I am often asked by listeners and friends where they should start if they want to pick up reading Star Wars books. I have to admit, for the newbie, this must seem overwhelming, something I probably take for granted as a life-long Star Wars fiction fan. From the old expanded universe collection of novels and comic books (dubbed as Legends since the Disney purchase of Lucasfilm in 2012) to the rebooted works which are all considered canon in the modern era (post-Disney purchase), I have read them all. The below list is a ranking of sorts, with a heavy focus on getting new readers off on the right foot in the Star Wars universe as well as indoctrinating the old Legends converts who’ve been holding out for whatever reason (mainly out of spite, I’ve learned…). Before I get started on the list proper let’s cover some basic terminology, shall we?
- CANON: by definition, the word canon as it pertains to our discussion is “a collection of sacred books or texts which are considered genuine”. Let me just lay it out like this – anything in the rebooted collection of Star Wars expanded universe materials, whether it’s novels (both adult and young adult), comic books, reference books, and animated series’ are considered canon, therefore THEY REALLY HAPPENED and all future stories and storytellers must take this into account. This is a huge deal, as the old Legends ‘canon’ was not always considered by George Lucas and, later, Dave Filoni as having happened. So in short, if you read it then it really happened. Got it, good. WE WILL ONLY BE DISCUSSING CANON MATERIAL IN THIS ARTICLE!
- LEGENDS: in the mid-90’s author Timothy Zahn and comic writer Tom Veitch kicked off what we now call ‘Legends’ with their inaugural works into what many call the golden era of Star Wars fiction with Heir to the Empire and Dark Empire respectively. Over the next two decades, hundreds of stories were told in both novel and comic form, and the Star Wars universe became a sprawling behemoth that quite frankly, couldn’t get out of its own way. There were some great stories told (Zahn’s aforementioned Heir to the Empire trilogy, James Luceno’s Darth Plagueis, Matthew Stover’s Revenge of the Sith adaptation, Kevin J Anderson’s Jedi Academy Trilogy and AC Crispin’s Han Solo trilogy to name a few), but there was a lot of forgettable work along the way as well (The Courtship of Princess Leia, The Truce at Bakura, and the end of the New Jedi Order series, which put the final nail in the coffin). When Disney bought Lucasfilm they wiped the slate clean, giving authors and fans a clean start in this exciting future of Star Wars storytelling.
OK, still with me? Good, let’s get started. The first article in the series will cover the novels that I feel like are the best jump-off point, and while I am always hesitant to call any book ‘must-read’, well…. these are a must-read. Make sense? Good.
Bloodline, by Claudia Gray
The absolute starting point for me, and the book I recommend to everyone who asks me where they should start if they wanna pick up on Star Wars novels. Set six years before the events of The Force Awakens (24 years after Return of the Jedi), we see a weary Senator Leia Organa dealing with the pressures of helping to run a new government and wanting to finally run away from it all and join her husband, who’s on the racing circuit (shocker, right). There’s also a great reveal that’s alluded to in the title, and with Bloodline, Lost Stars, and Leia, Princess of Alderaan (both discussed below), author Claudia Gray has cemented herself as the queen of Star Wars fiction in the modern era. I was lucky enough to interview her at last year’s Supercon in Raleigh and she didn’t disappoint. Give it a listen here! Bloodline has an incredible cast of characters, with standouts being Ransolm Casterfo, Greer Sonnel, and Lady Carise Sindian, just to name a few. The audiobook is impeccably read by January LeVoy, who does a great job portraying Leia at this crossroads-of-sorts in her life.
We did an episode of The Exhaust Port where we covered Bloodline and there’s a Canon Casting entry as well, where I ‘cast’ the novel. Put simply, I can’t underscore how amazing this book is and, in my mind, this is THE starting point for any fan who wants to become engrossed in the world of Star Wars fiction.
Aftermath Trilogy, by Chuck Wendig
An acquired taste at first, Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath trilogy provides a fascinating look inside the Star Wars universe in a post-Return of the Jedi timeline and offers up the best example to date of the power of Star Wars world building on the literature side of things. Taking place just after the destruction of the second Death Star above Endor and wrapping with the battle of Jakku one year later, the Aftermath series delivers on moving the story of the heroes we love forward while introducing a ton of new, amazing personalities into the SW galaxy. We get plenty of Leia, Han, and even Wedge, but also new heroes like Norra and Temmin Wexley, the charming Sinjir Rath Velus, bounty hunter Jas Emari, and the amazing repurposed B1 Battle Droid, Mister Bones. On the Imperial side of things, you have to look no further than the insidious Gallius Rax, who has been entrusted with executing the Emperor’s contingency plan in the wake of the Battle of Endor.
