I think we all recall how we felt the first time we saw the credits roll at the end of Return of the Jedi. It starts with a moment of satisfaction and content as the credits roll. Then, almost without fail, a moment of dread. It’s over! But I’m not ready for it to be over! What do Luke, Han, Leia, and Chewie do next? There has to be more, right? (Ed. note 11/2/12: Ahahahahahahahahah)
Mercifully, there is: the Expanded Universe.
Perhaps you’ve hit up the Internet and have done some preliminary research into the EU, thinking you’ll pick up one of these books to satisfy your hunger for more Star Wars. It seems like a great idea at first, right up until you discover that there are scores upon scores of books, comics, and games featuring different characters and eras. Where do you start?
To preface, this is intended to be a roadmap to becoming familiar with the post-Return of the Jedi EU. This isn’t an official Tosche Station reading guide, just my own suggestions* on what novels will best help a new reader build up the needed knowledge of universe, plots, and characters to understand and appreciate the current state of the Expanded Universe. It is possible to get every bit of information needed from Wookieepedia, but if you’re anything like me, it’s simply more fun and enjoyable to develop this knowledge by reading the novels over reading a dry wiki-style overview.
*But a big, big thank you to my friend Bria for helping me compile this list
Seventeen books comprise this list and are broken into five distinct phases. While that sounds like a lot, it’s a mere drop in the giant Expanded Universe bucket. Some of these novels are optional depending on your preferences and are marked as such.
To the cut!
Phase One: Stepping into the Expanded Universe
- Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn
- Dark Force Rising by Timothy Zahn
- The Last Command by Timothy Zahn
Go to ten fans of the Expanded Universe and at least nine of them will tell you that your first books should be The Thrawn Trilogy by Timothy Zahn.
At first it might seem odd to be starting with a trio of books that take place a few years after the end of Return of the Jedi rather than reading a novel that takes place immediately after the saga ended. Approximately two pages in, you discover why this is the perfect starting point. Just like A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back, the story begins with an Imperial Star Destroyer looming large in the vacuum of space. Right off the bat Zahn crafts a story that matches the tone and themes of the films, a comfortable and familiar place for new readers to start.
The Thrawn Trilogy features one of the most beloved villains in the expanded universe, the titular Grand Admiral Thrawn. The consummate Imperial, Thrawn is the sort of brilliant antagonist that inspires fear through his sheer cunning. More importantly, these books introduces perhaps the most critical and loved character in the Expanded Universe, Mara Jade: a future love interest of Luke Skywalker and a much needed strongly-written female character.
This isn’t to say that these books are just about new characters. It’s still a tale about our heroes Luke, Han, Leia, and Chewie. Characterization for all four are pitch-perfect and will help the reader feel right at home. More importantly, this set of books does a lot of the legwork in describing Luke’s journey to becoming a Jedi Master, establishing a good deal of lore that will become important to the EU down the line. Really though, many words by many people far smarter and far more eloquent than I have made the case for starting with these three books. Suffice to say, there’s wisdom with the majority in this case. The Thrawn Trilogy is exactly where you should start your foray into the Expanded Universe.
As a note, while it isn’t necessary, you should consider picking up the 20th anniversary edition of Heir to the Empire. The annotations are incredibly insightful and entertaining.
Phase Two: Picking off where the films left off
- Truce at Bakura by Kathy Tyers AND/OR
- Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor by Matthew Stover
This is a bit more of an optional phase depending on what direction you wish to go.
While The Thrawn Trilogy was set several years after the conclusion of Return of the Jedi, that doesn’t mark the beginning of the post-films EU. You’re going to want to jump back in the timeline to do more universe building, but the question is how far back do you want to go? If you want to venture to a point just after or close to the ending of the films, read on. If you don’t feel the need to head back to that point, proceed on to Phase Three.
There are two novels that help to bridge the gap between the films and the EU, Truce at Bakrua and Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor. Both of these novels are self-contained adventures that won’t require you to heavily reference any other work. Bakura takes place almost immediately after the credits in Jedi roll and looks into the struggles of the Rebellion as it begins to transform into a government with responsibilities to its people. This is very much a Luke Skywalker adventure with a lot of Han and Leia thrown in. Some minor film characters also make their early marks on the EU, chiefly Wedge Antilles.
Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor is another self-contained, standalone novel that (as the title suggests) is primarily a Luke adventure. Like the aforementioned Bakura, this is another book that deals with the former Rebellion’s efforts to clean up the now scattered Empire. It’s definitely a great tone-setting book for this particular era of the EU, illustrating the infighting that grips the Imperial Remnant and the struggles for the new Galactic government to put out the numerous fires caused by Palpatine’s death. Mindor also fleshes out an element of the New Republic that will feature heavily throughout the EU, Rogue Squadron and its band of merry misfits.
You’ll notice that I’ve said you only need to read one of these novels to bridge to the next phase (though you’re more than welcome to read both). Neither of these books are perfect. Bakura isn’t as strong plot-wise, but Mindor can be tough for some readers. If I had to recommend one over the other, I’d say go with the latter. While there are sections of Mindor that can be very dense, it’s carried by its characterization and plot.
Phase Three: Building the New Republic
- X-Wing: Rogue Squadron by Michael A. Stackpole
- X-Wing: Wedge’s Gamble by Michael A. Stackpole
- X-Wing: The Krytos Trap by Michael A. Stackpole
- X-Wing: The Bacta War by Michael A. Stackplole
- X-Wing: Wraith Squadron by Aaron Allston
- X-Wing: Iron Fist by Aaron Allston
- X-Wing: Solo Command by Aaron Allston
As you’ve no doubt seen the prequel trilogy, you know that Coruscant is the seat of power in the Galaxy. Hub of commerce. Home of intergalactic politics. Yeah, it’s a big frakking deal. Contrary to what the celebration at the end of Jedi led you to believe, the urban planet didn’t fall directly into the Rebellion’s hands after the second Death Star suffered a rather explode-y death. Until they can get their hands on Coruscant, the Rebels won’t be viewed as a legitimate power. That’s where the first four novels of the X-Wing series comes into play.
The first Michael Stackpole written arc in the series heavily features two characters that will be prominent players in the EU moving forward: Wedge Antilles and Corran Horn. The former is being established as one of the premier military minds in the New Republic. The latter is one of the first of a new generation of Jedi that will help to shape the future of the EU. Both are members of Rogue Squadron, the fledgling New Republic’s standout military outfit assigned the impossible mission of wresting Coruscant out of the hands of Ysanne Isard and the Imperial Remnant. The first four books handle the lead-up, takedown, and the aftermath of the New Republic claiming Coruscant and legitimizing their efforts to replace the corrupt Empire.
The second arc written by Aaron Allston dives into the efforts to quell remaining factions of the Imperial Remnant. Once again centered around Wedge Antilles, the next three books in the series focuses on the creation of a hybrid starfighter and intelligence unit tasked with chasing down Warlord Zsinj, a member of the Imperial Remnant bent on wreaking havoc on the thinly-stretched New Republic. This arc does a wonderful job highlighting Antilles’ tactical genius. Once again, characters that will be important later in the Expanded Universe are introduced for the first time and developed. The second arc also has the distinction of featuring a fair amount of Han Solo, delving into his head and showing how he’s progressed from the films.
It’s easy to dismiss the X-Wing novels for not heavily featuring the Big Three from the films and focusing on seemingly minor characters. Skipping over them, however, would be a mistake. A tremendous amount of universe building occurs within these seven books. Important locales, plots, and characters that will feature in later EU novels are introduced and developed. From a literary perspective, they strike a solid balance of action and plot/characterization, making for an overall fun and engaging set of books.
Phase Four: Fleshing out the Characters and Establishing the Jedi Order
- Courtship of Princess Leia by Dave Wolverton
- I, Jedi by Michael A. Stackpole
- X-Wing: Isard’s Revenge by Michael A. Stackpole
- X-Wing: Starfighters of Adumar by Aaron Allston
Four books taking place directly after the last phase tie up loose ends, flesh out characterization, and introduce Luke Skywalker’s young Jedi Order.
