[Minor SPOILERS ahead for The Death Cure.]

The Maze Runner: Scorch Trials is the followup film to 2014’s The Maze Runner, which introduced movie audiences to Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), and the rest of the Gladers stuck in a massive maze run by the evil organization, Wicked. Twentieth Century Fox has given the green light to a third film in the franchise, adapted from James Dashner’s young adult novels that have acted as the source material for the entire series, which will hit theaters in 2017. The third film, The Death Cure, is currently in development, with Wes Ball (The Maze Runner, Scorch Trials) returning to direct.

Now, ahead of the home release of Scorch Trials, Dashner spoke to Screen Rant about his inspirations for the world of the scorch, how he differentiated the cranks from pop culture zombies, and his favorite movie soundtracks. Additionally Dashner offered some insight into what viewers should expect from the third movie and how close it will stick to the third novel.

What was your inspiration for the futuristic world of The Scorch Trials?

One fun thing about The Maze Runner series is I really wanted each of the three books of the main trilogy to feel different from the other two. So we’ve talked Maze Runner to death with its influences but Scorch Trials definitely – y’know when I was a kid I grew up with the Mad Max movies and that wasted world of Mad Max stuck with me and I’ve always been fascinated with post-apocalyptic settings. So I would say that was the first vision that directly influenced the world of Scorch Trials.

And, did anything particularly influence the cranks?

The book cranks and the movie cranks are a little different, but they’re definitely inspired by a wide array of things – obviously zombies. I’m a huge fan of The Walking Dead and all the things that came before that. But I also really try hard to put a human side to them in the books; they’re not the undead or anything like that, but they have this disease [that] makes them totally, utterly insane. As Wes Ball, the director, does with everything, he takes what’s in the book and kind of puts it on steroids because you want it to be bigger and badder and more in your face and visceral on the big screen. What he did with the cranks, I mean, they’re so horrifying, so monstrous, and so scary. I think he captured that feeling that you have in the book anytime you encounter the cranks. But it also feels fresh and different for me, they’re nothing like what you see on The Walking Dead so I’m really happy with what he came up with.

Maze Runner The Scorch Trials Maze Runner Author Interview: Scorch Trials Changes & The Death Cure

Aside from the cranks was there anything in particular from the book that you were excited to see in The Scorch Trials?

Just the visuals, seeing the crank city and seeing the wastelands they go through [and] little things like seeing the Bergs, which is the ship that Ava Paige flies in [on] – it’s a futuristic helicopter meets Millennium Falcon. Having Jorge, who’s a really strong character, seeing him come to life on the big screen was a lot of fun. Seeing Janson, otherwise known as the Rat Man, come to life – so all these things. It’s almost impossible to describe how surreal it is for an author to see these things come to life on the big screens. It’s definitely been the highlight of my career.

You said it was a surreal experience seeing your characters come to life on the big screen. What has been the highlight of the adaptation process?

The highlight for me has been… It’s a tie between a million different things. I think the people involved – getting to know Wes, and the writer T.S. [Nowlin], and the producers like Wyck Godfrey and getting to know the cast, all these amazing young actors who are on the verge of their careers just exploding. So I’d say the people involved has been my favorite part. But another thing that I’ll always have besides the obvious, the movies themselves, is the music. I’m a huge movie soundtrack guy and John Paesano did the music. I listen to those two soundtracks all the time as I’m writing and it thrills me to know I’ll have that for the rest of my life.

So what’s your favorite movie soundtrack?

Probably The Lord of the Rings, taken as a whole trilogy. That music is so epic and haunting and inspiring. I’ve listened to that so often while writing. But there are a lot of others that I’ve loved too.

Scorch Trials cranks Maze Runner Author Interview: Scorch Trials Changes & The Death Cure

Were there any particular challenges of bringing the story to life? I know there were some changes made between the Scorch Trials book and the movie, but were there any challenges pertaining to those changes?

One of the biggest challenges was the ripple effect of changes we made in the first film. I’m a very big believer of books and movies being different ways of telling a story and things that work in one might not work in the other. So I was very happy with the first film, but all the little changes suddenly have this ripple effect that seem much bigger for the second book. So the real challenge to stay true to the spirit of the book, to have all the scenes that people have grown to love fit into the movie, but also stay true to the first movie. I tell my readers just to embrace it and enjoy the film and I think they’ll be really happy with the third movie because things come back in line with the books again in a way that will be a real pleasant surprise for them. So I really encourage people to look at the trilogy of movies as a whole piece and reserve your judgement on how true they are to the books until you’ve seen all three of them.

In terms of the third movie, is there anything you can tell me about how the changes to the first two movies will affect the third one?

There are some really big things, like the Right Arm, which is the rebel group, was introduced in a very different way in the second film, so that will have ramifications. But actually, I think once we’re like 10 or 15 minutes into the third film it really comes back in line to the books where they’re going to be on a Berg, which is what they named that ship, headed for the city of Denver [Colorado]. It’ll suddenly feel very familiar again. I think people are really going to think Wes Ball saved the best for last. The third movie is going to be spectacular.

Will Poulter in The Maze Runner Maze Runner Author Interview: Scorch Trials Changes & The Death Cure

Have there been any characters over the course of the three books whose character arc you’re excited to see conclude in the third movie?

One character who wasn’t in the second film, and wasn’t in the second book, but makes a kind of triumphant return in the third is Gally. I love his story arc because there’s so many layers to it. At first you just think he’s just the jerk, the evil guy, the one that causes trouble, but he really comes around and you see his different layers. I’m just so in love, as an actor, with Will Poulter, so it’s going to be a thrill to have him back and a thrill to see what he does with the character of Gally.

Is there any part of The Death Cure that you’re excited to see on the big screen – not necessarily something that will make it, but just something you would like to see in the movie?

In the books they returned to a very familiar place, which brings the story full circle and they see it in a very different light – I’m trying to say it without spoiling it but obviously that’s [difficult]. But seeing the maze again in a different light and just everything building to the climax and knowing what Wes Ball and his amazing crew can do with these things. I mean, I just can’t wait to see it for myself.

Next: Maze Runner: Scorch Trials Stars Talk Sequel & The Death Cure

The Maze Runner: Scorch Trials is available on DVD/Blu-ray December 15th, 2015.

The Maze Runner: The Death Cure will hit U.S. theaters February 17th, 2017.

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