Star Wars is a major juggernaut in our culture, and the longer it powers along, the more people experience it for themselves and form their own opinions. Whether it changes or stays the same, people can form some pretty serious opinions about it, for or against.
As for me, I grew up with Star Wars, both the movies and the old canon, now labeled “Legends”. I was disappointed when the switch happened and the new trilogy rebooted the universe instead of adapting the stories and characters that I loved. But the good news is that Disney didn’t just snap away the old expanded universe. It still exists for people to enjoy, even if it stopped growing. There’s a lot to take in, and whatever you feel about the new films, the Legends universe is worth a try.
Toward that end, I’ve created a short guide on the subject. (There’s a lot to condense, and if I didn’t include your favorites, I apologize.) I’m starting with a few reasons for you to pick up the books, then I’ll give you an overview of what happens in the universe, and finally, I’ll review some of the books that were the most memorable for me (good and bad).
WARNING: This post contains MAJOR SPOILERS for the Legends canon and the Disney canon and one more canon, just for fun.
The Case for Legends
If you liked the new trilogy… The three main things that I hear people mention when they say they liked the Disney trilogy were nostalgia, fun, and diversity. You get plenty of nostalgia here, with every character and setting from the movies fully explored. (And I mean every one – major, minor, and background.) The tone varies book to book, but there are some for more serious readers and some who are here for a cool space adventure. As for diversity, this is where Legends really shines. There’s a huge cast of male and female characters – heroes and villains, Force sensitive and not, fighters and those who rely on other skills. If you were excited to get two female Jedi in the movies, now you can get a whole set of them, like Mara Jade Skywalker (Luke’s wife, a former Imperial assassin), Cilghal (a healer), Tionne (a musician/historian/teacher), and Jaina Solo (Han and Leia’s daughter, a pilot). And that doesn’t even cover the non-Jedi. There’s probably enough for a whole separate article on this, but I’ll leave it alone unless there’s a huge call for the subject.
If you didn’t like the new trilogy… Don’t worry, Luke is a major driving force here. None of that hiding away nonsense for this version of him. Instead, he deals with his failures (including several students turning to the Dark Side) and keeps steering his New Jedi Order to be the best that it can be. There are new storylines, not just a rehash of the original trilogy. There’s a greater variety of characters, too. Some can be generic, depending on the writer, but many have their own distinct strengths, weaknesses, and personalities, unlike the way a lot of critics have viewed Rey.
If you want to jump into the fray, you might be a little intimidated by the hundreds of novels, graphic novels, short stories, and other works that were written over decades in real time and span hundreds of years in galactic time. Don’t worry! If you’ve watched the main trilogies, you already know most of the significant events up to a point, and I’ll give you a brief overview of the rest (main galactic events and the fate of the Skywalker-Solo family).
When you find a book, it’ll often say near the front what year it takes place in. Sometimes, it’ll even have an era logo on the cover. Time is measured based on the battle at the end of A New Hope where the Rebels destroy the first Death Star, and years are noted as BBY (Before the Battle of Yavin) and ABY (After the Battle of Yavin). Almost everything that takes place before that is in the Old Republic or the Empire, which officially changed over in Revenge of the Sith. (There’s a little bit of pre-Republic stuff written about the dawn of the Jedi, but that’s pretty self-contained.) Everything from A New Hope to Return of the Jedi (0 BBY – 4 ABY) was part of the Rebellion Era, and that’s where the timelines diverge.
Legends now has the New Republic era, which was the rest of the fight against the Empire and the founding of the new democratic political system. During this time, Han and Leia get married and have three kids – twins Jacen and Jaina and younger son Anakin Skywalker. Luke founds a Jedi Academy where he trains Force-sensitive people from around the galaxy. He also marries a Force-trained Imperial assassin named Mara Jade who was sent to kill him but ultimately turns to the Light Side.
At 24 ABY, the Republic is well-established and there’s a truce with the Imperial remnant, but a new threat invades from another galaxy. In this New Jedi Order era, a group of fanatical aliens called the Yuuzhan Vong emerge. They want to conquer and reshape the galaxy without to exist technology, worshiping their gods. When the Jedi go to fight them, they find that they can’t sense or influence the Yuuzhan Vong through the Force. During this war, Chewbacca fulfills his life debt to Han and dies to save Anakin Solo, who ends up sacrificing himself a little later on anyway. Also, around the same time, Luke and Mara have a son named Ben Skywalker (which is a little confusing now that there’s a Ben Solo in the new canon). Of course, the Jedi and their allies eventually win in the end.
Finally, starting at 40 ABY, we get the Legacy era, which lasts the rest of the timeline. The main plotline revolves around Jacen Solo’s descent to the Dark Side and attempt to create a new empire. He even kills his aunt, Mara Jade. Unlike his new-canon counterpart, Ben Solo, Jacen is not ultimately redeemed, and instead, his twin sister kills him. After this, Luke and Ben Skywalker go on a quest to figure out what happened, and they run across an ancient order of Sith that tries to take over the galaxy. This attempt ultimately fails, and then there are a few miscellaneous works that take place after this, including some comics that take place hundreds of years in the future with some Skywalker descendants.
