she's so scared. She flips out at the memories of her torture on the Death Star and she cries a whole bunch even though seeing her own home planet destroyed in the movies didn't seem to give her cause to shed tears.
And the swimming thing. You know, in some form of EU it is implied that each one of these characters can't swim, except they are all contradictory as to which one. Here, Leia can't swim but Luke can. In the Han Solo Trilogy, Han can't swim until she-who-must-not-be-named teaches him. In the Marvel comics it's Luke who can't swim and Han and Leia have no problem with it. Of all the characters it makes the most sense to me that Luke wouldn't be able to swim. I mean, aside from the fact that there is no water on Tatooine, I also doubt Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru were taking him to the Y for swim lessons. I'm sorry, but a princess growing up in a well-to-do family would know how to swim.
Luke is all self assured and confident and just nowhere near the insecure farmboy we knew in ANH. He's running the show and Leia is following along. Maybe Leia wouldn't completely lead the mission in something like this, but I'd think they'd at least operate as equals. And for gods' sakes, Luke, stop thinking about your sister like that! Our only consolation is that they do not kiss. He gawks at her in her sleep and gets disappointed when she doesn't change clothes in front of him, apparently. None of his thoughts or dialogue really sound like Luke to me. Plus, I'm sorry, I really don't think that Luke would ever slap Leia, even if they were supposedly playing these little roles. Just... no.
The book is generally written well - as in the author knows how to nicely string together sentences and paragraphs - but other than that, it has pretty much no redeeming qualities. There was not a single moment that made me smile or made me think I was seeing an example of a good moment for these characters I usually enjoy so much. The characterizations are scary bad. They don't speak or act anything like the people I know from the movies. The story itself is just plain boring. It's probably the shortest complete book in the entire EU and it moves slow. The beginning takes forever with Luke basically just wondering where Leia is after she crashed. Then it is another eternity of camping for no other reason than making sure that they have to sleep together (in the literal sense, not like sleep together) and Luke can think about how she isn't hesitating when touching him or wrapping her arms around him.
Then they're in the bar forever. Then they fight in the mud for no reason and go to jail where Leia can get kicked around some more. Then they drive for days. I think we can all be eternally grateful that Star Wars was the success that it was and this atrocity was not made into a cheap sequel.
Another obvious, glaring problem? No Han! I'll admit it is not 100% required for Han to be in a book in order for me to like it, as evidenced by Shadows of the Empire (which we will read in a few weeks). But if you're leaving him out, you better write a damn good book for me to be interested. And this is definitely not it. Han is mentioned literally once when Luke thinks about how he and Han were the ones who rescued her. Other than that, neither one ever thinks or speaks of him. Apparently in this book he really did high-tail it out of there after the award ceremony to pay off Jabba and go back to smuggling and sleeping around.
Luke and Leia, without much or any lightsaber training, don't have much trouble facing Vader in a duel. Sure. Let's leave out the fact that by now Vader would've known that those two were his kids, but it also gets distracting when they keep referring to Luke's lightsaber as "his father's lightsaber." It just makes you see again why this book should be burned and we should pretend it doesn't exist in much the same way the powers that be pretend there was never any Star Wars Holiday Special.
And maybe it was just because my reading comprehension was low on this one due to being in denial at just how bad it was but I didn't care about the story in the slightest. There was a crystal and they were trapped and they went to jail for some reason and then Vader showed up out of nowhere but first lots of random alien creatures attacked them... it just had no cohesive narrative. Or none that I picked up.
I've read most of the EU books. There are a few that I've strongly disliked and one or two that I hated. But even in those books I've never been able to bring myself to deny that there might have been one or two things in there that I liked. Maybe one little kiss between Han and Leia or even one lousy little sentence about one or both of them that I liked. This book has no redeeming qualities. It's not even in the "so bad it's good" category. To foreshadow a bit, I really, really didn't like The Crystal Star. The book takes place much later, after they have the kids and they're kidnapped and weird stuff happens.
I promised myself I'd never have to read that book again (but Push is making me) but if someone I knew decided they wanted to read the EU books I'd still tell them they should read it just to understand what it was about and why it was so weird. And there are probably a few little things in it I enjoyed, although I can't remember. Wait, I think at one point Han at least goes to great lengths to try and save Leia. There is nothing in this book that I could say, "Yeah, you should at least read it for that." You should do yourself a favor and not bother.
So, this makes rating the book pretty easy. I'm seriously giving it a zero. I mean, on the Han and Leia scale, the woman in it is not Leia and even if she was she seems to have completely forgotten that Han existed and you can't blame her since the book treats him like he doesn't exist. Any and all incestuous sexual tension happens between Luke and Leia, or at least the fake Luke and Leia in this book. I guess the only good thing I can say about this book is that it was short!