Star Wars inspires a love that can border on obsession. There are plenty of fans for whom the movies aren’t nearly enough, and the people behind one of the all-time great science fantasy sagas have always been more than happy to oblige. Aside from toys, clothes, and the obscenely large Death Star cookie jar that takes up half of my kitchen, there are books, graphic novels, video games…you name it. From a certain point of view, it might all seem like too much. Or not nearly enough.
For a few decades, there was a real effort to make sure all those ancillary stories agreed with one another, but couple of years ago, the Lucasfilm Story Group essentially wiped from continuity any non-film, non-TV media up to that point (it’s all largely still in print under the “Legends” banner). The intent was to provide a clean slate for the new series of films that were then starting production. For a while, that meant it was less intimidating to jump into the wider Star Wars universe…but the number of works has grown once again.
We’re here to help: here’s a handy guide to the most significant stories in the current Star Wars canon, from the Rise of the Empire to just before the start of 2017’s The Last Jedi.
Most of these works stand on their own, but many serve to flesh out an expansive universe. They’re presented here in in-universe chronological order, but it’s certainly not necessary to read every single book from the beginning of the timeline. Your favorite era is probably represented in some way. Also: there are many worthwhile video games, short stories, comics, etc. that don’t get covered here. The goal is to hit the high points, otherwise we’d be here all day.
(Oh, and beware of light spoilers. They’re not intended, but largely inevitable. May the Force Be With You.)
Rise of the Empire Era
We can also call this the Prequel Era. Since there’s no consistent dating system in the Star Wars universe, fans have traditionally focused on the Battle of Yavin in 1977’s A New Hope that saw the destruction of the first Death Star. Episode I: The Phantom Menace takes place about 32 Before the Battle of Yavin, (32 BBY), with Revenge of the Sith taking place 19 years BBY.
Star Wars Vol. 5: Yoda’s Secret War, by Jason Aaron, Salvador Larroca, Kelly Thompson, and Emilio Laiso
Though presented as a flashback, this 2017 story is the first one to take us back to a time prior to Episode I, even if just. Yoda is called to a planet of child warriors in the middle of a tribal conflict. Yoda aligns himself with an exile named Garro, who has knowledge of power stones that even the Master can learn from. The story continues into the present-day of the Marvel series when Luke sets out to investigate Yoda’s story.
Darth Maul, by Cullen Bunn, Luke Ross, and Nolan Woodard
Likewise, the Darth Maul miniseries takes place shortly before The Phantom Menace. The willful Sith apprentice has been commanded to avoid the Jedi at all cost, but just can’t help himself when he learns that a Padawan named Eldra Kaitis, who’d been captured and held prisoner by a gangster, is going up for auction. For a character who was chopped in half in his first appearance, there’s been an impressive, and oddly poignant arc for Maul that runs through comics and the two SW cartoon series. This would be his first in-universe appearance.
Obi-Wan and Anakin, by Charles Soule and Marco Checchetto
Set just a couple of years after Phantom, this is the only significant story set in-between Episodes I and II. At the conclusion of the that prequel, you’ll recall that the Jedi council reluctantly gave Master Kenobi permission to take on young Anakin Skywalker as a Padawan learner. This is the story of one of their earliest adventures together, a mission to the war-torn world of Carnelion IV that plants seeds of dissension between them destined to grow over the coming years.
Seven years later, we come to Attack of the Clones. The second prequel finds Jedi Master Count Dooku initiating a civil war and leading a separatist movement that threatens to destroy the Republic. Of course, it’s all part of a plot by then-Senator Sheev Palpatine to consolidate power via the manufacture of an external threat. The forthcoming Jedi of the Republic—Mace Windu takes place in the early days of the conflict, as Master Windu comes to accept that the Jedi are no longer just peacekeepers, but military leaders in the galaxy-wide conflict. The ensuing Clone Wars last for about three years, as detailed in an animated feature and six seasons of television. (Even for those of us who didn’t think we could handle one more moment of battledroids and sulky Jedi, the show’s pretty good.)
The animated series fills in the gaps between the last two prequels, and also introduces Anakin’s own Padawan, Ahsoka Tano, who will have a large role in spin-off media going forward. But first, she has a strong arc on Clone Wars that comes to a bittersweet but noble conclusion, and is generally a cool addition to the SW universe.
Dark Disciple, by Christie Golden
The Clone Wars ended a hair prematurely in the wake of Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm. There were a couple of planned storylines that never made it to the air, including this one and a graphic novel (now out of print) that follows Darth Maul after the series. Disciple brings some closure to the story of Jedi double-agent Quinlan Vos and his lover, conflicted Sith Asajj Ventress. Probably best if you’ve seen the show, but the book’s a bit more mature in tone and generally works on its own.
