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Star Wars Loves Zombies

From the Expanded Universe’s Death Trooper to Nightsisters and Brain worms, let’s take a look at Star Wars’ favorite horror trope. 

I have a confession to make…I actually hate zombies. They are one of the most disturbing horror tropes. The traditional idea of a zombie (which originated in Haitian folklore) is a corpse reanimated usually through magic. And the idea that one could not even find peace in death and have to go unwilling on doing someone else’s bidding always terrified me (I would encourage anyone who has heard of it to read the strange case of Clairvius Narcisse, a Haitian man who claimed to be a zombie and forced into slavery). Also, zombies were just freaking ugly visually unpleasant to gaze upon and a little too much of a reminder of one’s own mortality.   

Today’s definition of a zombie is a little more expansive. Reanimation of the dead can come from all sorts of means, recently a popular instigator is a virus. 28 Days Later is a zombie movie that doesn’t really involve dead bodies coming back to life, it’s a virus that causes the infected to act violently and without control, with a zombie like appearance. World War Z had a similar premise that turned healthy humans into super-fast, feral nightmares. Star Wars has been a little more traditional with its horror elements in both the Expanded Universe and canon. Zombies first made an appearance in a series of books dedicated to horror stories of the Star Wars universe in the 90s called Galaxy of Fear and the “City of the Dead”. The series took place after A New Hope and followed two force-sensitive orphaned kids from Alderaan who travel the galaxy with their uncle and occasionally ran into familiar faces. These tales were pretty much separated from the rest of the EU and served more as a way to get in on the Goosebumps craze with short, horror stories for YA readers. But the EU gem of gems for horror is Death Troopers.  

For non-EU readers, post Rogue One: A star Wars Story if you were to do a Google Search on the cool looking new troopers in all black, your search will certainly bring up the below cover: 

An effectively disturbing cover (credit Del Rey Publishing)

Published in 2009, Death Troopers revolves around a group of people working aboard an Imperial prison barge headed to take its prisoners to a moon. After suffering engine failure, they come across an Imperial Star Destroyer that appears to be abandoned except for a few lifeforms. The captain and a few Stormtroopers go aboard to get supplies. After raiding the Star Destroyer for spare parts, troopers start getting violently sick, then dying, then bodies start disappearing. Han Solo and Chewie do make an appearance midway through as the virus has gotten out of control and, as the reader it is not made clear what is happening until deep in the book when the bodies reappear. 

No spoilers but, overall, it is a fun read that borrows from classics like Alien where you don’t see the creature that is lurking in the shadows right away and Alien proved that Sci-Fi and horror can be the perfect marriage of tension and stakes. 

Perhaps it is the fact that so many times our Star Wars characters find themselves on a ship a lone in space that this premise would also find its way into canon, though not directly. In The Clone Wars season 2 episode, “Brain Invaders”, our heroes find themselves on a ship in space with bodysnatching worms. While it is not a conventional zombie instigator, the brain worms can control anyone’s brain to become a hive mind. They were used by the Geonosian Queen to control her undead hive colony and they eventually found their way into a clone trooper, who found his way onto a Republic medical frigate and chaos ensued. The episode left a lasting impression and is often mentioned as a standout true horror episode. The only Bariss Clone Wars figure even includes the little devils. Such marketability might be surprising to casual Star Wars fans, but for Clone Wars it was a precursor to even more zombies.

A little more Disney-ish Deathtrooper (credit LucasFilm and EW)

Skipping ahead to season 4, episode “Massacre” we see zombies in the more traditional sense, dead Nightsisters brought back to life by magick (that is powers connected to the dark side of the force and unique to the Nightsisters and the planet Dathomir). This is where Star Wars delves too much into fantastical elements for my taste but, again, seems to be at least popular with the team at LucasFilm. Dathomir and the Nightsisters in general were popular enough to be transferred from the EU and, like Death Troopers, reimagined for official canon. Deathtroopers became more grounded, a high-level trooper guard with a sleek all-black exterior with tactical tools and slightly leaner frames than other troopers, the “death” part referring to the kill count more so than the state of the body wearing the armor.

credit LucasFilm and Respawn

Meanwhile, Star Wars canon leaned into the Nightsisters/Dathomir magick and ability to raise fallen sisters not just within The Clone Wars, but in the most recent third person Star Wars game, Jedi: Fallen Order. Dathomir is one of the worlds the player, Cal Kestis, has to navigate on his journey and along with battling fallen Jedi he also has to battle fallen Nightsister zombies. In fact, they chase him of the planet at first and he has to return later where he later reconciles with a lone Nightsister Merrin who ends up joining his crew. 

Whether it has been in comics or novels in the expanded universe, Disney/LucasFilm has shown that they are willing to hang on to some horror tropes and, specifically, zombies and play in the horror space. The IDW series Tales from Vaders Castle follows a Rebel crew who crash lands on Mustafar and, as they figure out a way to escape the eerie world, tell scary stories that involve characters across the Star Wars timeline (Ewoks, Han and Chewie, the Ghost crew and Count Dooku are all fair game subjects in these tales). If there turns out to be a Doctor Aphra TV series we could get some more gothic horror from if The Screaming Citadel story line gets incorporated. A series about a Star Wars archeologist is ripe for all kinds of horror elements.

credit IDW comics

So, there is a place for horror to continue in the Star Wars Universe moving forward, specifically in animation, gaming and comics and it will be interesting to see if Disney pushes to capitalize on content programming around Halloween. Dare I say…a Star Wars Halloween Special? Anyone? No? Ok. Happy Halloween. 

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