The first Star Wars novel was published in 1976.
In the decades since, dozens of books set in the galaxy far, far away have been released, stories for all ages starring the likes of Luke Skywalker, Han and Leia’s children, and Grand Admiral Thrawn. Star Wars‘ publishing’s legacy is strong, and since April 2014, it’s part of the current storytelling universe, or to use a cruder word, canon. Anything published before April 2014 is considered Legends, while anything published since is canon, which means the stories fit into the timeline established by the films and animated series and affect/can be affected by them.
Sticking to the current storytelling universe cuts the number of Star Wars book options down significantly, but it can still be difficult to know where to start. If you’ve been wanting to dive into new stories that both bolster the films and focus on new characters, but don’t know which books to pick up first, we’re here to help. You can approach the list chronologically, either in order of release or when they’re set on the Star Wars timeline (you can find a helpful list on Wookieepedia), but I find it’s better to take a more customized approach.
If you want to read about the Empire
One of the best things that novels released in the past three years have done is show what it’s like to be part of the Empire. You can get inside the heads of Imperials and begin to understand why they believe in Emperor Palpatine’s military organization. Two novels in particular excel at this: Lost Stars by Claudia Gray, a Romeo and Juliet-esque story centered on two youths who grow up together and end up on different sides of the fight (it’s my favorite Star Wars book, by the way), and Battlefront II: Inferno Squad by Christie Golden, a novel that details how Inferno Squadron formed and goes into the hearts and minds of loyal Imperials.
If you want to see more of the inner workings of the Empire with less grappling with morals, try Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn. It brings the character into the universe in an inventive way and shows why he’s a formidable villain and threat. Once you’ve read the book, come chat with us about it on Alpha Book Club!
If you want to read about the budding Rebel Alliance
The years between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope saw the formation of a unified Rebellion from scattered insurgent cells around the galaxy. A few novels show what it was like before any sort of formal organization happened. Start with A New Dawn by John Jackson Miller. This details how Hera Syndulla and Kanan Jarrus from Star Wars Rebels first became acquainted and why they started working together.
To see a different, more violent side of resisting the Empire, check out Beth Revis’ Rebel Rising. It focuses on a young Jyn Erso and what she witnessed and learned as part of Saw Gerrera’s group of partisans
If you want to explore the era after Return of the Jedi
The Rebel Alliance didn’t score an insta-win with the Battle of Endor. As the New Republic rose, the Empire persisted. The best way to learn about what occurs in the months after Episode VI is to read Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath trilogy. Through new characters and familiar faces such as Mon Mothma and even Han Solo, you’ll understand the state of the galaxy and how long it can take for change to happen.
If you like The Clone Wars
Long for more of the prequel trilogy era? You’re not alone. If you’re a fan of the animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars, you’ll be happy to know a couple of books based on unused scripts and story ideas for the show exist. Ahsoka by E.K. Johnston picks up on the character’s story after Order 66 and follows her until she takes on a special role with the burgeoning Rebellion.
And for something completely different, Asajj Ventress and rogue-ish Jedi Quinlan Vos take the lead in Christie Golden’s Dark Disciple. The romance-leaning tale explores some of the Jedi Order’s downfalls and definitions of good and evil.
If you like Leia Organa
A number of novels have either focused on Leia Organa or prominently featured her activities, but you can start with two stories, particular, both by Claudia Gray. Bloodline is set 24 years after Return of the Jedi when Leia, a senator in the New Republic, is struggling with her place and trying to figure out how to face the emerging First Order. Leia: Princess of Alderaan takes place a few years before A New Hope and reveals how a teenage Leia got involved with the Rebel Alliance. The book includes her meeting Amilyn Holdo for the first time and lots of heartwarming scenes between Leia and her adoptive parents Bail and Breha Organa.
If you like Darth Vader
Darth Vader has had a bigger role in Star Wars comics than the books, but he’s still around–like in Lords of the Sith by James Luceno. Set 14 years before the Battle of Yavin, the book follows Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader as they’re ambushed and crash on the planet Ryloth. This is at the early stage of their relationship as master and apprentice, and the mind games that take place are fascinating.
If you like Han Solo
Han Solo. Scoundrel, smuggler, charmer. He appears in several novels, but he takes center stage with Lando Calrissian in Daniel José Older’s Last Shot. The novel takes place over different timelines: before A New Hope and after Return of the Jedi. Han and Lando go on an adventure, and as you can imagine, things frequently don’t go right.
For more stories about capers, try Canto Bight, a collection of four short stories set in the casino city from The Last Jedi.
If you want to read about sequel trilogy characters
Books starring characters introduced in Episodes VII and VIII aren’t as numerous as you’d think, but they’re out there. If you’re a follower of the First Order, read Phasma by Delilah Dawson to learn about the silver armor-wearing character’s origins in a Star Wars meets Mad Max: Fury Road tale of survival. If you’re a secret agent of the Resistance, try Greg Rucka’s Before the Awakening. It’s an anthology book with stories about Rey, Finn, and Poe set before the events of The Force Awakens.
Hopefully that gives you a place to start. If you’re still feeling lost, come hit me up on Twitter. And don’t forget to jump to the comments to let others know which Star Wars books you would recommend.
Images: Del Rey, Disney-Lucasfilm Press
Amy Ratcliffe is an Associate Editor for Nerdist. She likes Star Wars a little. Follow her on Twitter.