Although not aware of this when I started reading it, today’s offering is, as far as I can tell, the second-to-last book published under the Legends canon. Though quite early in our reviews since we’re going chronologically and not by publishing order, the book was released a scant 3 months before Disney officially discontinued Legends.
Welcome to Legends of the Hydian Way, the chronicle of my attempt to read through and review all the novels that make up mainline Legends canon in chronological order. May the Force be with me.
In addition to being a late entry to the Legends roster, this is the only book I know of centering around Darth Maul which was published after The Clone Wars established his continued survival beyond The Phantom Menace. So, just what are we reading today? Maul: Lockdown by Joe Schrieber, whom you may remember as the author behind Star Wars meets Zombies story Red Harvest.
Although I was not overly impressed with Red Harvest, I was pleasantly surprised with how invested I found myself in Lockdown. Our story begins on Cog Hive Seven, a spaceborne prison which has became infamous as both a dumping ground for the galaxy’s worst and, due to an algorithmically generated system of galatically broadcast pit fights, a highly profitable gambling enterprise.
In a truly bizarre turn that caught me entirely by surprise, the book actually opens with a fistfight between protagonist Darth Maul and a Yuuzhan Vong warrior as part of the aforementioned pit fights. Hoo boy, I really wasn’t expecting to have to explain the Vong this early into Legends. So I won’t. Suffice to say they will come up later, and that the presence of one here appears to be largely to support an advertising poster for the book styled as a fight promotion for this anachronistic matchup.
Maul kills his opponent (though not easily) and we’re given the chance to catch up on just why the apprentice to Darth Sidious is locked up in a supermax prison. The setup for Lockdown is wonderfully simple: Maul is to find one Iram Radique, an arms dealer somewhere in the prison, and arrange to have a nuclear device delivered to the Bando Gora, a dark side cult who appeared briefly in Darth Plagueis. To that end he is told not to use the Force, a lightsaber, or in fact act in any way that might reveal him to be more than his cover identity as a mercenary called Jagganath implies. The book gives the explanation that the name means “Tooth” but in actuality it is a Hindu deity with a cool name co-opted for this book.
The first half of Lockdown progresses through establishing the players of Cog Hive Seven, from the warden and her mute programmer brother who keep the algorithm running and the fight credits flowing; to the enigmatic oldest prisoner in the Hive, a Twi’lek called Zero. Maul pursues his mission with single-minded determination but finds himself roadblocked at all turns. The mystery of who Iram Radique is, and if indeed such a person even exists, drives the narrative forward and I’ll admit I was every bit as eager to learn the answer as Maul.
Hovering on the fringes of the story are brief views of both Palpatine and Hego Damask (aka Sidious and Plagueis) jockeying for influence over Maul’s mission. Palpatine wishes Maul’s true purpose, to deliver the nuke to the Bando Gora, kept secret since the purpose of that objective is an attack on Plagueis seen in Darth Plagueis. Damask, on the other hand, seems to buy the story that Maul is there simply to kill Radique. Later in the book significant doubt is placed on whether or not Plagueis knows why Maul is really there, but it’s left open just how much he really does know.
Tonally, I find myself likening this book to Star Wars seen through the filter of a heavy metal album. It’s raw, brutal, filled with symbolic prose slightly less significant than it seems to be, and above all, violent. You may remember I took issue with Red Harvest for the level of blood and gore depicted there, and while my feelings haven’t changed the brutality of Lockdown fits the bare-fisted viscerality of Cog Hive Seven’s prison brawls. Maul is periodically matched for a pit fight against other inmates, and in one instance against a Wampa, whose heart he punches out.
Anyway, as Maul continues his search for Radique he takes over the prison’s two major gangs and intimidates Zero, the oldest prisoner in the Hive, into helping him. Slowly, Maul begins to peel back the layers of secrecy surrounding Radique until suddenly he thinks he’s found the answer. A Weequay, seemingly giving orders to Zero and pulling the strings. Sure this is Radique, Maul is dismayed to find that before he can contact the man, he’s matched in a fight against the very Weequay he’s seeking.
The fight proves a challenge and despite his best efforts Maul is forced to kill the Weequay for the sake of his own survival. Considering his mission a failure, Maul returns to his cell dejected and certain he will never be permitted a more active role in the Sith Grand Plan now.
When Maul awakes, he finds a whole flock of carrion birds in his cell. Realizing they consider him their master now, he races to follow them, certain that if he can find Radique’s weapons factory he can still get the nuke to the Bando Gora. He arrives to discover that he is not alone in the factory. Zero and a Muun agent of Plagueis’s are also there, and reveal that the Weequay Maul killed was not Iram Radique, but a misdirection by the real Radique, who addresses Zero by speaker and orders Maul killed. Maul strikes Zero to prevent him from firing and all present are shocked when Zero’s face falls off to reveal it was in fact a disguise. Zero is actually the not-at-all mute brother of the warden and has been all along. Even Radique is surprised by this, but has him shot anyway.
The second half of the book moves quickly as things begin to fall apart on Cog Hive Seven. Angry over actions by the Warden, Jabba the Hutt dispatches mercenaries to the prison even as Maul kills Damask’s agent and flees into the prison depths, discovering a huge dune-like worm in the lower levels which has grown huge on the discarded bodies of pit fight losers. He escapes, and retrieves a package meant for Damask’s man.
As Jabba’s attack begins and the prisoners riot. Maul returns to the weapons factory, having realized Radique’s game. I was slightly disappointed to realize that Radique was not going to turn out to be one of the other established characters and is instead just an anonymous Chiss, but by this point enough else was going on that I wasn’t terribly let down. Iram, as it turns out, is making lightsabers en masse, and needs Maul to help him figure out why they won’t work. Maul cuts a deal for the nuke, but is double crossed and has to kill Radique with the help of another inmate.
Still in possession of the nuke, Maul races to escape and complete his mission. This is made slightly easier when the Bando Gora themselves arrive and join the melee already in progress between the guards, the inmates, and Jabba’s people. Teaming up with the leader of the Bando Gora, a former padawan of Count Dooku, as it turns out, Maul defeats the worm creature and delivers the bomb, escaping with seconds to spare in Jabba’s ship while Cog Hive Seven is destroyed behind him.
Lockdown kept me transfixed throughout as it developed from a prison story to a mystery into a full blown action/horror/disaster story. I’ll admit I preferred the first half of the book and Radique’s reveal was ultimately not up to the hype, but overall I very much enjoyed this one.
It’s hard to describe, but the whole book felt like it took a lot of the best parts from mid-2000s films and video games, with the frequently overblown emphasis on tough guy bro-ishness and overmuscled masculinity and synthesized it into something that, while not perfect, was a fun ride and definitely a win for Maul as a character. You can practically hear the metal music and taste the energy drink as you’re reading.
If I’ve got to give one critique it’s that as things spiral towards a conclusion some plot threads are left to resolve in confusing ways. It’s never clear why Plagueis is getting involved, since seemingly if he knows Palpatine planned all this for an attack on him he would have tried to stop it, but he maintains a sort of winking superiority throughout and never lets on what he’s up to. Zero’s motivations are also completely unexplained. One can guess that it has something to do with his stated obsession with his algorithm but as for how dressing up like a Twi’lek and living a double life in his own prison helped with that, I have no idea.
Overall though, Lockdown is a fun ride with enough mystery to keep you guessing right up until everything goes nuts. If you like prison stories, Darth Maul, or headbanging to metal remixes of John Williams songs, this one’s for you.