Book Review: The Callista Trilogy
17 min read

Book Review: The Callista Trilogy

The Callista trilogy's reputation as among the worst Star Wars has to offer is grossly exaggerated, but it's not a masterpiece either. Planet of Twilight was the best entry by some margin. The story of Callista on-the-page is as tragic as her story behind-the-scenes. 6/10, 6/10. 8/10
Children of the Jedi Darksaber Planet of Twilight
Author: Barbara Hambly Kevin J. Anderson Barbara Hambly
Publisher: Bantam Spectra Bantam Spectra Bantam Spectra
Length: 416 pages 448 pages 400 pages
EE Critic Score: 6/10 6/10 8/10

This December I'm doing a 30-year retrospective on Star Wars: The Crystal Star, often named the worst Star Wars book ever written. As part of my attempt to determine if that reputation is deserved, I'm going back to some of the less-remembered entries in the Star Wars library, the ones that aren't likely candidates for an Essential Legends Collection re-release. Are they bad or just overlooked?

The Callista trilogy is a series of three books, released in 1995 and 1997, and featuring the further adventures of Luke, Han, Leia, and Lando from the Original Star Wars trilogy. The books also featured the titular Callista, a Jedi meant to join the central cast of the franchise, but who instead wound up cast aside and falling into obscurity. Two of the books are by Barbara Hambly, and these serve as an introduction and send-off for the character. The middle book is by Kevin J. Anderson, and serves largely as a follow up to his previous Jedi Academy trilogy.


The thing about this trio of books to know going in is that they aren't really a trilogy, in that they weren't written as one story across three books. Each book tells its own self-contained story. But through these three stories is woven a fourth: the story of Callista, which is one of the strangest stories in Star Wars, both in-universe and out. Callista was envisioned as the eventual wife of Luke Skywalker when she was introduced in Barbara Hambly's Children of the Jedi. She was an old-Order Jedi, her life preserved...well, actually, we'll get into that later. For now, just know that she's both a Clone Wars veteran Jedi and Luke's age; his equal in the Force but not one of his students, as other Jedi at this time all were. The only issue with Luke marrying Callista was that, ever since her introduction in the Thrawn trilogy, fans had been pairing Luke up with Mara Jade. By the time Kevin J. Anderson was writing the second of these books, Darksaber, Lucasfilm had decided to give fans what they wanted, so Callista and Luke went from the perfect couple, together forever, to the tragic couple who just couldn't be together. They broke up in Darksaber and Luke comes to accept losing her throughout the third book, Hambly's Planet of Twilight.

So that's Callista's story behind-the-scenes, which is important to understand when looking at her story on-the-page. Barbara Hambly is not, generally speaking, a sci-fi writer; outside of Star Wars she's written mostly fantasy and historical fiction. Her approach to Star Wars, however, is very sci-fi, moreso than many other Star Wars works, but it's also influenced by gothic horror; Callista herself is pretty representative of this weird melding. Reading these books I found Callista profoundly unnerving, and even had Mara Jade not been the popular ship, I wonder whether Callista would have been accepted wholeheartedly by fans had the original plan of having her marry Luke had been followed through. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Children of the Jedi is a book mainly about the relation between living beings and technology and how one might become the other, building on ideas introduced in The Truce at Bakura, a 1993 novel that told of an invasion of the Galaxy by a people whose "entechment" devices could use the souls of living beings to power and operate their war machines. Children of the Jedi opens with one of Luke's students, Cray Mingla, having made a droid body for her fiancé, Nichos Marr, also a Jedi student. Marr was afflicted with a rare terminal disease, and Cray's droid body, in combination with a modified entechment device, was meant to house his spirit when his original body died. Beyond that, you have Roganda Ismaren, who is revealed, quite late in the book actually, as the story's villain; he had her son, Irek, fitted with cybernetic implants to allow him to control computers with his mind. And there's the Eye of Palpatine, the abandoned Imperial space station whose command AI, the Will, overwrites the minds of people to make them into loyal stormtroopers; this is a reversal of the theme, machines embodied in living flesh.