Darth Maul—Son of Dathomir, by Jeremy Barlow and Juan Frigeri
Son of Dathomir is set shortly after the conclusion of The Clone Wars TV series. The story was originally conceived for a planned-but-never-produced seventh season of the show and, as such, creates a direct link between that show and Rebels, where Maul’s quest reaches its climax. It’s also not, strictly speaking, new this year, but it has been out of print and much in demand for some time. In it, Maul gathers allies in the form of the criminal Shadow Collective in order to exact revenge on his former master Darth Sidious (soon to be Emperor Palpatine). He captures Count Dooku and General Grievous in an attempt to lure Sidious to Dathomir and into the clutches of the powerful dark witches of that world.
Kanan, Vol. 2: First Blood, by Greg Weisman and Pepe Larraz
The two volumes of the Kanan series are a little tricky to place chronologically. Each story arc is told via flashback from the “present” of the currently running Star Wars: Rebels TV series, which takes place in between the prequel series and A New Hope. Among that show’s cast is Kanan Jarrus, a former Jedi Padawan who spent years in hiding prior to helping form what would become the Alliance to Restore the Republic (phew!). Following his story chronologically brings us here, to just before Revenge of the Sith: Young Caleb Dume (Kanan’s real name) proves himself worthy to become a Padawan to troubled Master Depa Billaba, just in time for a confrontation with her archnemesis, the cyborg General Grievous.
Kanan: The Last Padawan Vol. 1, by Greg Weisman and Pepe Larraz
Again, tricky placement, but the main story goes here: following the second volume, and right in the midst of Revenge of the Sith. We’re now 13 years past The Phantom Menace, with 19 years to go before Luke, Han, and Leia meet on the Death Star. This is the story of Caleb Dume/Kanan Jarrus’ final days as a Padawan, as he narrowly manages to escape the slaughter of the Jedi order at the hands of Palpatine’s clone army. It’s also the beginning of his years in the wilderness, which are expanded upon later.
With that, we’re into territory that’s as-yet uncharted on the big screen. Yoda is in exile on Dagobah, and Obi-Wan is watching over baby Luke on Tattooine. Leis is growing up with the Organas on Alderaan, and Palpatine is building an empire with his latest and surliest apprentice, Darth Vader, by his side. The following years are some of the darkest of the Star Wars saga, but they’re not completely unchronicled.
Rise of the Rebellion
Almost 20 years elapse between the two prequel trilogies: enough time for Luke to grow up, bullseye womp rats in his T-16, and drink endless glasses of blue milk. Meanwhile, twin sister Leia embarks on a promising political career while secretly ferrying stolen data on behalf of the Rebel Alliance. (In fairness to Luke, he got dropped off with some grumpy farmers on a nowhere planet, while his sister grew up a princess. I’d be way resentful.)
For much of this time, the Republic still exists, but in name only. Emperor Palpatine is consolidating his power throughout the galaxy, while a rebellion grows outside of the core worlds.
Star Wars: Darth Vader, Dark Lord of the Sith Vol. 1: Imperial Machine, by Charles Soule, Giuseppi Camuncoli, Jim Cheung, and Cam Smith
This is actually Marvel’s second series focused on the Dark Lord (though the first chronologically), but with a different focus and a different team. This book is set immediately after the events of Revenge of the Sith—actually just seconds following Anakin Skywalker’s rebirth as James Earl Jones. That was only the first step in Vader’s initiation, however. The Emperor sends him on a mission: hunt down one of the very, very few remaining Jedi, kill them, and return with their corrupted lightsaber as your own. The Jedi Master he encounters is no pushover, to put it mildly.
Ahsoka, by E. K. Johnston and Jason P Wojtowicz
Ahsoka left the Jedi Order toward the end of The Clone Wars, and reappears as the mysterious agent Fulcrum on Rebels. Beginning shortly after Revenge of the Sith, this book tells Ahsoka’s story in more detail, as she tries to find her place in the galaxy apart from the Jedi. Following Order 66, she comes into contact with Bail Organa and becomes a founding member of the Alliance. Another one that’s best for fans of Clone Wars, but the young adult-oriented novel also works perfectly well as an introduction the best Star Wars character you might not have heard of.
