The Expanded Universe has been a part of Star Wars for almost as long as the movies have, starting with Alan Dean Foster’s novel Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, which was published in 1978 and was originally conceived as a low-budget continuation of A New Hope had the movie flopped. But Foster’s Luke and Leia adventure isn’t actually the first Star Wars book. Star Wars has existed longer on the page than on the big screen. Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker, the official novelization of A New Hope, was published in 1976, six months before the release of the movie (a move that’s hard to fathom by today’s spoiler culture).
Since the release of the first two Star Wars books, the galaxy far, far away has continued to grow on the page. From the early ’90s on, novels that expand the adventures of Luke, Han, Leia, and other heroes and villains have been a staple of Star Wars storytelling and have given us beloved new corners of the galaxy to obsess over. Today, these books and stories remain a great way to learn more about the worlds and characters seen in the movies.
When Disney traded the older Expanded Universe books (now known as the Legends continuity) for a new canon in 2014, it opened up a host of new possibilities. Years later, there are plenty of canon books giving us new ways to experience the Sequel Trilogy and beyond.
With The Rise of Skywalker on the way, concluding the nine-movie Skywalker Saga, it’s a good time to take a look at the book adventures that allows fans to spend more time in the galaxy far, far away. You’ll find that there are plenty of books to discover outside of the movies.
Below are our picks of the best Star Wars books—from both the Legends timeline and current canon. The books are listed in alphabetical order. Here’s what you should read:
By Chuck Wendig
Aftermath is remarkable for both Chuck Wendig’s all-in writing style and for its place in canon. The beginning of the new canon’s first book trilogy, it follows mostly original characters and a teenage Temmin “Snap” Wexley, the X-Wing pilot played by Greg Grunberg in The Force Awakens. Because it’s the first book in a series, Aftermath has room for cameos from major characters and a wide look at the state of the New Republic after the fall of the Empire.
Information from this series continues to reverberate through later stories, especially ones involving the final defeat of the Emperor’s forces and their reorganization into the First Order. While it isn’t the first book to feature Imperial Grand Admiral Rae Sloane, it does establish the fan favorite’s career as a key part of the post-Galactic Civil War galaxy.
By E.K. Johnston
This standalone novel lands on the list for several reasons. Most simply, Ahsoka Tano is a fan favorite both out in the world and behind the scenes. Originally appearing in The Clone Wars as Anakin Skywalker’s Jedi apprentice, she returned in Star Wars Rebels and has appeared in a multitude of tie-in media.
Ahsoka by E.k. Johnston gives her a lot more interiority than the animated series. It also has a little bit for everybody: Prequel fans will see how Ahsoka feels about losing her friendship with Anakin and Obi-Wan, and Original Trilogy fans will get a look into how she began working with (but not within) the early Rebellion.
By Alexander Freed
Another ensemble story, Alphabet Squadron focuses around Imperial defector turned X-Wing pilot Yrica Quell. The five pilots who make up “Alphabet” are full of personality, and their often prickly getting-to-know-each-other period is facilitated by an unlikely therapist: a torture droid. IT-O the ex-Imperial droid perfectly encapsulates the book’s mix of ruthless war and wry humor.
This book doesn’t feel like a heroes vs. villains myth like the Original Trilogy did; instead, this is a more muted war story. Its emphasis on the uncertainty and randomness of war doesn’t stop it from also working as a vivid adventure story.
Battlefront: Twilight Company
By Alexander Freed
Even if you haven’t played the Battlefront video games, you might find something to enjoy in Twilight Company, which emphasizes the war in Star Wars. Infantry soldier Namir is used to fighting—he comes from a planet ruled by warring clans—but he sees the Rebellion as just a means to a paycheck.
Namir hovers around the edge of famous events like the Battle of Hoth. If you ever wanted an everyman perspective on the Galactic Civil War, you can get that from Namir and his crew. And along the way, he finds why the Rebellion might be something worth fighting for.
Battlefront II: Inferno Squad
By Christie Golden
While both Battlefront novels are worthwhile reads, Inferno Squad benefits more from the game’s story campaign. Iden Versio will eventually leave the Empire to join the Rebellion after the Battle of Endor, but before that, she’s Imperial through-and-through.
The main strength of this book is the characterization: Iden, Del, and the rest of her squad are endearing and entertaining characters thrown into situations ranging from a firefight to a fancy party. It’s an adventurous book driven by memorable characters — we won’t soon forget the image of the team toasting to the Empire’s health with Alderaanian wine — made all the better by knowing that Iden will eventually up seeing the error of her ways.
