With the recent reveal of the Star Wars: The High Republic mixed-media series, now seems like a great time to look back on the novelizations, stand alones, and book series that have been an integral part of building the rich and expansive universe that we know and love today.
The first Star Wars novelization was released six months following the premiere of Star Wars: A New Hope. Ghostwritten by Alan Dean Foster, but credited to George Lucas, Star Wars: From The Adventures of Luke Skywalker was the first venture into worldbuilding beyond the cinematic universe.
Over the course of forty-three years, nearly five hundred books have been added to the Jedi Archives, uh — I mean the Star Wars library. In 2014, almost four hundred of these novels were decanonized by Lucasfilm to refocus the canon around The Walt Disney Company’s restructuring of the franchise.
The Expanded Universe was rebranded as Star Wars Legends, but it was far from forgotten by its fans or the authors of the new canon novels.
The Ten Best Star Wars Legends Books
Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn (1991)
Set five years following The Return of the Jedi, Zahn kickstarted the Expanded Universe with an enthralling story that followed the continuing adventures of Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and Han Solo. Grand Admiral Thrawn attempts to track down a pregnant Princess Leia, while Luke Skywalker faces off with the smuggler Mara Jade (who just so happens to be the former Emperor’s Hand).
It is by far one of the best stories in the Expanded Universe.
The Han Solo Adventures (Trilogy) by Brian Daley (1979-1980)
Daley’s series recently returned to Star Wars discourse after High Republic author Cavan Scott tweeted out his current reference material for another project.
The trilogy follows Han Solo and Chewbacca through their days as smugglers in the capitalistic Corporate Sector, as they uncover a slaving ring, rescue kidnap victims, and face-off with a religious cult.
If you loved Solo: A Star Wars Story, you’ll love this trilogy.
The New Jedi Order: Vector Prime by R. A. Salvatore (1999)
Set twenty-one years following the destruction of the Death Star, Salvatore did the unthinkable in Vector Prime. Sanctioned by George Lucas himself, the character death depicted in this novel is the only original series character to die in the Expanded Universe.
It is the first novel in a nineteen-book series entitled The New Jedi Order. While this novel sacrificed the life of a beloved character, it also introduced the villainous race of the Yuuzhan Vong.
The original trilogy characters are paired off with the younger generation (the Solo children) throughout the novel, before converging at the crux of a devastating battle.
Star by Star by Troy Denning (2002)
The Yuuzhan Vong continue their ruthless campaign throughout the galaxy, leading Anakin Solo to concoct a dangerous plan to thwart their attacks. Denning’s novel delved a devastating blow for the Solo family as their youngest son Anakin Solo sacrificed his life to buy time for the rest of the team to kill the voxyn queen and escape from the Vong.
This is a book filled with death and destruction, and it proves to be a real page-turner.
Dark Journey by Elaine Cunningham (2002)
If you love Jaina Solo, then the tenth novel in The New Jedi Order series is the one for you. Dark Journey follows Jaina as she struggles with despair and her need for revenge following the death of her brother Anakin Solo and the Vong’s capture of her twin Jacen.
They retreat to the Hapes Cluster, where they encounter the grieving Teneniel Djo and the familial struggles of the Hapes. The Former Queen Mother attempts to arrange a marriage between Jaina and Prince Isolder — an offer Jaina rejects.
Enemy Lines (Duology) by Aaron Allston (2002)
This pair of novels can easily be read as a singular story. It follows Luke and Mara Jade Skywalker, Han and Leia Solo, Lando Calrissian, Wedge Antilles, and Jaina Solo as they respond to the Yuuzhan Vong’s capture of Coruscant.
Wedge is a stand-out character throughout this novel, and I believe this characterization is one of the reasons that he remains a beloved minor character. The rebellion’s determined efforts lead them to a victorious battle on Borealis, though the Vong are far from defeated.
Shadows of the Empire by Steve Perry (1996)
This novel was Perry’s contribution towards the ambitious mixed-media series (also called Shadows of the Empire) created by Lucasfilm in 1996. The series included both a novel and junior novelization, a comic book series, a video game, action figures, a soundtrack, trading cards, role-playing games, posters, and so much more.
