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Star Wars: Darth Maul - Shadow Hunter
Michael Reaves
Lucas Books, Del Rey Books, 310 pages

Star Wars: Darth Maul - Shadow Hunter
Michael Reaves
Michael Reaves is an Emmy-award-winning television writer, screenwriter and novelist. He has written for Star Trek: The Next Generation and Twilight Zone and was a story editor and writer on Batman: The Animated Series and on Gargoyles. He's had more than 13 novels published, including The Shattered World, Darkworld Detective, Street Magic and Night Hunter. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and three children.

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A review by David Maddox

He may have been bisected by Obi-Wan Kenobi's emerald blade on the big screen two years ago, but that hasn't stopped the nefarious Darth Maul from spreading evil across the cosmos! Star Wars: Darth Maul - Shadow Hunter, Lucas Books' latest addition to the ever expanding Star Wars Universe, continues the exploits of the evil Sith Apprentice.

Actually, "continues" is not entirely accurate, since this adventure takes place before events in Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace. Although the book does stand on its own, it's actually part two of a loose trilogy, following in the wake of Dark Horse Comics' Star Wars: Darth Maul (written by former Green Lantern scribe Ron Marz with art by Jan Duursema) and concluding in Star Wars: Cloak of Deception by James Luceno, to be published in May 2001.

For Shadow Hunter, well established SF writer Michael Reaves takes us on an adventure through the seamy underworld of the Star Wars Galaxy. No stranger to genre writing, the Emmy Award Winning, New York Times bestselling novelist boasts credits from such SF series as Star Trek: The Next Generation, Twilight Zone, Sliders, and The Flash as well as Batman: The Animated Series. Reaves also wrote episodes of the Ewoks and Droids cartoons from the mid-80s. In addition to 14 published novels he's also written for sci-fi magazines and, oddly, dialogue for a Megadeth rock video.

Set mere days before Episode I, the book begins when a rouge Neimodian decides to get rich by selling information on the Trade Federation's impending blockade of Naboo. He travels to Coruscant, centre of the Galactic Republic, but the evil Darth Sidious sends apprentice Darth Maul to eliminate the traitor and anyone else he's interacted with. This turns out to be Lorn Pavan, a rogue information broker with a grudge against Jedi along with his sarcastic partner, a 'droid named I-Five. Along the way, young Jedi Padawan Darsha Assant, out on her first mission (which she manages to botch horribly), gets caught up protecting the two from the deadly Sith Apprentice. Can the trio evade the dark warrior and reach the Jedi Temple to warn the Council in time to prevent the blockade? Well, if you've seen the film, then you realize the answer is "no."

The arc of the story does feel like a Shakespearean or Greek tragedy. From watching Episode I we know the Jedi are unaware of the Sith, so it's an easily drawn conclusion that our heroes fail. However, Reaves puts enough spins and twists into the story to make it an exciting trip. When Lucas Books (an imprint of Del Rey) acquired the rights to publish Star Wars novels two years ago, they gave writers more of a free hand in dealing with established characters (even going as far as to kill off Chewbacca in last year's Star Wars: Vector Prime) and, since these stories are designed to fill in the gaps between what happens on screen, Reaves takes a "no-holds barred" approach with his created heroes.

Darth Maul is best summed up with the line, "He can't be bought off, scared off, or thrown off the trail, and he'll stop at nothing to get it." Reaves shows exceptional skill at capturing the essence of what makes Darth Maul so popular. He delivers this "completely unstoppable" attitude and plays with the character's blind, unquestioning obedience to the Dark Side of the Force. He instills Maul with a strong sense of "honour," which adds an extra level depth to the character who came off a little two-dimensional in the film. However, Reaves showcases Maul's over-confidence which eventually led to his own downfall in Episode I's climactic duel. We're also given a glimpse of Maul's origins, as well as a flashback to the day he created his now famous double-bladed lightsaber, which should definitely pique most fans' interest.

Having read virtually all previously published Star Wars novels (what can I say, I'm addicted to this stuff), I noticed distinct similarities to Alan Dean Foster's classic 1978 book Star Wars: Splinter of the Mind's Eye. Darsha and Lorn's journey through the dark, seemingly endless underground caverns of the Crimson Corridor almost parallels Luke and Leia's journey through the swamp caves of Mimban, most likely an homage to Star Wars past.

Special mention must be made of I-Five, Lorn Pavan's incredibly acerbic yet likeable 'droid. The two have a unique relationship, operating as partners rather than owner and property. This gives a much needed new element to the 'droids of the Star Wars world, who are sometimes poorly utilized and not given enough opportunity to grow. Using his superb dialogue skills, Reaves creates some clever and truly funny banter between I-Five and Lorn on par with any classic Hollywood buddy-movie.

The novel does suffer from some slow chapters, especially near the end. And, for a book that's supposed to be about Darth Maul, there's really not enough of the guy. In fact, sometimes three to five chapters will go by without his appearance. But these are minor complaints and don't detract from the overall enjoyment of the story.

The novel climaxes with an exciting lightsaber battle (I can almost picture Ray Park in all his acrobatic glory) as well as the creative use of carbon-freezing, making for a heart-stopping ending -- an excellent prelude to the film. All in all, Star Wars: Darth Maul - Shadow Hunter introduces some good characters and mixes high-spirited adventure with humour. While not as grand in scope as any of the feature films, it is a rousing adventure that fits well into the Star Wars mythology.

Copyright © 2001 David Maddox

David Maddox
Science fiction enthusiast David Maddox has been many things, including Star Trek characters and the Riddler in a Batman stunt show. He holds a degree in Cinema from San Francisco State University, and has written several articles for various SF sites as well as the Star Wars Insider. He spends his time working on screenplays and stories as well as acting in any venue he can. Residing in Los Angeles, he continues to be part of this wacky business called show.

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