Hardcover $26.09 | $28.99
Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel, by James Luceno
This prequel to Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Catalyst details the events that led to the construction of the first Death Star. It’s the story of Galen and Lyra Erso, who, along with their newborn daughter, Jyn, find themselves caught up in the manipulations of an old friend and now-agent of the Emperor who needs Galen’s genius to help design what will ultimately become the Big Freaking Gun that blows up Alderaan. A New Hope takes the Death Star for granted, but this one provides a sense of the years of difficulty that went into its building. The book covers several years, from the end of the Clone Wars onward, so placement is tricky. If it sounds like your thing, just plan to read it before or shortly after seeing Rogue One.
Lords of the Sith, by Paul S. Kemp/Tarkin, by James Luceno/Thrawn, by Timothy Zahn
Three books, four major villains of the Star Wars universe if your tastes run to the Dark Side. Lords of the Sith is a bit like a buddy road movie, except that the buddies are evil Emperor Palpatine and his equally nasty sidekick, Darth Vader. The two find themselves ambushed over the surface of Ryloth (a planet important to the Clone Wars as well as Rebels cartoons), where they wind up alone and facing an entire army of resistance fighters (one of them, Cham Syndulla, is the father of Hera from Rebels). Tarkin details the history and rise to power of Peter Cushing’s character from A New Hope, Wilhuff Tarkin (yes, Wilhuff). It also dovetails with the events of Catalyst, a book that also features the Grand Moff. Finally, the forthcoming Thrawn (re)introduces the titular Grand Admiral, a main bad guy of many of the no-longer-canon Legends books. He’s back, this time as an adversary to the Rebels, and his background is set to be detailed in a new book by the character’s original creator, Timothy Zahn.
The middle years of this period are chronicled in a couple of works that each span several years. Rebel Rising serves as a prequel to Rogue One, telling the story of young Jyn Erso in the care of Saw Gerrera in the years following the death of her mother and the capture of her father. Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn is, similarly, a coming of age story, but of a very different kind. A key figure in the Legends canon, the blue-skinned Grand Admiral was revived for the Rebels animated series. His creator wrote this origin story: exiled from his people, the brilliant and charming tactician rapidly rises through the Imperial ranks. More on the fabulousness of Thrawn here. The book is getting a sequel, as well as a graphic novel adaption, in 2018. Also coming in 2018 is the next anthology movie, Solo: A Star Wars Story, which will take place sometime around here.
A New Dawn, by John Jackson Miller
Not to be confused with A New Hope, this 2014 novel was actually the first official release for which the new Lucasfilm Story Group provided input, making it the first bit of new canon. Six years before Rebels, Kanan Jarrus (formerly Jedi Padawan Caleb Dume) is wandering the galaxy, avoiding the burgeoning Empire and anything to do with the Force. An encounter with Twi’lek pilot and resistance fighter Hera Syndulla inspires him to put aside his life on the run and intercede in a conflict between the Empire and revolutionaries on the planet Gorse. By the time of the Rebels show, Hera is already leading Kanan and company as part of a well-oiled resistance cell, but this is how it starts.
Hardcover $16.19 | $17.99
Leia, Princess of Alderaan, by Claudia Gray
Surprisingly, Leia’s rise to prominence was little chronicled in the old Legends canon, so we get to experience it for the first time. The Princess’s 16th birthday signals the beginning of a traditional series of rites and challenges in which she must prove herself worthy to claim the throne of Alderaan one day. In the meantime, her parents are becoming more and more involved in the coming Rebellion. Good luck to them in trying to keep Leia safe and uninvolved. If you’re looking for Last Jedi hints, this book introduces Leia’s flighty but principled friend Amilyn Holdo, played by Laura Dern in the movie, as well as the red-mineral planet Crait. There’s also a visit to what would be the Wobani Imperial Labor Camp by the time of Rogue One. Our full review here.
These few years prior to A New Hope are also the period of the Rebels animated series, which chronicles the rise of the Rebellion through the story of pilot Hera Syndulla and her resistance cell. That’s also the place where Darth Maul’s long-running story reaches its climax. One-shot stories scattered throughout Marvel’s ongoing comic series shed some light on what ol’ Ben Kenobi was doing on Tatooine during his years in exile, and you can round out this era with Guardians of the Whills, offering some backstory of Baze Malbus and Chirrut Îmwe, whom Jyn Erso will soon meet on Jedha.
Time was, this period would’ve begun with the original 1977 film (year zero after the Battle of Yavin, or 0 ABY). But I think it’s fair to consider the latest movie (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) a direct prequel, and therefore the true start of the era during which the Alliance to Restore the Republic begins to make headway against the Empire. (At least until said Empire strikes back.) The opening crawl to the first movie describes Rebel spies managing to steal the secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon. That happens in Rogue One, just prior to A New Hope.
