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Best Star Wars Books

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So you want to get more into the Star Wars Expanded Universe by reading the novels. Where to start? There are hundreds of novels. Some are awesome, but most are mediocre. Of course, new fans want to start with the best novels, but it's almost impossible to figure out which to get. Never fear intrepid Star Wars fans. We have already read a ton of those novels for you, sifted through them, and picked out the very best. These are the gems of the Star Wars Expanded Universe, an introduction to the books of the galaxy far, far away.

Thrawn trilogy - Timothy Zahn

Go ask any Star Wars fan about the best Expanded Universe novels ever written and we guarantee they will say the Thrawn trilogy. If they don't, they're either wrong or need to stop calling themselves Star Wars fans. Without a doubt, Timothy Zahn's Star Wars masterpieces are the best things to come out the Expanded Universe and the closest any of the books come to capturing the spirit of the original trilogy.

Five years after the Battle of Endor, the New Republic is just setting up their new government. Coruscant is in New Republic hands, Luke is trying to learn more about the Force, Han and Leia are helping mop up the last Imperial fleets while taking care of their newborn twins. But from the Unknown Regions, a new force strikes: Grand Admiral Thrawn, the last Grand Admiral from the old Empire who defeats his enemies by analyzing their art and learning their psychological weaknesses. The brilliant Chiss tactician plans to bring the New Republic to its knees with skill, treachery, and the mad clone of an Old Republic Jedi Knight.

There are so many great things about these novels. Zahn nails the dialogue and tone of the characters. While reading you can literally hear the voices of Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and the others in your head. The writing is that good. The plot is clever and exciting, building up the Star Wars mythos while not getting bogged down in it. But the best part of it all is Grand Admiral Thrawn, the coolest villain in any Star Wars book. His calm demeanor is frightening, and his tactics clever yet terrifying. Thrawn was so awesome that he is now recanonized in the cartoon show Rebels. Disney just couldn't let him go.

We could talk about these novels for hours, but by now you should just go order them already. Start with the best Star Wars novel. May the Force be with you.

X-wing: Rogue Squadron - Michael Stackpole

Anybody who grew up on Star Wars spent countless hours recreating the epic space battles with models and action figures. This novel is the grown-up version of those long afternoons. It is without a doubt the coolest space battle novel ever written in Star Wars, fulfilling every fanboy's dream of experiencing the biggest battles of the Empire and Rebellion.

Set two years after the Battle of Endor, Stackpole's novel follows ace pilot Wedge Antilles as he recreates Rogue Squadron, the elite starfighter squadron that fought in the Battle of Hoth. There are no Jedi around this time (at least, not in the first novel of the nine-book series), and Rogue Squadron is entirely composed of normal pilots who rely on luck, skill, and pure badassery to take the fight to the Empire. With the New Republic fleet aiming for Coruscant, the new Rogue Squadron takes the lead in an all-out invasion of Imperial space, trying to get a foothold on the campaign to take Coruscant.

While many Star Wars novels try to shoehorn Force users in, Rogue Squadron never does. It's just an awesome space adventure of normal pilots with exceptional skill. The space combat scenes are amazing, drawn in such detail that it feels like you're right in the cockpit with Wedge and his squadron. The dynamics between the pilots are believable and lifelike, with their hopes and dreams fleshed out. When some of them die, it feels like a punch in the gut. Go read this novel, and try not to start making pew-pew sounds involuntarily while reading it.

Republic Commando: Hard Contact - Karen Traviss

What is it like living as a Clone Trooper, knowing that all over the galaxy there are millions of soldiers who look like you, talk like you, and think like you? How can a single Clone Trooper find any sense of identity when everyone he knows is exactly the same as him? That's a crushing existential dilemma. You'd curl up in a ball under such crushing philosophical pressures. Clone Troopers do not have that luxury. They have a war to fight.

Star Wars novels aren't usually vehicles for philosophical thought experiments. The fact that Karen Traviss' first Republic Commando novel dives into these tricky issues makes it a treasure of the Expanded Universe. Now don't worry. Hard Contact isn't just a bunch of Clone Troopers sitting around drinking coffee and writing introspective poetry. The issues of identity come up during a Republic Commando mission (like the video game). Four elite commandos get sent on a mission behind enemy lines to infiltrate and sabotage a Separatist nano-virus research facility. The action scenes in this book are some of the best put down on page.

It's one of the best Star Wars war novels ever written, largely because Karen Traviss spends time developing characters. Even if you took out the Star Wars elements, this would still be an amazing novel. The action is breathtaking, and the stakes are high. While the movies made Clone Troopers feel like expendable cartoons, Hard Contact makes you really feel for them. None of us will ever face the existential dread that permeates every aspect of Clone Trooper life. Thanks to Karen Traviss, watching these guys gets mowed down by robots in the movies is now incredibly tragic. Time to go cry ourselves to sleep.

