Hello, Sp0ngey here.
Well, it’s finally time to do it again! In April of 2020, I dedicated a month to reviewing some Goosebumps ripoffs. It was one of my favorite things I’ve ever done. It was so much fun to finally see what these were all about. The results were wild, from kids becoming dogs, vengeful hobo toys, and of course, the power of Christ.
But there’s quite a few of these series out there, so I could only do so many. There’s a few notable ones I couldn’t get. Thus, we are back again to do some more. Yep, there’s a few more to plow through and I can’t wait. The series we have lined up are very interesting in their own right so this will be really fun to talk about.
I think after this I’ll have covered them all in some form, at least of the ones I personally count. Well, except for Hair-Raisers but that’s hard to find. With that said, welcome to Goosebumps Ripoff Month 2; Ripoff Harder
First off, we have the most fascinating one to me: Star Wars Galaxy of Fear. This one was on the later end, running from 1997 to 1998 with 12 entries. This one is notable for of course belonging to a larger franchise. Big franchises clearly taking from other places in order to remain relevant is common I guess, not not always this blatantly.
This middle grade series is part of the Star Wars EU and oh man do I not want to get into all that mess. You just need to know things like the Star Wars novels are notable for a lot of people, to the point where you have a character like Thrawn appearing in Rebels. I mention that because Thrawn apparently appears in this series, which shows me they were at least giving it better treatment than you’d expect for a throwaway like this.
Because this is an official Star Wars thing, it is easily the most documented out of all these series. Tons of official Star Wars books that include the EU will include this too. And of course as usual Wookiepedia has tons of info on it. And from a glance, there’s a bunch of YouTube reviews of them from fans.
So I’m not doing anything too new here but hey, I got the perspective of a Goosebumps fan only casually only into Star Wars so this will be interesting. These were written by John Whitman who had prior Star Wars experience, writing a few Audio Dramas and a few other random books here and there.
According to him, this series was only meant to be 6 books but they were poplar enough to get expanded into 12. So the short-ness is due to it just being all they wanted, not being unpopular. And when this ended the middle grade horror craze was basically over.
Another good thing about this being notable is you have easy to find interviews to look at; http://www.yodasnews.com/john-whitman-talks-galaxy-fear/
This series goes the Spooksville route of having a consistent cast running through these. The first 6 books form an arc while the latter half is more loose. I feel fine with jumping into a random one since these series are usually built so that they’ll just info dump you on anything you missed. I picked this one because the concept sounded like it could be pretty scary.
Plus, it’s book 7 and thus the start of the second half. Should be easy to jump into. Oh and one more thing. Another good thing about this series being Star Wars is that it’s the likely reason it is the only one of these series I have ever fond out in the wild! I’m not over that find.
Oh and yes, I had this be first so I can tie into May 4th. Shut up.
With ALL THAT said, let’s finally jump in. I’ll mention other stuff as we go.
This, is The Brain Spiders
The cover is okay, showcasing Jabba eating something. But why is the Brain Spider off to the side? Feels a bit odd, so the cover is nothing too grand. What is more notable is the artist, Steve Chorney. You may not know his name but you’ve seen his work. You know how you’ll see a Drew Struzan style poster but find out it was “some other guy”? He’s that other guy! That’s awesome, but I’ll admit he has better covers in this series.
The book begins with a one page prologue where people in robes have a man strapped to a table. He begs but they tell him they aren’t killing him. Nah instead they are gonna remove his brain. It’s nice to see Marco’s doctor getting more work.
We truly begin our sibling protagonists Tash and Zak Arranda, and their uncle Hoole arriving at Koda Space Station. It’s not an especially clean place but it’ll do. We’re told that they had a droid named DV-9 who was damaged in their last adventure. He was repaired but he was like “nah I’m good’ so they let him free. Oh and they stopped an Empire experiment and are now wanted fugitives but that’s not a big deal.
I’m glad for the info dump at least. We’re told Zak is the usual 12 but Tash is 13, which means Zak is the true protagonist, by law. They end up at a Catina which one of them says looks like the end of the world…because its named is The End of the World. Haw.
Hoole has them stay behind just to be safe. Zak obeys but Tash does now, following him in. Zak is meant to be the foolish one, btw. She bumps into a smoker who disturbs her. She stands up to him and he just calls her little girl and does nothing, making some comment about he’d usually literally eat her up but won’t do so.
He’s a jerk but nothing really worth getting upset about. So of course Tash goes full Karen and wants to speak to management. Seriously. She ends up meeting the manager who is currently making something out of animal meat, including blood and its heart. Lovely.
He can’t help her with this rude guy. Turns out he’s war than rude, he’s a wanted criminal that has been given the death sentence at least a dozen times and has murdered 91 people. He knows because he always carves a K into his victims. Well, that’s a dark thought for this kids book, ain’t it?