From a Certain Point of View, by Renée Ahdieh, Meg Cabot, John Jackson Miller, Nnedi Okorafor, Sabaa Tahir
This 40th anniversary book has a very specific place in the timeline, even if it’s unclear how much anyone reading it should be worried about how it fits into the canon. The first story astutely fills in the very small gap between Rogue One and A New Hope, but most of the funny, weird, charming, and idiosyncratic tales are better enjoyed without worrying too much about squeezing them into the larger picture. Still, all of them take place during the events of the original Star Wars movie, setting it firmly during Star Wars’ Year Zero. More on the awesome weirdness of the book here.
Hardcover $26.09 | $28.99
Battlefront II: Inferno Squad, by Christie Golden
A surprisingly good tie-in to the game, this novel introduces TIE fighter pilot Iden Verso during the Battle of Yavin; she is quickly assigned to the Empire’s new Inferno Squad, a team dedicated to wiping out data leaks in the wake of the destruction of the Death Star. It’s as much of a sequel to Rogue One as we’re likely to get, given that the squad’s mission brings them into the orbit of what’s left of Saw Gerrera’s partisans. Our full review here.
Heir to the Jedi, by Kevin Hearne
It’s tough to think about the classic series without Luke Skywalker. In Heir to the Jedi, Luke is tasked by the Alliance with the rescue of a cryptographer whose code-breaking skills are essential to the rebel cause. This is Luke on his own in the days following A New Hope, when he’s still untested and unskilled, and a bit cocky about being the hero of the Rebellion. It’s a new adventure, but it’s also told entirely from Luke’s point of view, providing the young Jedi’s perspective on all of the events that have lead to key moments in galactic history.
Marvel Star Wars
Marvel has a near-monopoly on the action set during the three years in between A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back. The ongoing series has the whole gang in a series of adventures against the Empire, shortly after the destruction of the Death Star. The Princess Leia miniseries follows the future General as she breaks away from her commitments to the Rebellion in order to gather and unify the survivors of the destruction of Alderaan (having been off-world at the time). Chewbacca finds Chewie protecting a young girl on an Imperial-occupied planet. Another miniseries, Lando finds the charming rogue on a salvage mission gone terribly awry (the ship he’s salvaging happens to belong to the Emperor).
The first Darth Vader series finds the Sith Lord working to get back into the Emperor’s good graces following his failure against Luke Skywalker over Yavin. He’s also playing a deeper game with his apprentice, Doctor Aphra, and two ruthless droids of his own. Doctor Aphra is a spin-off from the Vader series that follows the opportunistic archaeologist as she works to make a living in the galactic artifact market alongside her homicidal droids and wookiee bounty hunter Black Krrsantan. She’s also keeping out of sight of her old mentor.
Battlefront: Twilight Company, by Alexander Freed
A video game tie-in, this novel takes a surprisingly dark look at the Star Wars universe right around the time of The Empire Strikes Back. It’s about the 61st Mobile Infantry of the Rebel Alliance, a dogged team with a knack for survival. If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to be one of the front-line soldiers in the war against the Empire, for whom epic struggles between Sith and Jedi are impossibly distant, this book provides that grunt’s-eye view.
For reference, the Classic Era spans a mere four years, with Empire at year 3 ABY, and the events of Return of the Jedi very shortly after. Even given the short timespan, it’s likely that we’ll continue to see new stories set during this era. Marvel, for instance, isn’t slowing down with its Star Wars line, and most of its stories have taken place in the gap between the first two movies. For many fans, this is the very heart of the Star Wars saga, with Luke, Han, Leia and the gang facing off against Darth Vader over a couple of giant Death Stars. The future looks pretty good from Endor…what could possibly go wrong?
New Republic Era
Second Death Star destroyed; big yub-nub party on the forest moon of Endor; pick up the story 30+ years later. That might be OK for casual fans (both of them), but the books and graphic novels have gone a long way toward filling in the new canon version of events in-between.
Hardcover $17.15 | $17.99
Journey to The Force Awakens: Lost Stars, by Claudia Gray and Phil Noto
Claudia Gray’s young-adult novel covers a large swath of time, from just before the original movie, through the entire classic series, to the aftermath of Return of the Jedi. It’s the Star Wars saga seen through the eyes of two friends, Ciena Ree and Thane Kyrell, who wind up on different sides of the Galactic Civil War. It’s a love story that spans the major events of SW history, but also covers ground that was only hinted at in The Force Awakens: it’s our first glimpse of the planet Jakku, and the major battle there that (just about) finished off the Empire and left a crashed Star Destroyer ripe for the picking by desert scavengers.
