When it comes to Star Wars movies, things are … relatively straightforward. You have the original trilogy, the prequel trilogy, and the more recent trilogy released after Disney acquired Lucasfilm. There is also a wide array of TV shows, animated series, spin-offs—and yes, dreaded holiday specials to help muddy the waters—but you’ve at least got a solid start.
Star Wars books, however, are another thing entirely. While Star Wars may be primarily regarded as a cinematic (and merchandizing) franchise, there are not merely dozens but hundreds of Star Wars novels, short stories, and children’s books out there. That figure doesn’t even take into account the numerous comic books and graphic novels released over the years, which adapt and tie into the popular series.
To make matters worse, there’s a confusing issue of provenance and continuity where the books are concerned—it's far more baffling than the movie order. Prior to Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm, many of the Star Wars novels and comic books constituted what was known as the “Expanded Universe.” These were stories that took place outside and around the various movies, but were still considered at least debatably canonical. When Disney took over, executives had a plan to streamline and clarify the (numerous) continuities that had cropped up over the years, and so they stripped canonical status from many of the previously published books.
If you’re a Star Wars fan who wants to dip your toes (or take a deep dive) into the franchise’s many, many prose excursions… where do you even start? Not to worry, we’ve assembled seven of the very best and most essential Star Wars books—some in-continuity, some outside of it—that every fan should read.
Star Wars: Heir to the Empire
Of all the books “lost” to Disney’s Expanded Universe purge (the books are still around, they’re just now emphatically non-canonical), perhaps the most beloved are a trilogy of novels by Timothy Zahn that begin with Heir to the Empire in 1991. These books, set after the events of Return of the Jedi, are considered by many fans to be among the best Star Wars novels ever written.
The books introduce a fan-favorite character, Grand Admiral Thrawn, a brilliant tactician who attempts to resurrect the Empire and set his sights against the New Republic and several of the classic characters from the original trilogy.
Thrawn (Star Wars)
While the Thrawn character was booted out of continuity after Disney acquired Lucasfilm and reorganized Star Wars canon, the character grew too popular to stay gone for long, and in 2017, a new trilogy commenced, bringing the character into the updated Disney timeline.
This new trilogy was also written by Zahn and, while it wasn’t quite the lightning in a bottle that its predecessor managed, it’s still required reading. This is especially true for fans of the grand admiral, who may just be the most popular Star Wars character to never appear in a live-action film—though he does show up in the 3D-animated series Rebels.
Star Wars: Lost Stars
In the years since the demise of the Expanded Universe, Claudia Gray has established herself as one of the most popular recurring writers in the Star Wars canon. She got her start there with this story of star-crossed lovers, one of whom joins the Rebel Alliance while the other remains a TIE pilot serving the Galactic Empire.
Released as part of the promotional campaign for The Force Awakens, the book helps to bridge the gap between the original trilogy and the new films, while also introducing readers to some unforgettable new characters.
Another book that kicked off a trilogy, Chuck Wendig’s controversial Aftermath series has been described as the centerpiece of the “Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens” publishing campaign that preceded the launch of Disney’s first Star Wars feature film in 2015.
Alongside several new characters created by Wendig, the book, which takes place on the heels of Return of the Jedi, follows the continuing adventures of pilot Wedge Antilles, a fairly minor character from the original trilogy who joins several newcomers to battle the Empire and provide vital connective tissue between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens.
Star Wars: Dark Disciple
Before the Disney launched its trilogy of films and various small-screen spin-offs, there were not one but two animated series set between prequel Episodes 2 and 3, chronicling the events of the Clone Wars. The latter of these series debuted in 2008 and was canceled by 2013, only to return years later with new episodes on Disney+.
The series introduced some beloved characters, including Anakin’s Padawan Ahsoka. Upon its cancellation, several plot arcs remained unresolved, some of which were later translated into novels. One such arc was an eight-episode series, adapted into Dark Disciple by Christie Golden in 2015, in which a Jedi Knight is paired with a Sith acolyte to assassinate Count Dooku.
Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel
As Andor makes a lot of fans fall in love with Star Wars all over again, it’s a good time to bring some attention to the prequel novel that showcases the run-up to Rogue One.
James Luceno’s Catalyst details the history of Orson Krennic and gives readers more time with some major characters of that film, including Galen, Lyra, and Jyn Erso. It also gives readers a backdoor view into the construction of the Death Star, which is kind of a big deal.
Eaten Alive (Star Wars: Galaxy of Fear, Book 1)
Originally released in 1997, Eaten Alive lies outside of modern Star Wars continuity, but it serves as a throwback to a particularly weird moment in the history of Star Wars (and publishing overall). Riding high on the success of R. L. Stine’s Goosebumps series, many publishers printed as many YA and mid-grade scary book series as possible, and even repurposed other properties into them.
Enter Star Wars: Galaxy of Fear, a dozen-book run made for young adults, featuring a duo of Force-sensitive siblings caught in various, spooky predicaments in a galaxy far, far away. The books even showcases guest appearances from major Star Wars characters like Han Solo, Boba Fett, and Princess Leia.
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