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None of the stories people tell about me can change who I really am.—Luke Skywalker
It's been six months since Return of the Jedi, and the Rebel Alliance has become the New Republic while the Empire is in the early stages of splitting into rival factions. Luke Skywalker is now General of the Rapid Response Task Force, a small fleet that the Republic sends as needed to patch up the front and execute special missions. Their current assignment- to track the forces of a theatrical and megalomaniacal Imperial warlord with the unlikely name of Lord Shadowspawn to his home base and bring him to justice. This base turns out to be on Mindor, a former vacation world devastated by repeated meteorite impacts.
When Luke tracks Shadowspawn's forces there, he gets drawn into a trap, as do Han, Leia, and Rogue Squadron who come after him, and Lando Calrissian and the gang of Mandalorian mercenaries who come after them. It turns out that a dark presence has been waiting on Mindor to make its move with a scheme that threatens not only Luke's life, but his very soul...
- Action Girl: Leia (of course); Aeona Cantor
- Adaptation Decay: Luke frequently bemoans the fact that he is the subject of numerous over-the-top adventure holodramas in-universe that bear little to no resemblance to his actual life. One of these, Luke Skywalker and the Jedi's Revenge, turns out to be Not So Harmless. Ironically, the Framing Story produces yet another in-universe example of this, due to the Unreliable Narrator. Who Luke hired to do exactly the opposite, but who found it more profitable to give Luke his money back and instead sell an over-the-top version to the holodrama producers.
- And I Must Scream: How Cronal prepares Luke to be broken so he can take over; make him live through an eternity of The Dark, the time after all the stars go out, until he gives up. Luke escapes, and Cronal tries it on Leia, but makes a more personal effort.
He had taken away her sight, cut away her hearing, erased her senses of smell and taste and touch. He had stripped her kinesthetic sense, so that she was no longer aware of her own body at all. He had shut down the activity of certain neurotransmitters in her brain, so that she could no longer even remember how being alive had felt.
She wasn't fighting him. She didn't know how. He wouldn't let her remember what fighting was.
She just wouldn't give up.
- Artifact of Doom: Shadowspawn's Sunset Crown and Cronal's Shadow Crown.
- Asteroid Thicket: Mindor is surrounded by one, and it's justified for once. The Empire was developing yet another of its myriad superweapons on the next planet out, which for once came to an end besides the Rebels blowing it up - it malfunctioned to the tune of an Earthshattering Kaboom. Some of the debris which fell sunward was caught in Mindor's orbit, resulting in a thicket that should last a century or two.
- Becoming the Mask: After his exposure to the Dark, Luke becomes incredibly jaded and nihilistic. But he's still Luke, and he can't and won't stop trying to save everyone. He consciously decides to act exactly like he would have before seeing the Dark and the "true" nature of the Force, in the hopes that if he does it for long enough, it won't be an act anymore.
- Beware the Nice Ones: After Luke lets himself get captured, he asks too many questions and a stormtrooper clubs him with a blaster rifle, telling him to be quiet. Luke says "Please don't hit me" and is smacked again while the stormtrooper says "Didn't you hear me?" Luke says he did, but didn't see any particular reason to obey. The stormtrooper tries to hit him a third time, and Luke catches the blaster rifle and shatters it. Another stormtrooper tries to shoot him; Luke catches the blaster bolts.
"Please don't shoot me, either." He turned the palm upward in a friendly shrug and let the astonished troopers stare at the only effect of the Force-blunted blasterfire: a faint curl of steam that trailed upward from his unmarked palm. "Let's try to end the day with nobody else dying, shall we?"
- Big Damn Heroes/The Cavalry: We actually get nested BDHs, when a few of the people who rescue other heroes get caught in traps themselves.
- Biting the Hand Humor: When we first see Han and Leia, they're in the middle of negotiations with Mandolorians, whom Han snarkily thinks of as thinking they're better than everyone else, ever. The book is dedicated, in part, to Mando fangirl Karen Traviss.
- Body Horror: Cronal does nasty things with meltmassif. ROCKS DO NOT BELONG THERE!
- Call Back: The Novelization of Revenge of the Sith, also written by Matt Stover, has the recurring line All things die, Anakin Skywalker. Even stars burn out. After Luke escapes the mother of all And I Must Screams - a vision of spending aeons alone after the heat death of the universe - he is shaken, nihilistic, believing that everything is futile because everyone's going to die. All things die. Even stars burn out. But where Anakin was driven to do worse and worse things, frantically denying that this would happen to Padme, Luke works around it, tries to act like he used to before, and eventually is shaken out of it when he realizes that the darkness is not as all-encompassing as he'd seen.