Callista is another mode of this theme. As the story unfolds, Luke, Nichos, and Cray are both swept up in an automated troop pickup and taken to the Eye of Palpatine. They are able to use the Force to resist the Will's brainwashing, but Cray and Nichos are captured and Luke is seriously injured. As he sneaks through the station, Luke is occasionally aided by the onboard computer systems. He discovers that, at the end of the Clone Wars, two Jedi had discovered the Eye of Palpatine and worked to sabotage it before it could attack a group of Jedi children hidden on the world of Belsavis. In doing so, they had been killed, but one of the Jedi, Callista, had managed to send her spirit into the Eye of Palpatine's computer systems; she had lived as a ghost in the machine ever since, working to undermine the Will. Her disembodied spirit and a delirious Luke share visions in the Force, and the two quickly fall in love, with Luke planning to have Cray make Callista a droid body like she did for Nichos. The plan is foiled when Irek Ismaren, in a demonstration of his skills, summons the battlemoon to Belsavis in a demonstration of his skills, and Luke, Cray, and Nichos are forced to destroy the craft before it can attack the world. Nichos and Cray complete Callista's suicide run against the Eye of Palpatine's core systems as Luke is sent out in an escape pod, to badly hurt to join them. As he mourns the loss of his students and of Callista, another escape pod is recovered, and is Callista, now in the body of Cray Mingla, who, in death, had offered Callista her body.

So that's Callista. Luke's perfect partner, it was proposed, was a Jedi of Obi-Wan's day in the much younger body of one of his pupils. It is very much to Hambley's credit that this book works as you read it. You buy Luke and Callista falling in love, even though she's a computer ghost, and you're happy, at some level, that she survives and becomes corporeal again. But you're weirded out by the way she's in Cray's body more than the characters seem to be. It's a much creepier ending than I believe was intended. To me, it all comes down to the question of how Cray died. When Callista jumped into the computer, it's because her body was obliterated. Cray's body is fine, so how did she die? Callista's statement of what happened is that Nichos's droid double was destroyed, and Cray wanted to stay with him. So I don't think Cray was killed in destroying the battlemoon; I think she just lost the will to live without Nichos. Which is a romantic sentiment, sure, but also very dark in a way that rather sours the happiness of Callista's survival.

Callista and Luke | Cover Art for Children of the Jedi by Drew Struzan

In thinking about this my mind goes to Darth Maul when he was brough back in The Clone Wars. They way he was brought back from apparent death was, in my opinion, pretty stupid, but once he was back he became a really great character, much more interesting than he was in The Phantom Menace. So I'm not going to say that the character of Callista was doomed from the start. She could well have gone on to be a great addition to the Star Wars universe. But in any event, Children of the Jedi did not become the pivotal moment in the Star Wars timeline it was intended to be, with Lucasfilm backing away from Callista in the next book: Kevin J. Anderson's Darksaber.

While Hambley is remembered as a somewhat peripheral figure among Star Wars authors, Anderson is quite central to '90s-era Star Wars. He was among the birds to write about the Jedi Orders, both old and new, writing with Tom Vietch about the ancient Jedi for Dark Horse Comics and penning the Jedi Academy Trilogy, about the origin of the New Jedi Order, for Bantam/Spectra, all in 1994. In the latter part of the '90s, he and his wife Rebecca Moesta co-wrote the Young Jedi Knights series of young adult novels, which centered on Jacen and Jaina Solo as teenage students of the Jedi ways. Essentially, what Michael Stackpole was to X-Wing pilots, Anderson was to Jedi Knights.

I've mentioned the Jedi Academy trilogy before in my review of The Rise of Skywalker, specifically I mentioned not liking it. The way Kyp Durron gets away with a rage-fuled mass murder spree, facing nothing but a stern talking to from Luke for his crimes was my main point of criticism, but the notion that the Empire had the Sun Crusher but never used it during the war is also hard to find credible and generally I think the trilogy fails to deliver on its promise of a new cast of Jedi characters, as besides Durron few of the new Jedi were really fleshed out, with more attention being paid of other, non-Jedi characters.

