I love zombies. I love Star Wars. I had no love for the idea of mixing the two. In fact, although I collect all the books in the Star Wars universe, it took me quite a few years to give in and purchase both Red Harvest and Death Troopers by Joe Schreiber. As far as the timeline goes, they come nowhere near each other.
Forget Han Solo or Luke Skywalker. Forget even Jar Jar Binks (I know, you had until I mentioned him). Red Harvest takes place an even longer time ago in that galaxy far, far away…on an ice planet not called Hoth.
We meet a bunch of young students training in the dark side at an academy. There are some great setups of conflicts between various characters. In fact, not having characters we know and love facing off against zombies works in the story’s favor. It’s easier to imagine this fresh group of faces.
Unfortunately, the introductions are short lived. Soon after evil Darth Scarbrous creates a virus that turns life forms into zombie-like creatures, Red Harvest pretty much becomes a paint-by-numbers zombie movie script and all these characters you’ve barely gotten to know become dead meat.
But I came into this book looking for a zombie story and that’s what I got. The classic clichés are here, including zombie hordes, infection by bite, distrust of those bitten, infection by choice, and gut-munching. Schreiber even incorporates the powerful feeling of the Force flowing with the sensation the living get as they are changing into zombies.
Plenty of Star Wars elements are present as well, including light saber fights, bounty hunters, droids, spaceships, and inter-planetary action. There are also some new fantastical elements that easily fit into the Star Wars environment, including an orchid with powers of the Force and a talking tree.
Like all good horror movies, there is a final girl; you just don’t realize she’s going to be the final girl until it happens.
Death Troopers takes place on an imperial prison barge, introduces us to some new characters…and then brings in none other than Han Solo and Chewbacca! Yep. They are prisoners on the barge (the book falls before Episode IV in the Star Wars timeline).
While the virus that takes over may stem from the outbreak in Red Harvest, this novel was written first, so there is no reference at all to the situations in the prequel. But that doesn’t even matter because the zombie scenario in this novel is so much more intense. Despite the presence of major characters from the Star Wars universe, Death Troopers feels like a horror novel. Zombies in outer space—and they’re terrifying.
Aside from nonstop, chilling zombie sequences, the novel also focuses much more specifically on a very small cast of characters that are stuck on the barge—and not a single one has any special connection to The Force. This really amplifies the sense of isolation, and creates the perfect atmosphere for the zombie siege. And Han and Chewie are perfectly injected into the storyline. It doesn’t feel at all forced, and they handle the freaky circumstances with as much fear as the other characters.
I also think Death Troopers is simply more relatable because the characters are not students of the dark side. Yeah, that’s right. It’s just scarier when the good guys are put into terrifying situations. Think about it; the zombies could have been chasing Darth Maul or the emperor in Red Harvest, and that’s just not very scary!