Death Troopers (2009)

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Author: Joe Schreiber
Publisher: Lucasbooks

© Copyright Lucasbooks

© Copyright Lucasbooks

Editor’s Note: Be warned. This article contains coarse language. Hey, it’s not our fault. Chris was just quoting Michael Bay.

Lucasfilm recently announced the development of an animated Star Wars sitcom. Seth Green, one of the bigwigs attached to the show, had these encouraging words to say: “Let us assure you this isn’t going to suck as much as you think it is.”

One wonders if the timing of the announcement had anything to do with the critical success of The People Vs George Lucas (2010) at SXSW a few weeks prior. Ego does strange things. While I can sympathize with Mr Lucas, I’ve suffered some keen disappointments at his hands in recent years. Let’s just say this plug’s godly Easter Monday timing didn’t fill me with confidence.

Clash of the Titans opened April 4; the Predator franchise is getting a reboot; a GI Joe sequel is in the works; and since he believes “you can’t just shit out 3-D,” Michael Bay is going to give us even more of what none of us really want and film the next Transformers in 3-D. The stories of my youth are just getting bigger and better!

Why am I so unhappy? I feel I should start with a bit of a biographical confession. Born in the seventies, I grew up a child of the eighties. My sister came on the scene the same year Elvis died and Bob Rines took those phantom plesiosaur pictures of the Loch Ness monster, the same year Star Wars was released. This about sums me up: no rhythm, a longing for the fantastic that just might be real, and a sibling rivalry that’s cast an endless shadow over my life.

With daylight savings kicking in, the Montreal spring relatively balmy, a Corona on my lap, and another on ice, I perched on my balcony, watching the world go by, my attention span summertime short. I set out to confront my spleen.

I picked up a copy of one of the more recent literary forays into the Star Wars universe, Death Troopers by Joe Schreiber. I won’t lie. It’s the cover that drew me in, if only because it seemed different from the others in the franchise. An Imperial stormtrooper’s helmet is hanging from a hook. Everything else is blackened out, save for a few grapples and the blood dripping from the helmet’s impaled eye. “Star Wars”, big, red, and bold, is inscribed along the top third with “Death Troopers” in blood-speckled letters along the bottom. In tiny print, way, way, way down is the author’s name.

Is the author, like a medium, meant to invisibly channel the awesomeness of Lucas’ brainchild? That’s what gets to me. Setting a sitcom in the Star Wars universe implies that it’s as rich and varied as our own. Could a Harlequin romance take place where the Force exists? Is Lucas’ creation flexible enough to sustain the entire breadth of human emotion?

Schreiber fashions his book as a straight horror yarn, with tropes lifted fully-formed from previous Star Wars writers. The Purge, an Imperial prison barge, breaks down and goes adrift in an uninhabited part of space. The passengers’ only hope lies in a derelict Star Destroyer. A boarding party can reach the ship, so the story goes, and salvage whatever is needed to get the Purge back online. Two parties are sent. Only one comes back.

A plague accompanies the boarding party back to the ship and, within hours, the entire population of the Purge is nearly wiped out. Only six people survive to fight their way back to the Star Destroyer, once again their only hope. The dead are coming back to life. They’re hungry, and they’re learning.

Under the weight of such a smothering brand, is it any wonder the novel falls flat? Does it need to be said that out of the hundreds of people killed in the book, two of the survivors happen to be rogue smugglers Han Solo and Chewbacca? The fact that every Star Wars outing lacks the confidence to forgo the movie tie-in speaks volumes about the true richness of the universe.

Bob Rines died in 2009 at the age of eighty-seven. He held more than eighty patents and was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. He was a respected man as well as a monster hunter. No one can say how serious he was about it, but the chase gave his life colour. If this teaches us anything, it’s that we need the courage to cast off the tried and true and embrace the hunt for something different. Blockbusters are a proven science. The fiction, an act a faith, is that something awesome is still out there to be discovered.

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