One of the biggest joys – well, beyond “More Star Wars than any reasonable person would know what to do with, for better or worse” – since Disney’s acquisition of Star Wars has been watching Lucasfilm’s publishing initiatives thrive in a rebooted world of interconnected stories. Some of the best Star Wars in years is happening in pages of books and comics, and these are what you should be checking out.
The Best Star Wars Books...
Yrica Quell, the unlikely hero of the New Republic in Alphabet Squadron. Image: Del Rey
Alphabet Squadron – If you miss the X-Wing novels of the old EU, or, rather you specifically miss the stories of Wedge Antilles’ Wraith Squadron in those novels, Alexander Freed’s opening to what is becoming a trilogy of novels is perfect for you. Set in the wake of Return of the Jedi, Alphabet Squadron sees a desperate New Republic Intelligence officer recruit a defecting Imperial Pilot to create a ragtag group of traumatized starfighter aces on a bold mission: take down said defector’s former unit.
Queen’s Shadow – Ever wondered how the stoic queen of The Phantom Menace became the Senator Amidala we met in Attack of the Clones? E.K. Johnston’s examination of Padmé is that, and so much more. It charts that arc in a fascinating manner as the young woman has to navigate her sense of duty and the ramification of her actions with the Senate in Episode I, but also dives deep into Padmé trying to find a sense of herself in a world where she is expected to lead in a very different manner.
The Thrawn Trilogy – Grand Admiral Thrawn is one of the greatest Star Wars characters to come out of the Expanded Universe, which is why his re-canonisation via the animated series Star Wars Rebels was one of the most incredible announcements about the series, full stop. But it also meant another beloved return: Timothy Zahn, the iconic author who fundamentally helped shape the original Expanded Universe, returned to his blue-skinned tactician creation for a trio of new novels that flesh out Thrawn’s early years in the Empire.
It’s essential reading whether you loved Zahn’s prior Star Wars work or not, and even better news? We’re getting another trilogy starting later this year that dives back even further into the origins of the mysterious isolationist society of the Chiss Ascendancy that Thrawn left behind.
The cover to Leia, Princess of Alderaan. Image: Lucasfilm Press
Leia, Princess of Alderaan – Claudia Gray takes a similar approach to Johnston’s handling of Padmé in Queen’s Shadow, choosing not to prioritise factoids about the young Leia’s life but instead dive deep into how the young woman, who grew into an icon of the Rebellion, coped with the demands of life as the daughter of a senator swept up in the encroaching tyranny of the Galactic Empire.
Dooku: Jedi Lost – OK, so this is technically a listen, but you can also now read Cavan Scott’s excellent audiobook that charts Dooku’s time as a Jedi as well. It follows him all the way from prospective Padawan to the dismayed Master who left the order to rule his homeworld, and it’s a rare story set in an era of Star Wars not nearly examined enough in this new canon. It not only sows the seeds for Dooku’s eventual embrace of the Dark Side, but makes his journey from Jedi to Sith completely understandable, examining some of the rot in the upper echelons of the Jedi Order in a time before that truly becomes clear in the prequels.
Honestly though? Go for the audio version before the book if you can. The story’s great either way, but it was made as an audio experience first and foremost, and it’s a really fun way to hear a Star Wars story.
Master and Apprentice – As intriguing as it has been to see Star Wars publishing chart the future of the saga between the original and sequel movies, some of its absolute best work has been tales that go back to the time before the prequels instead. Case in point, another Claudia Gray entry here, which delves into the uneasy relationship between a young Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn. Here, Kenobi is already stuck in his ways as a more literal follower of the Jedi Order’s teachings while Jinn likewise is beginning to doubt his own path that, as a more esoteric interpreter of those rules, he is the best person to be a Master. Both are tasked with dealing with those issues while on a diplomatic mission that quickly goes awry.
