It’s a Thursday, and it’s October, the “Halloween Season” …so what’s a combo Star Wars fan/die-hard zombie aficionado like myself supposed to do? Talk about one of the only pieces of media on the planet that crosses the two over, of course!
Initially released over a decade ago, when it was firmly in sorta-canon upon its release but now relegated to “Legends” status – and long before ‘Rogue One’ used characters of the same name in its opening sequence – “Star Wars: Death Troopers” is the mixing of a Star Wars story and a zombie horror story. While it sounds amazingly amazing in theory, and indeed is a pretty fun read, as a proud-yet-critical fan of both universes I feel I must be a little, well, critical here. The experience of reading this book feels a little like meeting a supermodel might: your preconceived notions make you insanely excited for the big event, it seems so amazing and perfect from a distance, but after you spend some time with it, you find out that it’s definitely not perfect and you actually end up a little bummed out.
The book was written by Joe Schreiber, who has written a few horror novels before, none of which I have read. I’m not sure how big of a Star Wars fan Schreiber may have been prior to this assignment… but if he was a fan, I would hope that even he feels a bit disappointed by the way this story turned out. The whole time I was reading this story, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it felt…rushed. Like the book was rushed into production so the creators could make sure to “cash in” on the mid-to-late 2000s’ high-point zombie wave before it ended. Nothing in this tale is really fleshed out to enjoyable levels; the characters are bland and forgettable, the locations are basic and something an adolescent could have conceived, and the action is actually pretty mundane. And don’t let the size of the book fool you: listed at 303 pages, “Death Troopers” is actually only 240 pages long, and you are given 5 “bonus” chapters from some other random Star Wars story to help fill space. As I’ll talk about further below, if you take away the Star Wars aspect of the story, you are left with just another dime-a-dozen zombie story, pretty unoriginal and pretty damn predictable.
The Star Wars Universe is a vast place, full of interesting locations and a myriad of existing characters and different races from which to create unique characters. Unfortunately, “Death Troopers” doesn’t utilize any of this; there are six main characters in the book, five of whom are human and one of whom is a Wookie. Before you get excited about a new Wookie to meet – it’s Chewbacca. And Han Solo is one of the five humans. And sadly, neither character adds anything of value to the story via their presence – they are here for one thing and one thing only. That’s right, Schreiber felt like he needed to use “stunt casting” to help sell the book, which is truly a shame; don’t get me wrong, Han and Chewie fit well enough into the context of the story, but the story would be largely the same without them. It feels a bit like the only way Schreiber felt that he could make this a true Star Wars story was to have one or more of the “main characters” feature in the story. And if any of the peripheral characters in this story threw Darth Vader’s name around one more time, I might have just lightsabered my own eyes out.
Contrary to popular belief, however, this is NOT the first Star Wars horror novel to ever be written. In fact, this may not even be the first Star Wars zombie book ever written! In 1997 and 1998 there were twelve Star Wars novels released under the branding “Star Wars: Galaxy of Fear.” Granted, the books were geared towards “young adult” readers and were trying to piggy-back on the success of the “Goosebumps” series of scary novels, but they are out there. The second book in the series, “City of the Dead,” actually deals with undead monsters as well; in an odd twist of fate, this story also features Han Solo. He must be what we call a Zombie Magnet.
Subtract the Star Wars elements of this story, and you’ve got just another standard zombie story. Deserted location? Check. Deadly virus? Check. Rag-tag group of survivors? Check. Fortunately, the addition of Star Wars makes pretty much everything better, but only for geeks – anybody remember the “Star Wars Holiday Special” from back in the day? Yeah, a terrible piece of televised craftsmanship, but now it’s hate-loved by all the Force fans. Same rule applies here. Even though we’ve established that this may not be the only Star Wars zombie book out there, it is definitely the first one geared towards adults, and it’s the first one that falls into the “rules” of what we currently accept about zombie stories. The story definitely does get credit for giving us the unique meshing of zombies at the Star Wars Universe, even if it does feel a bit forced (no pun intended!).
One of my biggest problems with the book is that I simply didn’t believe in any of the characters. None of them resonated with me, and Schreiber didn’t take enough time to give the characters enough back story to make you want to care about them. The “plucky” young kids are just annoying and random. The “rich girl” doctor is just an extra person in most scenes that really only exists to give the reader a “medical” perspective on things. Jareth Sartoris, the Captain of the Guard onboard the prison barge, is supposed to be evil, but we never get to know him well enough to know why, which also cheapens his shot at redemption at the end. The only characters that the reader does end up caring about are the ones mentioned above from the “established” Star Wars Universe that make their appearance here, and that’s only because the reader has come to know and love these characters before this story ever began.
The worst part of the story, in my humble opinion, was the editing. In addition to the story being questionably short (only 240 pages, really?), it seems like every chapter in the first half of the book feels like it needs to end in a “cliffhanger” for some reason; worse than that, due to the way the book bounces around to the different characters’ point of view, the “suspense” of the end of the chapter usually wasn’t addressed until a few more chapters down the line, leaving the reader with frustrating questions to be thought about while reading about something else entirely. Once the second half of the book hits, Schreiber has left so many questions that have to be answered that the action feels haphazard, as if he was in such a rush to answer these questions that the actual story had to take a back seat.
In conclusion: I actually sound pretty negative about this book, which was definitely not my intent; I guess I was just so excited about the melding of the Star Wars and Zombie genres that I was (still am) disappointed that the end result wasn’t executed as well as it could have been. This is still definitely a fun book to read, and I do recommend you pick it up if you are a fan of Star Wars and zombies; it’s a very unique read that you really won’t get anywhere else!