Set between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, the novel introduced readers to the Black Sun criminal overlord, Prince Xizor, whose primary motivation is to seek vengeance against Darth Vader. He does that by plotting to murder Luke Skywalker once his heritage is revealed. It’s a brilliant book that can be read as a stand-alone or as part of the mixed-media experience.
Survivor’s Quest by Timothy Zahn (2004)
Three years following the marriage of Luke Skywalker to Mara Jade, the couple struggles to balance their marriage and their duties as Jedi. Led by an urgent transmission, they journey together on a quest to locate the remains of the Outbound Flight expedition, which had been destroyed by Grand Admiral Thrawn on the planet of Niruan decades ago.
Expecting to find a graveyard of destroyed Dreadnought ships, they are surprised to find intact vessels and signs of life among them. Luke and Mara Jade come up against the vicious Vagaari to rescue the survivors of the errant Outbound Flight project. If you love Mara Jade and Luke Skywalker — this is the novel for you. They are at their best when they’re working together.
Black Fleet Crisis (Trilogy) by Michael P. Kube-McDowell (1996-1998)
Sixteen years following the end of the Original Trilogy, Kube-McDowell’s novel picks up with an era of peace for the New Republic. This trilogy of novels sits somewhat outside of the canon of The New Jedi Order and X-Wing series and provides a slightly different approach to the beloved heroes of the universe.
Chewbacca returns to Kashyyyk to be with his son; Luke works towards higher Jedi enlightenment in a self-built hermitage on Coruscant. Unlike other novels that focus on the characters and their arcs, this series is more focused on political and military plots.
The story follows the genocidal campaign of former Imperial slaves, referred to as Yevethan forces, as they seek to conquer the Koornacht Cluster.
This story deviates drastically from what we know about Luke and Leia’s mother, Padmé, thanks to the prequel trilogy, as Luke travels to the planet Fallanassi to learn more about his mother’s homeworld. Overall the trilogy makes for a great Star Wars story.
Wedge’s Gamble by Michael A. Stackpole (1996)
Wedge Antilles and his X-Wing pilots, the Rogue Squadron, plan to infiltrate the Imperial High Command controlled Coruscant. Still, first, they free the imprisoned Black Suns criminals in hopes of bringing down the Empire.
The story is a race against time for the rebels as they work to take down the planetary shields protecting Coruscant. In the process, allies are lost, and a traitor is discovered among their ranks.
It’s the second novel in a ten-part series and proves to be a fast-paced read.
The Ten Best Star Wars Canon Books
The Last Jedi by Jason Fry (2018)
Of the three novelizations included in the Sequel Trilogy era, Fry’s work stands out. He masterfully adapted Rian Johnson’s screenplay, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and shed new light on aspects that may have been lost to the casual viewer.
The book provides readers with a look inside the heads and hearts of nearly every character seen in the movie — which genuinely enriches the story.
Star Wars: Bloodline by Claudia Grey (2016)
The novel delves into the ramifications of Senator Leia Organa’s heritage, as trusted allies turn against her at the revelation that she is Darth Vader’s daughter.
Grey delivers an incredibly poignant look into Leia’s psyche throughout this ordeal as well as how she handles balancing being a mother and a senator.
Star Wars: Resistance Reborn by Rebecca Roanhorse (2019)
If you were not overly thrilled with the dynamics between Finn and Poe in The Rise of Skywalker or were hoping to read more about Leia’s last days with the Resistance, this novel is a surefire favorite. Roanhorse truly knows these characters inside and out, and she brings a fresh, exciting adventure to bridge the gap between the Battle of Crait and the Resistance’s base on Ajan Kloss.
Leia works diligently to rally the forces after their defeat at Crait, which brings the familiar Inferno Squadron members, Shriv Suurgav and Zay Versio, into the picture. An interesting element of the novel is the recruitment of defecting Imperial forces that are welcomed into the Resistance. Overall the stakes are low in the story, but it still manages to deliver a memorable read.
Last Shot (Star Wars): A Han and Lando Novel by Daniel José Older (2018)
Created as a tie-in to Solo: A Star Wars Story, Older’s novel covers five storylines told in five parts with a mix of flashbacks between Han Solo and Lando Calrissian as they face a new threat by an old foe.
It also covers aspects of Han’s marriage to Leia, as well as his relationship with his young son, Ben Solo — which helps readers understand how things fell apart by the time The Force Awakens occurs. If you loved Daley’s Legends series about Han Solo, you’ll love Older’s novel.
