We've got a very special edition of the Star Wars book club for you folks tonight. Instead of the latest and greatest in current cannon storytelling, we're stepping back into the old expanded universe for a spooky tale from the Galaxy of Fear series called City of the Dead.
Some of you may recall from my last update at the local book sale I was lucky enough to pick up this second entry of Galaxy of Fear. This was a series from the late nineties that attempted to cash in on the popularity of franchises like Goosebumps that had made horror a big ticket item for kids of the day. Can't say as I blame them for trying, as a kid of the time both Star Wars and spooky stuff were premium entertainment. A combination of the two should have been a slam dunk.
The basic outline for the series revolved around a brother sister pair. They're Tash, the older, wiser, sister with good instincts and an interest in Jedi and the ways of the force. Younger brother Zak, is the impulsive, sports savvy, gearhead. After the destruction of Alderaan leaves the kids without a home, they're taken in by their mysterious uncle by marriage. Uncle Hoole is a Shi'ido, a race of shapeshifters and an archaeologist. The more active caretaker for the kids is DV-9. more affectionately known as Deevee. Think of a more sassy version of C-3P0 and you'll have a decent understanding of what Deevee is all about. Together the group travels the galaxy getting into horrific misadventures related to the mysterious Project Starcream.
|Not that Starscream.|
Apparently the first novel involved the group dealing with a man-eating planet only to have their butts saved by original trilogy heroes who drop them off on a planet called Necropolis....no kidding, True to form for Star Wars, the planet is uniform, this one characterized by fog, Gothic architecture, and cemeteries. The whole place is essentially a Universal Monster flick. They even have a tradition of welcoming visitors by dressing up as ghosts and scaring the shit outta people. Sounds like a fine vacation spot.
Let's get something out of the way right now, this is not a particularly well done book. It suffers from many of the cliches native to this type of story. Kids frequently encounter terrifying situations only to have nobody believe them. Dialogue is on the nose, character development is basically nonexistent. Every chapter wraps up with a cliffhanger. If you've ever read Goosebumps, you know the drill. Galaxy of terror took that drill and refuses to give it back.
As with most things, it's not all bad. In fact, there were a few details I found surprising. For instance every chapter ends with a cliffhanger, yet unlike most kids horror it's not always a fake scare. A part will end with zombies coming out of the ground, and the next picks up with the zombies attacking. It wasn't a dream, someone in a costumes, or a simple misunderstanding, just real monsters on the prowl. The other improvement is that the story isn't entirely bloodless. Generally in these sort of tales the threatening force either fails to take out any kids or miraculously returns them to reality upon defeat. Here though a kid actually flat out dies. No way to save him, he's just dead. Having a real threat significantly ups the stakes.
Something that really through me for a loop was Tash's interest in the old jedi Masters. It's a hobby of hers to hop on the holonet to learn everything she can about their religious exploits. In the new continuity, the Empire redacted and banned everything about the Jedi, to the point that kids born just a few years after the prequel trilogy doubt the existence of space wizards. The new bent makes infinity more sense as the Empire would have a significantly easier time controlling the galaxy by also controlling information. To think that in this old cannon a kid could just look up the wiki page on Jedi without issue simply makes no sense. Reading Tash's early interactions with Luke told me I was in very different territory than what I'm used too.
Another odd element that completely blew my mind was the villain. At first I though he was someone who only existed within this book. As a freaky looking mad scientist he certainly didn't come across as anything special. After looking the series up on wookiepedia I found Dr. Cornelius Evazan was actually someone from the original trilogy. Who you ask?
Turns out during the old expanded universe, this guy had a whole backstory and multiple appearances detailing his exploits as he studied life extension, body swapping, you name it. Once again I gotta point out some disconnect with this narrative. Here we have Dr. Evazan as a classical mad scientist raising an undead army. Now think of him as the random dick who picks bar fights with farmboys. This was a theme that bothered me within the old books. I've got nothing against learning more about the various inhabitants of the universe but something like this is just too much. Wasn't it good enough for someone in the background to just be a boring nobody? I always figured that dude was just a skeezy criminal and nothing more. Turning him into Space Frankenstain was more than a little unnecessary.
Thankfully Boba Fett fares better in his small role. He stays mostly true to character and doesn't overstay his welcome. If anything, childhood me would have loved the bits with him blasting super zombies. I thought it was funny that back then there was still an air of mystery about him. No one ever sees his face or knows his past. This really was a long time ago.
Overall, City of the Dead was a pretty lame read. That said, I'm not sorry I gave it a shot. I've always held a fondness for young-adult horror and having this window into the old expanded universe was a real trip. I'm almost interested in checking out more of the series just for the hell of it but let's be honest, I've got enough on my plate as is. Speaking of which, don't be surprised to see more frequent posts as I've got some special goodies to share with you all. That's something for another night. The Moon is bright, the wind is howling, I'm thinking Hammer flicks and nachos.