Geek Primer: Expanding the Star Wars Universe

To quote Ben Kenobi, the Star Wars films are merely the “first step into a larger world.” The comics, video games, and prose fiction that expand the Star Wars universe are legion. Up until April of last year, there were stories than took place anytime between 26,000 years before The Phantom Menace and 150 years after Return of the Jedi. In order to make the universe more accessible, and not to have the new trilogy of films be beholden to what has already been written, Disney and Lucasfilm cleared the board, declaring everything that had come before was no longer canon, except for the Clone Wars series.

Since then, Lucasfilm has been quick to roll out new material, with an added bonus. The Story Group there is coordinating every single new story, giving them essentially equal weight in their contribution to the overall tapestry. Now is a great time to get into Star Wars in other media, also known as the Expanded Universe (EU) so here is a quick guide to help you get started. Just one more note, I’m not talking about any of the new video games, since I haven’t been able to play any of them yet.

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Television

Besides the Clone Wars series that I recommended yesterday, the newest Star Wars series on television is Star Wars Rebels. Currently in its second season, it takes place 14 years after Revenge of the Sith, which is 5 years before A New Hope. It centers on a small cell of Rebels that are trying to undercut the Empire on a very small scale.

Kanan, one of the main characters, was a young padawan when the Jedi fell, and in the series, he takes on a new apprentice in Ezra Bridger. The cast of the show is a core strength, and while some of the humor and story is definitely aimed at a younger audience, there is enough there for older fans to enjoy. For those who have watched Clone Wars, the series ties into that in some fun ways which I won’t spoil. It also brings in characters from the other films, while offering plenty of new characters and locations to enjoy.

The first season of Rebels is on Netflix, and the current season airs on Disney XD, or the episodes can be purchased digitally.

The Novels

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So far, there are 8 novels that are canon for Star Wars. The earliest one, Dark Disciple, is actually based on unproduced episodes of the Clone Wars series, so it takes place before Revenge of the Sith. The second earliest novel, Lords of the Sith, takes place between Revenge of the Sith and Rebels. The point of the novel is to delve into the interworking of Palpatine and Darth Vader, as well as show a small-scale insurrection. It’s a fun novel, but not the best representation of the quality of the books overall.

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The next two novels chronologically, is where I would recommend starting. Tarkin, by all-star Star Wars writer James Luceno, focuses on Moff Wilhuff Tarkin (played by Peter Cushing in A New Hope). It gives the character an interesting backstory that builds on the glimpses as an aristocrat, while he oversees the construction of the Death Star and stamps out the last of the Separatists in his sector of the galaxy. Taking place a few years later is A New Dawn, which serves as an introduction to Kanan, and is proof of how the Story Group works together to weave together various media. It features Kanan meeting Hera, another lead from the Rebels show. Both are interesting stories linked thematically by demonstrating the power of the Empire. Conveniently, they were republished together in paperback with three additional short stories, available for $15.00 or less. It’s an excellent deal!

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The next book on my reading list is Lost Stars. I was skeptical at first because the premise is basically a “forbidden love” story but with the Empire and Rebellion standing in for Montagues and Capulets. However, the book has a lot of critical acclaim, and it takes place concurrently with the original films and beyond, making it one of the few stories currently dealing with a post-Return of the Jedi timeframe.

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Of all the books on this list, Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath is the one I would recommend for those primarily interested in filling in the gaps between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. While it primarily features brand new characters, the book is dotted with interludes that hint at the larger state of the galaxy at this time. It’s also the first part of a trilogy to feature these characters, who are very endearing and fun. It’s a riptide of an adventure, and Wendig’s prose has a unique cadence to it that makes the read even more enjoyable. Just don’t read the Amazon reviews, which tend to focus on missing the older material or objecting to the inclusion of homosexual characters.

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Shorter Fiction

Those looking for prose featuring the continued adventures of Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and Han Solo are in luck. Though written for younger readers, a trio of novellas: Weapon of a Jedi, Moving Target, and Smuggler’s Run, respectively, are engaging stories, and feature illustration breaks drawn by amazing comics artist Phil Noto. The stories also give little hints into what is to come in The Force Awakens.

The Comics

The Star Wars comics, now published by Marvel, fall into four distinct categories. All of them have been of high quality so far, and they all began this year, so they are easy to track down in print or digitally. The first is the ongoing Kanan comic which takes place in between the fall of the Jedi in Revenge of the Sith, and the A New Dawn novel. He is an interesting character, and it is a fun experience to have his story fleshed out across three different media relatively concurrently.

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The other ongoing comics comprise two series, Star Wars and Darth Vader. The Star Wars comic follows Luke, Leia, Han, Chewbacca, and the droids in their adventures after the destruction of the first Death Star, with interlude issues taken from “The Journals of Old Ben Kenobi.” Luke even wears that sweet yellow jacket he has in the final scene of the first film. Writer Jason Aaron truly makes this series work, as his dialogue for all of the principal characters is spot on, no small accomplishment. The art has also been stellar. The second storyline, which ended last month, “Showdown on the Smuggler’s Moon,” which features the work of artist Stuart Immonen, is just sublime in both look and feel.

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The Darth Vader comic, written by Kieron Gillen, seeks to answer the question how Darth Vader, seemingly disgraced at the end of A New Hope by the destruction of the Death Star, is commanding an entire fleet at the beginning of Empire Strikes Back. While portraying the Dark Lord of the Sith as a sympathetic character, the comic draws a lot on both humor and intrigue based on the machinations and internal politics of the Empire. Vader has his own agenda, distinct from that of the other Imperials, and maybe even different from the Emperor. It also crosses over with the main Star Wars comic in a way that makes reading both a better experience while not making it feel shoehorned. I highly recommend both of these comics, and the first storyarc of each has been collected.

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The next category are the character specific miniseries, which are self-contained stories that each focus on a different character. The first is about Princess Leia, written by Mark Waid, and subsequent minis have focused on Chewbacca and Lando, written by Gerry Duggan and Charles Soule, respectively. So far, they all take place in between A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back, just like the other two ongoing comics. The Princess Leia miniseries has been collected as a graphic novel, while the others are still in progress or have recently wrapped up.

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And finally, there is one comic series that takes place after Return of the Jedi, which is called Shattered Empire. Written by Greg Rucka, one of the best writers working in comics today (he is also the author of the aforementioned Smuggler’s Run), it tells a key backstory for the parents of one of the main characters of The Force Awakens, and is, as of right now, the best glimpse we have of our heroes after the events of the 1983 film. At four issues it is a quick read, and the collection is already out.

Author: Ryan Silberstein

Ryan spends his days at a company named one of the best to work for in the Philadelphia area, and his nights as a mysterious caped vigilante saving his city from the disease that is crime watching movies. He lives on a diet consisting of film, comic books, experimental beer, black coffee, and those big metal historical markers around town. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.

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