Thu
Jan 10 2013 11:00am
Where to Begin With Star Wars Books

Where to Begin With Star Wars Books

When I started reading Star Wars books at the tender age of ten-or-so, there weren’t so many that I couldn’t catch up to what was out there. But these days, that’s not entirely true (unless you want to read nothing but Star Wars books for the next few years). So let’s say you’d like to read a Star Wars book, but you come upon this veritable library of titles—where do you begin?

Here are a few fun suggestions based on taste, focus and more. Because everyone should read at least one Star Wars novel in their life.

 

For People Who Need to Know What Happens Right After Return of the Jedi

That would be The Truce at Bakura by Kathy Tyers. It’s actually a pretty interesting followup to the film, in that it proves winning a war does not get you out of civil duties when the inevitable fallout comes. It also allows Leia some closure with Anakin Skywalker that the films never offered her, which is pretty fantastic. Poor Luke let’s us know that Jedi Knight or not, he’s still awfully young, and falls in love with the wrong girl. And Han is his usual charming (read: difficult) self.

 

For People Who Like Short Stories

Pick up the “Tales of” books, written by a host of authors and edited by Kevin J. Anderson. They were started with a trilogy of books that corresponded with key groups in each film—the Mos Eisley Cantina crowd, bounty hunters from Empire, and the extras in Jabba’s palace in Return of the Jedi—and they are the best set, though Tales of the New Republic and Tales of the Empire have some gems in them. (They are edited by others and contain certain Expanded Universe characters as well.) Want to know how Boba Fett escaped the Sarlaac Pit? Why that guy was crying when Jabba’s rancor died? What the real deal was with the cantina band? Everything you’ll ever need to know is right here.

 

For People Who Want More Han Solo

Pick up the Han Solo Trilogy by A. C. Crispin. If you ever wanted to know what childhood was like for the infamous smuggler, or what made him so inclined to hang out with Wookiees, this is where you need to be. It makes sense of the man in a way that no one else has ever attempted, and Crispin’s meticulous backstory shows us how Han’s destiny was always bound to drag him toward a rebellion and one princess all along. Also, take a look at the new Timothy Zahn book Scoundrels, set between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back.

 

For People Who Like Romance

Read The Courtship of Princess Leia by Dave Wolverton. Wait, Star Wars romance? You’re going to have to trust me on this one—it’s one of the craziest Star Wars novels ever written, but it’s also some of the most fun you’ll ever have reading a Star Wars book. It’s got gambling, C-3PO singing, club-wielding Force witches, kidnapping, the works. It’s absolutely not what you’d expect, but after you read it you won’t be able to think of any other way that Han and Leia’s relationship could have progressed towards marriage.

 

For People Who Like Pilots, Humor, and Awesomeness

Check out the Rogue and Wraith Squadron books by Michael A. Stackpole and Aaron Allston. You know all those awesome-seeming pilots that you never get time with in the original trilogy? Want to know what they did to help the Rebellion turn itself into an official government? For people who want to get real quality time in with Wedge Antilles and the gang, look no further. These might be some of the best Star Wars books to hit the shelves, period, in fact. They’re fast, funny, and full of action. There’s drunkenness! Love! Ewok jokes! Need I say more?

 

For People Who Want More Boba Fett

Explore the Bounty Hunter Wars Trilogy by K. W. Jeter. If I had my way, I’d run a little coffee club where people talked about Boba Fett all the time because I love him. He’s my favorite. I’d definitely recommend his stories in the “Tales of” books, and some books in the later, more involved series, but to begin we have this fantastic trilogy that details what Fett does after his supposed “death” at the hands (stomach) of the Sarlaac. These books prove that this is one guy you really don’t ever want to go up against. I shouldn’t say more; you’ll just have to read them.

 

For People Who Want to Know What Happens Between Films

There’s Shadows of the Empire by Steve Perry. Many played this as a video game in the 1990s, but the book offers so much more in terms of intrigue. You’ll find out about the Black Sun, a criminal organization running alongside the Empire, and all that it’s leader—Prince Xizor—had to do with the events that transpired. There’s some interesting windows into Vader’s mind, a look at how Leia feels after losing the man she loves, and the steps taken by the main characters leading up to their actions in Return of the Jedi. This book is so awesome it actually has its own soundtrack. A really good soundtrack. If you want other books set between novels, there’s the aforementioned Scoundrels, and the infamous Splinter of the Mind’s Eye by Alan Dean Foster, which does not fit into canon at all and may unintentionally be one of the funniest Star Wars books ever written. (It’s not the novel’s or author’s fault; it was written before either Empire or Jedi came out.)