Revenge of the Sith (novelization) - Matthew Stover

Sure, this is a novelization, so most people think they already know what happens. But skipping this is a huge mistake. While Revenge of the Sith was a relatively disappointing movie, Stover dives into the material and completely overhauls it, transforming an excessively mediocre movie into a dark, twisted, cautionary tale. It's what the movie should have been.

Stover has excellent command of characters. He dives into their minds, showing us the events from their perspective and showing the emotional impact of Anakin's fall. Even characters like C-3PO get shockingly emotional scenes. Lots of other little changes completely fix the lame parts of Revenge of the Sith. General Grievous does not have a sickly cough and is physically unable to laugh. Palpatine spends more time tempting Anakin with power and prestige, the Battle of Kashyyyk is cut to give more time to the characters. Anakin gets involved in the arrest of Palpatine earlier in the duel, smashing through his office window from his speeder to save the Chancellor instead of just walking in at the end.

Those are all excellent changes we wish Lucas would have used, but the very best part of the novel is its focus on Anakin. The book ends with Anakin's thoughts as the Vader suit is slowly built up around him, exploring the true horror of being encased in this walking tomb and the pain of Padme's death. The novelization does what the prequels never did: makes us care about Anakin Skywalker.

Shatterpoint - Matthew Stover

When Samuel L. Jackson was cast as Jedi Master Mace Windu, fans around the world wanted to see an ass-kicking, cool-as-ice Jedi Master. Everybody was expecting Jules from Pulp Fiction, but in space. Then the movie came out and Windu mostly just ... sat around. Beheading one guy and then being easily defeated by a 70-year-old man? Not exactly what we were hoping for.

If you fall into the "disappointed by Mace Windu" group, Shatterpoint is for you. The novel follows Mace Windu on a daring rescue mission to his jungle homeworld of Haruun Kal: a planet overrun by Separatist forces, warring tribes and life-threatening native creatures. Instead of the dweebish Mace Windu we got in the prequels, Shatterpoint gives us exactly what we wanted from his character. Windu is a fighting machine in the novel, employing all the awesome Force abilities, trickery, and pure fighting skill that we wish he had in the movies to save a stranded Jedi Master.

Shatterpoint also does a good job diving into Windu's character, giving us some context for his inexplicable actions in the prequels. We learn why he had so much faith in Anakin Skywalker and why he decapitated Jango Fett. For fans of lightsaber battles, Shatterpoint also includes a ton of information about the different forms of lightsaber fighting, really giving a sense of the complexity of Jedi training. It's a must read. We really hope Samuel L. Jackson reads it, too, so he can see his character being awesome.

Outbound Flight - Timothy Zahn

For being set in such a large galaxy, Star Wars material rarely covers the exploration side of the universe. It seems like exploration in the Star Wars universe is stagnant. Everything interesting has already been found. No new planets get explored. Everybody is content with what they see. Science fiction master Timothy Zahn changed that with the exceptional novel Outbound Flight.

On the eve of the Clone Wars, Jedi Master Jorus C'baoth proposes a long-term exploration mission out into the Unknown Regions and then out of the galaxy, a feat thought impossible by Star Wars scientists. The Unknown Regions are a big question mark on the map. Nobody knows what is in them. With 50,000 people aboard and 18 Jedi (including Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi), the huge ship Outbound Flight leaves known space and dives deep into the unexplored "heart of darkness" of the galaxy. Danger abounds. Vast interstellar empires vie for dominance of the Unknown Regions and extra-galactic invaders threaten to plunge the galaxy into darkness. None of them are fans of Republic exploration. Even the Jedi are outmatched.

Few Expanded Universe novels do such a good job expanding the mythos of Star Wars. We get a clear sense that the galaxy is bigger than the narrow scope of the movies. There are whole empires that rise and fall without caring one bit about the Jedi and the Sith. For once, the franchise feels big, diverging from bland fan service and giving Star Wars fans something different: an exciting exploration story.

Darth Plagueis - James Luceno

Ever wonder what Palpatine was talking about in Revenge of the Sith when he asked Anakin: "Did you ever hear the Tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise?" This book has the answers. Not only does it show us that the Tragedy was about Palpatine himself, it also gives us a glimpse into an unexplored chunk of Star Wars: the history of the Sith on the eve of the Clone Wars.

The novel covers a few decades' worth of time and is epic in scope, showcasing the life of Plagueis and his apprentice Palpatine. Together they discover deep secrets of Sith lore and plot to destroy the Republic as master and apprentice. Or so Plagueis believes. Palpatine has other plans in mind, turning the novel into a masterful psychological thriller as we follow the growing evil in Palpatine's mind. He has to hide himself from his Master while still planning to murder the Sith Lord. It makes for a tense story. It's perhaps the only time we get to see what makes Palpatine tick and explore his motivations for turning into pure evil.

