The Sheer Madness That Was The Star Wars Horror Book Series
Back in the late 1990s Lucasfilm got jealous that R.L. Stine was making oodles of money by scaring the pants off of children. So they decided to tap into the lucrative Goosebumps market with a 12-book Young Adult series called Galaxy Of Fear that stretched into the more bloodcurdling corners of the Star Wars universe, thereby creating their own line of pantsless children.
There was just one little problem with the series: it bypassed Goosebumps and jumped directly to The Exorcist. It was like if Star Wars was written and directed by David Cronenberg, but for kids. What horrors awaited '90s kids who were looking for a little of that classic Star Wars adventure? How about ...
A Living Planet That Eats People
In Eaten Alive, the first book in the series, Tash and Zak Arranda's ship lands on the unrecorded planet D'vouran. D'vouran isn't an ordinary planet, because ordinary planets aren't alive and hungry. Oh, and it was a part of an on-going weapons development project by the Empire, because of course it was.
All throughout the book, characters are randomly sucked into sinkholes, eaten alive by cracks created by earthquakes, or slurped up by quicksand, as D'vouran munches on tourists for its three square meals a day. In one particularly horrifying scene, Zak rides the Star Wars universe's version of a hoverboard out of a hole trying to swallow him, only to find it would have been safer to drop into the planet's stomach so he could be painfully digested for a week. The surface of the planet had turned into a violent sea of molten lava that was actively attempting to capture him.
In the end, a medallion that somehow kept its wearers safe from planetary consumption was thrown into the planet's core, causing D'vouran to collapse in on itself and die. But not before author John Whitman squeezed in this stomach-churning description of a planet in its death throes:
"The planet D'vouran was squirming. It wriggled and trembled as though trying to change its shape. Bright flashes of light that looked like volcanic eruptions appeared on its surface. The planet bulged outward, becoming a horribly misshapen mass. Then it collapsed in on itself, churning and swirling into a smaller and smaller lump of writing matter in space. With a final shudder, D'vouran vanished altogether."
The planet popped itself, expanded like a cartoon character that swallowed a bundle of dynamite, then basically ate itself into nonexistence. Alderaan got off easy.
Wait. Did Star Wars just rip-off Spaceballs?
Everything Is Undead, Even In A Nightmare
No long-running sci-fi or fantasy series is immune to the zombie apocalypse. Give J.K. Rowling long enough and she'll release a zombie Harry Potter story on Pottermore about Hermione blasting undead heads with a 12-gauge wand. Star Wars is no different.
In the second book in the series, City Of The Dead, Zak and Tash journey to Necropolis. You know how planets in the Star Wars universe all tend to have no diversity? Hoth is all snow, Tatooine is all sand, Coruscant is all city, Dagobah is all swamp. Necropolis is pretty much all cemetery. Its biggest enemy is probably Goth kids whose dark rituals are interrupted by security guards threatening to call their parents.
The entire book is packed with one horror after another that would scar a young reader. There are the boneworms, slithering creatures that suck the marrow out of people's bones. When they're done slurping marrow they leave behind a slime that the story's villain harnesses to create a serum that reanimates the dead, which brings on legions of zombies. But before Zak and Tash even step foot on the planet, Zak has a nightmare that's not only horror-movie scary, but cuts way too deep for a children's book:
"A dead, gray hand rose into view.
It was followed by a pale white arm, and then strands of blackened hair. Finally the figure's face floated into view. It was white with empty sockets for eyes, but he recognized the face anyway.
It was his mother.
As he watched in horror, the mouth moved, and Zak heard his mother's voice moan, 'Zak, why did you leave us behind?"
In a nightmare, Zak gets guilt-tripped by the corpse of his dead mother, proving that even in death a mother can still get under your skin. And then when he lands on the planet itself, the nightmare is the least of his worries. Because, again, boneworms.
The Empire's Secret Baby That Turns People Into Jelly
In the sixth book of the series, Army Of Terror, our heroes visit the lab of Borborygmus Gog, a mysterious scientist working for the Empire. The lab is empty, save for one thing: an alien baby named Eppon. Tash wants to keep him safe, and Eppon wins over everyone he meets, including the book's guests stars Han, Leia, and Luke, with his adorable giggles and coos.
But Eppon is growing before their eyes. Literally. Soon after they find him he grows too heavy to carry, which doesn't matter because soon after that he's walking on his own. The gang finds out what Eppon really is when they encounter a squad of Stormtroopers in their travels. Eppon rips off a Stormtrooper's helmet, grabs him by the head and melts his face into jelly using only his touch. Remember, this is a children's book. Keep that in mind as you read what happens next:
"Then, with a loud, wet slurping sound, Eppon sucked the liquefied skin into himself. He simply absorbed the trooper's face into his own body.