 

For People Who Want to Meet the Solo Kids

Pick up The Crystal Star by Vonda N. McIntyre. Some of you might know that Han and Leia had three children—the twins, Jacen and Jaina, and little Anakin. While we meet them briefly in other books, the first time we really get to know the kids is when they are kidnapped by a jerk named Hethrir in this novel. Leia and Chewie get to play rescue ops while Han and Luke go on a mission where they mostly argue. Seeing tiny Solo children is the real treat of the book, and you get to appreciate how difficult it is being kids of some the galaxy’s most famous heroes.

 

For People Who Want More Luke Skywalker and Jedi

Rebuilding the Jedi Order was bound to be a tough task for anyone, but Luke rises to the challenge with some serious calm and poise in the Jedi Academy trilogy by Kevin J. Anderson. The cadre of new students he packs together are nothing to sneer at either, and their first experiences as Jedi pupils certainly attracts some unwanted attention. There are lots of great appearances by new and old characters throughout these books, and that makes them great for any new reader.

 

For People Who Wish Star Wars Was More Like Rebooted Battlestar Galactica

Ever wanted your Star Wars a little grittier? A bit more real? The New Jedi Order series was a massive undertaking involving a foe from another galaxy, the likes of which our heroes had never seen. The war was long, many beloved characters died, and it changed the landscape of the Star Wars Expanded Universe forever. If you’re the sort of person who prefers no punches pulled in your science fiction and fantasy, this series is where you should begin. It’s a divider among fans for sure, but it was a bold move.

 

So that’s a long list for you! I’m sure there are other recommendations out there, and plenty of books that could be swapped out section by section, so sound off and tell me about your favorites! (I’m awaiting the deluge from fans furious that I didn’t include Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy—which I love, of course! It just doesn’t sit in a ready category....)


Emily Asher-Perrin is not quite sure she could have made it through childhood without the help of Star Wars books. You can bug her on Twitter and read more of her work here and elsewhere.

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59 comments
Alan Courchene
1. Majicou
The Thrawn Trilogy readily fits in the category of "Best EU Work." I don't think it's all been bad since then, but it's been hit and miss, to be certain, especially during the Bantam days.
Joe Cohen
2. Joe Cohen
So, the most recent novel recommended is 14 years old (Vector Prime)? Very weak sauce. What about the fantastic Karen Traviss books, which delve into Mandalorian and clone cultures? Shatterpoint, by Matthew Stover, which is Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" with Mace Windu? The recent Fate of the Jedi and Legacy of the Force series, which begin to focus more and more on the next generation of heroes? The just-out Scoundrels, by Tim Zahn, which is an Ocean's Eleven heist story featuring Han Solo and Lando Calrissian?

Some of the books on this list are decent, but some are so far down on the list of SW novels that I'm surprised they showed up...
Natalie Zutter
3. nataliezutter
I love you for writing this post. I'd also forgotten how many of these I've read!

Courtship of Princess Leia might have been my first Star Wars tie-in novel... So many great memories tied in with that one, and I love what they did with Hapes and Dathomir.

Weirdly enough, I read the junior novelization of Shadows of the Empire first, which is mostly the same except it lacks any of the racier stuff. So when I read the "adult" version with the Leia/Xizor subplot, it was jarring for my twelve-year-old self.

I still haven't read any of the "Tales of" collections! I need to get on that.
Ty Margheim
4. alSeen
You seriously told people to start with the Jedi Academy books?

Those were atrocious.

And not listing the books that started it all is simply wrong.

Everyone should start with the Heir to the Empire trilogy. After that you can move on with any of the other ones, but that should be first.
Kate Nepveu
5. katenepveu
In fact I read the Thrawn Trilogy (which starts with _Heir to the Empire_) and then stopped!

But I rather got the impression they were landmarks in the area.
Joe Cohen
6. denari6
No category for the thrawn triology? I would suggest people read this series before they go anywhere else.

