Welcome to another installment of EUCantina’s weekly opinion column, EU Action/Reaction! Each week, I tackle a specific Star Wars EU event that has garnered a significant reaction from Star Wars fans and offer my own view to further the discussion. Once you read the article, feel free to leave a comment and offer your own thoughts!
This week, I’ll be discussing Red Harvest. We finally got the cover art last week, but little is known about the book’s content. Can author Joe Schreiber top zombie stormtroopers?
I’ll be honest, I thought that Death Troopers was a complete letdown. Now, I’m not one of those fans that hates the idea of Star Wars defying genres and being willing to embrace horror and the zombie element of pop culture. In fact, I was thrilled about it. When sci-fi and horror mix, the results can be fantastic. Look no further than the Alien flicks or the Dead Space video game series. Unfortunately, I think that Death Troopers ended up being a victim of overhype.
We all know that zombie stories are usually pretty simple. The stories normally get right down the business, and rarely bother to inform how the zombie outbreak even started. The reason why, particularly in films, is because the why doesn’t matter. Apparently, Schreiber felt that the same rules applied to novels – because Death Troopers is about as simple a zombie story as they come. Any possible scenarios regarding potential Imperial motives for the zombie outbreak, or whether the zombies are a result of Sith alchemy, are completely glossed over in favor of getting right to the action. It works in film, but I found that it fell flat in Death Troopers – because when the inevitable breaks come between the thrills and action, it frustrated me that the characters (and more importantly, me!) didn’t know any of the background behind the zombie plague. Of course, I can’t forget the fact that it was a self-contained story that was appallingly short. Seriously, Death Troopers was 234 pages and padded with a 31 page excerpt from Fate of the Jedi: Outcast and some of the thickest paper I’ve ever seen in a book to trick consumers into thinking they were buying an actual hardcover novel instead of a glorified pamphlet.
What We Know About Red Harvest
Now, here’s something that some fans don’t seem to have realized: a blurb for Red Harvest actually does exist. It hasn’t been publicized on the official Star Wars website, but that doesn’t make it any less real. In the Random House Spring 2011 catalog, the blurb for Red Harvest was:
Strange things are happening at a Sith Academy, where the Dark Lord in charge has barricaded himself away, unexplained violence is on the rise, and the apprentices are growing more and more frightened. When a mercenary arrives with a delivery for the Sith Lord – and a hostage Jedi in tow – the situation reaches a boiling point. Only a Jedi Master, looking for the missing Jedi, can hope to get her – and himself – out alive.
The blurb is definitely vague, almost to the point of making me want to pull out my hair, but it does succeed at getting right to the heart of the one detail that Star Wars fans are going to ask first. Yes, there will be Jedi and Sith in this Star Wars horror novel. If there was one detail that I felt Death Troopers lacked, it was the absence of the Force and how it could interact with a zombie presence. Just by looking at the cover, one can reasonably expect a Sith zombie to appear at some point – which I find significantly more frightening than zombie stormtroopers. Unfortunately, it appears that the book length will continue to suffer. The Random House listing for Red Harvest lists the book at a scant 288 pages – the same amount given to Death Troopers. While this exact number is assuredly a placeholder, I expect that fans will be shelling out top dollar for yet another hardcover that isn’t worth its weight in words. I base my opinion on how close Death Troopers came to its page count, and given that Schreiber has yet to write a book over 300 pages.
Another major detail of Red Harvest is that it takes place about 4,000 years before Death Troopers. Yes, it appears that Red Harvest will take place in The Old Republic period without being referred to as a TOR book. On one hand, I’m disappointed. The blurb seems to indicate that the book will have appearances by many of the TOR game classes, and I’d like to see a nice cohesion between the books that are released in that time period. On the other hand, I’m glad it’s a standalone. I’m still a bit perplexed as to why this book, billed as a prequel to Death Troopers, needs to take place so far back in the timeline… but I’m willing to give it a shot. Especially since this means that there will be no surprise appearances by characters from the Star Wars films. If there’s one thing I don’t care for when I read a book, it’s having a basic idea of what will happen at the end. Now that I know I’ll be reading about a bunch of completely new characters, it makes the whole aspect of wondering who will survive until the final page more thrilling.
