Breaking into the Star Wars Expanded Universe
By: Meg Humphrey
Those who keep up with Star Wars news will know that Disney is working on the mighty decision of creating a canon timeline for the Star Wars universe. We know it will obviously include the movies, but there’s also a bevy of video games, comics, and novels (oh my!) to deal with. I’ve said before that the canon doesn’t matter to me – my Star Wars experience will not change even if Episode VII completely contradicts what I grew up reading. No one can ever take away the parts of the Expanded Universe that are important to me. I like to think of it in terms of the Marvel Cinematic Universe versus any of the other Avengers comic lines. They’re different, usually conflicting, but still worthwhile. With that note, let’s jump into the EU!
I often get asked what Star Wars books people should. Depending on someone’s taste, there are plenty of answers to this. The bulk of my silent reading time during 2013 was devoted to (re)reading a portion of the EU. I focused on novels from immediately after the Battle of Yavin up until the New Jedi Order series started. This timeline is what I would consider to be “classic” Star Wars books and the ones that I think are easiest for fans to get into. If you’re ready to dip your toe into the ocean that is the Star Wars EU, here are my recommendations!
For those who want to read the iconic works:
There are two book trilogies that, I think, can’t be ignored when it comes to the EU. The first, of course, is the Thrawn trilogy by Timothy Zahn. Heir to the Force, Dark Force Rising, and the Last Command are the books that introduce some of the most beloved characters in the EU – Mara Jade, Grand Admiral Thrawn, and Talon Karrde. They’re also wonderfully written books about the struggle the Rebellion still has against the Imperial Remnants and Luke growing with the Force. The second is the Jedi Academy trilogy. I love these books (I may have cried on the bus multiple times during some parts)! So many important things happen during these three books: Jedi Search, Dark Apprentice, and Champions of the Force. Luke steps into his role as Jedi Master and starts his Jedi Praxeum. Leia is groomed to be Chief of State of the entire New Republic. Han and Chewie stumble onto leftover superweapons of the Empire. Wedge gets a girlfriend! These books are a must read.
For those who want books that feels like a movie:
Kevin J. Anderson’s stand alone novel, Darksaber, is a quick read with great continuity and characterization. One thing in particular I love about this book is that he includes characters that were only briefly mentioned in the movies, but fleshes them out and shows them in action. He is also one of the authors who most often does little nods to fan favorite scenes or quotes from the original trilogy. The New Rebellion by Kristine Kathryn Rusch is another that reads like a movie. It has a lot of action and good pacing. Both of these books require little (if any) previous knowledge of events in the EU.
For those who like action:
The X-Wing series is currently 10 books, although only the first nine are sequential (the 10th – Mercy Kill – takes place much, much farther in the timeline). Half are written by Michael Stackpole (who focuses on Rogue Squadron) and the other half are by Aaron Allston (focusing mainly on Wraith Squadron). I’m writing a piece devoted to the Rogues and Wraiths, so I won’t go into too much detail here, but these are books you don’t want to miss. They’re basically military dramas in space. There’s a ton of fancy flying, fighting, and tension, but plenty of laughs and great new characters. These take place after Return of the Jedi, but before the Thrawn trilogy where the Rebellion is starting to move in and take over Coruscant and become a legitimate government.
For those who want to know about Mara Jade:
Mara Jade gets her own category because she’s the second most prominent female character in the EU (Leia being the first). She’s also an amazingly well rounded character that Timothy Zahn has taken care in writing. There are eight books, all penned by Zahn, that showcase Mara’s journey with the Force. In order, they are Allegiance, Choices of One, the aforementioned Thrawn Trilogy, Specter of the Past, Visions of the Future, and Survivor’s Quest. Their timeline stretches from before Empire Strikes Back all the way to 22 years later – the last book before New Jedi Order.
For those who want romance:
The Courtship of Princess Leia is at the top of my list, for obvious reasons. Han has to woo Leia away from another dashing suitor – Prince Isolder of the Hapes Cluster – who has everything Han doesn’t. The greatest thing about this book (besides domesticated Rancors) is that Han doesn’t break from his roguish character. He’s doing his best to romance Leia, but only in the way that Han Solo could. Another option for plenty of romance (and plenty of heartbreak) is the X-Wing series. I know it was my recommendation for action, but the relationships that blossom for members of Rogue and Wraith squadron are some of the most moving in the entire EU. Gavin Darklighter and Asyr Sei’lar particularly tug on the heart strings.
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