On Sale: January 28, 2014
Pages: 368 | ISBN: 978-0-345-50903-1
$27.00SynopsisSet 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.
Jason Ward and Randy Lo Gudice of Now, This is Podcasting! and MakingStarWars.net had an opportunity to speak to Joe Schreiber, author of Star Wars: Maul: Lockdown. Over a thirty minute phone call, we talked generally about Star Wars, the coolest scene in the novel (no spoilers), the future of the Expanded Universe, and Joe’s faith in Star Wars: Episode VII. We would like to thank Joe Schreiber for his time and Alexandra Coumbis at Random House for the opportunity to speak to Joe about Star Wars: Maul: Lockdown, a fascinating look at Darth Maul before the events of Star Wars: Epsiode I The Phantom Menace.
Randy: Alright, guys! Today we have a very special interview! We are with author Joe Schreiber, author of Star Wars: Maul: Lockdown. We’re going to be asking him a few questions about the book! First of all, thank you Joe for joining us!
Joe: Thank you! It’s great to be here!
Jason: As always, whenever we have someone of the show for the very first time, we like to ask them ‘what is their first Star Wars memory?’
Joe: I’m actually old enough to remember going to see A New Hope when it was just called Star Wars, on the big screen. As probably a seven year old, I was taken to the movie by my parents and we actually showed up late to the scene with Vader coming in through the blaster smoke, searching the ship for Leia and I had no idea what was going on. I was just sort of very excited by the scene but not really understanding any of it, just being sucked in by the story and it took me a while just to understand the narrative of it. It was through the eyes of a pretty young kid that I was exposed to all of that.
Randy: Very nice!
Jason: Yeah, my experience is the same. I started with the cantina sequence. That was where I walked in. It just totally blows your mind, it is a thing you’ve never seen before.
Randy: It’s an other worldly kind of thing, yeah.
Jason: But you where the perfect age for it, about eight, you said?
Joe: Right! And I didn’t really have any context for it at all. You forget that there was a time when Vader’s face not the iconic immediately recognizable thing that it is now. There was a time when he was just this towering, loud breathing presence. That’s how I first experienced him.
Jason: I just finished Maul: Lock Down. Which honestly, is a very, very good Star Wars book. The way that Joe writes Star Wars books, he really taps into the essence of Star Wars in that Star Wars has always been an amalgamation of different things, like science fiction and western…
Jason: Well, Joe with Death Troopers took horror and mixed it with adventure and in this one (Maul: Lockdown) we have a prison break out / prison infiltration novel, starring Darth Maul. I think it’s a genius premise. What influenced this premise and to write this novel and go in this direction?
Joe: It started with an email from Frank Parisi who is my editor at Del Rey. He sent me a message that said “would you be interested in writing a Darth Maul prison novel?” And that was it! I immediately felt all my circuits start to turn on and I started to respond to it without even necessarily knowing what it was going to look like. It was similar to the time we first talked about a Star Wars horror novel. “That sounds awesome, I would love to do that.” Then you go back and you say, “Well, how am I really going to do this?” Just the idea of what we think about why we enjoy prison books, prison movies, and what would it be like to drop Maul into that? Immediately there was this really exciting potential and exciting environment to walk into.
Jason: Was there a favorite film that guided your hand in writing the novel in this instance?
Joe: I love every prison movie I’ve ever seen. Movies like Escape from Alcatraz, a great Steve Mcqueen movie; Papillon where he’s escaping from Devil’s Island. I love the doors that genre opens in terms of the characters that you meet in a closed environment. So Escape from New York was another great take on the prison film. Again, you got a character that is specifically and deliberately put into this environment with a mission. I thought this is why I love that movie back then. You totally have an anti-hero that’s going into an environment where he’s going to need every aspect of his ability, training, and survival skills, just to stay alive. He’s going to have to somehow assert some dominance in this environment. The outcome is really in doubt. You don’t know if he’s going to be successful or not. So all of those stripped down stories were inspiring me as I was thinking about what I was going to do with this story.