- Geptun, Nick Rostu, and Kar Vastor were all used in Stover's earlier SW novel Shatterpoint.
- Call Forward: On the very last page of the book, Luke asserts that he doesn't like redheads. He eventually marries the very redheaded Mara Jade.
- Card-Carrying Villain: Shadowspawn. Of course, there's a reason for that.
- Catch Phrase: Luke has "That's not my best trick". At the end of the book, after using it, he finally explains what his best trick is. It's to do one thing, one small move, even just a choice, and kill thousands of people. It's not something he feels any vestige of pride about.
- Character Name and the Noun Phrase
- Chessmaster: Cronal.
- The Chew Toy: Hobbie only has one chapter, but it's enough. Sure, he got his hand shot off, but that's okay. It happens regularly.
- Combat Pragmatist: A Stover staple. For example, Han uses repulsorlifts to weaponize asteroids so well that his opponents think they're fighting some sort of Jedi.
- Continuity Nod: In the Hand of Thrawn Duology, there was a ship called Spirit of Mindor; the name Mindor had been mentioned as a minor detail in several parts of the EU, and this book was the first to really take note of the world.
- Cosmic Horror: The Dark.
- Cruel and Unusual Death: Once Luke severs his connection to the Shadow Crown, Cronal loses control of the liquid metal meltmassif. Which then leaks out of every orifice in his body, turning first Cronal and then his entire ship into stone...in hyperspace, causing Cronal to be exposed to raw hyperspace and finally ripped apart on the atomic level. Oh, and he's conscious during all of this. Now that's how you kill off a Complete Monster.
- And he STILL somehow survives and appears during later events. Then, again, it's agent Blackhole. He was barely alive at first place, and who knows what body/spiritual manifestation was killed this time.
- Death World: Mindor
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: When Klick sees Luke for the first time he throws himself to his knees and gasps, "Forgive me, lord, I did not know you!" Clearly this is "I did not know it was you", but there's a decidedly religious tone to the phrasing that was used.
- The Dragon: Kar Vastor
- Earthshattering Kaboom: A planet destroyed during Imperial weapons testing ends up as a astroid field in the Mindor system.
- Eldritch Location: The mental realm in which Leia is a supermassive star tide-locked in Cronal's black hole, so Luke forces Cronal to see the light. It's mentioned that it's not at all like what Luke sees it all - he changes his perceptions so that it can make more sense.
- Evil Overlord: Shadowspawn
- Fan Boy: Aeona to Luke, just a bit. This wears off when she actually meets him; he is very calmly upset that she stole the Falcon from Han and Leia.
- Fighting a Shadow: The "Shadowspawn" initially set up to be the Big Bad is in fact a captured member of La Résistance who has been put under Mind Control by the real one's Shadow Crown, effectively turning him into a body double.
- Field Promotion: Clone Wars veteran Klick receives one from Emperor Skywalker. It Makes Sense in Context.
- Fiery Redhead: Aeona
- Foe Yay: Cronal's motives can be summed up as "With my powers and Luke's young, handsome, sexy body, I can control the universe until the end!" (He doesn't actually say "sexy", but everything else is 100% true.)
- Disc One Final Boss: Shadowspawn, or at least the physical Shadowspawn "played" by Nick Rostu
- Foregone Conclusion: Because other EU materials had already summarized the events of the novel, it was well-known going in what was going to happen- Luke would defeat Shadowspawn, but become saddened and disgusted by the rampant loss of life and resign from the military to devote himself fully to being a Jedi. Cronal's survival was established beforehand as well.
- Gambit Roulette: Blackhole has a very elaborate one built up around Luke- basically, he's lured Luke to Mindor, and created the over-the-top Shadowspawn as a fitting nemesis for him to kill, with the idea that he will do so, but be captured by Blackhole's men. Blackhole will then transfer his consciousness into Luke's body and return to the Rebellion as its greatest hero, from where he will be in a position to seize control of the galaxy with no one the wiser. And of all things, the only reason it failed was because Blackhole couldn't resist giving his most visible pawn a Punny Name.
- George Lucas Throwback: The book is, in many ways, a throwback to the earlier (or at least pre-New Jedi Order) EU stories such as the Marvel Star Wars comics and the Han Solo Trilogy.