*disgruntled*
Margot Virzana
7. LuvURphleb
Emily you are offiicially my new best friend. I started reading star wars books when i was ten- read the jedi apprentice series and all- than graduated to adult star wars when i was 12 and jumped into the new jedi order. (Please, people of tor do not read into the "adult" connotation. Jedi apprentice is a childrens series)
Now if only Tor.com didnt hate me so much
Joe Cohen
8. Taha Iqbal
The Thrawn Trilogy is definitely one of the best places to start... though rogue squadron was awesome too... i really would recommend the clone trooper series for a really different view of the clone wars (one im glad to have because Attack of the clones and the current CGI series has been more or less a miss for me)

plus the new jedi order (yuuzhan vong invasion) is pretty great. thouhgh the best Star wars EU is most definietly "legacy of the force"
William Frank
9. scifantasy
Joe Cohen @2: The SWEU has gotten so snarled in its own continuity that you need to start a ways back. Starting with, say, Fate of the Jedi leaves you going "um, what the hell happened to the universe? It's so different from where I last saw it!" (If where you last saw it was Return of the Jedi, anyway.) Other books, such as Scoundrels, don't serve as introductions to the universe at all, being just standalone or interstitial stories. The problem is that there just isn't a good jumping-on point in the middle anywhere, at least not for books moving forward from Jedi.

(The Traviss conversation is a much larger one, as is any conversation about the prequel time frame.)

Agreed with the commenters who said to start with the Thrawn Trilogy. The reasoning there is that it jump-started the universe. A lot of the other writers either refer back to it or base elements on it. Mara Jade, for example.
Hello There
10. praxisproces
Yeah I gotta say, if this is actually meant for novices in the EU, telling people to start with the unreadable Jedi Academy and not mentioning Thrawn is a little like telling people to start exploring Middle-Earth past LotR with the Bakshi animated movie and not mentioning the Silmarillion. And what about Specter of the Past and Vision of the Future and so forth? I'm terribly excited for Scoundrels.
Joe Cohen
11. Colin R
Wayyyy too much Kevin J. Anderson on this list. Really, most of the 90s Star Wars novels are a bit regrettable, with some notable exceptions. Honestly, I've cooled on Timothy Zahn's work--it's servicable, but the gears of the plot are a bit too obvious. And like most 90s SW authors, he introduces a bunch of characters that are intended to stand as equals to the movie cast, and it never quite pans out--because other authors don't feel comfortable with those characters. Still, of the motley bunch, Zahn's novels are some of the best.

But there are better exceptions. The A.C. Crispin novels are delightful, and they interlace pretty well with the old Brian Daley novels--also not to be missed. The old Lando Calrissian novels that followed the Daley novels are much weirder, and they barely fit the Star Wars universe, but that almost makes them more entertaining. The Black Fleet Crisis books are also pretty good.

The New Jedi Order stuff definitely has its shaky moments--honestly, Vector Prime is not very good. I don't think R.A. Salvatore feels any connection to the material; he was just a hired gun with a big name. It feels jarringly different than the rest of the series. Though, they had a big shift in direction as well after Stackpole left the series (which was fine by me.) There was some good stuff in the NJO series (like Star By Star), but it was overly long and a bit schizophrenic. Things got better in the later series, when they seemed to have things under better control.
Emily Asher-Perrin
12. EmilyAP
Scoundrels is actually on the list, everyone! It's in the Han section and mentioned again with Shadows of the Empire.

@ Everybody - The main reason that Heir to the Empire was left out: For my part, the trilogy is fantastic, but it really is officially the place where the Expanded Universe proves that it is its own thing. If you're just jumping off from the movies, you might want something that blends into the films you recognize. Zahn created something that really was all his own, and most of the more involved aspects of the EU spun off from that. I mean, Mara Jade. 'Nuff said.

@JoeCohen - I'm going with @scifantasy on this one; a lot of the later books that deal with prequel continuity and so forth demand a lot more knowledge than a casual fan would possess, and do not strike me as good jumping off points. I love how Karen Traviss explores Mandalorian culture, but in order to appreciate that, you have to know why you should care about Mandalorian culture, which casual fan might not.

@nataliezutter - Courtship of Princess Leia party! And it's true, if you skip out on that Xizor/Keia bit in Shadows, it seems like an entirely different book. I remember shouting at the pages. :)
Andrew Liptak
13. JediTrilobite
Courtship of Princess Leia? The one where Han drugs Leia and drags her to a planet in an effort to win her back? I don't think that romance is what I'd call that.
Ty Margheim
14. alSeen
That's like saying you should start with Phantom Menace rather than A New Hope.

Or start with Magician's Nephew rather than Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe.

And suggesting anyone start with the Jedi Academy books is just wrong on so many levels.
Joe Cohen
15. Joe Cohen
Scifantasy @9: Granted, continuity is what it is, and yes, the Traviss books make for some spirited debate. And I do apologize, I missed the mention of Scoundrels in the Han Solo Trilogy mention.

Still, you can't simply dismiss out of hand any prequel era books. Like it or not, they're part of the story, and some are good. And no one needs books to introduce them to the universe. The movies do that. That's what makes interstitial or standalone stories, when done correctly, great.