While Palpatine is the center of the novel, Darth Plagueis also covers tons of ground, letting us see how Amidala became queen of Naboo, how Palpatine manipulated Nute Gunray to do his bidding, and who Master Sifo-Dyas was. All that confusing stuff in the prequels that bored you? Somehow the novel makes it interesting. It elevates the prequel trilogy by supplying these backstories. It might actually make you like the political parts of the movies! OK, we got carried away there. It might actually make you less bored during the political parts of the movies.

Tales Of The Bounty Hunters - Various

One of the best things about the Original Trilogy was that even minor characters that we saw for a split-second became fan favorites and got awesome backstories. Some of the best came from the bounty hunters in Empire Strikes Back that we see on Vader's Star Destroyer. Although we only saw them for one scene (excluding Boba Fett, of course) eager sci-fi writers filled in their backstories with Tales of the Bounty Hunters.

Tales is an anthology of short stories, with the bounty hunters each getting a story. But it's not just about bounty hunters. We also get a glimpse into unexplored areas of the Star Wars universe. For example, IG-88's story shows us the plight of droids in the universe, who are essentially sentient beings kept as slaves. Led by IG-88, they attempt a Terminator-style takeover of the biological species. Another story features the Battle of Hoth from a random Rebel radar tech's perspective, a horrifying look at the battle from the ground.

The best stories follow Dengar (the dude with his head wrapped in cloth) and Boba Fett. Dengar's story is a disturbing foray into body horror, following Dengar as his brain and body are slowly disfigured and augmented by Imperial scientists. Boba Fett's story is perhaps the best short story ever written in the Star Wars universe, following random scenes in Fett's life. We finally learn why the bounty hunter hated Han Solo so much. Tales is emotional, exciting, and fascinating. Pretty good for a bunch of stories about characters who got 30 seconds of screen time.

Vector Prime - R.A. Salvatore

The first of the 19-book New Jedi Order series, Vector Prime takes place 25 years after the Battle of Endor. This was the old canon version of what happened during the time period covered by The Force Awakens. Unlike the movie, Vector Prime and the New Jedi Order took the franchise in a dark, unusual direction.

Vector Prime follows an alien invasion of the galaxy (controlled by the New Republic, the successor government to the Rebel Alliance) by frightening Yuuzhan Vong. They originate from outside the galaxy and do not use mechanical technology. All their ships and technologies are biological, grown like plants. The Yuuzhan Vong are addicted to self-inflicted pain and are also impossible to detect in the Force, a huge problem for Luke Skywalker and his fledgling Jedi Order.

Vector Prime takes the galaxy in a new direction, giving us a real threat to the Jedi and getting beyond the old Rebellion vs. Empire plot. Instead, we get a massive conflict between two huge, well-equipped governments. It's war on a scale never seen in the Star Wars universe.

The plot of Vector Prime reads like a good alien invasion story, with the heroes of the Original Trilogy, their offspring and other Expanded Universe fan favorites trying to fight the initial wave of alien invaders. Vector Prime is also a heartbreaking novel. Prepare for emotional destruction. All bets are off: there is no plot shield to protect your favorite characters from dying.

Lost Stars - Claudia Gray

Some of the coolest images of The Force Awakens were the crashed Imperial and Rebel ships on the planet Jakku, but the movie never explored why those ships are there in the first place. Lost Stars answers that question and more.

Lost Stars follows the story of two childhood friends, Ciena Ree and Thane Kyrell, bonded together over their love of spaceships. Together they attend the Imperial academy and go off to serve the Empire as pilots. Thane is sent to a secret Imperial research center while Ciena serves on a Star Destroyer. From there, Lost Stars explores the events of the original trilogy from the eyes of these two characters and ends with the epic Battle of Jakku, the last major battle of the Galactic Civil War and the source of the wreckage that we see in The Force Awakens. It fills a big hole in the history of the time between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens.

Besides patching a huge hole in the mythology of the new canon, Lost Stars exceeds by showing us a human side of the officers in the Imperial navy. We get to experience why Imperials would defect to join the Rebel Alliance and see in detail the effects Imperial training and brainwashing have on the officers. At one point, the officers get news of the Battle of Yavin, and it's fascinating to see how the news of the disaster is spun by the Imperial propaganda. You actually start to feel really bad for the people in Imperial uniforms, if not the Empire itself. Few Star Wars books have managed the emotional depth of Lost Stars or made us sympathize so much with supposed bad guys. For anybody interested in the new canon, Lost Stars is a must read.