Darksaber is a follow-up to the Jedi Academy Trilogy more than anything else. It once again features Luke's students from that series, (Anderson kept the count of students purposely vague, allowing other authors to introduce other Jedi characters, such as Cray and Nichos, or Corran Horn, without breaking continuity) as well as again featuring Admiral Daala as the villain. I liked Darksaber much more than the Jedi Academy books, but I must say that it felt like three distinct stories sort of loosely braided together.

The story of the titular Darksaber was the least of the three: basically, one of the Hutts has found the lead designer of the Death Star and hired him to make a cheap, stripped-down version. He does so, calling the weapon the Darksaber (not to be confulsed with the later-introduced Mandalorian weapon of the same name). Leia gets wind that Durga the Hutt had stolen the plans for the Death Star from the New Republic archives and she and Han spend most of the book investigating that while trying to avoid unduly offending the Hutts. In the end this bit doesn't really matter since the Darksaber, lacking the Death Star's shields, armor, and defenses, is destroyed on its first outing when it collides with an asteroid. Anderson has said he meant the Darksaber to be a metaphor for the nuclear arsenals built by smaller countries.

The real story of Darksaber, as I see it, is Daala's. Natasi Daala was introduced in the Jedi Academy Trilogy as something of a Thrawn knock-off: rather than being hte only non-Human in the Imperial Navy, she was the only woman; rather than having the special favor of the Emperor, she had the special favor of Grand Moff Tarkin. But while we were told that she was a fearsome strategic genius, we weren't really shown that. Upon emerging onto the scene, Daala quickly loses three of the four Star Destroyers under her command (all of which were named after Greek monsters, like the Chimaera). Granted, her enemies had the Sun Crusher, but still, Daala was mostly just very aggressive in her tactics, not a genius so much as a die-hard.

In Darksaber, Anderson works to differentiate Daala as a character by teaming her up with Gilad Pellaeon. Wait... But no, seriously, this book really did a lot to make me interested in Daala, who was a pretty unmemorable character ni earlier books. Anderson actually, I believe, addresses the fan reception of Daala in her story here. You see, when I saide Daala had the special favor of Tarkin, I was referring to her being his mistress, as well as his protegeé. Based on her pretty miserable performance as a commander, many fans speculated that Tarkin was playing favorites when he made his girlfriend an admiral and put her in charge of defending Maw Installation. In Darksaber, we find out that that's the rumor in-universe as well. And Daala is understandably quite insulted by such gossip. She was top of her class at the Academy and she worked very hard to make admiral. But, after she seizes control of the remains of the Imperial fleet and loses even more capital ships in a failed attempt to destroy the Jedi Academy, she realizes that she really was promoted beyond her competence. She hadn't set out to unfairly gain from Tarkin's favor, but she had done so nonetheless. And despite everything she'd done in the book, you can't help feeling sorry for her when she resigns and hands command over to Pellaeon. Hers is a unique tragedy.

Luke is off with Callista travelling (we'll get to their part of the book in a minute) which leaves his students to fend off Daala's attack. We mainly focus on two of these Jedi, Kyp Durron and Dorsk 81, a member of a race of clones who prize conformity and predictability above all else. Dorsk 81 feels awkward as a Jedi because none of his kind had ever been one before, and none of his kind ever did anything new. He dies a hero in the end when all hte Jedi channel their power through him to throw a squadron of Star Destroyers away from Yavin 4, in what's honestly a really cool scene. I liked Dorsk 81 and appreciated the focus on another of Luke's original class that we got here.