And I do second, third, fourth, eleventy-first everyone's recommendation of the Thrawn Trilogy. Perhaps a bit dated now, but aside from West End Games Star Wars RPG, it was the first real Star Wars content since ROTJ, and the whole reason it continued to become the empire it is, rather than "those three movies that were pretty cool".
Ryan Buller
16. tidfisk
I found Courtship to be ridiculous on many levels. Sure it had it's fun parts, but I never felt the author captured the characters properly. Not to mention some of the ways in which the force is used reminds me of the crap going on in episodes 1-3.

Tales from Mos Eislely, however, is one of my all time favorites. I loved getting to know all those alien characters and watching as all their stories tied into each other. I still feel bad for that poor Jawa.
Joe Cohen
17. Nanci
I'd swap The Truce at Bakura for Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor by Matthew Stover. True, it takes place six months after Return of the Jedi of immediately after, but it is so much better than TaB (which I actually like, but Mindor is absolutely fantastic.) It's also great for fans of Luke Skywalker, and has really fun Leia and Han stuff. I'd even say it's got more romance than The Courtship of Princess Leia, which always struck me as way off, characterization-wise.

@Joe: I reread Heir to the Empire when the 20th anniversary edition was released. Perhaps I'm biased, but it actually holds up really well. It didn't feel dated at all.
Sanctume Spiritstone
18. Sanctume
I've read all those books above, and I do agree with other posted that I started with Heirs of the Empire / Zahn trilogy.

I think after Zahn, I read the Tales from the Mos Eisley and it was nice short read.

I did enjoy some of the Jedi Academy / Young Jedi Knights books.

Anyway, lately, I just borrow audio books from the library and listen instead. There are some SW audio books out there.
Joe Cohen
19. Edgewalker
The Crystal Star is the worst one.
Shelly wb
20. shellywb
I read a Star Wars novel once, the first one that came out after the movie novelizations. It was my last for decades. I have, however, been thinking about trying another.

I think you did a good job here. In jumping into a new fandom with so many authors and subjects, I'm interested in the fandom classics that contain familiar characters. At this point, I don't care about the modern literary novels that explore a minor character I couldn't care less about. Those kinds of stories are (in my experience) more for long-time fans who are bored with the main characters. I appreciate the division by theme, and in fact this is just the kind of advice I have been looking for. Thanks for writing this up!
Joe Cohen
21. Tesh
I, Jedi is a nice look into the Jedi mythos. It depends a bit on some of the other books, but even read by itself, it digs a bit into what it is to be a Jedi, and that's worth reading. ...at least, it's a more interesting take on the Jedi than the absurdity that was in Episodes 1-3. There, the Jedi are just... underwhelming.
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
22. Lisamarie
Wow, I've read every book on this list :) I've been reading SW books since I was in the 8th grade (which was back in 97 I think) - I kind of remember Shadows of the Empire coming out (I have that soundtrack! Hahaha! And it IS surprisingly good! We still listen to it on long car trips sometimes!), I remember the Han Solo trilogy being a big deal when that came out, and I definitely remember NJO coming out.

I actually really enjoy the Jedi Academy Trilogy but I was pretty young when I read it and I love Luke so I loved reading about him and the Jedi. I kind of appreciate the 'campy' books though. I really disliked Crystal Star and it's 'alternate dimension', and I also hated Black Fleet Crisis but I think that's mostly because the character of Akanah pissed me off so much (I was very in love with Luke Skywalker and felt she yanked his chain a bit, hahahahaha).

I LOVE the Stackpole/Allston books though, they are among my favorites, and I have continued to read other books by Stackpole. I also really enjoy the "Tales of" books, even if some of the stories (ie, Boba Fett's) are kind of obsolete now.

Totally agreed with whomever suggested Stover's Shatterpoint. I also REALLY enjoyed his Revenge of the Sith novelization - I want to check out more books by him too, he has kind of a dark edge to his writing.

Even though I am aware of the 'broken base' caused by Traviss's writing I her Republic Commando books are among my favorites - she does give the Jedi a bit of a raw deal (although it's interesting to see another perspective) and the Mandalorians are a bit too puffed up but I really, really enjoy the exploration of the ethics surrounding a clone army.