Jason: I definitely picked up on that Escape from New York vibe. That was one of the coolest aspects of reading Maul: Lockdown, because I really love that movie too. Escape from New York mixed with Star Wars you really can’t go wrong with that.
This book is technically a spin-off Jame Luceno’s Darth Plagueis. How much interaction with James Luceno did you have for the Plagueis/Sidious moments and so on?
Joe: Well, I’m a huge fan of James’ book. I thought Darth Plagueis did so many things right. I was really excited when Del Rey and Frank (Parisi) kind of looped James into the original back and forth emails as we were plotting out what Lockdown was going to be. We really wanted to get his take on what the big picture is as far as why Maul would be doing this. What’s going on between Sidious and Plagueis that is going to involve what we have in my story? How are we going to make it exciting for people? People love Darth Plagueis. It was a high water mark in the Expanded Universe. I particularly wanted to do justice to what he had done as far as the dialog between Plagueis and Sidious. I wanted to get their voices in tuned with what he had done in that book. I spent weeks listening to the audio book of Darth Plagueis in my car. I was just driving around listening to the conversation those two guys were having. Of course they’re sort of scheming together. I wanted Lockdown to be the shadow that Darth Plagueis cast. I wanted you to be able to read this book and that book and really feel like you’re seeing two aspects of a complimentary story, both in the plot and the tone of their voices. That book was tremendously influential as far as what was happening with Lockdown.
Jason: I almost feel like, while you’ve written in three different Star Wars eras, I almost feel like with this book (Maul: Lockdown), we’re almost getting a new era. A Darth Plagueis era of Star Wars, the era before the prequels. I’m really digging that. It adds a lot of dimension to The Phantom Menace, which is a good thing.
Joe: Really there’s just a lot of room. There’s just so much room to move around in. I totally agree with what you’re saying. At this point in the Star Wars timeline there’s just so many plans that are building up that are being formulated by guys with massive ruthless intelligence and ambition. It is so captivating and it brings a level of smartness to the Star Wars story. We’re not dealing with something that’s just a space opera, there’s a level of intelligence and real plot driven excellence that’s going on in this part of the Star Wars story which is a lot of fun to see happen.
Randy: Exactly, yeah. I totally agree.
Jason: I don’t want to spoil the book anybody, obviously.
Randy: Spoil it! Go ahead!
Jason: I do want to slightly hint upon one moment. One of the coolest things in the book is Darth Maul versus a wampa, in the prison! I’m going to hint at it, but it kind of ends on a Temple of Doom note. I’ll just leave it at that. I was in Starbucks reading that and I was like, “Oh man, that’s the raddest Star Wars moment I’ve ever read in forever!” When you wrote that moment, did you just sit back in your chair and you were like “Yeah, I nailed it!” Or was it a difficult scene to write? How did it come about? Can you elaborate on that?
Joe: There’s definitely moments when you’re working with characters people love and you have that moment where the rollercoaster reaches the top of the hill and you’re about to go into a drop and its always that combination of exhilaration and anxiety. What if I don’t get all of this one because this is the scene… there’s a few scenes in the book that almost as a man than a writer I get excited about. I just think this would be great. It is that old kid impulse of I got this action figure and this action figure and they’re going to fight it out. I’m going to really make the most of this battle and just enjoy it. The downside of it is I think when you write fight scenes, like anything, like when you film a fight scene in a movie, it can be the most uninteresting thing in the world or it can be a lot of fun to watch if it is choreographed right and depending on what the stakes are and sort of what the execution was. I really wanted to build into and lead into it. Then when the time was right, just swing for the fences. Hopefully people are really going to enjoy it. I felt like this was too good of an opportunity to pass up. I was excited about it. I was excited to sit down and write it. How successful it was is always sort of hard to gauge. I felt good about the fact I enjoyed putting that scene together.
Jason: You swung for the fences and it was a homerun! It was successful, I was into it! This brings me to my next point, the book can be really kind of brutal. In Star Wars there’s always these different kinds of dimensions to things and one of them is Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru getting charred as corpses…
Randy: Well, just the excerpts you were showing me, I was like “Man, that’s harsh!”
