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REVIEW: Star Wars: Death Troopers by Joe Schreiber

REVIEW SUMMARY: It takes more than adding zombies to make an excellent story.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Survivors must escape from a zombie plague that runs rampant aboard an Imperial star destroyer and prison barge.

PROS: Some fast, zombie action in the second half of the book; a few welcome surprises.
CONS: Pacing, characterization and being part of a well-established universe issues weigh down the book.
BOTTOM LINE: While it’s not a bad story, a Star Wars/zombie mashup is not the automatic win you think it might be.

As unfair as it may be, a book whose elevator pitch is “Star Wars/zombie mashup” comes with built-in expectations of awesomeness. Anything less is bound to be a bit of a disappointment…which might be why Star Wars: Death Troopers is surprisingly underwhelming.

The setup is simple: an Imperial prison barge comes into contact with a deserted star destroyer and the barge’s occupants (guards and prisoners alike) become infected with a plague that turns them into zombies. A small handful of survivors on the prison barge are immune, among them the ship’s doctor, Zahara Cody; two teenage orphans, Trig and Kale Longo; and the ship’s Captain of the Guard, Jareth Sartoris. The survivors soon learn that the destroyer is not as deserted as it first appeared and that the victims of the deadly plague on their own ship start coming back to life and craving flesh.

What plays out is relatively standard fare for a zombie story, with survivors running from one attack to the next, all the while looking for escape. So…how does mixing zombies and Star Wars not work? The problems are three-fold:

  • Pacing. It takes more than one-third of the story to see any real zombie action. This wouldn’t be too bad if that time was spent building suspense, but there’s only so much suspense you can build when you now what’s coming, so why drag it out? Presumably that time could have been used to build up the characterizations, which brings me to the second problem…
  • The characters do not elicit sympathy in the reader. They are bland to the point of not caring about them. Are we supposed to care about the evil prison guard? Or the skilled, caring Doctor who is “stuck” on a prison barge by her own choice? Or the kids who lived a life of thievery? (In the latter case, I think we’re supposed to side with them over the Empire’s greater evil.) With such unsympathetic characters, then, is it really a big deal when they are being chased by zombies? This is not to say that a reader wants to see them killed, but it’s not as dramatic as it should be.
  • Being a brand new, unheard-of element like zombies to a well-established setting means that you know the story cannot have far-reaching implications. It has to be self-contained or it would mean anarchy for the Star Wars universe. Thus there is this lingering cloud of “safeness”, if not for the characters, then for the state of affairs for mankind. This story might have worked better if it were a straight science fiction/horror mashup. (For an excellent example of this, see Tobias Buckell’s Sly Mongoose)

To be fair to the story, it did pick up significantly when the zombies finally made their appearance. A few other welcome surprises were sprinkled in to elevate the reading experience to something enjoyable overall. The story reads fast. At a scant 288 large-type pages, it’s like a zombie story for the short attention span generation. It works to some degree, but there was room for improvement.

About John DeNardo (13012 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

17 Comments on REVIEW: Star Wars: Death Troopers by Joe Schreiber

  1. Never read it and never will.  I am so tired of the 50 zombie/werewolf/vampire books which seem to pop out every month.  There is hardly any science fiction in science fiction anymore.  Where is the next Dune or Ender’s Game?  Ohhh, I know.  Let’s get really creative and put zombies on Arrakis!  No, wait…even better is making Peter, Valentine, and Ender vampires.  Wow!  No one has ever done that before.  I’m so creative (sarcasm).

  2. the Empire’s greater evil


    Wasnt the Empire the good guys?  I mean is was a meritocracy where anybody could advance if you had suitable skills and drive, unlike that buncha murdering, robe wearing, religious zealots that set themselves up as galactic guardians…


  3. I think the idea is that the Empire abuses their power.  In the Star Wars timeline, this takes place just before Episode IV, where we were rooting for the rebels.

  4. “…is not the automatic win you think it might be.”


    While I applaud your geek at heart enthusiasm (I mean, who doesn’t like a good zombie anything), I am glad to see that you rated it low because when I looked at it at the bookstore the other day I believe I groaned audibly and wondered where the “braaaaains” of the publishers were when this idea was pitched.

  5. I thought it was actually a really good book but hey im not much of a reader so I don’t see all the problems you have with it and plus I do think that the post about how zombies and werewolves and things like that are “in” has a point but you should be saying that about twilight not this at least the zombies don’t walk through the halls sparkling

  6. Chad i must just say your an idiot .

    i’m a very avid  reader of sci-fi. i read loads of it. i read it so bloody much. my fav alive writters can’t even write fast enough.

    and i must say, there is plenty of scifi out there for you to read. enough good sci-fi out there for you to read that you will not have enough time to come here and complain about something you have just stated you will not read.

    you know how, i know your an idiot. you named DUNE and ENDERS GAME.

    sounds like you read a pop culture mag and came here to get down with us nerds ^^

    while this book was fun enough, it wasn’t wow for eaither a stars wars book nor a zombie book which theres plenty of.