I have to admit, I'm one of those who feels like things started going a bit downhill with NJO/Legacy of the Force (I haven't read past Legacy of the Force yet). It just got a little too bleak for me and lost the Star Wars 'feel' - even though I might like them in other contexts, I just didn't like them as Star Wars novels. I still read them though, so what does that say. Although it's been a lot harder for me to keep up to speed with all the books now that I have a family! I still try and pick them up at used bookstores while I can though! But a lot of the newer ones I haven't read yet. Really looking forward to Scoundrels though. And really curious as to how the new movies are going to scrap the whole canon I've been so invested in for about 15 years!

My vote for least favorite - Ruins of Dantooine - it was some video game tie in and it totally shows (unlike the aforementioned Republic Commando books which I was very skeptical about but I do think were very well fleshed out).

Thanks for posting, this was a lot of fun :D
Dave Thompson
23. DKT
Good list! Yeah, could've used the Thrawn trilogy, but still, there's a lot to like here, and it's a good overview.

I stopped reading SW books when the New Jedi Order came out, and I haven't regretted that decision at all. From what I've read, the stuff they do to the majority of the EU characters just sucks, and begs to be rebooted, or washed away into some mirror universe or something.

For people who feel like the SW universe has become way too bogged down by it's own continuity: The most recent Star Wars book I've read was Death Troopers. Initially, having zombies in Star Wars sounded like an awful idea, but the book was a lot of fun, and a great place for a disgruntled fan like me to access SW again.

I've also picked up Scoundrels to listen to in audio, and am very excited about the new Luke, Leia, and Han books set between A New Hope and Empire. Hopefully, the SW universe can go back to being fun again.
Joe Cohen
24. Tesh
I'll concede that the NJO is "darker, grittier, edgier"... but that's precisely why I wound up detesting it. It's tonally wrong for the Star Wars mythos. I'm most interested in where the new films will go, and how they will wreak havoc with the novels.
Luke M
25. lmelior
Crispin's Han Solo trilogy was pretty good, but the climax in the third book fell totally flat to me. Han's speech before the battle - particularly the reactions to it - seemed incredibly campy, and soured my outlook on the whole thing.

Of course, I read the Thrawn Trilogy first. It might actually be good that you don't list it, because it could very well ruin the first timer on other EU novels. Admittedly, though, I haven't read the newer stuff. I lost interest a couple novels into NJO and I haven't read anything since. I may have to give Scoundrels a try though.
Chris Nelly
26. Aeryl
I love love love the Thrawn Trilogy. I have no idea why, but it took me forever for me to get into Heir, it wasn't until Luke was held captive and introduced to Mara that the story picked up for me. After that, it took off like a bullet. I remember sitting up all night to read The Last Command in one shot.

I grew up with the burgeoning EU books, so when the NJO hit, just as I was moving into adulthood, it was like the SW books "grew up" for me. The stakes were raised with the death of movie characters that had been hands off previously, the threat was daunting after endless books of the same boring attempts of the Empire to resurrect itself, and the Solo kids were now old enough to be really involved in the adults story in their own right. Another thing in the NJO's favor, is that you begin to follow non-human characters for the first time. For a series that was based so much on standing against the speciesist policies of the Empire, it was really a travesty that the only non-human characters of note were Ackbar and a previously unknown Bothan, and outside of Ackbar's story in Anderson's Academy trilogy, you don't follow stories from their perspectives at all.

Legacy of the Force was the prequels done right, IMO. It followed a beloved hero's descent into the Dark Side and the heartwrenching costs those who loved them paid in their attempts to stop them. It didn't really suffer from the unbelievable machinations that the prequels required to manuever the plot, instead it followed what I considered a natural progression.
Joe Cohen
27. Cybersnark
The Brian Daley Han Solo novels need more exposure, as does the Lando Calrissian trilogy that follows them (and remains the only time poor Lando gets a spotlight to himself).
Joris Meijer
28. jtmeijer
I read a couple of these books. Some of the categories make sense, others (eg Solo Children) don't seem to follow clearly from the movies and might be weird for people not familliar with the EU.

The drawback of the otherwise great Thrawn novels is more that they are a great example of what the universe could have been, as were the X-Wing and Tie-Fighter games. But for that reason probably not the best introduction for new readers.
Brook Freeman
29. LongStrider
The lack of the Timothy Zahn novels (the best SW tie in novels) and the inclusion of the worst adult SW tie in book of all time (Crystal Star) makes this list highly suspect.
Chris Nelly
30. Aeryl
The ONLY thing I liked about Crystal Star was the Leia and Chewie adventure.

But at least this list didn't include the horrific Callista novels, which totally contradict EVERYTHING about how the Force works.
J W
31. Susurrin
I have to say that I am not a fan of the Zahn novels (where everything seems to relate to just how awesome Mara Jade is.)