Jason: Was there any place you had to pull back? Where you thought you went too far or someone else told you you went too far?
Joe: Not really. In having the experience with Del Rey and Lucasfilm that I did with the Death Troopers books, it really felt like they had my back as far as wanting to make the most of the opportunities that this particular environment presented. They really wanted to see a somewhat gritty Star Wars prison novel. In my experience it has always been it is better to go a little far and have someone bring it back than to write with a sense of reserve and concern and then not get everything you could out of that possibility. The only thing they came up with was they didn’t like the idea of characters that were cannibals. I’m not going to go into too much detail about that either but there are inmates in Cog Hive Seven and they are flesh eaters. I think I may have dialed that back a little bit. But really one of the things about this environment that makes it so scary is that at some point or another everybody in this prison is going to have to fight for their lives. Literally, no one is getting out of here alive. To sort of make that real and not just a narrative conceit, like this undercover narrative encapsulation, I really wanted to explore what that meant to really fear for your life and waking up every morning not knowing if your number is going to be up. When that happens, it is never going to be neat. It is never going to be merciful. It is always going to be this really dreadful experience. I wanted to capture that.
Jason: What was cool about it was you did capture it. Cog Hive Seven, which is the prison/space station sort of deal, when you put Darth Maul on it, Darth Sidious orders him not to use the Force openly at all. You’re putting a super man in this prison but he can’t use his super powers.
Joe: Yeah, that was an early thing we were talking about. You really wanted him to have this restraint placed upon him. To me, one of the interesting things about a characters with relatively limitless abilities is what happens when you can’t use them? What else do you got, basically, besides the obvious? In this story, it logistically played out, all he had to do was use the Force once and everyone would know about it, everyone knows this guy is not who he says he is. There’s a lot at stake with what the Sith’s grand plan was. He was going to have rely on his frank ability to never quit. He could not, he could not give up. Every aspect of him has to be used to his maximum potential since he can’t use the Force. To me, narratively, it made it much more interesting than letting him have access to all the powers literally no one in the prison could have.
Jason: Did you pull on anything from The Clone Wars in that recent arc where Maul is a crime lord?
Joe: Originally, we set in that “new Maul era.” We had the idea this way the reconstructed Maul, the Tony Montana building his empire from the ground up sort of thing. That was an exciting prospect as well and I spent a lot of time, even before those episodes where animated, sitting in a conference room in New York reading these Clone Wars scripts. This is where this character’s going and this is the kind of attitude he can have going into prison. Maybe he’s going into prison for this crime he’s committed? So that was sort of the attack originally. A lot of that got changed around. Then there was the state of Clone Wars with Disney buying Lucasfilm… then we thought, okay we’re going to take it into this other period about its about Maul’s life. It ultimately made a more interesting story as the story emerged, finally. It was more of the Maul we see dealing with Qui-Gon in The Phantom Menace. Which for me, I would say is arguably one of the strongest scenes in that movie. Certainly the strongest Maul scene, where you see him pacing, very much like a confined animal, to me that captures so much of the intensity of what I love about Maul. I wanted to see more of that. I wanted that to be what we saw of him where we see him unstoppably moving through this prison.
Jason: Random question: There’s a character named “Zero,” were there any problems with having a character named “Zero” when there’s already a “Ziro The Hutt” in The Clone Wars series? Or was it a no-brainer because the spellings are different?
Joe: It never even came up. I live in a bubble of ignorance about a lot of this stuff. So I rely on people coming to me and saying “you can’t do this” or “you’ve done this before, Joe. You’re repeating yourself.” So no one said anything.
Jason: Yeah, in the book it is no problem at all. It was just one of those things where I wondered if they gave you any flak for that.
Joe: Right! I’m really the last person to enlist editorial comments. Especially with stuff like this. When I’m not particularly strong, I’m always glad when people have better ideas or different ideas.