By Claudia Gray
In terms of Star Wars books, quality isn’t really dictated by how closely they follow or connect to the movies. Many of the most interesting stories are entirely or mostly separate from the movies. However, Bloodline has connection as its main distinction for a few notable reasons: first, it is one of the few books that deal with the Solo family before the Sequel Trilogy and after the Original, and second, it gives Leia the clear-eyed attention which few authors give her. It also shows how the new canon deals with Leia’s relationship to Darth Vader. All of that makes for a compelling story about the political machinations of the New Republic and how they impact the Solo family, including Ben.
By Justina Ireland
Some of the best new canon books cater to middle grade and young adult readers. Lando’s Luck captures the titular character’s voice perfectly, and you’ll find yourself laughing out loud at the dialogue between the charming rogue ad his droid co-pilot L3-37.
After being criminally underused in Solo: A Star Wars Story, it’s nice to see L3 get a larger part here, as well as a more tonally even relationship with her co-pilot. She and Lando are tasked with helping a young princess return a captured treasure to her planet, a perfectly pulpy plot for Star Wars and especially this duo of adventurers.
By Claudia Gray
Lost Stars, described as a Romeo and Juliet story in space, it could have been a dull grab at the YA romance market. Instead, it’s a detailed look at some unlikely characters—an Alderaanian who joined the Empire, the wealthy city boy who joins the Rebellion, and the honor-bound pilot who flies a TIE fighter. Protagonists Thane and Ciena are two of the most memorable characters in the new canon, and the conclusion of the novel, which is set during the Battle of Jakku, will leave you breathless.
By E.K. Johnston
Queen’s Shadow looks at Padmé Amidala in a new way, and is a story long overdue. We learn how Padmé and her handmaidens, written as Naboo bodyguards, wear elaborate costumes that hide military-quality defenses and enable them to do their jobs more effectively. The handmaidens are sometimes written as one swirling, ghostly being, moving around Padmé as a unit. At the same time, each character is fleshed out. Padmé herself is treated as both a heroic figure and a tragic one, her death an inevitable shadow as Palpatine’s machinations crush what was left of the Republic.
The Weapon of a Jedi
By Jason Fry
Another stand-out middle grade book, The Weapon of a Jedi is a tightly focused Luke Skywalker adventure that feels like it could be a missing movie or TV show. It’s a relatively simple story — Luke visits an ancient Jedi Temple, meets a friend, and fights a strange alien smuggler while exploring the temple. Hidden within that simplicity is a story that shows Luke’s development and his better understanding of the Force. His characterization as kind and earnest fits him perfectly.
Heir to the Empire
By Timothy Zahn
The Thrawn Trilogy is arguably the most formative series in the Expanded Universe. The first book, Heir to the Empire, was published in 1991 and was marketed as a continuation of the movie saga. Of all of the Legends books, it perhaps captures the feeling of watching a big-screen spectacle the most.
The book features a cinematic storyline that continues the hero trio’s adventures and establishes keystone EU plot elements like Talon Karrde’s network of smugglers and Leia and Han’s marriage. It also introduces Mara Jade, the Force-sensitive woman who used to be the Emperor’s Hand (an elite Imperial assassin) and would later become a powerful Jedi. Even though she’s now working as a smuggler, she finds herself on a collision course with Luke Skywalker, as a shadowy new Imperial commander threatens the New Republic.
Instead of standing out because it does something different with the universe, Timothy Zahn’s trilogy is essential because, for many fans, it felt just like the movies. Grand Admiral Thrawn is also one of the few Legends characters who survived the continuity reset. He not only appears as a major villain in the latter half of Star Wars Rebels but also stars in a new series of novels written by Zahn.
By Jude Watson and Dave Wolverton
We’re cheating a little here since we’re recommending an entire series of 18 books here, but you should read them all! Like the X-Wing series, the Jedi Apprentice series is a classic that established the tone and format for an entire era of stories. Another similarity: the author who wrote the first book isn’t the person behind the best-known parts of the series.
Jude Watson wrote all but one of the Jedi Apprentice books, in which Obi-Wan Kenobi narrowly earns his place in the Jedi Temple, tangles with Qui-Gon’s former Padawan, and makes friends across the galaxy. It’s a look inside the life of a Jedi, and it was the starting point for many a fanfic. Young Obi-Wan is an easy-to-like, kind, and compassionate person who just wants to do his best, even if it means clashing with his master.
