Maul: Lockdown, by Joe Schreiber, had me excited for a long time. I thought, originally, the concept was great. However, while reading the book, I realized I had misunderstood the summaries and dust jackets. I had thought the book was about Darth Maul trying to escape from the most dangerous prison in the galaxy. A Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay, if you will. It’s not that at all.
Darth Maul is sent, by Darth Sidious, to Cog Hive Seven to find an elusive arms dealer. Maul must remain undercover, so he’s forbidden to use his lightsaber or force powers. The book follows Maul exploring the layout of the prison, participating in televised death matches and surviving gang politics.
Maul: Lockdown is entertaining…to a point. The death matches are well done with visceral action, some of the new characters are interesting and there’s general mystery to the identity of the arms dealer. It also helps that, like some of favorite Star Wars books, this is a standalone one-shot. However, the book has a few faults that kept it from being the thrilling and dark adventure it could have been.
For one, taking away Maul’s force powers and lightsaber, while an interesting challenge, means the book denies the reader what they might have come for in the first place. Taking away his weapons for a few chapters might have been exciting, but when it’s the whole book there’s a certain element of false advertisement. Maul, the character, still has that tiger-like cool, but is less interesting than your classic Darth Vader. Maul is all rage and hate and, after a while, that stops being interesting. He comes across as one note in this book and it doesn’t help that we learn nothing new about the character.
The book is dense, which isn’t always a problem, but I was coming in for something more akin to a thriller. The chapters are short and you can clear through pages easily, but it goes on for longer than necessary, reaching a climax weighed down by cameos and dull exposition. Near the end, I was trying to get to the finish line quickly not because I was interested, but because I was ready to be done. There’s not enough story, character or intrigue to carry this book.
I’m surprised by how critical I am of this book, because the concept seemed like a slam dunk. But, when compared to other Star Wars villain books, such as Darth Plagueis, Darth Bane, Dark Disciple and Lords of the Sith, it falls short. Maybe Darth Maul isn’t that intriguing of a character, or at least, not during this part of life. I still haven’t finished the Clone Wars show, so I haven’t seen the character resurrected and given robotic legs. Maybe then he has more depth, but here, there’s not enough.
Now, someone, please go write that Star Wars prison break I wanted.
Or Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens: Lost Stars by Claudia Gray. But that title is too long, too stupid and come December 19th, 2015, too dated.
Lost Stars is, as far as I know, the first Young Adult Star Wars book in this new line. The new line being since Disney bought it, threw away the Expanded Universe and started fresh. So while there have been YA Star Wars books before, Lost Stars does feel like an event because of its timing and it’s quality.
I’m not incredibly knowledgeable when it comes to the Expanded Universe. A lot of my time in that part has come from video games and comics, not so much the books. What I’ve read has been decent but not mind blowing. I know people will stand by how great The Thrawn or the Jedi Acedemy, trilogies are but neither of those series have clicked for me. Kenobi by John Jackson Miller has been my favorite novel so far, being a one-shot and simple story, but also absorbing. Nothing I’ve read has topped Star Wars: Legacy by John Ostrander, but that’s a different blog (but go read it).
What I’m trying to get at is, though there are aspects of the EU that I like and have affection for, if a book like Lost Stars makes any changes, I’m not aware of them. So there won’t be many complaints about that here.
Lost Stars is about two kids from different worlds who become friends and stay friends their whole lives. Thane and Ciena help each other train and prepare for the imperial academy and become ace star pilots. Now, this books starts close after Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, so as far as our characters are concerned, the empire is alright, the jedi were no good and the rebellion is non-existent. As the characters grow up, the make it through school, get jobs aboard ships and start finding themselves in the middle of important events.
The book was doing a great job standing on it’s own for the first part, focusing on what the empire’s training would look like with little opposition. When we start getting to the movies, it loses some uniqueness but doesn’t drop off in quality. From here it becomes a greatest hits of Star Wars moments, with Thane and Ciena being involved with the Death Star, the Battle of Hoth, Cloud City, the Battle for Endor and the second Death Star.
But the twist is in the love story. Of course we know these characters are going to start feeling for each other, but when one of them leaves the empire and joins the rebellion, that’s when the friction hits. I don’t want to go into extreme details, but I will say that the reason for the one leaving and the other staying is pretty solid, at least for a Star Wars book.
The ending is where the book drops the ball. Set up for a sequel (or soon-to-be-released movie), it’s not nearly the satisfying conclusion the story deserves. There’s no real resolution between the two characters, there’s lots of hints about other stories waiting to be told, and for a book that focused so intently on two characters despite franchise-building, it feels like a cheat. A don’t want a happy ending, just an ending. Now, if the movies eventually deal with this, it might not be so bad, but the book won’t get to be complete stand-alone tale like Kenobi.
Would I recommend Lost Stars? Yes. To those who like YA fiction but not Star Wars and to those who like Star War but not YA fiction. Sure, it has the same fan-fictiony feel that a lot of the EU has, but it works. Plus, with Disney making the books official cannon, it’s a little easier to get invested with new characters and that’s something the previous EU didn’t have.
Claudia Gray, who also wrote A Thousand Pieces of You, has done a great job of transferring Star Wars into a YA book and while I haven’t read the rest of the new Star Wars books (I plan on it), from what I’ve heard this might be one of the best books to come out the new change. It got me pumped for the new movies and the characters of the book.
Check it out.