Kids’ books aren’t just for kids, and since these contain fewer characters and references to other events than most Star Wars novels, they can be a great starting point for newcomers to this universe.
Young Jedi Knights
I’m going to start by talking about two of the kids’ series that I remember the most fondly. One was the YA series Young Jedi Knights by Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta. It follows a young Jacen and Jaina Solo and their friends Lowbacca (Chewie’s nephew) and Teneth Ka (a stoic warrior princess) as they train in Luke’s Jedi Academy (which is already well-established by this point). At first, the characters seem a little one-note, with Jaina always fiddling with machines and Jacen always cracking bad jokes and collecting an animal menagerie, and so on. However, all of the characters start to develop some nuance as they meet more people and go through more hardships together. There’s some great character development, and even some good lessons or perspective for kids along the way.
If you only read one book in this series, I’d recommend Lightsabers, which packs a lot of story and a lot of heart into a small amount of space. In this novel, the kids build their first lightsabers. Tenel Ka rushes her construction and builds a faulty saber, and Jacen accidentally cuts off her arm in a duel. The book then deals with Jacen’s guilt and Tenel Ka’s loss as she goes home and tries to figure out what her new life should be like. (There’s also an assassination attempt to foil on the side, because this is Star Wars.)
The characters explored in this series – the main four and a lot of side characters – frequently crop up in other Star Wars novels. That’s why Jacen’s fate is especially heartbreaking, since I and a lot of others first saw him as a sensitive, lighthearted kid and then watched him grow with his sister and the others. It’s also worth noting that their brother Anakin had his own series, Junior Jedi Knights, which was written for younger kids, but it wasn’t quite as memorable.
This author gets her own category because she’s written a lot of Star Wars books for kids, some stand-alone works and some in series. My favorite was Jedi Apprentice, which follows Obi-Wan Kenobi as he leaves the Jedi Temple because he’s too old to continue training, returns when he gets Qui-Gon as a master, leaves the Jedi Order to help in a planetary civil war, rejoins the Order when he realizes his mistake, falls in love with a fellow Jedi, and so on. He starts off as a pretty decent kid in the beginning but really matures by the end.
Some characters and storylines from this series carry over into another series by Jude Watson, Jedi Quest, which is about Anakin Skywalker’s adventures as a Jedi Apprentice, but I really don’t like Anakin, so I’m prejudiced against this series. Watson also wrote another series with a lot of Obi-Wan, The Last of the Jedi, but since it takes place after Revenge of the Sith and most of the Jedi are dead at this point, it’s not as closely-connected.
Galaxy of Fear
This book is what would happen if the Goosebumps series took place in the Star Wars universe. It’s written at the same reading level and fully embraces the horror genre. In Galaxy of Fear by John Whitman, Tash and Zak Arranda, two Force-sensitive siblings who fled the destruction of Alderaan and have a series of creepy adventures. There are lots of Easter eggs and cameos, but the main focus is on the trouble the kids get into and the weird stuff they run across. From brains in jars to lots and lots of things that try to eat them, these two get into some adventures that are sure to send shivers down the spine of any young reader.
This series by Paul and Hollace Davids wasn’t actually canon even back in Legends-time, but I have to bring it up because it was the first Star Wars series I ever remember reading. I was hooked at the time and thought they were amazing, but now I look back and cringe-laugh and have a weird love-hate relationship with the books. I honestly still like the first one, before the series got the main annoying kid. For better or worse, Jedi Prince went all in. It was all super over-the-top in its heroes (which included the prodigy Jedi Prince Ken) and baddies (mainly the Prophets of the Dark Side, with their sparkly black robes). A major plot point of the series involved finding Emperor Palpatine’s three-eyed son, who turned out to be Ken’s father. This is one of many similarities between Ken and Disney’s Rey Palpatine, so there may actually be some overlapping fans. I’ll let you decide for yourself.
The Weird Stuff
Let’s get this out of the way: With as much content as we got, there were bound to be a few moments that didn’t strike gold. Like most people, I laughed at Luke’s evil clone Luuke, who really wasn’t as intimidating as he tried to be. In a later storyline, the Yuuzhan Vong army got really old really fast. Cool concept, and they were a serious threat to the Jedi, but I couldn’t get over how boring they were and how most of them acted exactly the same as each other.
Tales from Jabba's Palace
On to the good stuff! One book I’d recommend to new and old readers alike is a book of short stories called Tales from Jabba’s Palace, edited by Kevin J. Anderson. There are a few anthologies out there, but this one kicks it up a notch. It’s set around the time of Return of the Jedi, when Jabba’s barge is destroyed, and each work within the book tells a story from the perspective of a different character. Some of these characters survive, and some don’t, but they’re all cleverly interwoven together. Despite being written by different authors, this book (which must’ve taken an impressive amount of coordination) has a few plotlines involving murder and betrayal that no one has all the answers to. For instance, you can get two characters meeting in a hallway, each with a body, and you need to read both of their stories to find out how they got there (reminiscent of the classic story Rashomon). You get more answers as you go until you’re finally left with a complete work. There’s a wide cast of characters, with some sympathetic and some in the love-to-hate category and a lot in between.