Interspersed with interludes (one of the things people had a hard time adjusting to), which over time become intertwined and connected to the larger universe, and packed with hints of what is to come years later with the rise of the First Order, the Aftermath trilogy is a slow burn that every Star Wars fan should read. On the audiobook offering narrator, Marc Thompson does a passable job with most of the characters, with Mister Bones and Sinjir being standouts. Katrina, Dave and I did a Book Club edition of The Exhaust Port covering the series, even going so far as producing an ‘After the Port’ for the site, going a bit more into detail. And yes, of course, I fan-casted it! My hope is that as we move forward, Lucasfilm and the story group commission more three-book series’.
Rebel Rising, by Beth Revis
Oh boy, I can’t say enough about how amazing Rebel Rising (authored by fellow NC native, Beth Revis) is! I have stated on many a podcast that Rogue One is my second favorite Star Wars film, and quite possibly the best-made film in the saga. The amount of character development in that film alone is mind-blowing, as we meet six amazing heroes and a titular villain during the course of the film and each of their deaths really hits home. Having said that, I wanted more – especially in regards to our main protagonist, Jyn Erso, and her former mentor, Saw Gerrera. And holy cow does Revis deliver this and then some in Rebel Rising. Spanning the moments right after her mother was killed at the hands of Orson Krennic on Lah’Mu to her extraction by the Rebellion on Wobani, Rebel Rising is an exercise in heartbreak and determination, as we see young Jyn Erso come to grips with her place in the fight and, unbeknownst to her, her destiny in the Rebel Alliance. She’s a hero that doesn’t know she’s a hero, running from the fight at every chance she gets, yet running right back into it all the same. Revis also does an amazing job writing the character of Saw Gerrera. It is so clear in the book that he loves Jyn but has to counter-balance that love against his own fight and relentless obsession with not only the Empire but the demons of his past. It’s a heartbreaking book, but one we know has at minimum a bittersweet ending. For audiobook lovers like myself, Rebel Rising is perfectly narrated by Rebecca Soler, who is a perfect Jyn Erso – from youngster to early ’20s, but does Saw justice as well in her performance.
Lost Stars, by Claudia Gray
Claudia Gray makes her return to the list quickly with Lost Stars, a young adult novel that’s more grown-up than most ‘adult’ Star Wars books. Lost Stars was my introduction to Gray’s work, and I was blown away. After being hesitant to read (or listen to, in my case) a young adult book (about which she playfully chided me during our interview at Supercon ;-), I quickly settled in and enjoyed an incredibly well-written and engaging ‘Romeo & Juliet in Star Wars’ type of story, with our two main protagonists finding themselves in love and on opposites sides of the war between the Empire and the Rebel Alliance. Set against a backdrop referencing tons of familiar events from the original Star Wars trilogy, Lost Stars delivers in a ton of fan service in addition to a beautiful love story. The audiobook is read by Pierce Cravens, and admittedly it took me a minute to settle into this style. His voice seems perfectly suited to the young adult market, and once I got into the groove with him I thoroughly enjoyed it.
We touched on Lost Stars in the same episode of The Exhaust Port podcast as Bloodline, so give that one a listen for sure. Also, we’ve yet to create a Canon Casting article for the book, but it’s on my radar!
