Joe Schreiber is well known to Star Wars fans for his books Death Troopers and Red Harvest, both praised for bringing a horror element to the Saga. His new book, Maul: Lockdown, features the fearsome Zabrak on a secret mission deep inside a brutal prison that pits inmate against inmate in a fight to the death.
I recently spoke with Joe about darkness in the Star Wars saga and how he managed to still make Maul someone you wouldn’t want to cross – even without his force powers and lightsaber.
Vampire Sith, undead stormtroopers and now a prison death match. Where does your darker take on the Star Wars mythos come from? Is the saga itself darker than what we give it credit for being?
The saga itself isn’t necessarily dark, but there are certainly some very dark undercurrents running through the storyline from the very beginning — the corruption of goodness, the seemingly senseless slaughter of innocence, the triumph of tyranny over the individual. Personally I’ve been fortunate to have opportunities to write about some of the more intense and, yes, dreadful aspects of that world. Within the prison of Cog Hive Seven, where inmates fight to the death, I found a refreshing intensity and immediacy to the story that served as an engine for the story. I felt like I had to go into the darkness of the story in order to fully explore how desperate a situation like that really might be, and make it feel real — as real as it felt to me, anyway.
Maul: Lockdown is supposed to run co-concurrently with the events of Darth Plagueis. What was it like to write with a big fan favorite like that in mind?
Since that book is one of my favorites, and I’m a big fan of it, I actually found it more exhilarating than daunting. James’s book was a huge help when it came to writing the voices of Sidious and Plagueis, and he provided invaluable insight throughout the early planning stages of Lockdown, when we were talking about what Maul was really doing on Cog Hive Seven, and how it fit into the grand plan. From the beginning I knew that I was wanted to make Lockdown a book that you could read before, after or alongside Darth Plagueis, without the disruption of style or story.
Maul isn’t allowed to use his Force powers, but he still comes off as a guy you just wouldn’t want to fool with. Did you have any ideas going into this about how you would still establish that Maul was a tough guy without these kids of obvious signs?
That actually took some doing. In the first draft of the book, I had Maul making a lot of threats — he was doing a lot more talking and reacting to other inmates, which ultimately made him feel a lot weaker than he really was, weaker than we like him to be. In the second draft, I tried to make him more proactive, focus more on the intimidating presence of Maul himself, the sheer intensity of who he is — and I wanted to show him thinking strategically, in a way using the prison like an enormous chessboard whose pieces he was going to have to manipulate just right, without some of those players realizing that they were being manipulated until it was too late. It was fine to have him fighting and showing his physical prowess — we need to see these things — but I also wanted to show the lengths he’d go to, to use every aspect of the environment to his advantage. And I wanted to show him cornered…really pushed to the limits.
What were some of your non Star Wars influences in writing this book? Did you watch any prison documentaries or dramas?
I love prison movies — Escape from New York, especially. In a way, it’s a perfect template for Lockdown, and it got me very excited to think about Maul as a kind of Zabrak version of Snake Plissken, getting sent into prison on purpose with a very specific mission. I thought the first season of Prison Break was kind of like that too. I watched Steve McQueen in Papillon, Clint Eastwood in Escape from Alcatraz, The Shawshank Redemption…anything that really highlights those archetypes that we look for in prison flicks. Tim Willocks’ novel Green River Rising is something of a lost classic in the genre — it manages to incorporate philosophy, astonishing prose and sociology into what is, in the end, a completely bonkers, over-to-top prison escape novel. I highly recommend that one.
I’ve got a middle grade novel called Game Over, Pete Watson coming out in March. It’s about kid who finds his dad’s old 1980s game system in the basement and sells it at a garage sale, only to discover afterward that his dad is actually a CIA agent, and the console was his portal to the NSA database. By selling it, he ends up leaving the US open to all kinds of villainous threats, including a madman with a giant mechanical cockroach. It’s kind of fun.
MORE ABOUT MAUL: LOCKDOWN –
Set before the events of Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace, this new novel is a thrilling follow-up to Star Wars: Darth Plagueis.
It’s kill or be killed in the space penitentiary that houses the galaxy’s worst criminals, where convicts face off in gladiatorial combat while an underworld gambling empire reaps the profits of the illicit blood sport. But the newest contender in this savage arena, as demonic to behold as he is deadly to challenge, is fighting for more than just survival. His do-or-die mission, for the dark masters he serves, is to capture the ultimate weapon: an object that will enable the Sith to conquer the galaxy.
Sith lords Darth Plagueis and Darth Sidious are determined to possess the prize. And one of the power-hungry duo has his own treacherous plans for it. But first, their fearsome apprentice must take on a bloodthirsty prison warden, a cannibal gang, cutthroat crime lord Jabba the Hutt, and an unspeakable alien horror. No one else could brave such a gauntlet of death and live. But no one else is the dreaded dark-side disciple known as Darth Maul.