Yesterday saw the release of Marvel’s Star Wars #1, the first comic to take place in the recently rebooted Star Wars universe. Not so long ago, in a galaxy not so far away, Disney made the announcement that caused a great disturbance in the Force, as if hundreds of fictional characters suddenly cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced: With all the characters and events of the nearly quarter-century old Star Wars Expanded Universe (E.U.) no longer considered “canon,” hundreds of novels and comic books were reduced to little more than the hazy dreams of a whiny farmboy.
Speaking as a reader of, er, a certain number of Star Wars books as a teenager, I may have entered a brief mourning period (years of emotional investment in fictional X-Wing pilots ripped away!), but upon reflection, all those hours spent reading were hardly wasted. A lot of genuinely talented writers wrote for the E.U., producing novels that stand alone as great sci-fi, even minus the Star Wars trappings. While we’re all more jazzed than Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes about all the incoming Star Wars, from The Force Awakens, to the Rebels TV series, to the new comics and books, it would be a shame if the old E.U. was just obliterated from our memories as if by some sort of giant, planet-killing superlaser.
Here are 5 formerly-canon books or series that deserve to be preserved in carbonite:
The Thrawn Trilogy, by Timothy Zahn (Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising, The Last Command)
Published six years after the release of Return of the Jedi, this landmark series revived the franchise when it seemed like the movies were over and done with. Five years after the deaths of the Emperor and Darth Vader, the rebels have become the ruling New Republic. Luke is attempting to restore the Jedi Knights and Han and Leia are as together as ‘shippers could possibly hope for. But the Empire is not dead: Its remaining forces are rallying behind the brilliant military commander Grand Admiral Thrawn, a Man with A Plan (and a not a bad one, either). Extremely well received upon publication, the trilogy proved there was a viable audience what could be considered glorified fan-fiction. It even made The New York Times best seller list! Tightly plotted, and featuring both new and old characters of genuine menace, kindness, and complexity (including enduring fan-favorite Mara Jade), the Thrawn books remain shining examples of media tie-in novels done right.
The Courtship of Princess Leia, by Dave Wolverton
Another awesome book, this is the one that reveals how Leia and Han finally got hitched. I don’t want to give away too much, but it involves an intergalatic peace treaty, some high stakes dive gambling, kidnapping, super star destroyers, warlords, and a planet inhabited almost entirely by force-wielding, rancor-riding witches. If not for this adventure, everyone’s favorite princess-and-scoundrel pair might have gone their separate ways, to the dismay of scruffy-looking nerf-herders everywhere.
X-Wing: Rogue Squadron, by Michael Stackpole
Stackpole’s story begins with one of the Star Wars universes’ most beloved minor characters, Wedge Antilles. (Here’s some trivia for your next nerdy pub quiz!: Wedge was the only X-wing pilot other than Luke to make it out of the first Death Star alive. You’re welcome.) Wedge is put in charge of a the Rogues, a new elite squadron of pilots to replace the one lost at the second Death Star battle. The result is basically Top Gun, but in space. Across the four-book series, the Rogues into a unit whose responsibilities go far beyond flying, putting them at the center of many of the conspiracies and battles facing the nascent New Republic, still trying to consolidate its power. These books also introduce a cherished E.U. character, Corran Horn (although my personal preference runs strongly to his butt-kicking wife, whose name I won’t tell you because spoilers, but trust me on this one).
X-Wing: Wraith Squadron, by Aaron Allston
While I love the Rogue Squadron books, part of my love for them is that they made Wraith Squadron possible. Allston’s books are, essentially, the inverse of Rogue Squadron: His characters are not hotshot pilots; they are the screw-ups and near washouts of the fleet, granted one last chance to get their stuff together. Allston’s characters and plots are hilarious (these are by far the funniest, most irreverent books in the E.U.), but still insightful and page-turning. Whatever threat the ragtag bunch is trying to save the New Republic from, character development is as strong a focus as plot. Allston makes you care just as much about these bumblers and outcasts as about the original movie cast, if not more.
The Han Solo Trilogy, by A.C. Crispin (The Paradise Snare, The Hutt Gambit, Rebel Dawn)
I know the word “prequel” strikes fear into the haerts of many fans, but I have to throw in a good word for a trilogy that fits the label. The Han Solo Trilogy gives us Han Solo’s hardscrabble origin story, with excellent plotting that really can feel rather suspenseful—always an accomplishment when the ending is a foregone conclusion. In fact, we get everything about Han up to and including the moment he sits down at a table with an old man in a bar in that wretched hive of scum and villainy, Mos Eisley. If Han was ever a favorite of yours (OF COURSE HE IS YOUR FAVORITE), I don’t hesitate to recommend this series.
Which formerly canon Star Wars books are your favorites?