The best books to me are hands down the X-Wing novels.
Chris Hawks
32. SaltManZ
"Because everyone should read at least one Star Wars novel in their life."

If you only read one SW novel in your life, it should be Stover's Revenge of the Sith novelization, probably the best piece of literature produced by the EU.
Joe Cohen
33. Earlwood Mage
I love most of those, as well as the ROTS novelization by Stover. But the Darth Bane trilogy by Drew Karpyshyn absolutely crushes them. Ditto his two Old Republic novels, Revan and Annihilation. His writing sizzles. I believe he is Robert E. Howard reincarnated. Can't wait for his fantasy series to begin.
Alan Brown
35. AlanBrown
Emily, I read your explaination for leaving the original Zahn trilogy off the list, but I still just think you missed the mark on that decision. Where other 'tie-in' books take characters and situations from the movies and rehash them, the Zahn books took those same things, and did something new and fresh with them, mixing in some very compelling new characters. They were some of the best space opera I ever read. I don't read Star Wars novels any more, but I still pick up every one that Zahn writes.
My second favorite would be the X-Wing books, which were well done, and to be honest, I always enjoyed the space opera aspect of Star Wars better than the Jedi philosophy type stuff. The more the books focused on Jedi powers and philosophy, the more hokey that old religion sounded to me.
And someone mentioned audio books above. I would also mention that there are some quite excellent Star Wars full cast audio dramas out there. The NPR Star Wars radio dramas were the best, and I also very much liked the Dark Forces dramas, which were based on a series of games and graphic novels. There were a number of audio dramas based on Dark Horse comics as well, including Dark Empire and Tales of the Jedi.
Joe Cohen
37. Colin R
Zahn isn't bad, but I don't feel that he's actually very successful at creating new characters. Thrawn and Karrde never felt very real as characters to me--more like authorial proxies. He's guilty of a lot of telling, not showing, I feel--I felt like he told me that Thrawn was dangerous and brilliant, but I was never really convinced that it was so. And that's a problem, because he really wanted his characters to be intellectually challenging rather than physically challenging.

Mara Jade is obviously the exception that proves the rule, since she stuck around and grew as a character. But other authors struggled with what to do with her for several years--it felt like every author wanted to introduce their own Skywalker love interest.

I'd offer a few words of defense for the latter-year SW novels though. The NJO series is uneven, but it has some good material in it. The stuff that grew out of that series is generally a lot better though--the Legacy of the Force novels are excellent at portraying the fall of a good character; they really feel like a response to the shortcomings of the prequel films. It only really falls apart a bit in the end. The Fate of the Jedi series does some nice things with romance I think--something that has often been a weak spot in SW. It is good to see Sith treated as people with comprehensible motives and desires, and it was interesting to see the novel series largely carried by teenagers again.
Joseph Armao
38. joeyesq
For me the answer to this is read anything by Timoth Zahn, Michael Stackpole or Aaron Alston, and then pile the rest of the EU books up and set them on fire because they're objectively terrible.

I HATED Truce at Bakura and Courtship, and if I remember right, Crystal Star was the novel that got me off my "read everything Star Wars" habit for good. I came back to read the book where R.A. Salvatore (roll over text for spoilers) kill Chewie, which reaffirmed that my decision to avoid most things EU was the right one. The vast majority of it is garbage.
Chris Nelly
39. Aeryl
@38 That was a dick move, considering this thread an article are for people looking to read these books, to go and spoil them for a major event that spins off a new series.

And Salvatore didn't make that call either, though thousands of "fans" sent him death threats that made him refuse to work on the rest of the series. Lucas made that call himself when the editors said they needed a major character death to emphasize the risks of the new villains.
Joe Cohen
40. Colin R
I have to say, Chewbacca is an albatross around the neck of any author. What the heck do you do with him when it comes to dialog? Do you write him as incomprehensible to the reader? Then he's essentially an animal, not a person. Do you translate him for the reader? I think some authors did, but then you're running into other problems; it's not what the reader expects, and he doesn't really have a personality or opinions in the films, so how do you characterize him?

I'm pretty sure some novels translated for other wookiees, but not for Chewbacca, so you just get a bunch of stuff like "Chewbacca howled mournfully" or "Chewbacca grunted a question." Super-awkward. It's just one of the things that you can pull off on a film, but you can't in a book. Brian Daley probably dealt with it best, using him for some visual humor--or just keeping him separated from Han so that he didn't have to be dealt with.
Chris Nelly
41. Aeryl
The most common trick I remember reading was having to determine of Chewie's statements by the responses other characters gave.