Randy: You were saying you don’t keep track of these things, but obviously you know a lot about Star Wars. Do you think you have to be a fan to write in the Star Wars universe?
Joe: It is interesting, because what I’ve found is that people assume I’m like the Star Wars guru but I’ve rediscovered my fandom over the course of writing these books. One of the great gifts of having the opportunity to write these books, it is reminded me why I was so enchanted by them in the first time around. I think something interesting happens when you see Star Wars as a kid and then you go out into the world and you continue to be aware of it. In my case, I got a twelve year old and a ten year old, I got kids at home who are peripherally interested in Star Wars. But I wouldn’t call them super fans. I’m definitely more into it now than I ever was. I think that’s because I spend a lot of time thinking about it and I read a lot of the Expanded Universe and I’m seeing the reasons I loved it so much the first time around. So something interesting has happened as far as that approach, as a fan, and then a writer, and then finding what was so good about this universe to begin with.
Jason: Do you have any opinions about the possible re-ordering of the Expanded Universe?
Randy: We talk about this so much!
Joe: Somebody sent me a link to an article basically explaining what may or may not happen with the Expanded Universe. They were saying they’re going to go back to canon, and hopefully we won’t have anything like what we had before with zombies. They basically used Death Troopers as an example of what happens when you play it too fast with the franchise, you end up with zombified stormtroopers. I found that funny. It was interesting, I’ve never been a cautionary tale before. I don’t think my book has ever been used that way.
Joe: I think as a business decision, nothing is going to happen as far as cutting short the Expanded Universe. I would just hope they continue to produce these books. Whether or not I get a chance to write another one, they just continue to provide so much for fans in between films. So much of the Star Wars universe is because of the Expanded Universe. It has brought all these new levels of storytelling. They must realize that, I find it very hard to imagine a world in which that would be taken away. It probably will be ordered in a certain way, but I think we’re going to be able to continue to enjoy stories outside of the movies. I certainly hope so. It has given a lot of writers opportunities to do some cool things they ordinarily never would have a chance to realize.
Jason: The idea someone would use Death Troopers as a cautionary tale is just weird to me. That was one of the freshest concepts with a Star Wars novel we had see in a while at that point. It was actually one of the first Star Wars novels I had bought in quite a while.
Randy: I think we’ve talked about this on the show numerous times. When you create these boundaries in which you can’t write past this or stories can’t exist past this, you put yourself in a box. You’re never going to be surprised or excited by anything because nothing is ever going to do anything to surprise you!
Jason: Joe did that (writing outside of the boundaries) successfully with that novel!
Jason: Since we’re coming towards the end here, I want to ask you if there is anything about Star Wars: Episode VII you’re looking forward to?
Joe: I don’t know how you guys feel about J. J. Abrams in general? I feel like he’s done enough work with the Star Trek movies to really earn my trust as what he’s got in store for the Star Wars universe. I like him as storyteller, I like the chances that he takes, sometimes people just don’t like his stuff. I think there’s less of that now than there was initially. People are like we’re seeing he’s not going to do irreparable damage to these story lines and these characters we love. I’m certainly looking forward to it with a sense of excitement than anything else. It is one of those things I deliberately try to avoid, in terms of spoilers. Because I want it to be as close to that first experience. Obviously I’m not going to have that experience of sitting a theater as a seven year old looking at the screen, just blown away. That’s never going to happen again. I’m looking forward to having another opportunity to be surprised by some new vision of what it is going to be.
Jason: Yeah, I’m with you there. Look at what Abrams has done, he kicked off LOST, he kicked off Fringe, he breathed new life into Star Trek into it. I think he’s the guy to start things. He starts little stories that balloon into epics.
I want to thank you, so much for spending your morning with us talking about Star Wars: Darth Maul: Lockdown you can pick it up on Amazon.com and you’re local bookstore if you still have one.
Randy: All the “places where great books are sold!” Thank you, so much for joining us!
Joe: Thank you, guys! It was really good to talk to you. I really appreciate you calling.