Courtship of Princess Leia is … interesting. Dunc over at ClubJade gets credit for this, but it’s best if you go into that expecting a Bollywood Musical. In that light, it’s a rather fun and whimsical book. On a more serious note, Courtship does introduce a few key cultures and one world in particular that appear throughout the EU. More importantly, however, is it covers how Han finally got Leia to say “I do.”
I, Jedi is a pretty vital book in terms of understanding how Luke Skywalker’s Jedi Order operates. It’s also rather interesting in that it’s told in the first-person perspective. Whose perspective might that be? One Corran Horn, the fledgling Corellian-born Jedi we met in the first four X-Wing novels. Admittedly, this is a quick crash-course into the operations and people present at the Jedi Academy on Yavin IV, but it provides a surprising amount of background and insight into what will eventually become the New Jedi Order. Key Jedi are introduced and fleshed out. If nothing else, this one is a solid choice to pick up because it provides more insight into Corran himself, a very important presence in the later Expanded Universe.
With X-Wing: Isard’s Revenge, we’ve finally caught up to The Thrawn Trilogy. While this novel doesn’t have a tremendous impact on the EU, it does wrap up the initial four-book Rogue Squadron arc and resolves a few dangling plotlines. It’s a solid adventure that details more of how the New Republic military operates. The book you will definitely want to read, however, is the ninth entry in the series, Aaron Allston’s Starfighters of Adumar.
Adumar is regarded by many fans as being one of the finest entries into the EU (second-best novel according to TFN Literature’s all-time book rankings). The best way to describe this novel is an understated but enjoyable and humorous character study on Wedge Antilles, another character that will play a vital role in the later Expanded Universe.
Phase Five: Bridging to the New Jedi Order
- Specter of the Past by Timothy Zahn
- Vision of the Future by Timothy Zahn
Finally, we close the book on the Galactic Civil War as Timothy Zahn returns to pen the Hand of Thrawn duology.
At this point we’ve ventured to nineteen years after the Battle of Yavin. Luke Skywalker’s Jedi Academy has been established and flourishes with young Padawans and trained Jedi knights. Specter of the Past and Vision of the Future beautifully match the tone and grandeur of the films, much luck The Thrawn Trilogy that preceded it. Designed to serve as the end of an era, these books wrap up several loose ends during the Bantam Spectra publishing contract before handing the franchise off to Del Rey and the New Jedi Order.
Hand of Thrawn is another Big Three adventure that brings back fan favorite Mara Jade for one last showdown with the crumbling Imperial Remnant. As expected from a Zahn novel, the heroes from the films shine as well as other characters that have been introduced throughout the EU to this point. In a way, it’s the culmination of this era of the EU and the birth of a new one all together. One could easily put down Vision of the Future, never pick up another EU novel, and be thoroughly satisfied with the experience.
It’s closure on the era and one of the lingering romantic subplots that has been around since The Thrawn Trilogy debuted. All of the players, locales, and relationships are in place to jump into the next era.
Where to go from here?
At this point, you’re set to jump into the New Jedi Order. You’ve met most of the characters and locales you’ll see moving forward and have familiarized yourself with the Post-RotJ universe. If you want to see where things go from here, start with Vector Prime and begin your journey through the 21-book NJO series.
But perhaps you still want to play a bit more in this fifteen-year era? What else can you read? A few suggestions:
Tatooine Ghost by Troy Denning – A deeper look at Leia Organa Solo that takes place shortly after her marriage to Han in Courtship of Princess Leia.
The Jedi Academy Trilogy by Kevin J. Anderson – A more in-depth take on characters that will feature prominently in the New Jedi Order and beyond, such as Kyp Durron, the Solo children, and Natasi Daala.
Young Jedi Knights by Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta – Another look at the younger members of Luke Skywalker’s Jedi Academy. This is a young-adult series, but is worth considering if you want to know more about the Solo children and their friends who will become very important in the NJO
Survivor’s Quest by Timothy Zahn – Notable for tying the prequel era into the post-RotJ Expanded Universe. Features a lot of Luke Skywalker and Mara Jade.