Which was kinda fun, if you like word puzzles.
Bethany Pratt
42. LiC
I'll preface my post by saying I have read and owned nearly EVERY Star Wars book published before the end of NJO and that shit trilogy that came after it. (Daley's series are the exception, and the shit trilogy is why I quit) I also moderated a SW EU messageboard, and created one of the first, if not THE first, definitive timeline that included the books + comics and is still occasionally updated by my successor.

The Crystal Star is one of the top 5 WORST books in the SW continuum. The awful-ness of the Solo kids' kidnapping (And THIS is why the Noghri are around, people) and that stupid Waru - wtf was that, seriously. Was McIntyre given any guidance at all, or did she just rehash a Star Trek plot. Star Wars was never about the unexplained voodoo/alt reality extraveganza that can and does show up in Star Trek. I've tried talking people back into reading SW, but it rarely works. Sometimes Zahn's stuff can turn people back on to it, but generally unless I have a copy of X-Wing Squadron to immediately give the person after they finished Crystal Star, no. Actually, I think most folks don't finish it.

At the least, Emily, you could recommend the Correllian Trilogy by Roger Allen MacBride. The kids are there with Chewie, Leia, Han and Luke are each having their own adventures, and there's political intrigue, science, and action throughout.

[Oooooo, hey, and if we're going to fill out the 5 worst, lets count trilogies/series by the same authors as 1 book, because God knows I can't decide between the Callista Trilogy (Children of the Jedi, Darksaber, Planet of Twilight) and the Black Fleet Crisis trilogy (Before the Storm, Shield of Lies, Tyrant's Test).]

I also have to agree with @11 Colin. There is waaay too much KJA on that list. I bet you can guess what I think of HIS Star Wars books - OOO, EXPLOSIONS, LETS BLOW STUFF UP. He sacrifices any kind of character development and avoids the tough choices and consequences by 1) amnesia/mind-whiping, and 2) forgive/forget. I'd also like to say that Kyp Durron is all that is WRONG with the Jedi, and thank God that comes back up in the latest series, Legacy of the Force.

Yes, Legacy. I haven't gone out of my way to read it, besides quickly perusing them in bookstores, but it doesn't seem that bad. Del Rey's done a decent job putting the continuum together with these continuous stories, though it's gotta be a pain coordinating the authors. Some things were lost from the Bantam era, but if random authors popping in with voodoo and a new bad guy every book is among them, I'm ok with that. Consistent villains - ok, no. I can't write or say that because Daala's back in Legacy. Nope nope nope.
Joseph Armao
43. joeyesq
@38 Sorry about the spoiler, wasn't thinking in the context of "Where to Begin With Star Wars" when I went off on my mini-rant. No intent to be dickish.
Chris Nelly
44. Aeryl
@43 Happens. It's cool!

@42, I will say they pick up after the "shit trilogy" (which I was not a fan of either). It irritated me how they had to come up with a an unrealistic, Trek like scenario(much like Crystal Star), to neutralize the Jedi in that story. It had some continuity with Tatooine Ghost, which takes place after Courtship and before the Thrawn series, but was an too obscure a reference to make the focal point of a story. The only thing I liked about that "shit trilogy" was how they were able to use Artoo to show Luke and Leia the truth about their mother, once that had been established in the prequels.

Tatooine Ghost itself isn't bad, it worked in some stuff about Shmi and dealt with Leia's fear of having children that might carry Anakin's legacy.
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
45. Lisamarie
@42 - I don't know if this is true or not, but I heard Vonda McIntyre doesn't even like Star Wars that much and just did it because her publisher wanted her to.
Alan Brown
46. AlanBrown
A paying gig is a paying gig--authors have to pay the rent, too.
Merchanter Pride
47. MerchanterPride
I will say this, this survey of the EU reminds me of what I hope for the most out of the new Star Wars era under Disney's control. The EU books have been mostly failures but their virtue was turning all these different intelligences loose in the galaxy and seeing what they could do with it. Zahn's new Scoundrels book is a perfect example: The Sting in space! With Han and Lando as Paul Newman and Robert Redford!