On to Callista's role in this book: she largely serves as a means to get Luke away from Yavin 4. You see, when she was reincarnated, she somehow lost her connection to the Force. In Children of the Jedi, she accepts this as the cost of a new life, but by Darksaber, she's become less accepting of this fate, so she goes with Luke to try to restore her connection to the Force by touring various locations from the films. The reasoning is that these were the places where Luke established his connection to hte Force, so that's where he thinks he might be able to help Callista, but, to me, it came off as nostalgia bait. They go to the Lars homestead on Tatooine, Yoda's hut on Dagobah, and the place on Hoth where Luke first saw Obi-Wan's ghost. On Hoth, they are attacked by wampas, which keeps Luke from getting back to Yavin 4 when Daala's fleet attacks.

Callista feels, at times, the draw of the Dark Side offering her a quick path to restoring her abilities. She rejects this, but she fails to otherwise restore her connection to the Force, and she becomes convinced that she and Luke can't be together; she tells him that she can never be his equal, he'd always have to protect her in action, and there's a risk that any children they'd have would be similarly cut off from the Force.

I get that Anderson's assignment was to break Luke and Callista up. I get that. But I don't like the logic here. The idea that Force users should only marry other Force users ignores Han and Leia, and the supposition generally that Jedi are so superior to non-Jedi that a non-Jedi would be necessarily subordinate to a Jedi in a relationship I find inconsistent with Jedi ideals, to say the least. Honestly throughout this book the love that Callista had for Luke in Children of the Jedi seems totally absent; she resents him the whole way through. Her all-consuming quest to get her power back seemed, frankly, Sith-like, and having that be the core of her reasoning for leaving Luke was, I think, a mistake.

Barbara Hambly apparently agreed, since she gave a different take on Luke and Callista's split in her 1997 novel Planet of Twilight, which is the final novel in the Callista trilogy. As such, it's an odd conclusion, as Callista is a much more minor character here than in the previous books. She does, however, get a proper send-off.

The word "Twilight" in the title has retroactively become somewhat appropriate, because Planet of Twilight is, under sci-fi trappings, a vampire story. The villain, Dzym, is a Dracula-like figure; initially, he seems a normal person, but as the story unfolds he is revealed to be an unnatural monster, motivated by simple hunger, who has enthralled several people and who must be thwarted quickly before his deadly plans become unstoppable. It's a strange, rather ridiculous premise that's saved by Hambly's descriptive, sincere writing. You're never rolling your eyes at the crazy things that happen; they're genuinely horrifying. I'm genuinely nervous about getting into detail, not for concerns over spoilers, but because, stripped of context and summarized, the story of Planet of Twilight sounds like a hilarious disaster of a book, which is unfair to what I found to be the best volume of the Callista trilogy.

The story kicks off with Callista sending Luke a message warning not to trust Seti Ashgad. A prominent member of the Newcomer faction on the world of Nam Chorios, Ashgad is meeting with Leia regarding the matter of earlier Nam Chorios residents, the Oldtimers, blocking trade ships from reaching the barren world, in accordance to their fanatical religious beliefs. As the meeting concludes, Ashgad and his secretary, Dzym, release a plague in the New Republic ships and drug and kidnap Leia. Unaware of what exactly happened to her, Han Solo leads an investigation into her disappearance while Luke travels to Nam Chorious hoping to find Callista. He traces sign of her to a mad former Jedi woman who enlisted her aid in a conflict with another former Jedi, Beldorian the Splendid, a Hutt who is now in league with Ashgad. They intend to spread the Death Seed plague throughout the New Republic fleet, enabling Imperials to conquer the sector and break the Oldtimer's control of Nam Chorios space.

Leia is held captive by Beldorian, though she escapes and finds Callista out in the wilds. Callista admits that she still loves Luke, but she's concerned that her vulnerability to the Dark Side will end up hurting him if she stays with him. Leia admits that she has kept Luke and her Jedi training at arm's length because she feels stepping back from politics to become a Jedi would be rejecting her role as Bail Organa's daughter in favor of her role as Darth Vader's. But she deos have Callista train her in using her lightsaber, in order to face down Beldorian. Ashgad, Beldorian, and Dyzm are defeated. Luke spots Callista boarding a transport, and they wave to one another as she departs.