Star Wars: The Aftermath Trilogy by Chuck Wendig (2016-2017)
The trilogy expands the extensive period between the end of Return of the Jedi and the start of The Force Awakens. Wendig introduces readers to Norra Wexley and her teenage son Snap Wexley (later seen on screen) and delivers an engaging storyline for Wedge Antilles.
The story follows the New Republic as they work towards defeating the remaining members of the Empire. This series also introduces Emperor Palpatine’s Observatory on Jakku — an exciting piece of foreshadowing for The Rise of Skywalker.
Star Wars: Thrawn by Timothy Zahn (2017)
The first in a series of three novels, Zahn returns to Star Wars and reintroduces Grand Admiral Thrawn to the Star Wars canon. The story begins with the exile of the Chriss warrior, Mitth’raw’nuruodo (Thrawn), and follows his path to the Empire alongside Imperial Cadet Eli.
Thrawn offers to serve Emperor Palpatine in order to protect his people. Throughout the novel, Thrawn’s calculated tenacity allows him to climb the ranks within the Empire, ultimately rising to the position of Grand Admiral. Thrawn is a fan-favorite, and this series is just the beginning of his storyline.
Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel by James Luceno (2016)
If you watched Rogue One and wanted to know more about Orson Krennic or Galen Erso, this is the novel for you. It covers Erso’s research into the energy kyber crystals under the Celestial Power project and follows his concerns as he realizes his research might be used for something devastating.
It’s an interesting approach to members of the Empire and shows the duality among the ranks and the inner confliction at the advent of the Star Destroyer. Familiar faces like Tarkin and Saw Gerrera also appear in this novel.
Battlefront II: Inferno Squad by Christie Golden (2017)
Golden’s novel follows the members of the Empire’s elite team of soldiers, the Inferno Squad, as they deal with the ramifications of the theft of the Death Star plans. The central characters, Lieutenant Iden Versio, Lieutenant Junior Grade Gideon Hask, and Lieutenant Commander Del Meeko, are all featured in the EA Game’s Star Wars: Battlefront II.
Versio and her team are tasked with eradicating the remaining members of Saw Gerrera’s Partisans, newly reformed as a terrorist cell known as the Dreamers. Gideon and Del infiltrate the Dreamers, while Iden is arrested for alleged sedition after intentionally revealing her disillusionment towards the Empire — which leads to the Dreamers rescuing her.
It’s not often that we get to see how members of the Empire fully believe that their actions are the right actions, and this novel delivers.
Alphabet Squadron by Alexander Freed (2019)
The first of a trilogy of novels focused on a group of New Republic pilots. The series crosses over with Marvel comic series Star Wars: TIE Fighters and has a forthcoming sequel novel Shadow Fall arriving in June. The book explores the costs of war in the wake of the Battle of Endor as it follows Yrica Quell, an Imperial defector.
Freed introduces readers to a colorful group of pilots (featuring X-Wings, U-Wings, and Y-Wings) who react with different degrees of suspicion when Yrica joins the squadron. It’s a compelling piece of fiction that is rooted heavily in the military aspects of Star Wars and strongly reminiscent of the 1990s X-Wing series.
Star Wars: Ahsoka by E.K. Johnston (2016)
Dave Filoni created Ahsoka Tano for the animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and she quickly grew into one of the most beloved characters from the Prequel Trilogy era. The young adult novel starts with Ahsoka during the Siege of Mandalore and explains how she came to adopt the pseudonym Ashla after fleeing to the remote Outer Rim Moon, Raada.
In the shadow of the growing threat of the Galactic Empire, Ahsoka works alongside Bail Organa and the Rebellion to evacuate the at-risk villages on Raada. Obi-Wan Kenobi also appears in this novel and struggles with the grief of Anakin’s betrayal as he remains in hiding on Tatooine. Overall it’s a great novel exploring an aspect of Ashoka’s life that had yet to be explored.
The final season of The Clone Wars is currently airing on Disney+.
Choose Your Adventure
While we endure the post-The Rise of Skywalker world, there is an entire galaxy’s worth of Star Wars novels out there to read.
Check out your local library or used bookstore and track down some of the older Legends books or jump on Amazon and pre-order the new The High Republic series.
Choose your own adventure, and as always, may the Force be with you.