Author Joe Schreiber sets aside his usual horror fare to explore one of Star Wars' most impressive villains: Darth Maul. Unfortunately what we get is a brief and flat interpretation of not only Maul (who is begging to be written the way Mace Windu was in Shatterpoint) but other iconic characters like Jabba Desilijic Tiure. Along the way we're introduced to a handful of unimportant and uninteresting secondary and tertiary characters who fold up and blow away as the plot passes them by. The reader is left to question their inclusion in the story in the first place as things wind their way to an abrupt and utterly dissatisfying conclusion.
I wanted this to be good. Darth Maul was one of the few things George Lucas had gotten right since 1980 and the tattooed Sith Lord has been rarely featured as the centerpiece of his own story. A much better Maul book that more closely captures the dark, gelid malevolence that is Maul is Darth Maul: Shadowhunter. So this effort on Schreiber's part (one that apparently took two years) was found sorely lacking. I will break it down further below, but first, what I did like.
The concept for the story was well conceived if poorly executed. Maul is sent to a high-security prison facility aboard a space station known as Cog Hive Seven where he must engage in gladiatorial-like battles while seeking out an elusive, almost mythic, arms dealer known as Iram Radique. Maul - check. Gladiatorial prison combat - check. The galaxy's most dangerous criminals killing each other for the entertainment and gambling pleasures of the wealthy - check. So what could go wrong? I'll tell you, but first one other thing I liked and virtually the only reason some of you (if you enjoyed Darth Plagueis) may want to read this.
Moving behind the scenes, as always, Palpatine and Hego Damask, aka Darth Plagueis, make appearances. There is a lightly explored subtext between the two as it relates to Maul's mission and the Sith Lord's relationship to one another. It's not fully revealed but it might be a set up for how Palpatine eventually kills Plagueis and the story could be interpreted to suggest Maul plays a role. Whether this is to be further explored in another work by Schreiber, or someone else, isn't clear but it is interesting nonetheless.
Did you get all that? Because that is about all that was good in the 300'ish pages of Lockdown.
The unforgivable sin of Lockdown is its utter misinterpretation of Maul. Schreiber's Maul is uncertain, at times compassionate, and even garrulous. This is not the character that so intrigued us in Episode I with his unnerving predatory silence. It was this quiet malevolence that made us want to know more about the character. In the book however, Maul's words and thoughts are reminiscent of any common figure in the Star Wars pantheon and not those of a Sith Lord. It could be interpreted that Maul is simply playing the role of prison tough in order to fit in, but even his internal thoughts are common, uninspired, and lacking the depth of someone of Maul's experience and power.
Speaking of power, if you were looking for a Dark Side-fueled tour de Force (see what I did there? Force? Never mind) where Maul unleashes his inner preternatural god, this isn't it. At all. One of the strategic mistakes Schreiber and the editors make with Lockdown is choosing to constrain Maul from using the Force almost entirely. In the story, the literary mechanic is employed by Palpatine instructing Maul to keep his true nature hidden while on his mission. Perhaps part test of his skills and part keeping Sith designs on the galaxy a secret.
I can see their thought process. Somewhere they likely imagined it intriguing to tell a story where Maul is precluded from using the Force. We'll get to see what a badass he is even without it! Except as many fans will tell you, Star Wars just isn't the same without the god-like ability to touch the ether and bend it spectacularly to one's will. We all love Han and Fett, but I think if we're honest, the draw is Vader closing windpipes and Yoda levitating starfighters. So as a Maul fan, this is what I was expecting from Lockdown.
But this is not what we get.
There is virtually no display of Maul's dynamism throughout. Sure there are plenty of poorly blocked fight scenes where Maul musters every ounce of his natural abilities in order to win. He disembowels a Wampa at one point with his bare hands. But we're not interested in the natural. We were looking for the supernatural vessel of destruction that is Maul. But it's nowhere to be found. Maul does pull off some incredible feats absent the Force though. I hesitate to say they're implausible without the aid of the Force, but I'm not sure how else you tear the head off a 15-foot long Varactyl with your bare hands.
Maul has two hearts and plenty of anger issues, but that doesn't quite cover the gaps like Schreiber would have us believe.
