Faux (gorgeous!) poster via Master Never
As we speak, in a galaxy far, far away, Star Wars Episode 7 is already in production.
We’ve been teased by casting announcements, script rumors, and Carrie Fisher’s Twitter (which also features lots of pictures of her dog, Gary), but as hard as the wait is 21st century Star Wars fans can find solace in at least one thing.
Namely, unlike a previous generation who had to agonize years between Empire and Jedi we have access to tons more Star Wars stuff to fill the gap. Before the age of home entertainment, fans had to rely on multiple in-theater viewings to burn the beloved trilogy into their brain. And even after the trilogy had concluded and the VCR Revolution made it possible for people to own a piece of the magic fans felt themselves wanting more. That’s where the books came in.
It started as a few one-off novels in the 1970’s, then exploded in 1991 with The Thrawn Trilogy by Timothy Zahn. Ever since, Star Wars novels have given fans a steady stream of battles, complex plot twists, new planets, new characters, and the growth and development of older ones. And the best part is that George had the foresight to insist that anyone who wanted to write a Star Wars book had to take into account what was already established. It wouldn’t make sense to have Chewbacca die in one novel and then have another author write a book where he was alive and well and celebrating Life Day. That continuity got fans even more invested in the world they came to view as an extended family in space.
So, while J.J and company get busy filming let’s take a lesson from an older and wiser generation and get busy reading!
The Thrawn Trilogy by Timothy Zahn (Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising, The Last Command): Let’s start with the series that kickstarted the book mania in the first place! The trilogy starts with Heir to the Empire, around 5 years after Return of the Jedi.
Toppling an oppressive regime is hard work but getting the entire galaxy on board after disposing its wrinkle-faced Emperor is even harder. Major change doesn’t just happen overnight as our heroes soon discover. Luke and the gang have been working overtime to oust the Empire’s agents from power and by all accounts doing a pretty bang up job. But all it takes is one stubborn warlord to ruin a freedom party.
Grand Admiral Thrawn had it good under the Empire and he’s not about to relinquish that to a bunch of snot-nosed freedom fighters and a bunch of droids. He takes it on himself to organize the remaining Imperial fleet to form an army of resistance, but finding a new Sith Lord to replace Palpatine is also of top importance.
Did I mention insane clones of ancient Sith Lords were a viable option? Did I also mention Leia is pregnant with two, potentially Force-wielding, twins? This series has pretty much everything you want in a Star Wars story, the characters you know and love, the icy hand of the Empire, Light Side vs. Dark Side, kidnapping, double-crossing, space politics, the list goes on. It also introduces Mara Jade whose badassery continues through multiple books.
The Courtship of Princess Leia by Dave Wolverton: Who doesn’t love a good love story? Especially when the two people you're rooting for are a Princess and a stuck-up, half-witted, scruffy-looking nerf-herder. I don’t think it warrants a spoiler warning to tell you that Han and Leia get married in the expanded universe, but how did it happen?
The Courtship of Princess Leia gives us a pretty damn solid scenario that’s so plausible you might decide it’s the only scenario you need! But lest you be afraid of some mushy, gooey, melodrama, send those fears straight to the spice mines of Kessel. This is Han and Leia we’re talking about, two people whose idea of foreplay is saving each other’s asses from certain doom.
There is plenty of action and a lot of really plausible conflict but with a Star Wars twist; like what happens when you and your girlfriend save the galaxy in your reckless youth but then have to set up a new government like responsible adults? What happens when you have a higher profile job than your boyfriend and it’s tough to find time to spend together? In the end sometimes love is realizing that there are evil warlords out there and an entire race of impossibly hot people threatening your relationship, so you might just want to put a ring on it.
William Shakespeare's Star Wars by Ian Doesher (Verily, A New Hope, The Empire Striketh Back, The Jedi Doth Return): Part of the official extended universe? No. Insanely fun and hilarious? Search thy feelings, thou knowest it to be true! This three-pack of high prose unites three major geek branches - Star Wars geeks, Classical geeks, and Theatre geeks. If that’s the not beginnings of achieving world peace I don’t know what it.
All three films are presented in the style of a high drama by William Shakespeare. But there’s more to this set than just adding a bunch of “Forsooth’s” to the Star Wars screenplays.There are tons of inside jokes for all three fandoms, including thoughtful inner monologues and soliloquies from characters, and delightfully meta commentary (Why did those Stormtroopers just pass that door in Mos Eisley because it was locked, George!?).
And sure you could read them on your own, OR you could invite your friends over to do dramatic readings of all three scripts in your living room. Just a suggestion. (BYO Lightsaber.)
Shadows of the Empire by Steve Perry: Remember those poor fans I mentioned agonizing between Empire and Jedi? Doomed to uncertainty and biting their nails wondering what our heroes were doing to fix the mess they’d gotten themselves into.
Well, Steve Perry didn’t and filled that gap with Shadows of the Empire. There’s a pretty elaborate plot in place in Jedi that you know took some careful planning to orchestrate, and Luke has come a long way in his training since ditching Yoda to essentially get his butt handed to him by Darth Vader on Bespin. Shadows attempts to give us some insight into what went down and does an awesome job without messing too much with the continuity of anything that came before or after.
There are some new characters since a couple of fan favorites are indisposed (read: frozen in a block of carbonite), like Dash Rendar, who’ll be your roguish smuggler for this evening, and organized crime boss Prince Xizor. Xizor wants Darth Vader’s job and his special ability is producing high concentrations of pheromones. Yup, this guy’s secret weapon is making people wanna get down.
This was actually a novel that Lucasfilm LTD. fully endorsed because they were hoping to make a movie out of it, but that didn’t happen. We did get a really cool video game out of it that you can play as a companion piece to the novel, so still a win!
Star Wars: The Original Novelizations (A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi): Sometimes you just gotta get back to basics. Back to the beginning. Back to when a farm boy started a dance of destiny with an old man who taught him Force magic. Ok, written like that it sounds like the plot of a Jose Curon film, but I’m still talking about Star Wars, just to be clear. Are we good? Awesome!
In my youth, when I was anxious to get my tiny hands on every Star Wars novel possible, it never occurred to me to read the novelizations. It was just the movies and I had seen those, right? But in the end addiction won out and I bought all three books in one volume. Then I asked for a napkin to wipe the humble pie from my lips.
Do the books tell the story the films do? Yes, but there is so much deeper you can go in a book than you can in a two hour movie. Descriptions of places are so much more detailed, you get histories, extra scenes, and explanations of how things run in this universe that the films didn’t have time to scratch the surface of, and you can actually get into the mind of your favorite characters.
If you love this series reading the novelizations will bring you even closer to it. That bond is what’ll keep us warm on those cold nights waiting for that new opening crawl.