A Star Destroyer falls to Jakku on Lost Stars’ cover. Image: Lucasfilm Press
Lost Stars – Boy, Claudia Gray! She just keeps writing good Star Wars! This is actually her first contribution to the Disney era, and she hit the ground running with something completely unexpected. Lost Stars is a young adult romance that goes all the way across the timeline of the Rise of the Empire up to the Battle of Jakku that ended the Galactic Civil War, as two young paramours find themselves on opposing sides of Star Wars’ grand conflict.
Bloodline – OK, I promise, this is the last Claudia Gray recommendation here. I can’t help it! She writes good Star Wars! And this – the tale of how Leia founded the Resistance and how the New Republic succumbed to the rise of the First Order – is very good Star Wars, not just fleshing out a vital part of the universe from a political perspective, but reminding us why we love Leia Organa, whether she’s got a blaster in hand commanding armies, or playing wars of words in the equally deadly political arena.
From a Certain Point of View – Released for A New Hope’s 40th anniversary, this delightful anthology dives deep into practically every facet of the original Star Wars, telling tales interwoven through almost every scene of the movie to make its world feel even bigger and richer than ever. Come for the story of just how the Dianoga got on the Death Star, stay for the surprisingly tragic reason Wuher the Mos Eisley Cantina bartender hates droids so much.
...And the Best Star Wars Comics
The cover of the debut issue in Vader’s third and most recent ongoing series. Image: InHyuk Lee (Marvel Comics)
Darth Vader (Volumes 1, 2, and 3) – Look, let’s be honest: At some point, we all stopped being afraid of Darth Vader. He’s significantly less of a terrifying, tragic Frankenstein’s monster when he’s out there as bobbleheads, plush toys, sat-nav voices, and the litany of other crossovers that capitalise on his imagery as an iconic design, more so than just how horrifying and heartbreaking that very design is to the man underneath its visage. Let these two separate comic runs fix that for you.
One is set during the events that take place after A New Hope (by Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larocca), the other during the rise of the Empire (by Charles Soule and Giuseppe Camuncoli), but both are vital, incredible pieces of storytelling about Darth Vader, about Anakin Skywalker, and even about the power of the Force itself. Easily the best Star Wars comics Marvel has to offer, and the current third volume is proving to be just as good.
Doctor Aphra – You may have not really heard Doctor Aphra’s name before. She’s an entirely new creation in this era of Star Wars, an archaeologist/smuggler introduced in Gillen and Larocca’s Vader book as a wary accomplice to the Dark Lord. And she became so popular she’s spun out her own series of roguish adventures. If you like both ancient Star Wars mythos and some good ol’ fashioned space cowboying, Aphra should be right up your alle.
Lando – This is maybe the shortest read on the list, as Charles Soule and Alex Maleev’s series was “just” a five-issue miniseries. But in those five issues they delivered a great story that gave Lando not just a suitably swashbuckling adventure to go on, but really fleshed out his relationship with Lobot in ways that have rarely been examined since.
The cover to the history-making comic that started this new era off. Image: John Cassaday (Marvel Comics)
The Star Wars Ongoing – Cheating? Yes. Do I care? No. The main Star Wars book, in both iterations (it recently relaunched to re-orient its timeline, now taking place immediately after Empire Strikes Back, having first launched in 2014 as being set just after A New Hope) has lead to some truly fantastic Star Wars storytelling in the confines of the original trilogy. That’s achieved in how it’s fleshed out details of the Rebellion’s fight against the Empire but also how it’s pushed and pulled Han, Luke, Leia, Vader, and so many other beloved characters in very intriguing ways. It has peaks and valleys, any multi-year comic does, but when it’s at its best, and it often is, it’s amazing.
Kanan – Marvel Comics has sadly not done a lot in the prequel era of Star Wars, beyond one-shots and a few miniseries, but Greg Weisman and Pepe Larraz’s Kanan is probably the best of the bunch. As you might guess, it follows the young Caleb Dune, as he once was known, as he has to deal with the horrifying fallout of Order 66, well before we meet him in Rebels. Come for the insight into one of Rebels’ best characters, stay for the gripping story of a young man suddenly finding his life turned upside down.
Featured image: Del Rey, Marvel Comics