And if you were looking for Maul to be swinging that infamous double-bladed Quigon-ender around, sorry. No chance cubes. There is a brief quasi-lightsaber battle at the end, but it's poorly done and too little too late.
Quite possibly as painful and irritating as witnessing Maul lament the passing of a fellow inmate, is the terrible cast of supporting characters:
Iram Radique - Underworld boogeyman arms dealer who is so badass he operates willingly as an inmate from inside a prison. No one can find him and no one knows who he really is. The problem is when you finally meet him, you know why. He is so poorly and thinly rendered as a villain you half expect the real villain to jump out and proclaim, "Psyche!" But he never does. Radique is it and for how much he is built up in the first 250+ pages, Schreiber fails miserably at delivering someone worthy of Maul's attention. Or ours.
Dakarai Blirr - Mute programming genius behind the algorithm used to match fighters on Cog Hive Seven. The warden's brother. Likes to play dress-up for no reason. (Read the book and you'll know what I mean.)
Sadiki Blirr - The prison warden. She once had an affair with the current commissioner of the Galactic Gaming Commission, Dragomir Chlorus. Only notable in the story because her foot is chewed off by a Kell dragon. I'm serious.
Dragomir Chlorus - Galactic Gaming Commission commissioner. Still tries to watch out for his former paramour, Sadiki, but is about his business, ya dig? Only notable in the story because he had an affair with a woman who later gets her foot chewed off by a Kell dragon.
Artagan Truax - Hard-knuckled badass pit fighting father trying to protect his son...by getting him locked up in prison with him where you have to routinely fight to the death in order to survive. Thanks, dad. No wonder so many people are in prison. According to Schreiber it's a great way to solve problems.
Eogan Truax - Weak tea version of his father who finally finds his inner manocity at the end. But only after mastering the "Fifty-Two Fists." I'll just leave that one right there. This is a family show.
Komari Vosa - Fallen Jedi (there had to be one) and murderous leader of the Bando Gora Death Cult. Has issues. Dooku was her master and if you squint you can see Asajj Ventress. Her and Maul almost share "a moment." Yeah.
Syrox, aka the Wolf Worm - While not technically a character per se, the Wolf Worm, a giant semi-sentient vermicular who feasts on the blood and souls of the dead (Schreiber = horror guy), is in the running for most personality and depth of character. Jack Nicholson will play it in the movie adaptation.
You don't need to know the rest.
Avoid. This was low-budget. Schreiber, who is supposed to be a horror guy and barely does that, tries his hand at what is essentially a mystery and fails to deliver it. Forgivable, but not in addition to failing to do Maul justice or really provide anything worth our time and money.
I like what Schreiber tried to do here. I liked what he tried to do with Deathtroopers and Red Harvest. But for my money, he's just not getting it done. And I'm a proponent of maturing the Star Wars IP into areas like horror and other more adult-themed types of stories. No, not Fifty Shades of Star Wars, but I can only take so many more Luke, Han, and Leia-centric stories.
So unfortunately for me and my $13.99, the only mystery here is why this guy keeps getting book deals.
-Pretty sure Schreiber introduces the word, "whore," into the Star Wars lexicon for the first time.
Raken's Proprietary Review Scoring Algorithm
1 Raken - Silent ellipses. Raken is displeased. You are killed.
2 Raken's - Silent ellipses. Raken looks at you as he kills you.
3 Raken's - Silent ellipses. Raken may not yet have decided to kill you. But probably will.
4 Raken's - Silent ellipses. You may still be killed, but Raken will remember you died.
5 Raken's - Silent ellipses. Raken nods silently. You will be killed last.
If you ask me, I think the largest problem is that Maul's inner workings aren't as apparent as other characters, so you get two kinds of bad (maybe?) writers. One's like Schreiber who look at it and go meh I'll go for the obvious reactions instead of really thinking before they type. Or you get someone like Michael Reaves (Star Wars: Shadow Hunter) who's too scared to actually go in depth and choose instead to focus on easier character development threads within the story.
Either way you cut that, it's lazy writing which isn't the character but the author's problem.