The Ahsoka finale had a lot of cool scenes, but the one involving zombie Stormtroopers easily took the brains—er, cake. The undead Night Troopers that shambled around during the Ahsoka finale presented a new concept to Star Wars—but only onscreen. The truth is that Star Wars zombies have existed for over a decade in the Legends continuity, thanks to the 2009 novel Death Troopers, written by Joe Scheiber.
The Ahsoka finale isn’t the first time Star Wars turned stormtroopers into zombies. That honor belongs to Joe Schreiber’s 2009 non-canonical novel Death Troopers.
Death Troopers introduced the Star Wars universe to an Imperial bioweapon called Project 171A. Alternately known as the “Blackwing Virus” and “The Sickness”, Project 171A was originally created using Sith Alchemy in 4645 BBY—Before the Battle of Yavin—by a Sith Lord named Darth Drear.
The virus was supposed to grant immortality and it did… from a certain point of view. The virus killed anyone exposed to it and then reanimated their necrotic tissue, allowing them to rise again as undead flesh-eaters.
The really crazy part is that while Death Troopers is part of Legends, the Blackwing Virus does exist in the current Star Wars canon. Sort of.
Over the years, different Sith in the Star Wars universe tried to recreate the virus using Pet Sematary logic, i.e., “This time it will be different!” which, as everyone knows, never works out. No matter how you slice it, Zombies be zombin’, and the only difference with Star Wars zombies is they be zombin’ in space.
Eventually, Darth Vader became the first Sith to think, “Gee, maybe we can use this thing as a weapon.” If you’re curious how it worked out for Vader, see the above explanation.
Death Troopers tells the story of the Imperial prison barge Purge and its run-in with a Star Destroyer overrun with the Star Wars equivalent of the zombies from Night of the Living Dead. The only major difference between Blackwing zombies and George Romero’s flesh-eating ghouls is that Star Wars gave their zombie virus a hive mind that allows the undead to coordinate attacks and communicate where survivors are through a special scream.
Coincidentally, Death Troopers hit bookstores the year following the release of the video game Dead Space, which likewise features zombies as a space threat.
The Blackwing zombies also have a weakness the zombies in Dawn of the Dead don’t have: they have to be constantly exposed to the Blackwing Virus, or they will start to decay to such a degree that they are no longer capable of movement.
In the book, the virus spreads to the prison barge, and a handful of uninfected—including Han Solo and Chewbacca—fight for their lives against the horde of undead monsters. Interestingly, the popular video game Dead Space—featuring zombies on a spaceship—was released in 2008, one year prior to Death Troopers hitting bookstores.
That’s not to imply that Death Troopers—which was probably already a work in progress when Dead Space came out—in any way copied Dead Space, just that it’s interesting that space zombies seemed to be on everyone’s mind at the end of the ’00s.
The really crazy part is that while Death Troopers is part of Legends, the Blackwing Virus does exist in the current Star Wars canon. Sort of. Similar events to those in Death Troopers—sans Han and Chewie—are said to have canonically taken place between A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back.
The thing is, the only place in the current Star Wars canon where these zombies were ever directly mentioned was as a part of athe 2014 mobile strategy game Star Wars Commander.
While that should technically make the Death Troopers canon since Disney decreed that anything released after the 2012 acquisition of Lucasfilm by the company is all part of the same canon, searching the terms “Blackwing Virus,” “Death Troopers,” “the Sickness,” or even “Project 171A” on the official Star Wars website delivers zero results.
Seeing as how Star Wars Commander stopped getting updated in 2020, it’s possible that Lucasfilm intends the revenants in Ahsoka to be the first “official” Star Wars zombies.
Canon or not, Death Troopers is an excellent novel and is definitely worth checking out, especially during spooky month.
Whether they’re the result of a Sith virus or Nightsister magic, the undead make for fun cannon fodder and Star Wars’ version of zombies make for a fun, slightly more dangerous threat than regular old Stormtroopers. Who needs to be able to aim a blaster accurately when you can just bite the Rebels?