Originally, Red Harvest was titled Black Orchid… but the title was changed after it was decided that it made the book sound too much like a romance novel. I’ll be honest, I actually dug the original title. But I think that Red Harvest is far superior, not only for its meta-reference to the fake working title for Return of the Jedi, but also for the gross-out zombie imagery that it conjures up. It’s a nice touch. And although the name “Black Orchid” hasn’t come up since the renaming, I’d highly expect it to return in some fashion. My original thought was that “Black Orchid” was the name of the zombie virus. Schreiber has gone on record as saying that this book will be a prequel, explaining the origins of the virus and where it came from. It just made sense to me that “Black Orchid” would be either the name of a spaceship or a virus. And given we now know the story takes place in a Sith Academy, the odds lean more heavily into the virus having that really cool name.
So we don’t really have a lot of solid details on Red Harvest, perhaps rather alarming since the book will be out in stores in about three months (Dec. 28). But that doesn’t mean I can’t put my brain to good use and drum up some expectations…
So What Can We Expect?
If there’s one thing I remember Death Troopers for, it was the incredible amount of hype. Among the online tie-ins, there was a Twitter account dedicated to a stormtrooper who was slowly becoming a zombie, while letters billed as “Recovered Messages from Purge” were distributed and posted on various Star Wars fan sites. Already, Red Harvest has a Facebook page and a Twitter account… so I fully expect the hype to ramp up between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Hopefully not as much as before, though, because I don’t want to have another experience where I read a hyped Star Wars book that is good… but not outstanding like the marketing had me believing. There’s nothing more frustrating then closing a book and being disappointed - especially when the story is decent. I had just come to expect a lot more out of it, as I think a lot of EU fans did. A fantastic cover and a great marketing strategy, even in the tech savvy world we live in, still can’t compete with word of mouth.
One thing I’m really excited for is learning a bit more about the background surrounding the zombie virus. I’m taking Schreiber at his word that we’ll get some answers too, as much as I wince in anticipated dread when I read “unexplained violence is on the rise” in the blurb. Like most readers probably were, I had been under the impression that the zombie virus was a biological weapon created by the Empire and then tested on a prison ship that no one would miss if the test was a failure. Having the book set 4,000 years in the past, though, makes for interesting developments that I hadn’t first considered. All throughout Death Troopers, I had suspected Darth Vader of being the ultimate mastermind behind the zombie outbreak… when I probably should have been thinking that it was Palpatine’s design. It does fit in perfectly with what we know about him, considering his quest for immortality. Given that Red Harvest takes place in a Sith Academy, it seems likely that the virus is a byproduct of Sith alchemy. Perhaps this virus was constructed as an attempt at immortality gone horribly wrong? And then Palpatine, somehow, learns of this virus – he attempts to manufacture it and has it tested on an unsuspecting prison ship to see if it could possibly work.
Based on the cover alone, it seems clear that at least one Sith zombie shows up in the book. The blurb offers hope that we might get zombie Jedi and mercenaries too. This is an idea I really love, because there were moments with a Wookiee character in Death Troopers where Schreiber really gave some great insight into what it was like for a mind to battle against the virus. But we never got to see any Force-powered characters interact with the zombies or the virus, and I think that there could be some fantastic spiritual and philosophical moments that can arise such a scenario. With Jedi and Sith involved, the story can even highlight how both the light and dark side users differ in their approach to the virus and zombies. I’ll admit, I’ve never been a fan of zombies wielding tools… but the idea of zombies with lightsabers is pretty exciting. I’m definitely open to the idea.
Of course, I’d be a horrible EU fan if I didn’t mention Darth Andeddu. This is a Sith that has appeared in both the comics and novels, and is most notable for being able to achieve a modicum of immortality. Andeddu was able to keep his mind alive after his physical body died, and could still exert control over the dead body. Not exactly the most perfect method of immortality, but he definitely gets points for thinking outside the box. There’s a lot we don’t know about this Sith Lord, including when he actually lived. Estimates have put him as living thousands of years prior to the Star Wars films, and that could put him in the TOR era. He was also known as something of a paranoid recluse, which seems to at least partially match the description of the Sith Lord in Red Harvest‘s blurb. If my expectations are correct, and the zombie virus turns out to be a byproduct of the search for immortality through Sith alchemy, an appearance by Darth Andeddu would really increase the appeal and excitement for this book.
It’s hard to believe that Red Harvest will be in the hands of plenty of fans in just three months. Even though my personal experience with Death Troopers wasn’t as superb as I had hoped, I still find myself really looking forward to its prequel. I mean, I’ve got lots of unanswered questions. Aw, who am I kidding? I’m just really looking forward to some crazy zombie Sith action. And you know what? That’s cool with me. I do hope that Schreiber will up the ante and drop some nice Sith revelations into Red Harvest, but even if he doesn’t, I’m not going to be fooled by the hype twice. I’ll be waiting for this book with my expectations right where they should be: hopeful, but ready for anything.