- Good News, Bad News: Han Solo, arriving into the situation at Mindor and being filled in, reflects that it's like an extended good-news-bad-news joke. Bad: gravity-well projectors keep them from escaping. Good: too many for the enemy to protect them all. Bad: Because there are thousands. Good: They're little things on asteroids and can't stay powered for more than four days. Bad: the asteroids have destablized orbits and will start falling into the sun in two days. Good: Most of them are on little dinky asteroids which will just burn up. Bad: Some of them are on massive ones which will trigger solar flares which will kill pretty much everything in the system. Worse: Each projector destroyed hastens the process.
And to counter that bad news, there was no good news. None at all. Everyone was going to die.
- Grand Theft Me: what Blackhole planned to do to Luke
- Ho Yay: A little bit between Wes and Hobbie, of the cliché "Your lips say no, but your eyes say yes." variety. Actually, ever since a Yaoi Fangirl found Aaron, Wes and Hobbie have been designated as Ambiguously Gay.
- Hope Spot: Just when it seems as if everything is gonna end with our heros dying, Luke Skywalker manages to get all Imperial forces to stand down and help the New Republic, evacuating civilians and wounded and what-not. Then Cronal pulls a truly terrifying trick out of his sleeve and everything goes straight to hell.
- I Have Many Names: Cronal/Blackhole/Lord Shadowspawn
- In the Blood: In Revenge of the Sith, Anakin lands half of a huge, damaged ship which was never designed to land on a planet. Stover's novelization says that this was Anakin's masterpiece; it required all of his piloting skill and a deep, fluid connection to the Force. Luke replicates this feat with a chunk of a different ship early in this book. He does it again off-panel in Dark Empire, with a Star Destroyer.
- Large Ham: Shadowspawn, again. Just as Cronal intended.
- The Man Behind the Curtain: Cronal
- The Messiah: Even when he's in terrible shape, Luke is amazingly compassionate.
- Mind Rape: After Cronal puts him through an eternity of The Dark, Luke escapes and is depressed for quite a while. Then we see this Instrumentality-like world, where Cronal is a black hole at the middle, Leia is a bright and supermassive star tide-locked with him, and everyone else is stars. Luke realizes that Cronal is trying to do the same thing to her, but unlike Luke she doesn't have an avenue of escape. Cronal's POV has him trying to break her, and nothing he tries works; when he breaks through her resistance he finds her mind shining with light that "stabs him like a knife in the eye". Then Luke finds them, physically rescues Leia, and informs Cronal that a very angry ally is on his way to Cronal's real body. Cronal jumps to hyperspace, which can't interact with realspace - and in the Force, Luke follows him, bright with enough Light to deserve a capital letter. In The Dark, Cronal becomes a colossal black hole and swallows Luke effortlessly, and with a mixture of contempt and relief he thinks that Luke's trick had done nothing to him whatsoever.
That's because I'm not trying to do anything to you. I'm doing something through you.
- The opposite of a black hole is a white fountain; the theory is that what falls into a black hole passes into another universe, and the matter falling into another universe's black holes passes into ours as pure, transcendent energy. Luke becomes one of these.
- Mythology Gag: Far too many to list.
- Nietzsche Wannabe: Cronal, full stop. He makes a pretty good run at outstripping even Nietzsche.
- Not Quite Dead: The end of the novel suggests that Cronal's mind survived his body's destruction. Other EU material confirms it.
- It was a bit of a Foregone Conclusion, as said material was published years before this novel.
- Oh Crap There Are Fanfics of Us: Luke's initial reaction to Luke Skywalker and the Jedi's Revenge. It's a lot less benign than one fanboy's "extension" of Luke's adventures, though.
- Thankfully, there are no lemons of Luke and Leia, of Luke and Han, or of all three. Thank the Force for small miracles.