Hoole shows up and scolds her for going in here. He came her hoping someone have something to help them but they came up short. Instead they have to go somewhere he hoped he wouldn’t have to visit again: Jabba the Hut’s palace. Oh boy.
So they head off. On the way, Zack plays a dumb prank because this is a Goosebumps ripoff after all. Tash scolds him for being so immature but Hoole says he’s just growing up in his own way. I get that but pranks are still annoying.
They land on Tatooine but are immediately accosted by some stormtroopers. But it turns out they were just looking for that mass murderer guy who everyone is looking for. They clear the air and are free to go. Guess they forgot these people are wanted by the empire too. Infact, if I were them I’d far more about the people who stopped my weird experiments than some random killer.
Tash even considers it lucky they didn’t check their identification. They make it to Jabba’s place but then Zak sees a spider ready to attack! Oh wait it’s just a spider shaped droid. Well we’ve got the fake outs down. Hell, the quote on the Wookiepedia page is about how the series was forced to use these! Yes, really.
This is one of the titular brain spiders, it has a jar with a brain on it. They go to the throne room where Bobba Fett is there because why not.Apparently they crossed paths before but whatever. Hoole asks Jabba if he can clear their name from the Empire records, as he did that for him before.
He’s willing to do it but he wants a favor from Hoole first. He just wants him to translate this old scroll from the B’omarr monks. Well, that’s boring. He accepts it and they get taken to their room. Zak asks about the monks and wants to know more about them. They actually built this palace and Jabba basically took it over, only letting some live in the tunnels.
One happens to pop up and allows them to meet them. This is Beildo, who is just a bit older than Tash. He takes them a tour and goes on about their backstory how they are mostly super enlightened and all that. They finally get to see some of the other monks…and one of them is holding a human brain. No jar? What savages.
They just walked in on the results of that prologue, and the monks shoo them out. Beildo explains to the kids that they weren’t killing that man, they were giving him eternal life. When they reach a certain stage of enlightenment, they get their brains put in jars, This way, they can have a form of life without distractions like food or sleep. That’s….different, I’ll give it that.
It is possible to give them electronic voices, but Jabba took all their voice boxes out. Now all they can do is think about the ultimate truth or the Galaxy. She gets a vague answer about this but she thinks it might be connected to the Force. She happens to be Force sensitive,. Oh man, don’t be too competent or weirdos will call you a Mary Sue.
I promise that will be the only joke like that,
Hoole gets back from talking to Jabba and he sadly cannot erase their names from the records. After some rebels took the Death Star plans and destroyed ur, they’ve made stuff like that way harder. However, Jabba can give them totally new identities. New names, basically new self.
The kids are fine with this but Hoole isn’t. Also, it says he “glowered”. The hell does that mean? …Okay, google tells me it’s just a fancy word for scowled. Huh, a kids book taught me a new word. Anyway, he says they wouldn’t understand his reasons.
The next day, Tash visits Brother Grimpen, who will show her how the monks meditate. They do some tests and he invites Tash to do the first one: Walking over coals. She does it but it doesn’t hurt because of some stuff about mind over matter. Zak opts out of it since he doesn’t have the force on his side, so Grimpenn says Zak can leave.
This leaves to a good moment with Zak resenting this, and feeling somew2hat abandoned He adds it’s made worse by how it’s not some evil plot, Tash is doing this on her own. It gives some nice humanity to him, I think. Zack leaves and soon a brain spider starts following him.
Zak escapes it but ends up in some dungeon or something, where he overhears Jabba talking to some guy…who turns to be that mass murderer. His name is Karkas. Yes. Figures he’d be working with Jabba. Zak sneaks away but ends up locked in one of the prison cells. Whoops.
Some other guy in the next cell over tells Zak not to bother calling for help, no one comes down here. This guy didn’t even do anything, he just wanted to join the monks and he even passed some of the tests. Yet one day Jabba’s goons threw him in there. Zak starts to get a bad feeling from the guys who think being a brain spider is true living,
Zak takes a knife from a skeleton of a guy who was clearly trying to chip his way into a panel on the wall. Zak starts to finish the job when the other guy asks to be freed too. Zak considers that this man could be a criminal. Ah yes, that’s why he wanted to join some monks.
Zak gets into the panel, cuts some wires and the door opens. That was way too easy, they should make those stronger. He does the other guy a solid and frees him. The guy runs off and Zak makes it back to Hoole. He’s doing some monk research and happens to find something relevant to the plot.
The monks use tricks to make their students think they have powers. For example, they have these rocks that give off heat but don’t burn. This makes them think their minds are resisting the heat. Yep, that’s likely what they did with those coals back then. But it’s not to bee evil, it’s to build confidence. If the students think they can do things, eventually they will be able to do them.