Paperback $15.75 | $16.99
Journey to The Force Awakens: Shattered Empire, by Greg Rucka and Marco Chechetto
This Marvel graphic novel spans the first four years immediately following Return of the Jedi and tells several stories involving the main heroes of the classic movies mopping up the remnants of the Empire, with mixed results. Though our heroes are largely separated, the connective thread is in the story of Lieutenant Shara Bey and her husband, Sergeant Kes Dameron, long-time members of the rebellion who are preparing to raise a family once things settle down, if they ever do. You might be able to guess what they ultimately name their son.
Aftermath Trilogy, by Chuck Wendig
This trilogy introduces a new team of heroes and scoundrels, led by pilot Norra Wexley, who reluctantly come together to pursue what’s left of the Imperial leadership during a perilous time (we’re about five years out from Jedi). What’s left of the Empire is holding onto control of several star systems, and growing more desperate with each defeat. The series also introduces a new adversary: Admiral Rae Sloane, a rare Imperial who is brilliant and committed without being a complete sociopath. She’s popped up or been mentioned in other works, and seems to be shaping up to be the main villain of this period. Though the trilogy is about new characters, they have plenty of interaction with the old gang, particularly in book two, Life Debt, when Leia asks Wexley and company to help hunt down the missing Han Solo. Book three, Empire’s End, sees a big win for the New Republic, but also makes clear that Sloane’s “first order” (GET IT?) will ultimately fill a whole new sack of troubles for the heroes. More on that book’s revelations here.
Hardcover $13.49 | $14.99
The Legends of Luke Skywalker, by Ken Liu
Also around this time, Ken Liu’s The Legends of Luke Skywalker involves a group of children on the casino world of Canto Bight (a setting in The Last Jedi) telling tales of the now-famous Jedi. By design, the stories are distorted in the telling, but we learn that Luke set out to expand the Jedi order and, most intriguingly, met a group of Force users who tutored him in the idea that good and evil aren’t separate but connected, perhaps foreshadowing his development in the new movie.
Bloodline, by Claudia Gray
A big time jump brings us to Bloodline, just about five years prior to The Force Awakens. It focuses on Princess/Senator Leia Organa, who is navigating a political crisis threatening to bring the New Republic down. The book serves as an almost direct prequel to TFA, with the growth of the Resistance in the face of the New Republic Senate’s gridlock in the face of the growing threat of the First Order, as well as the beginnings of the break in the Solo/Organa marriage.
Phasma, by Delilah S. Dawson
Right around the same time, this is the first of two major releases starring the Captain in 2017, hopefully presaging a beefed-up role for her in the new movie. This origin story traces her life back to an apocalyptic hellhole where she began life as a tribal chief. When an Imperial cruiser crashes on her planet, the opportunistic warrior sees an opportunity to move up. She’s a fearsome fighter, but also ruthlessly cunning. Our full review is here.
Poe Dameron, by Charles Soule and Phil Noto
Following close on Bloodline‘s heels in time, Marvel’s ongoing Poe Dameron series follows the budding Black Squadron leader on a series of adventures as Poe and company try to find Lor San Tekka, the Max Von Sydow character who was found hiding the hidden map to Luke Skywalker at the beginning of Episode VII. If you’d just as soon read as watch a movie, you can always follow this up with the adaption of The Force Awakens.
Paperback $15.29 | $16.99
Captain Phasma, by Kelly Thompson, Marco Checchetto, and Andres Mossa
Beginning during the conclusion of TFA, Phasma has been trapped in a garbage chute by Finn and company. She doesn’t stay there for long. Before she can escape Starkiller Base, though, she stops to cover her tracks by erasing any record of the fact that she was the one to bring down the shields. No problem except, oops…someone already accessed the logs. Really, really bad news for that dude as Phasma begins a quest to hunt him down before returning to her First Order duties.
Canto Bight, by Saladin Ahmed, Rae Carson, Mira Grant, and John Jackson Miller
Alongside Captain Phasma, two final books bring us right up to the minute. Canto Bight is a collection of four stories set on the titular casino world that will (presumably) be a major setting in The Last Jedi. Elizabeth Wein and Phil Noto’s forthcoming Cobalt Squadron, will put a spotlight on Rose Tico, a Resistance technician with a major role in the film. That’s it! You’re right up to the minute with the current Star Wars canon. Now all you have to do is get your tickets, head to the movies, and impress your friends with your Jedi-level preparedness.
What’s your favorite Star Wars tie-in ever?