Crucible (not to be confused with the later EU novel of the same name) is a standalone issue that is not related to the story arc established last issue with Valance and his search for Luke Skywalker. Instead issue #17 is a flashback story about Luke’s early life on Tatooine with his aunt and uncle Beru and Owen Lars.
While struggling to please his uncle who wants him to take seriously his tasks as a moisture farmer Luke is coping with the impending loss of his friend Biggs Darklighter who is soon to be leaving for the Academy. He and his friends get together for a final farewell to Biggs by racing their T-16 Skyhoppers in Beggars Canyon. While partying after the race a militia scout crashes his landspeeder into there midst and warns them that angry Tusken Raiders are on the rampage after weapons smugglers accidentally polluted one of their sacred wells. Now armed with the smugglers’ blasters and rifles the Sand People are dangerous and heading right for them. After attempting to defend themselves from the Raiders Biggs is stabbed in the shoulder with a gaffi stick (spelled gaderffi in the comics) which was tipped with sand bat venom. Luke understands how quickly his friend needs to be treated by a doctor if he is to save him so he takes a dangerous short cut through Beggars Canyon known as the Diablo Cut. Although no Skyhopper has ever successfully maneuvered the Diablo Cut Luke does so with what I assume is a combination of skill and his now unknown Force-sensitivity. The T-16 is damaged, however, by shots from a Tusken Raider scouting party and the vehicle crashes near the Lars homestead where Biggs is cured and lives to fight another day.
Crucible is a decent standalone issue with a simple story that has little bearing on the rest of the Marvel line; but is a fun, easy read all the same. My only complaint is that there was no tension with Biggs being poisoned since we all know he was going to survive to fight the Death Star in the future anyway.
The story does makes some interesting connections to how we see Luke’s life at the beginning of A New Hope; for instance, he mentions his plans to spend the bounty money he receives for killing womp rats on a pair of macrobinoculars which we see him use in the film. Also the Tusken Raiders’ encounter with the smugglers explains where they got the rifles they use in A New Hope since it is obvious they lack the technological advancements to manufacture their own. It’s also nice to see what a womp rat looks like and the explanation that Luke was bullseyeing them for bounties rather than just sadistically killing small animals for sport. I am guessing that womp rats are a lot like rabbits in Australia which are considered pests and shooting them had a constructive purpose.
There is one interesting scene where Luke asks his aunt Beru about Owen’s relationship with his father and she tells him that Owen was angry with Luke’s father because he had depended on him for help on the moisture farm when he left to join the Jedi. This is an obviously gaping continuity error since we now know that Anakin Skywalker is not Owen’s brother and never worked with him on the moisture farm. However, this can be easily retconned. In the issue itself Beru seems to hesitate when Luke asks her about his father and this could be interpreted (even if it was not written to be this way) as her avoiding the truth which they kept from him for many years. It is not unthinkable that Owen and Beru would have told Luke that his father was Owen’s brother and made up a lie about his backstory. Cliegg Lars was dead by then and there were no family or friends about (as far as I know) who would contradict the story. The only person who could was Obi-Wan Kenobi whom Owen told to stay away.
So with an open mind and an appreciation for the early Marvel comics despite their flaws this issue can easily be another enjoyable episode in the expanded universe.
Check in next time for my review of issues #18-23 of the Star Wars Marvel line and may the Force be with you.