Okay, so they aren’t evil yet but they still seem suspicious. Zak tells Hoole what he overheard and thankfully he’s willing to scoot past the freeing a prisoner thing. However, they can’t really do anything about the Karkas thing since Jabba is so powerful, it’s not really worth it. Zak is offended but eh, he’s kind of right.
I know they’ll have to deal with this for the plot but this isn’t really any of their business. Anyway, he goes to find Tash. Suddenly, Beildo appears and tells Zak they have to get out of here, or they’ll end up dead!
He explains that he realized that there have been an awful lot of unplanned brain transfers lately and all the latest brain spiders have been acting strangely. He tried to tell the monks about this but they don’t care. Because they are adults and some things just never change in these.
Zak tells Hoole about this and thankfully he’s willingly to be the exception and figure out what is going on. They try to find Tash and bump back into Beildo who suddenly acts as if he has no idea what is going on. This makes Hoole think Zak was making that up because never mind, he is no longer the exception.
Zak goes to his room where Tash is. He tells her about what is going but of course she doesn’t think it’s anything to worry about. She’s more interested in becoming enlightened. She does try to be nice to an extent but she still isn’t quite willing to listen. It’s balanced enough to not make ne resent her too much though I guess.
We jump back to her perspective as she visits Grimpen. Grim tells her that Zak bis just starting to get jealous, and he is holding her back. Yeah, I had the feeling this plot would start to run into this cliche, where she just thinks Zak is being like that and thus doesn’t think his concerns are legit. As cliche as it is, it’s more complex than we usually get and it makes enough sense for her POV and isn’t too annoying yet.
Her next test is one of courage. She must walk in a full circle around the pit of Carkoon. Aka the Saracc pit, so no pressure! Zak comes out just in time to see her get grabbed by the sarlacc. Thankfully, he has Chekov’s Knife and stabs the thing long enough for Tash to be able to get free. That’s a cool moment for him but Tash doesn’t appreciate it.
She argues she didn’t need saving until Zak distracted her and made her slip. Still no need to be an ungrateful jerk about it. See, now she’s being dumb. Zak leaves and goes back to Hoole, where he tells him about how he’s not feeling as close to Tash these days. This is actually a really good moment.We see how Zak is feeling and Hoole assures him that even if Tash is being different now, if Zak looks closely he can find the Tash he always knew.
They sell it better than I can, but it’s really good, another thing that is far more what we I’m used to with these. Zak bumps into Tash and apologizes for getting on her nerves and tells her he’s fine if she wants to do her own thing. She accepts it and apologizes herself, Hey stop being mature, don’t you know what you’re supposed to be ripping off here?!
Their little moment is interrupted when they find themselves surrounded by brain spiders. They get chased by them but get saved by Hoole. Oh and he’s a shapeshifter and he uses his forms to do this. I forgot to mention that. Whoops. It’s good that I mentioned that as it’s important for the bit.. Hoole says he will not be accepting Jabba’s offer. As a Shi’do, his true identity is important for him to recall given all the different shapes he can take. He can’t simply change that.
That’s fair enough, guess they’ll just keep running. They’ll leave tomorrow, it’s a bit too late to do it today. They wander into some room where Jabba is presenting something. He’s presenting the dead body of Karkas to Imperial Commander Fuzzel. Yep, that mass murderer was dealt with in a way off page and is dead now. Just having the dead body of a character we previously saw alive feels way darker than the usual.
Oh and I guess Jabba seemingly working with the guy was not the case, or Jabba turned out to be as trustworthy as he looks. But they don’t care, they go back to their rooms. Tash is already packed and is acting very weirdly. She’s being quite the jerk and even tells Zak she “ain’t no friend” and was just being nice before. As much I want to believe I can criticize her, it’s clearly due to something weird from the monks.
That night, Tash sneaks out and Zak follows her. She steals a speeder and Zak follows suit to peruse her. She ends up at Mos Eisley and goes around the back. Zak hears her having a scuffle with someone and checks it out once she lives. He spies the dead body of Fuzzel…with a K carved into him. So uh, we just witnesseed a murder. Damn
I love how Zak yells “Murder!” and the most he gets is a distant “shut up!”. This is just another Tuesday over here. Zak goes back to the palace, and sees that Tash is here too. He grills her about what he saw, but she denies it.
Tash goes off to do something before they have to leave. Zak bumps into a brain spider but this one seems to want something from him. They lead him to some vents, and from in there he gets a view inside Jabba’s room. In there, he’s talking to Tash, dun dun dun. They talk about their deal and Tash does not seem to be herself.
