Where to Start with the Star Wars Expanded Universe by Thea James
Originally appearing in our fourth Quarterly Almanac, Where to Start with the Star Wars Expanded Universe is the latest in our ongoing series of essays detailing where one can start with any number of SFF/popgeekery topics. This time, Thea tackles a subject close to her heart: The Star Wars Expanded Universe. Enjoy!
Star Wars inspires passion. Everyone has a different experience with the franchise, especially when it comes to opinions regarding touchy subjects like the prequel era, and the subsequent novels and shows to come out of said era.
My experience with Star Wars is probably very similar to many others of my generation: I grew up watching the original trilogy, which I loved very dearly. I watched the prequels when they were released in theaters starting with The Phantom Menace when I was fifteen, and… I enjoyed them. Sure, the writing was horrible and the acting not much better, but I ate it all up because it was more Star Wars. I bought into the prequel era, even as I felt it was falwed and lacking the emotional gravitas I so desperately wanted. I collected Pepsi bottles featuring different members of the galactic senate and other key characters, I obsessively played Rogue Squadron and, yes, Episode I: Racer, among others.
I bought into all of this because I was hungry for more of the universe I loved, and I wanted answers. I wanted to learn more about Dooku’s fall from grace and the rise of the Sith. I wanted to understand the corruption in the Senate beyond a cursory few scenes across three movies; I wanted to feel the cameraderie between Obi-Wan and Anakin, and understand how the Jedi could have been so blind to Palpatine’s machinations.
That’s when I discovered The Clone Wars. The animated film and the subsequent five-season series gives answers to all of these questions, and more. It gives all of the depth and nuance that we deserved in the prequel era, by allowing characters like Anakin, Padme, and Obi-Wan explore complex storylines about government policy, the place of the Jedi in the war and in the universe, and their relationships with each other. It also introduces a slew of truly awesome new characters on both sides of the battle, like assassin-Sith-nightsister Asajj Ventress.
The Clone Wars also gave the world Ahsoka Tano—a heroine I didn’t realize I needed until I met her in the animated film and series. I had always yearned for a female Jedi protagonist on screen (the few glimpses we got of Aayla Secura and Luminara Unduli in Episodes I-III weren’t enough). In The Clone Wars, I finally got the lightsaber-weilding female characters I so desperately wanted. Beyond the fact that she’s a badass with two sabers, Ahsoka is, argubly, the focal character of the entire series. Anakin Skywalker is given a padawan even though he’s not a fully-inducted Jedi in the hopes that she will teach him patience, leadership, and control. Ahsoka is brash, emotional, and takes all the risks that her master does—she pushes boundaries and asks questions instead of blindly accepting the orders of the Jedi council.
The series does so many things so well—examining the agency and ethics of creating a clone army, exploring the backstory of beloved characters like Boba Fett and Darth Maul, or Obi-Wan and his own complicated past with Mandalore’s powerful female leader.
Trust me on this, please: if you want to explore the Star Wars universe, start with The Clone Wars. (And then work your way into Rebels, which chronicles characters in the events leading up to A New Hope—a strong series in its own right, though it’s not quite as profoundly life-changing as The Clone Wars.)
Of course, so far I’ve only talked about television. There are several books to dive into as well, if you’re looking to familiarize yourself with the Star Wars EU. Here’s my list of recommendations, once you’re done with consuming the entirety of The Clone Wars:
Thrawn by Timothy Zahn. Grand Admiral Thrawn is a character who has been a part of the Expanded Universe for a very long time—Zahn’s Heir to Empire, following the aftermath of the second Death Star’s destruction and the fall of Palpatine and Vader, created one of the most enduring villains in the Star Wars canon. When all of the old EU novels were declared Legends and no longer canon, many fans lamented the loss of characters like Thrawn. But then, the news broke that our favorite blue-skinned evil genius would be gracing the screen in the animated Rebels series—and, oh yeah, this new novel, detailing Thrawn’s origin story, would be joining the Star Wars canon. You want to dive into EU mythology? Start here.
Ahsoka by E.K. Johnston and A New Dawn by John Jackson Miller. Because I’ve talked up the animated series so much, I have to include both of these books on the list. Ahsoka follows the eponymous Ahsoka Tano after she has left the Jedi order but before she has formally joined the Rebellion. Meanwhile, A New Dawn introduces readers to Kanan Jarrus and Hera Syndulla—main characters in Rebels—and gives us their origin story and their decision to rebel against the growing darkness of the Empire.
Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens middle grade series (Smuggler’s Run, Moving Target, The Weapon of A Jedi). Before The Force Awakens premiered, Disney released a line of middle grade standalone adventures, starring Luke, Han, and Leia (along with several other new canon novels). Each of these books takes place between movies in the original series, and allows readers a closer look at each main character. My favorite, of course, is Leia’s novel: Moving Target, in which Leia and a small crew embark on a decoy mission designed to throw off the Empire.
Catalyst by James Lucino and Rogue One by Alexander Freed. Both of these books are good reading if you watched Rogue One and loved the film. Catalyst follows Galen Erso, his wife Lyra, and the birth of their daughter, Jyn—this book shows you the troubled relationship Erso had with would-be Director Krennic, and the science behind the genesis of the Death Star. If you’re going to read a single novelization of the films, please read Rogue One by Alexander Freed. I loved Rogue One, the film, passionately—the buildup to A New Hope and the immensity of what this small rogue squadron accomplished was the catalyst for the Rebellion’s eventual victory over the empire.
Lost Stars by Claudia Gray. What happens when two young friends dream of enrolling at the Imperial Academy, earn their ranks as officers, fall in love, and then find themselves on opposite sides of the war? You get this beautiful, heartwrenching, original trilogy-spanning YA novel Lost Stars by the incomporarble Claudia Gray. Looking at Episodes IV-VI through the eyes of imperial officers is not something easily pulled off—but Gray manages to do just that with this profoundly awesome standalone novel.
Bloodline by Claudia Gray. This is, by far, my favorite Star Wars novel. Following Leia just seven years before the events of The Force Awakens, Bloodline shows us Leia, the war hero and senator, and how she falls from senatorial power when everyone learns the truth of her parentage. It also shows Leia coming to grips with the shortcomings of the new Republic, the rise of the First Order, and the first spiderweb splinters that fracture her family—Leia, Han, Luke, and son Ben.
This is by no means a definitive list—but it contains some of my favorites. There are so many other adventures in the new canon, as well as scores of books in the now-non-canonical (but no less awesome) Legends line.
Wherever you start your journey, may the Force be with you.
A quarterly collection of awesome, selected and edited by The Book Smugglers
Collecting original short fiction, essays, reviews, and reprints from diverse and powerful voices in speculative fiction, THE BOOK SMUGGLERS’ QUARTERLY ALMANAC is essential for any SFF fan.
IN THIS VOLUME (JUNE 2017):
(With a brand new story called “Nice”, set in the world of the upcoming novella Temporary Duty Assignment)
(An essay, about Slipfic)
(A reprint of the author’s award-nominated short story “The Mussel Eater”)
(An essay, on body horror and coming out as trans)
(An essay, on diversity and language)
(A new short story called “Nini” about an AI, a space station and an old goddess. The cover art is based on “Nini”)
(An essay, on superhero registration tropes, power fantasies and Western-centrism)
(A new short story, “El Periodista y la Guerrera”, a story featuring LGBTQIA superheroes fighting for justice for marginalized groups)
(An essay, on romance, women who lust and The Courtship of Princess Leia)
(A review of Bitch Planet volume 2)
(An essay, Where to Start With the Star Wars Expanded Universe)
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