- To give you an idea, Luke Skywalker and the Jedi's Revenge is about a Star Wars where Palpatine is actually good but Vader steers him wrong, Anakin and Vader really are separate people, Anakin as Palpatine's loyal knight and Vader as his traitorous knight. Vader convinced the Jedi Council to assassinate Palpatine, and then executed Order 66 himself. Anakin rescued Palpatine, and then died trying to save the Jedi younglings. Anakin did, however, have a son that even he didn't know of: Luke Skywalker. Darth Vader tried to convince Luke Skywalker to join him in overthrowing Palpatine, but Luke refused. Palpatine was convinced by this that the son of his most loyal general would be the ideal Emperor, further confirmed when Luke went out of his way to rescue Han Solo, and when Vader captured Luke, Palpatine offered him the chance to be the new Emperor. Before Luke could agree to be Emperor, Vader attacked Palpatine, but Luke was still trying to process all that had transpired. With Palpatine dead, Luke eventually snapped out of it to kill Vader. But, since he couldn't save his benefactor, he felt himself only worthy of living among Rebels and pirates.
- Old Soldier: Group Captain Klick has been around since the Battle of Geonosis, and is damn well proud of it. He's not too fond of non-clone troopers, either...
- People Puppets: The Pawns. Also, the stormtroopers after the Hope Spot is revealed for what it is.
- Proud Warrior Race Guy: The Mandalorians
- Punny Name: "Lord Shadowspawn" can mean Exactly What It Says on the Tin, but it can also be read as "Lord Shadow's Pawn"- which is what he really is. This actually becomes a plot point; if Luke hadn't figured out the pun in the middle of his duel with "Shadowspawn", Cronal probably would've achieved his goal.
- Religion of Evil: The Way of the Dark in a nutshell.
- Self-Deprecation: Stover pretty much describes the entire EU as tripe. Or at least fanfic as tripe. Or Alternate Universe Fic as tripe. Or maybe all of them.
- And then Subv--Decon--Zig Zagged when the "Sith alchemy" Luke scoffs at turns out to be real, and a lot more powerful, subtle, and just plain dangerous than some fancy sword. There's no elaborate Sith superweapon, and Shadowspawn is just a cat's paw. You know how a lot of EU Sith Lords seem to be trying to be Vader? Cronal wants to be Luke, literally. That theatricality Luke mocks? Blackhole was using it in the propaganda films he had produced to affect the perception of Luke in his minds of the public and those of his forces. When "Luke" would leave, he'd have the films to "prove" what happened, and the hamminess would match the propaganda films. Cronal basically weaponized fanfic.
- Shown Their Work: Stover has read other books in the EU - even primarily EU-based characters act like they should. Wedge makes complex decisions after a second's thought and will cheerfully defy orders; Tycho is more solemn and follows his lead. Fenn Shysa is an idealist and doesn't have the standard degree of Mandalorian arrogance. The other Mandalorians all believe themselves to be the bees' knees, but other characters find this annoying rather than agreeing with them.
- Slave Mooks: The Pawns
- Space Is Cold: Averted except in the dream Cronal forces on Luke, which takes place over countless millennia anyway, and the description actually mirrors what's been done to him with meltmassif.
This cold, though [unlike nearly freezing to death on Hoth], froze him without the comfort of numbness. Tiny razor-edged crystals of ice - colder than ice, so cold they burned, cold as liquid air - grew inward from his skin at every pore, becoming hairlines of freeze that crept along his nerves.
- Space Is Noisy: Also averted, most notably in the dream, in which he's floating bodiless in space.
Physical silence, deeper than a living creature can truly experience: not just the absence of external sound, but the absence of all concept of sound. No whisper of breath, no hush of blood coursing through arteries, no faintest beat of his heart. Not even the vaguest sensation of vibration, or pressure, or friction on his skin.
- The Stars Are Going Out: Part of the dream of the Dark has this happening.
And in their place was left nothing. Not even absence. Only him.
Floating. Empty of everything. Without thought, without sensation. Forever.
- Take That: The book appears to take a rather amusing shot at the particularly gratuitous levels of Hold Your Hippogriffs/ Pardon My Klingon in the early decades of the EU
He'd (Han) preset the final leg in the Falcon's navicomputer, so they had been in and out of the jump point before those astonished Imps could so much as shout "Emperor's black bones!" or whatever stupid pretend curse they liked to shout when they got caught with their armored pants around their armored ankles.
- That's No Moon: It wasn't a rock. It was a rock monster! Rock monster! Rock monster! Rock monster! Rock monster! Rock monster!
- Wild Card: Aeona and her crew of Mindorese rebels, who hate the Empire, but don't really have much use for anyone. They wind up fighting for the Republic by the end, but not before some rough spots and Luke making a very understated threat.
- You Are a Credit to Your Race: Kar knew Old Republic Jedi. He hated them. Luke is in no way like the Old Republic Jedi. He's not afraid of the dark.