I wouldn’t recommend anyone dive straight in with this one, because it involves a lot of prior storylines, but I, Jedi by Michael A. Stackpole is still one of my favorite Star Wars books. This book was a ground-breaker in Legends for a lot of reasons. It was the first told in first person, the first novel with a main character that wasn’t in the movies, and the first to retcon previous works. The basic plot of the book is that a Force-sensitive man named Corran Horn is trying to find his missing wife, and this search is broken into three parts. First, he’s training at Luke’s Jedi Academy in his original class (with a Sith-ghost side-story originally in the Jedi Academy trilogy). When he feels he’s gotten as much as he can to help him on his quest, he goes to his homeworld to reconnect with his past and his Jedi ancestors. Finally, he infiltrates the pirates who have his wife so he can finally put his Force connection to use in rescuing her.
One of the reasons I enjoy this book is just because it’s out of the ordinary for Star Wars, and different is always welcome. Besides that, I really love the character. He was first introduced in the X-Wing series as a cop-turned-Rebel-pilot, where he was good at his job but also had a storyline that’s all-too-rare in fiction about competent people: he was really, really wrong about someone. He was convinced that someone in his squadron was a murderer and was bent on proving it, falsely accusing this guy and causing all kinds of problems and getting people hurt in the process. He eventually realizes his mistake and is just as determined to fix it, which gets to be a recurring theme in his life. I love when authors let their characters be wrong and imperfect. Corran gets more to work through in this novel, where it turns out his Jedi family bloodline has some peculiarities. They’re really weak in telekinesis but great at mind tricks, and this gives the author something to play with as Corran works out how to use his new skill set.
Finally, I’m a fan of healthy relationships in my fiction (and in real life). Corran and his wife, Mirax, are a loving couple who have saved each other’s lives a few times in the past and generally have each other’s backs. Corran’s main goal right now is to get Mirax home safe. Even when he’s undercover and it seems like a relationship with another woman is the only way to achieve his goals, he manages to find a clever way out. This book is also the start of a long, solid friendship between Corran and Mara Jade. Though Corran initially tells her he doesn’t trust her because of her Imperial past, he immediately realizes that he’s being an idiot and apologizes, and the two of them bond over training and saving each other after that.
Speaking of solid relationships, I have to talk about Han/Leia and Luke/Mara for a minute. In the novel The Courtship of Princess Leia by Dave Wolverton, Leia is looking for allies for the Rebel Alliance and considers a proposal from the prince of a powerful system. Han gets jealous and tricks Leia into going into the planet Dathomir with him. The prince and Luke go after them, and they all end up entrenched in Dathomir drama. It’s a matriarchal warrior society where the women kidnap men for husbands, which would be problematic enough for the heroes, but they’re also attacked by some evil Force-wielding witches on top of that. This story is a swashbuckling romance, complete with a happily-ever-after. Han and Leia get married at the end of this novel, and the jilted prince falls in love with and marries a woman from Dathomir. (Their child, Tenel Ka, eventually becomes one of Luke’s students.)
Luke’s wedding is captured in the graphic novel Union by Michael A. Stackpole. This is a must-have in your Star Wars collection. It’s very short, and the only danger in the story comes from members of the Imperial remnant, who want to attack the wedding to make a political statement (besides the predictably-violent bachelor and bachelorette parties). But Union is mostly an opportunity to hang out with Luke and the rest of the motley crew. In the end, that’s what good fiction, Star Wars or otherwise, should be – a chance to spend time with characters you enjoy. It might be the books, it might be the movies, or it might be both. If you haven’t tried one or the other, they’re both worth checking out, so why not stay a while longer in a galaxy far, far away?
An Unjustifiable Tangent
You’ve read this far, so let’s assume you’ll sit through one more Star Wars opinion. I kept wanting to bring up Wedge Antilles during this article, and I tried to work him in during reviews of books where he was present, but it didn’t quite flow. He’s one of those minor characters in the movies that becomes a major figure in the books, first leading Rogue Squadron then getting promoted and moving to a larger leadership role. I was psyched to see him cameo in The Rise of Skywalker and then instantly annoyed when Chewbacca got his belated Medal of Bravery… but Wedge still didn’t get his. Fans had been outraged on Chewie’s behalf at the end of A New Hope when he didn’t get a medal along with Han and Luke. It always seemed weird to me that Wedge didn’t get one, as the other surviving fighter of the Battle of Yavin. He was a pilot, while Chewie was Han’s co-pilot, and he fought in the battle a lot longer than either Han or Chewie. I do have a vague recollection of some book where the pilots are all painting their kills on their ships, and Wedge puts the two Death Stars on his, but nothing of the sort is acknowledged in the movie. Okay, tangent over. Wedge is awesome. Moving on.
Let me know in the comments below if you have a favorite Star Wars book, movie, or other form of media. Did you really love the Ewok films? Laugh at the holiday special? Have you read anything from the new canon? Feel free to share any recommendations so I and other readers can expand our horizons.