The brain spider writes down two words that start to explain it: I’M TASH. Yep, it seems like they likely did their thing on her. And it seems like they put Karkas’ brain into her. So that’s a thing that can happen, sure. This means a grown man is inside a 13 year old girl’s body.
Gross-ness aside, Jabba seems to have just given Karkas body to the authorities to get the credits and kept the brains to put into new bodies. That’s actually a pretty good racket, I must say. A bit of the convo with Jabba back there made it clear that prisoner was meant to be a body but Zak freed him so they had to…make do. So that bit did have a point, to lead to something gross!
Zak feels guilt of course, but eh, an innocent man would be screwed over so you’d be guilty either way. Oh and another brain spider shows up that is clearly Beidlo. Zak goes over to Grimpen since he seems like he could help. He tells him about what is going on.
But plot twist, Grimpen reveals he’s the one who has been behind all this. Yeah, I figured even with Hoole trying to say they weren’t tricking Tash to be shady. Turns out they were, they want their victims to really think they are enlightened. That’s clever and at all but you could just kidnap them right away and take their brains if you need them that badly.
Zak is now to become super enlightened. But first, they bring in another victim…Hoole. Karkas in Tash’s body even brought him here. Hoole was knocked out but he soon wakes up. This is bad news for them because he’s a shapeshifter, so he breaks out easily. Zak is able to knock out Karkas and he takes a blaster to threaten Grimpen with,.
And that’s basically our climax. There was more to it than I mentioned but still a bit rushed. With that, some monks come in and they are not happy that Grimpen was giving away their secrets to outsiders. They don’t seem as bad as the giving bodies away to criminals thing.
He is hauled away. The gang tells them they gotta put Tash’s brain back in her body. At first they don’t care about it but Hoole brings out that scroll and wishes to trade it for some help. So it did play a part after all, yay.
We get an epilogue sometime later as Tash her her body back. As for Beildo, as a monk he wanted to reach this state someday and for some reason they can’t find his body so he’s stuck like this. Ah well? Tash apologizes for everything, and Zak accepts it. Nice. They head out but back on the ground, Jabba is not happy that Karkas and Grimpen seem to be gone.
The monks don’t tell him anything. High on a shelf of brain jars, is one that seems to be pretty frantic. Ir’s Grimpen, screaming for help. But he has no mouth to scream with. Even if the monks “heard” him, they don’t care.
“They knew that Grimpen would remain on the shelf until he became enlightened or until the end of time. Whichever came first.”?
The end,. Well, that’s quite the scary note to end on. Serves him right though.
We’re off to a good start as this was really solid. I don’t know what the other entries are like generally, I do know they have a fomrula. It’s not too clear here, this being my first one and all. But for this one, it seems like the main thing separating this from the other ripoffs is that the plot is more involved.
It’s not super complicated, but there are more moving parts. There’s the culture of the monks, Tash and Zak’s conflict and the mass murderer. It’s not just one simple idea like most of these. That works for them but it’s neat to see one with more to it. That may be because as a Star Wars product, it needs that but still.
It’s a bit more of a slow burn as a result and that does mean it can take a bit to get started. It does eventually become clear what the story is all about, and so it gets better as it goes on. The slow start isn’t too bad as there isn’t too much filler. Although Karkas needed a better introduction than Tash going Karen on him.
But as a whole, the story was solid. It’s not as focused on scares which I like, aside from a few fake outs early on. It does get surprisingly dark though, including an on page death.I appreciate that, it generally doesn’t feel dumbed down for kids. I like how little things like the scroll come into play to make the story feel more complete.
Tash and Zak are alright as far as leads. Basic types but they work. Both are understandable, with how Tash wants to really get in touch with her powers. Even if that means accepting a monk’s flattering and getting turned into a robot spider. Their dynamic is pretty solid. They have the usual bickering but do get along by the end, and the nice moments work.
I especially like that they caught themselves before going too far with the element of Tash thinking Zak is just jealous. It’s cliche but it works, mostly because they threw that in. The part about Zak being immature doesn’t go anywhere but eh, there’s 11 over books maybe we get more in those. The big payoff is nothing deep but eh, it’s for kids, at least there’s a form of takeaway,
Overall, this was quite good for my first entry. The story is well thought out and offers decent character stuff alongside the enjoyable mystery and dark moments. It feels like one of the better thought out things I’ve read for these. I have no idea if the rest of the series is like this but it’s a good sign that first book after the contract got extended was this solid.
I’m impressed, I must say. Hopefully this is a good omen for the month. One last thing. In 2009, the Star Wars website randomly had a new short story for this series. It was sadly taken down and I may try to find out through Wayback eventually if I can. According to TV Tropes, it has a joke making fun of the fake outs, nice.
But it is time to move back into our galaxy. Next time, we get our spines tingled.