The rest of the stormtrooper quickly followed. Skin, bone, organs, everything, simply turned to liquid and was absorbed into Eppon."
Eppon is later revealed to have been yet another Imperial super-weapon in the making, because planet-destroying lasers and man-eating planets weren't enough, so Palpatine figured he'd hedge his bets with a walking blender that can turn enemies into protein shakes within seconds. Again: Children's book.
Bugs That Hollow You Out From The Inside
In the series' eighth book, The Swarm, giant grasshopper-like people called S'krrr rule a beautiful garden planet that has a delicate ecosystem. Mess with one part of it and everything goes nuts. The shreev bats eat the drog beetles, and the drog beetles eat anything and everything, but at least they're kept in check by the shreev bats. But someone is killing off bats by the dozens and the drog beetle population is skyrocketing. Imperial forces soon realize just how dangerous the beetles can be at around the same time the child reading the book realizes their parents will be paying some hefty psychiatric bills in the near future.
An Imperial aide is found choking and clutching his throat. Admiral Thrawn, a legendarily brilliant Imperial military leader in the expanded universe, asks the aide to explain himself, because for a super-genius Thrawn is an idiot. When the aide opens his mouth a swarm of beetles pour forth and eat him from the inside out, clothes and all.
It's later discovered that the culprit behind the spike in the beetle population is an evil grasshopper man named Vroon. I wonder what gruesome yet ironic fate he's met with at the book's climax?
"Just as Zak had hoped, Vroon was inside. But all that was left of him was his hard, transparent S'krrr shell. His eyes and the rest of his body had been eaten away."
The end. Good night, kid! Sweet dreams!
Cannibal Swamp Children
Mired in the Dagobah swamps, 16-foot-tall swamp slugs appearing from nowhere, the Arranda siblings face their final adventure in book 12, The Hunger. Not even a guest appearance from Yoda can distract readers from the horror in this one. And what is the horror?
"Two figures were rising up out of the water beside him. Zak saw two human heads covered with stringy hair, two sets of pale eyes, two gaping mouths missing several teeth, and two sets of bony arms. The skin hanging from those arms looked old and dead.
They were corpses. Human corpses.
And they were reaching out to grab him."
No, not more zombies. That would be too cute and cuddly. At this point in the series Tash and Zak have lost everyone they know, have nearly died over a dozen times, stood toe-to-toe with Darth Vader, and now they have to deal with The Children, the remains of an ill-fated exploratory group. The Children have become so emaciated by hunger that their bones can be seen outlined clearly by their skin. They claim they survive on swamp moss and the occasional bit of meat if they get lucky.
At one point, a member of the Arranda's crew becomes injured, so The Children offer their homestead as a shelter while they provide medical attention. The rest of the crew are invited to sit at the fire and share in The Children's meal. Zak is about to dig into his bowl of stew when a silver ring floats to the surface.
"He suddenly realized why the Children had started finding food just after their arrival.
The smuggler on guard duty had been killed, and soon the Children had prepared a feast.
The next smuggler had gone down in the spider battle. Then the Children had cooked more food.
Traut had been wounded. His arm had been cut off, and then his leg. Each time, the Children had cooked more food."
Zak investigates but he's knocked unconscious and wakes up in a makeshift cage. Of all people, who should be captured in the cage next to him: Boba Fett. The legendary bounty hunter was captured by a bunch of starving Children, officially killing your mental image of Boba Fett as the most badass guy in the galaxy.
Fett and Zak break out and lead The Children on a mad dash through the swamp. The Children force the chase into the cave where their parents left their last records detailing the failures that sunk their mission.
Triggered by motion, a video plays on a nearby screen. Zak, Fett, and The Children alike are frozen in their tracks as they watch the story told by The Parents.
"Zak saw the survivors, starved into madness, turning on a corpse. He and Galt and the other Children could clearly see how horrified the parents were by their own acts. What they had done was a last, desperate attempt to save their children. It was the act of beings so hungry they had lost their minds. As the parents fed their starving children, they cried."
The Children are so transfixed by their parents' anguish that they forget their prey entirely. They cannot survive on their own. They cannot be allowed to continue as cannibals. The captain of the crew agrees to take them on her ship, to find somewhere for them to live.
As the series ends, a few questions remain unanswered. Will The Children fall back on their instincts once more? Will the Arranda kids ever find a planet that does not try to kill them? But most importantly, did the twelve-year-olds reading this ever sleep through the night again?
Kristen Mohr has encountered many more nightmares in the library since then. She has a Masters degree in Information Science and a mental archive of facts from Cracked.
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