So hopefully Disney will do exactly the same thing. Blow the sides out of the barn and let everything free to wander. I'd love to see a Tarantino-helmed Star Wars project; martial-arts frontier justice in the New Republic. A Scorsese Star Wars, the score all classic rock songs and full of elaborately choreographed tracking shots through the interior of the Falcon? A Paul Thomas Anderson Star Wars, fraught with elusive meaning and profoundly flawed emotionally labile main characters! A Terrence Mallick Star Wars! A Charlie Kaufmann Star Wars! Even a Michael Bay Star Wars! The inn that George built is big enough for everyone.
Zack Twigg
48. zackattack
I apologize if this comes across as a little harsh, I’ve tried to tone it down a bit… Including The Crystal Star and not the Thrawn Trilogy shows exceedingly poor literary judgment. The rationale that it’s not a good place to start because “it really is officially the place where the Expanded Universe proves that it is its own thing” is not only nonsensical but fundamentally flawed. The Thrawn Trilogy kick started the Expanded Universe. It’s a good place to begin because it IS the beginning, or well at least it is a beginning. There are neither beginnings nor endings to the…whoops wrong universe. Emily, how long as it been since you read some of these books? Sometimes things we read as kids don’t hold up well when re-reading as adults. Though I’m fairly certain even a 10-year-old would recognize how awful The Crystal Star was. God, even the Holiday Special looks good compared to it! But to choose a better example, I enjoyed the Jedi Academy Trilogy when I read it as a kid, but I picked it up a few years ago to reread and couldn't finish the first book. Kevin J. Anderson is the Michael Bay of Star Wars books and I agree with others who have noted there is too much of him on this list.
Joe Cohen
49. RegCPA5963
as stated by so many others here you have to read the thrawn trilogy. Not saying you have to start there but get to it early.
Timothy Zahn outdid himself with that one!
Joe Cohen
50. Arnold Corso
Call me nuts, but I like the Black Fleet Crisis books. There's a lot of character development and political thriller. Also, no knowledge of the EU is required, for the most part.

Darth Plagueis is also a really good place to start - it's like the unofficial Episode 0.5 and helps make sense of the prequels.
Chris Nelly
51. Aeryl
Black Fleet wasn't bad taken on its own. It was just the "Empire leaves dangerous weapon-fleet-technology laying around, threatens New Republic" stories were becoming formulaic by that time. And the whole Akanah plotline was distracting. Coming up with shallow nonsensical reasons to get Luke out of the main plot action to prevent resolution to the conflict until the last second was getting kinda tired too. It's not the story itself is bad, it's just that it was symptomatic of all the problems there were with the EU before it went back to Del Ray with the NJO.
Joe Cohen
52. KEs
The Crystal Star was amazing as a kid, because a lot of it focuses on children--as a ~10 y.o. it was amazing. It doesn't hold up well as an adult, but I don't think it's without virtue.

As for no category for Timothy Zahn...I think of them as 'another movie trilogy, but better'. IT just FEELS like the movies for me, from the way they all start with a shot of a star destroyer in space to the cliffhangers and character voices.
Joe Cohen
53. MarissaH
Thank you for this list. My son is five and has a lot of questions about the star wars universe so I thought I would delve into it myself. Also the comments were very informative. The only complaint I don't understand is the ones about certain stories being described as "dated" because shouldn't they all be? After all, from my understanding, it all took place a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...
Joe Cohen
54. jay19323
For people who want to know more about the nature of the Force, the Sith's history and intentions, and what happened right before Episode I, please read: "Darth Plagueis."
Joe Cohen
55. Yeldarb
Also
"Thrawn" trilogy
"Darth bane" trilogy
"Darth Plagueis"
and the first one I ever read which is great "The rise of Darth Vader"
Joe Cohen
56. Dan76
Does anybody know if there's a bridge-episode related book that takes place between Episode 3 (revenge of the sith) & Episode 4 (the New Hope) ??
Joe Cohen
57. chris_johns
NJO is hands down the best series in the EU(besides the original thrawn trilogy which like the rest of you am shocked its not listed)...just becasue its not the lollypop star wars most you want doesnt take away how real and gritty the star wars universe is...Traitor is one of my fav books and it doesnt include any characters except jacen n vergere and ganner towards the end and its EPIC...i reread the whole series a second time recently and was even better then i rem it...i just finished the Legacy of the Force series n wasnt to happy with it i feel it was a forced story lets create another civil war and make a good character go bad(which upset me because he was my fav character) and it was very anticlimatic in the end...unlike the NJO's The Unifying Force
Chris Nelly
58. Aeryl
@57, I agree with you about NJO and Legacy. It still feels like they forced Vergere into this Sith box to turn Jacen evil.
Henry Lightfoot
59. Henry Lightfoot
This list could have been written by me, it's so uncannily close to my own take on this subject. Some of the sentences are exactly what I have thought myself. I find myself wondering if we are the same person, LOL.

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