The Star Wars Expanded Universe, kicked into high gear after the release of Return Of The Jedi, was a way to keep the adventures of Luke, Han, and Leia alive during the time when there were no more Star Wars films on the horizon. These stories spanned decades, adding new dimensions and layers to our favorite heroes and adding all new characters Star Wars fans would grow to love and hate.
Relegated now under the ‘Legends’ banner, it actually makes a lot of sense once it became clear that Disney wanted to kickstart Star Wars for a whole new generation of fans. Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy decided to give filmmakers a clean slate now that the plan is to release a new Star Wars film every year for the foreseeable future. It’s a smart move, but I can’t just let the Expanded Universe die quietly.
Below are several novels worth re-exploring for their pulpy enjoyment and nostalgia factor. All of them were written during the sweet spot in the 90s when the memory of the Original Trilogy was fading from pop culture dominance and the prequels were only a splinter in the mind’s eye. Come skywalk with me.
Shadows Of The Empire
Taking place between The Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi, Shadows Of The Empire was a multimedia onslaught when it was released in 1996. It wasn’t just a novel, it was a hit Nintendo 64 game, a comic tie-in, action figures, an honest to god original soundtrack, trading cards, and more. It was the closet thing Star Wars fans had to another movie at the time. It featured Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker, Chewbacca, and the rest of the gang searching for Han Solo (still frozen in carbonite) with the help of the rugged Dash Rendar in the midst of a rivalry between Darth Vader and Prince Xizor, ruler of the Black Sun criminal organization. Apparently, Lucasfilm had briefly toyed with the idea of calling what would become The Force Awakens, Shadow(s) Of The Empire. The brand confusion consideration has to count for something right? Long live Guri!
When the title of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was first announced, many Star Wars fans assumed we’d see some kind of adaptation of the X-Wing series written by Michael A. Stackpole and Aaron Allston. Following everyone’s third favorite X-Wing pilot from the original trilogy, X-Wing: Roque Squardon featured Wedge Antilles forming a new Rogue Squadron (and eventually Wraith Squadron) going on missions for the Rebel Alliance as they transitioned into becoming the New Republic after the events of Return Of The Jedi. Like the upcoming Rogue One, these novels did not feature the main saga heroes but showed that the Star Wars universe didn’t need them to still have compelling stories. They featured some of my favorite EU characters like the nefarious heterochromia-affected Ysanne Isard, puppy dog pilot Tycho Celchu, and the tenacious, eventual Jedi, Corran Horn.
The Courtship Of Princess Leia
The Star Wars Harlequin Romance novel with its planet of Rancor-riding witches, a Fabio-esque Prince, and Han doing some very questionable things in order to win Leia Organa’s heart, The Courtship Of Princess Leia is perhaps one of the silliest yet most memorable Star Wars novels in the Expanded Universe. Courtship has all the makings of a old-fashioned rom-com AND a Disney princess movie with one of the plot points involving Princess Leia being forced to marry over a peace treaty. Han’s jealousy then drives him to kidnap her, taking her to the planet Dathomir (Darth Maul was born there) where hijinks ensue, and Leia realizes she stills loves the scoundrel enough to marry him in the end. Luke was there too, to like help and stuff. Did I mention there are witches that ride Rancors in it?
The Jedi Academy Trilogy
Luke Skywalker sets out to rebuild the Jedi Order in the The Jedi Academy Trilogy (Jedi Search, Dark Apprentice, Champions Of The Force) taking place around seven years after the events Return Of The Jedi. Written by Kevin J. Anderson these three books showed Luke facing off against the spirit of an evil force ghost Exar Kun whom came mainly to influence the young Kyp Durron, a new friend of Han Solo, after being rescued from the spice mines of Kessel. This doesn’t turn out well for anyone when Durron gets his hands on the stolen Sun Crusher, a man-sized ship capable of destroying entire star systems (Han and Chewie stole it from the ruthless Admiral Daala).
With Kathleen Kennedy implicitly acknowledging that some ideas and themes are up for grabs from the EU, is it at all possible to imagine that directors J.J. Abrams, Rian Johnson, and Colin Trevorrow looked to The Jedi Academy Trilogy for inspiration in Luke and Kylo Ren’s respective storylines for Episodes ‘VII’ – ‘IX?’ Time will tell.
The Thrawn Trilogy
Grand Admiral Thrawn, baby! Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy (Heir To The Empire, Dark Force Rising, The Last Command) is considered by most Star Wars fans to be responsible for kickstarting the success of the EU in the 90s. Taking place five years after Return Of The Jedi, it introduced two of the EU’s most iconic characters, the charming and calculating Grand Admiral Thrawn and the powerful Mara Jade, the former right hand assassin to Emperor Palpatine. This booked is packed to the brim featuring Force-repellent lizards (the ysalamiri), plots to kill Leia and Han’s unborn twins, an evil Jedi clone in the form of the crazy Joruus C’baoth, and an evil clone of Luke, dubbed Luuke (yes, really). More than any other EU novels, The Thrawn Trilogy embodies the Star Wars spirit of space opera at its best.
What are you favorite Star Wars Expanded Universe stories? What elements or characters are you hoping they adapt into the new canon? Let us know in the comments below!
Header image by The Brothers Hildebrandt