Catalyst, by James Luceno
The prequel novel to Rogue One, Catalyst, marks the return of veteran Star Wars author James Luceno into the fold, and boy does he bring the heat. I’ve been a fan of Luceno’s work for decades, and would even go so far as to say he has written more great Star Wars books to date – legends and canon – than any other author. His work on Darth Plagueis, one of the last works to bear the ‘legends’ moniker is quite possibly one of the best Star Wars stories ever told. OK, let’s stay on course…
Catalyst begins as the Clone Wars ends, and one of the first events the book covers is the birth of Jyn Erso, our hero from Rogue One. Over the course of this tautly-written novel, the complicated relationship of Jyn Erso’s father, Galen Erso, and the man who will kill her mother, Orson Krennic, is covered in great detail. We are greeted with tons of intrigue along the way, as we learn that Galen is working on a top-secret project for the Empire, and that project is the Death Star. Jyn’s mother, Lyra Erso, is also very well fleshed out, as she is more-or-less the moral compass of the book, with her faith in the Force unwavering. And throughout it all, we learn a lot about Kyber Crystals, how the machinations of the Empire work, catch glimpses of the fallout from the prequel era (Poggle the Lesser!) and are onlookers as the seeds of rebellion are planted by the likes of Saw Gerrera. This book is HIGHLY recommended, and it’s a quick and easy read. I reviewed Catalyst right after I read it, and we covered it on The Exhaust Port. The audiobook is narrated by Jonathan Davis, who for my money is the best narrator in the game.
Leia, Princess of Alderaan, by Claudia Gray
Yes, author Claudia Gray appears for the third time (that’s three out of six if you’re keeping score) on my list of must-read Star Wars books with her most recent offering, Leia, Princess of Alderaan. There is no doubt in my mind that Gray has her finger placed more firmly on the pulse of Star Wars than any other author at present, as she keeps delivering classic after classic. After having the privilege to discuss Star Wars with her at Supercon (and will hopefully get another opportunity, as well), I was taken aback by how passionate and knowledgeable she was in regards to all aspects of Star Wars. So when I heard she was penning a Leia-centric novel in the runup to The Last Jedi, I was overjoyed. She just gets it and proves that once again here. Leia, Princess of Alderaan is the definitive coming of age tale for our favorite Disney princess, chronicling her rise to adulthood and responsibility and the weight she has to bear because of it, set against the same doubt and insecurities a normal sixteen-year-old would experience – especially when trying to comprehend just what her parents are involved in (which ends up being the beginning of the Rebel Alliance). During the course of the book, Leia travels to some familiar places and some that will soon become familiar (I’m not going to spoil them), partnering with a flighty, kindred spirit in the form of Amilyn Holdo along the way. Gray handles it all in stride, as expected, giving the book the gravitas it deserves given the fact the galaxy will be at war shortly. The audiobook is exquisitely read by Saaskia Maarleveld, with her Amilyn Holdo performance especially standing out.
Thrawn: Alliances, by Timothy Zahn
Admittedly, I was on the fence as to where to place Timothy Zahn’s second foray into the new Star Wars canon – Thrawn: Alliances – into the Reading Guide. After much deliberation, I decided to place it in the ESSENTIALS category, even though the first book in the series, Thrawn, is actually a better book in my opinion. However, because this is the Canon Reading Guide, I felt like Alliances provided more depth into the overall new Star Wars canon and universe than it’s predecessor.
The story takes place in two time periods, the Clone Wars era and the Rebellion era, with the main characters in both timelines being the same – Thrawn and Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader. Zahn once again does a masterful job with the Sherlock Holmes aspect of Thrawn’s personality, as he’s playing a cat-and-mouse game with both the unknown force that the Emperor has tasked him to discover and Darth Vader – more specifically, Darth Vaders real identity, and it’s all pretty great. Other highlights of the book include a return for Padme Amidala, the canon introduction of Vader’s personal guard/trooper unit, the First Legion (it’s implied this is a natural evolution from the 501st Legion, and Rukh, who is introduced into the story as an enigma (keep in mind this takes place before his Rebels introduction). Having said that, I was personally of the opinion that both Anakin and Padme’s characters were done no favors in their portrayals in Alliances, but it’s not a deal breaker. As mentioned, this book needs to be on the ESSENTIALS list because it covers so much of the canonical history of Star Wars.On the audiobook side of things, Marc Thompson once again delivers in spades with the voice work, especially Thrawn, Anakin, and Vader. Also, his portrayal of Rukh is commendable as well. Definitely worth a listen.
That wraps up part one of my reading guide to Star Wars novels. There is such a wealth of storytelling available in the Star Wars universe that I encourage everyone who loves the saga to dive in and give it a shot. Hopefully, after reading this guide you will have a solid starting point and foundation to build on. Be on the lookout for my next update coming soon, which will include works that you can read to expand your horizons after tackling some of the books on this list.