  7. Sage L. // April 8, 2010 at 7:14 pm //

    This is a hugely crappy, unoriginal, plot hole ridden piece of bound paper with letters on it that it calls its self a novel or even worse a Star Wars novel. Lets start with the characters; the characterization is appalling to say the least, all the characters are one dimensional and the novel doesn’t make you care or feel anything for any of them. I didn’t give two cents if one character lived or if they died. Next lets go with the plot; its terrible, there are tons of plot holes and many of which you could fly the completed second death star through that’s how bad they were. I could come up with a more seamless plot line in a half hour with my hands tied behind my back while reading a far better book than this one! Now lets go to the underlying problem of this novel shall we, the premise of it and its EPIC FAIL of imagination and originality. If they wanted to make a horror Star Wars novel then that’s fine with me, and hey why not, what better universe to have a horror novel take place in than the Star Wars universe; I mean think about all the possibilities of ways to die or all the monsters or races or even unknown things that are out there, and that is my point exactly. Out of ALL the possibilities, out of all the chances to come up with an imaginary, original “villain” for a horror novel, what do they pick . . . ZOMBIES!! My god, I am so baffled as to why they would think for one second that using the MOST over done, unoriginal, and completely unimaginative theme in all of literature and movies would be a good idea for a Star Wars novel. Not only that, they couldn’t even be bothered to come up with at least an imaginary or maybe subtle way of having zombies in this book, no they went with the generic, cookie cutter zombies. I cant even explain in words how angry I am at this novel, not just because of the zombie theme but also because the characters sucked, and the plot holes are every were its ridicules. To top it all off, ‘this novel has the stupidest cliche reveals (unshocking ones that I didn’t care about at all because I saw them coming and I didn’t feel anything for the characters) and every stupid cliche “save” you could think of is in this novel. Its like they sat down and TRIED to make the most bland, boring, unimaginative and impossible Star Wars/ zombie/ horror book they could, it reads like a fan fiction of Star Wars and not even a good one. the frosting on the cake is that its not even scary, it just boring. I think you gave them way too much credit, is a 1 our of 10 easy. I read this book as a writer first and a fan second and I still hated it. (I am a HUGE SW fan and have read and own over 40 novles)

  8. @Sage: So….you didn’t like it then? 😉

  9. Sage L. // April 9, 2010 at 9:22 pm //

    @John D: Haha, ya . . . you could say that.

  10. I have been tempted to pick this book up and buy it a couple of times, but each time my common sense has thrown a fit and demanded that I bought a book that I have felt I might enjoy instead.

    Even now I can still feel the lure of zombies and Starwars, because I can see half a dozen ways to fit zombies (for all intents and purposes) into the universe without buggering things up. Dark force users spring instantly to mind, aliens doing nasty biological experiments, a disease that crossed the species barrier, some force backlash from the wiping out of the Jedi… It could be cool, it could be interesting, it could be great….


  11. @ Andy W; Dont read it, it’s true that there are a million diffrent awsome ways they could have fitt “zombies” into Star Wars but they dont do any of them. Its really porely written and boring . . . yes it could have been great, but it sucks.

  12. Cheers, but if it turns up in the library when nothing else grabs my attention I know i will 🙁

  13. @ Andy W: well it couldnt hurt ( actualy it probably will a little bit) to see for your self how bad it is.

  14. thought about buying it but the price is way too much for under 300 pages

  15. dudes cmon now this book wasnt that bad, yea it was a quick read but it wasnt completly horrible. i mean i dont read much now so im not a sophisticated bookie but its the artists vision and you have to give him credit for atleast trying. if you hate it and wanna complain about it so much then write your own damn book and stop acting like a nazi baby

  16. I for don’t usually read science fiction apart from the halo books published by Eric Nylund and all the other people who helped write the rest of the halo stories. I know my opinion dosen’t count for anything, but when your working with something like Star Wars you don’t really have alot of leverage, you either write about something predictable for fear of angering the huge crowd of fans that will no doubt be waiting to tear you limb from limb for writing one wrong epithe, or you try being creative and get black marked for it. This plot may be a little preidctable, what do you expect from a book that has a cover that screams ZOMBIE,what do you think will happen rainbows and everyone gets out okay? I think that yes zombies are beginning to become overrated  and maybe hugely predictable, but they are overrated for a reason they work just like vampires just like werwolves, just like watered down romance novels about  teenage  girls who find a  relationship that resembles a cinderella story littered with  the occasional vampires; they work.  The plot is not very original, but I think it’s very bold and I’m glad someone finally tried this out and that it’s still a decent piece of work.

  17. That guy too // December 3, 2010 at 9:13 pm //

    I also enjoyed the darker overtones in this book it’s a quick read that kept me enjoyed and hey, I had a hard time putting it down. I thought the characters could have had more depth to them, but when you working with such a popular setting it’s inevitable that you’ll be micromanaged by a horde of fans; basically it’s hard to work with characters that they already have a set mind for. Going off of set characters he may have  not explained the characters as much so that the reader can develop their own relationship with the various characters, I liked it for a quick read, but wished there was more to it  I didn’t want that journey to a galaxy far far away to end. Then again I’m just an amateur writer which I’m sure many of you will notice based off of your stoic criticism.  At least he published a book that was popular amongst the star wars loving fans and people who just enjoy  books in general; and for that I respect Joe Schrieber as an author.

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