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Shadowhawk takes a look at the latest Star Wars novel, featuring one of the great villains of the setting, Darth Maul.
“A novel with an interesting premise but brought down due to lackluster characterisation and general silliness. This could have been great but is instead mediocre at best.” ~Shadowhawk, The Founding Fields
Darth Maul is one of the greatest villains of all time. Created for Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace, he is a Sith Apprentice under the tutelage of Darth Sidious, and thus the Sith Master’s agent of choice for any particular problem that requires his kind of special tough. Such as the murder of Padme Amidala or the destruction of Black Sun’s leadership or careful sabotage of multi-planet companies. Darth Maul has done it all. Every scene that he is in for the first prequel movie oozes his lethality and his awesomeness. His fight scenes with Qui-gon and Obi-wan are excellent as well. But beyond that, he has also proven to be quite a hit character in other mediums as well, with several novels and comics being written about him. One such novel is Maul: Lockdown, the latest in a loose trilogy of sorts. I’ve read Maul: Shadow Hunter by Michael Reaves and that was a fairly good novel. Joe Schrieber’s own novel however has none of the characterisation or tension of that other novel, and it shows right from the get go.
In this novel, Maul is sent undercover to an asteroidal prison complex, where he has to carry out a mission for his master. As part of his mission, he is not allowed to use any Force powers of any kind, relying instead on just hit wit and his natural and honed physical abilities. Its all very much a “fish out of water” kind of story, and it is decent for a while but it just begins to grate after that because the plot is boring. I mean, the movie Death Race kind of handled a similar situation much better. Or even Death Race 2, which is a pretty terrible movie. One of the fun parts about Maul is that he is an absolutely lethal warrior, combining all of his physical training and abilities with those gifted to him by the Force and developed over several years of careful instruction by Darth Sidious. This is the guy who has gone up against Jedi Padawans, Knights and Masters and come out on top of all of them. Well, at least until he met Obi-wan that is, and that was when his chapter was closed.
There are a fair few amount of characters in the novel which provide a decent enough supporting cast for Maul, but none of them have the same kind of charisma that he has, and none of them are intriguing enough to keep the story moving forward. Joe Schrieber has written what is quite possibly one of the most boring novels ever. His characterisation of Maul here shows that he just doesn’t have any idea of what to do with the character. Maul without his powers? That’s novel and fun for only a short wile, as this novel showed. His Force abilities are what Maul what he is and having an edict in place that he has to survive a hellish environment like a prison complex for some of the galaxy’s most vile scum is pretty much cutting his options in less than half.
To be fully honest, this is not a novel that needed Maul at all. He could have been represented by any character that Sidious has in his service, or just any generic villain and the rest would all be the same as it is under Maul. The Sith just doesn’t have that same kind of presence in front of those who could make him go poof in an instant. What’s the fun in that? I mean, we are talking about Maul being alone in a prison complex with some of the worst criminals in the galaxy. And in all of this, Maul rarely feels like Maul. Instead, Schrieber gives him quite a few scenes where he “bonds” with a young character and this was one of the most WTF moments of the novel. Maul isn’t someone who is big on getting emotional or something. He is a cold, ruthless killer. And yet Schrieber often portrays him otherwise and it just grates on my sensibilities.
Compounding everything is the fact that both Darth Sidious and his master Darth Plagueis are kicking and alive here. Which breaks the whole Rule of Two requirement that the Sith Order has had ever since the days of Darth Bane. Two Sith masters at the same time along with a Sith apprentice. It just doesn’t scan. And the two masters appear to be somewhat operating at cross-purposes, which didn’t help anyone in the novel. Just what was going on here, was my question to myself throughout. I kept waiting for there to be some kind of a big twist and all which would somehow validate the novel and make the biggest of my complaints all go away, but there is no such thing. The novel gets stuck in one storymode and it doesn’t get out of it. Effectively crippled.
If there had been characters in the novel who are actually interesting, things would have been much different of course. But that’s not the case here. The entire cast of the novel, including everyone from the Mass scene, is boring to read about. There’s no kind of excitement and the twists feel forced, in order to meet some kind of a need rather than genuinely worth the time for the big bads of the novel to amuse themselves with it. And Maul is not Maul but Generic bad-guy #5. Or something similar to that.
Looking at this book, it is tough to take in that this is a Star Wars novel, largely because it is so focused and reduced in cop until there is nothing there but the characters that we meet over the course of the novel. There is very little in the way of connections to the larger setting where such things are mentioned. And so Maul: Lockdown remains one of the worst Star Wars novels I’ve read to date, and I’ve read a pretty number of them. This is not the novel that I was expecting or wanted. It is just a generic movie where Vin Diesel could easily have been the good guy and be a mirror of the Fast and Furious movies, because that’s what the whole thing was about, really. Just so… disappointing.