Last time around, we shamelessly ripped off io9’s piece and discussed our own list of the 12 Worst Things in the Expanded Universe. After that, you may be surprised to find out that we actually do love the EU. Dearly. That’s why we couldn’t quite neck this list down to an identical twelve selections.
Without further ado, our list (in no particular order) of the fifteen best things the Expanded Universe has to offer. To the jump!
1. Kick-ass Ladies
Mara Jade, Jaina Solo, Mirax Terrik, Iella Wessiri, Tyria Sarkin, Tenel Ka Djo, Winter…the list goes on and on. The EU gave us a lot more capable ladies than just Leia, although the EU did great things with her, too. It’s arguable that this is an area where the Expanded Universe has excelled and the films have perhaps faltered a bit. The books helped to diversify the character pool and showed that female characters can and will work in this universe. Perhaps a lesson for future films to learn?
2. Fleshing out Background Characters
Wedge Antilles got an entire series. Prequel Jedi got comics and books. The Star Wars universe is an awfully big sandbox and the attention these seemingly minor characters have gotten over the years has done a wonderful job showing fans that there are an endless amount of compelling stories to tell.
Without the EU, we’d hardly know anything about these diverse, awesome characters.
3. The Thrawn Trilogy and Hand of Thrawn
Timothy Zahn started and ended the Bantam era, and gave us a fabulous expanded universe. Other authors were brought in to play in the era, creating Rogue and Wraith Squadrons, a Jedi Academy, and countless other galactic crises. Basically, these books created the post-RoTJ universe and made sure it continued in an awesome manner.
We can’t mention these books without mentioning the characters. Zahn created Mara Jade, Talon Karrde, Thrawn, Garm Bel Iblis, Winter, Shada D’ukal, Gilad Pellaeon, Jorus C’baoth, Joruus C’baoth, Jorj Car’das, Ghent…I know I’m forgetting people, but that’s just how many awesome characters Zahn brought into the universe. We can’t thank him enough for populating Star Wars with such great personalities (that other authors decided was a smart idea to kill off or forget completely).
And, it goes without saying: these books rock. Go read them if you haven’t. Right now.
4. The X-Wing Series
They’re ten of the best books in the Expanded Universe and they will always top our list of favorite EU books. If you need specifics about why this series is one of the crowning achievements in the EU, just check out the retrospective we ran last year. The characters are great, the plots are compelling, and they capture the flavor of Star Wars that we love so very much. Action, adventure, drama, and even romance are all contained within the pages of these novels. Sounds like the perfect fit for the Star Wars mythos, doesn’t it?
5.Thoroughly Diverse Imperials
Thrawn, Isard, Daala, Pellaeon, Baron Fel, Jagged Fel, Phennir, Rogriss – they’re not just evil Sith. Some of them are actually upstanding human beings we want to root for. In the Expanded Universe, many of the “bad guys” are fully realized characters with personality, motivation, and goals. Even if they’re on the other side of the war and fighting against the heroes, they’re relatable and extremely compelling. Imagine that!
6 Visiting New Planets
We may love to poke fun at the Bollywood musical of the Star Wars, but it did gives us both Dathomir and Hapes: two planets unlike anything we’d seen in the films. Introducing new planets is one of the best things about the Star Wars movies, and it’s always great when an author can take us to a new setting and make us feel like we’re really there. (Is this the part where we point out that we’ve only seen Corellia in the EU, and what a crying shame that is? Not to mention Alderaan. Why hasn’t there been a book set on Alderaan?)
7. Exploring New Eras
The EU started out with just the time period after Return of the Jedi. Then we got the Tales of the Jedi comics. Then we got prequel books. Then we moved further out in the timeline. We also got Knights of the Old Republic, Legacy, Dawn of the Jedi, The Old Republic, Knight Errant, Darth Bane…you get the point. Without the EU, we really wouldn’t know much at all about the history of the Galaxy Far, Far Away.
8. Bettering the Star Wars Prequels
No matter what your opinion on the movies, you can’t deny that Darth Plagueis makes them ten times better. Everything makes so much more sense once you read James Luceno’s take. On top of that, you have Matthew Stover’s novelization of Revenge of the Sith which takes that story to a whole new level. We dare you to try and read through that book without shedding a few tears.*
*Many tears. Rivers of tears.
9. Mara Jade
Duh. Of course she’s on our list. And if she’s not on yours, you’re wrong. (Just kidding. Maybe.) Mara is the epitome of what the EU is capable of: creating great characters that exist wonderfully on their own, and also interact so well with the movie characters that you swear they were in the movies. (Mara was just offscreen in RotJ! Stop looking!) She’s strong, has flaws, evolves as a character, puts Luke in his place countless times and listens to him when he tells her to cut the crap. Is there any wonder they’re the best couple in the EU? She’s a great character on her own. She wasn’t some love interest waiting around for something to do.
The EU is not the same without her.
10. Pet Mookas
If you don’t understand, go read the Jedi Prince series. Actually, no, don’t. Save yourselves! (But Nanci still wants a pet mooka.)
11. Heartwrenching Deaths
“None shall pass.” Ton Phanan’s organic eye staring at the sky. Piggy shooting Runt as a mercy kill. When the EU does death well, oh boy howdy does it do it well. Some of these losses stick out in our minds just as much as deaths in the films. Even though they occurred on page instead of on the silver screen, they pack the same emotional punch to give these moments just as much staying power.
12. Showing That There’s More to the Universe than Jedi and Sith
We love Jedi and we love Sith. But we also love pilots and smugglers and politicians. You know, exactly what Luke, Han, and Leia were in the Original Trilogy. When everyone is Force sensitive, the world can be very, very boring.
But when you start writing stories that feature pilots, commandos, smugglers, politicians, and even news journalists? The universe takes on a new life and becomes somehow more grand and exciting place. There is something to be said for how the Expanded Universe has demonstrated that you don’t have to have a connection to the Force to be a hero. Anyone can make a huge difference when they summon enough bravery and decide they need to get a tough and dangerous job done.
13. Reference Books Galore
The Essential Atlas is one of Nanci’s favorite pieces of Star Wars merchandise. There’s also the Essential Guide to Warfare, the Essential Guide to Characters (several versions), the Jedi Path, the Book of Sith, the Haynes Millennium Falcon manual. And we can’t forget the Essential Readers Companion by Pablo Hidalgo, which every EU fan should own and read cover to cover. Basically, there’s a reference book for everyone out there. And they contain very pretty pictures.
14. Waru Loves You!
Yes, he does. He especially loves Bria. All glory to Waru.
(Why did we include this? Because the EU gives us some pretty weird shit and if we can’t make fun of it, we’ll go crazy.)
15. Keeping Star Wars Alive
It’s easy to forget, but there was a period after Return of the Jedi hit theaters that Star Wars was, for all intents and purposes, dead. You could sometimes get VHS releases, toys, and the occasional Marvel comic or tie-in novel of questionable quality, but that was it. The franchise was stagnant and interest had heavily waned because there wasn’t much in the way of meaningful new content being delivered to a dwindling fanbase.
Then Heir to the Empire was released and the modern Expanded Universe was born. The book revitalized the fanbase and kicked off a new era of original Star Wars content that expanded the franchise through the prequels and beyond.