In Planet of Twilight, you get the sense that Callista's parting words with Luke in Darksaber were a front, a way to get him to accept her breaking up with him but not her true thoughts and feelings. That goes a ways to fix their story. I know that Anderson and Hambly did work fairly closely on these books, so, in fairness to Anderson, this might well have been the plan all along. I often joke that, while EU fans complain that the Sequel Trilogy didn't adapt the EU (by which they generally mean the Thrawn Trilogy, the X-Wing books, or the New Jedi Order), the sequels actually did adapt the EU, but only the bad parts: Palpatine's secret grandchild from the Jedi Prince books, Imperial holdouts kidnapping children to raise as soldiers from The Crystal Star, Han and Leia's son turning evil from Legacy of the Jedi. I guess having a trilogy where one creator does the first part, then another does the second part, then the first comes back for the third part, and each chapter retcons aspects of the last one, has precedent in the EU as well.

Callista would be largely forgotten in Star Wars going forward until she was brought back in the 2009-2011 series Fate of the Jedi, one of the last EU projects. Beyond that, she cameoed in her original form in a few Clone Wars-era stories, most notably Karen Traviss's The Clone Wars: No Prisoners, which teamed her up with Ahsoka Tano and Captain Rex, which is just wild to me. I know it's all Star Wars but Callista and Ahsoka do not feel like characters in the same franchise.

I'll mention the covers briefly: like many Bantam-era books, the covers feature artwork by Drew Struzan, who would go on to paint posters for the Prequels and who is one of the best-regarded cover artists Star Wars ever had. His only real weakness is that he often would feature random imagery from the films, such as the royal guardsmen on the front of Darksaber and the Echo Base defenders on Planet of Twilight, that did not appear in the pages of the books.

Recommendation & Rating

For now I won't spoil whether I think these books are better or worse than The Crystal Star; I will say that I was surprised to find just how much they're hated. The Callista Trilogy is rarely remembered nowadays; they aren't meme bad books like Crystal Star. But if you go looking for reviews, you won't find many kind ones. As for myself, I can see why they didn't become enduring classics, but I enjoyed them, especially Planet of Twilight. I'm out-of-step with the general consensus in this; often Darksaber is considered the best.

Reading an Anderson Star Wars book for the first time in years, I think I figured out why he got so much work with the franchise: he matches Lucas's storytelling style almost exactly. For better and worse, if you watched the Original Trilogy and just wanted more of that, without any new take or spin on the franchise, the Anderson books were for you. A hard-working author who can put out a trio of novels in a year is also going to be popular with publishers. And I'll commend Anderson on how much he worked to collaborate with other writers to build out the Star Wars universe; in Darksaber the opening scene of Luke and Han hiding amongst a tribe of Tusken Raiders apparently brought in a lot of ideas about Tusken culture from a cancelled novel, Heart of the Jedi. And I'd say Darksaber is quite a lot better than the Jedi Academy Trilogy, making it the best novel Anderson wrote independently for Star Wars.

Hambly's Star Wars is rather the opposite of Anderson's. It's a very off-beat take on the franchise, set on frontier worlds where weird things happen. In both books Hambly does a lot to neutralize Jedi power, especially Luke's, in stark contrast to Darksaber's scene of Jedi casting an Imperial fleet into the void. Her writing style is a lot more flowery than is the norm for Star Wars, which throws a lot of people off. But, in most ways, she achieves her vision incredibly well. As I said, of the trilogy, Planet of Twilight was my favorite. Children of the Jedi was marred by a plot that was hard to follow in many places and the issues surrounding Cray Mingla's death; it's my worst of the three, though I still found it an interesting read.

I'm not sure how much I'd fervently recommend the Callista trilogy to someone who hadn't read it. Its reputation as among the worst Star Wars has to offer is grossly exaggerated, but it's not a masterpiece either. I suppose my appraisal is that they're worth a chance if you're interested.

Children of the Jedi and Darksaber

/10 — More positive than negative. Has significant failings but is overall an enjoyable experience. A tentative recommendation given.

Planet of Twilight

/10 — Without significant negative worth. Able to be recommended to the interested without reservation.