By John Jackson Miller
Another character study, Kenobi stands out for when in the timeline it’s set, fleshing out the story of what happened in Obi-Wan Kenobi’s life between the fall of the Jedi and the start of their return. The book delves a bit into Obi-Wan’s mental state shortly after his flight from Order 66, but most of it concentrates on his day-to-day life and trying to solve local problems.
It’s a tightly plotted and compassionately characterized story that sometimes feels restricted, but hey, that’s what life on Tatooine is like. Best of all, the side characters feel like real, sun-burnt denizens of Tatooine, both humans and Tusken Raiders alike. A good read if you’re looking forward to the Obi-Wan Kenobi TV series coming to Disney+.
Republic Commando: Hard Contact
By Karen Traviss
While the Original Trilogy era books are most often cited as good places to start, fans of Jedi and clone troopers have plenty of options in the Prequel era, too. The Republic Commando series fostered a fandom as passionate as any other within the community.
Ostensibly a video game tie-in novel, it was the start of Karen Traviss’ long-term development of Mandalorian culture as followed by the clone troopers. The novel follows a team of elite clone commandos and one young Jedi Padawan as they try to stop a Separatist bio-weapon.
Revenge of the Sith
By Matthew Stover
Star Wars novelizations haven’t often set a very high bar. While some extra scenes or characters’ internal thoughts might add a little to what you watched on the big screen, these books aren’t usually a source of great prose or characterization. Therefore, it’s exceptionally remarkable that Matthew Stover saw that bar and decided to reach for orbit.
Metaphor, added scenes, and poetic, energetic prose make Revenge of the Sith an entirely different experience in book form. Anakin Skywalker’s struggles with the “dragon” of the dark side and the gradual, terrible collapse of his friendship with Obi-Wan Kenobi might be the best character-centric writing in the saga.
By Timothy Zahn
Timothy Zahn’s last non-Thrawn Star Wars book is one of his best. A standalone story about Han Solo, Lando Calrissian, and the titular group of scoundrels, this novel is Ocean’s Eleven in Star Wars. One of the best elements of this book is the twist ending, which of course I won’t spoil here. Scoundrels is pure fun, with lots of chemistry between the team members and memorable moments.
Shadows of the Empire
By Steve Perry
Shadows of the Empire wasn’t just a novel. The novel was one part of a tie-in extravaganza that also included a video game, a soundtrack, and more about the Original Trilogy heroes fighting Darth Vader and his criminal lackey, Prince Xizor. Shadows contains some uncomfortable scenes—Xizor’s secret weapon is that his species gives off seductive pheromones, and Leia spends a good deal of the book kidnapped—but it does fill in the gaps between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.
The book is also formative because of the debut of Dash Rendar, an EU character if there ever was one. Shadows is perhaps the least essential book on this list, but if you’re new to the EU, it might help you know what exactly fans are talking about when they (jokingly or seriously) refer to “the Bantam era.”
By Matthew Stover
The question of whether Traitor works as a standalone novel is a complicated one. It’s part of the divisive 19-book New Jedi Order series, so there are certainly a lot of plot points that lead up to it. There are also a lot of questions posed in this book that the series can’t completely answer: Does the Force truly have a light side and a dark side? What does it really mean to be a Jedi? Traitor shows Jacen Solo’s descent into the underworld, a deep dive into the morality of the Force. Like the Revenge of the Sith novelization (written by the same author), the writing is darkly beautiful.
X-Wing: Rogue Squadron
By Michael A. Stackpole and Aaron Allson
The X-Wing series by Michael A. Stackpole and Aaron Allston is another staple in Expanded Universe fandom. While the series doesn’t reach its heights of humor and cheer until Allston’s books later in the series, the first book is the easiest to recommend. Fan favorite pilot Wedge Antilles has flown against the first Death Star and destroyed the second one. Now, he needs to put together a new squadron to hold the New Republic military together while they try to conquer the Imperial capital. Known for its charming characters and exciting descriptions of starfighter battles, Rogue Squadron is a classic. And if you love this one, you really should read the rest of the series!
Yoda: Dark Rendezvous
By Sean Stewart
Despite the format of its title, this is a standalone novel. It’s another one that asks big questions: what does it mean to be a Jedi when you aren’t very good at the Force? What philosophy is behind Count Dooku’s split from the Jedi Order and his desire to leave his friend Yoda behind? With some surprisingly Gothic influences and unconventional Jedi characters, Dark Rendezvous is an unusual book that’s worth a read.
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