15 Best Books From the Defunct ‘Star Wars’ Expanded Universe

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Even though we’re in a new era of ”Star Wars,“ it’s always good to look back at where we’ve been in the long history of ”Star Wars“ novels. After Disney bought LucasFilm and got the ball rolling on new “Star Wars” movies, they wiped clean the entire Expanded Universe of narratively connected novels, comics and video games from the official “Star Wars” timeline. Gone, yes, but not forgotten. Among all the novels that were published over three decades, there’s still plenty of gems to be found in the defunct Expanded Universe.

  1. “Tales From Jabba’s Palace” (1996)

The “Star Wars” universe, being massive and full of oddities, was really well served by a series of short story anthologies like this, which also happens to be the best one. It explores a lot of the strange things we saw in Jabba’s palace in “Return of the Jedi,” and it’s never afraid to get real weird — which in this case, at least, is a great thing.

  1. “Outbound Flight” (2006)

Functions as a prequel to Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy, finally detailing the Outbound Flight mission we’d heard mentioned so many times for over a decade — and it turned out to be a lot more involved than we’d thought. “Outbound Flight,” which occurred during the events of the prequel trilogy, involved a group of Jedi Masters and a number of colonists taking an expedition beyond the galaxy in search of extra-galactic Force users — but on their way out they flew through the Unknown Regions of the galaxy, and ran afoul of some of the more unsavory alien civilizations there. And also Thrawn, whose species of blue near-humans hails from that part of space.

  1. “Edge of Victory: Conquest” (2001)

Late in the run of the Expanded Universe came single longform stories published as a series — the longest of these was the “New Jedi Order,” about a race of religious fanatic aliens called the Yuuzhan Vong invading the galaxy. “Conquest” was the eighth in that series, and it was the first, ah, humanizing look at the Yuuzhan Vong society. It turned out that, like any other society, the Yuuzhan Vong has its downtrodden folks who don’t like the murderous establishment, and teenage Anakin (youngest son of Han and Leia) carries out a dangerous mission with one such downtrodden soul.

  1. “Isard’s Revenge” (1999)

This “X-Wing” one-shot novel is essentially the payoff to the entire long history of the elite Rogue Squadron that was told over a number of novels and comic books. Every loose end tied off and many stories, including some not part of the Rogue arc, re-contextualized in a really interesting way. “Isard’s Revenge” is the kind of story that can only happen within a massive universe with a detailed history — it’s the kind of story that makes a lot of old bad storytelling feel like it was worth it.

  1. “Han Solo and the Lost Legacy” (1980)

One of the most fascinating aspects of the “Star Wars” Expanded Universe was how the early authors were kinda making up how everything worked and casually establishing hugely important things. Though, it was obvious nobody knew what they were doing and most of the books were pretty terrible as details were filled in at random. The three “Han Solo Adventures” were released in 1979 and 1980 — and they work because they tell small stories rather than the sort of galaxy-shaking narratives we would see every couple months throughout the ’90s. “Lost Legacy,” the third one, sees Han going after the fabled treasure of Xim the Despot at the edge of the galaxy. It’s a great story, and an early emblem for the flexibility of “Star Wars” as a setting.

  1. “Hand of Thrawn” duology (1997)

Grand Admiral Thrawn has been dead for a decade, and the New Republic is on the verge of an official peace accord with the beaten-down remnants of the Empire. But Thrawn’s legacy, and plans he’d set in motion long before threaten that peace. This is why nerds love Thrawn so much. In the Expanded Universe, he casts a shadow that — though it’s a different kind of shadow — is nearly as long as that of Darth Vader and the Emperor.

  1. “Wedge’s Gamble” (1996)

The second book in the “X-Wing” series recounts the Liberation of Coruscant by the New Republic a few years after “Return of the Jedi.” It’s a seemingly impossible task — the Empire is still extremely well armed, and Corsucant is protected by an impenetrable energy shield. So they clandestinely send in the new Rogue Squadron, which had been rebuilt with squad members had a number of other martial skills beyond being great pilots. The Rogues are tasked with bringing down the planetary shield by whatever means possible, and as they’re on a deadline, this thing gets hairy as hell.

  1. “Dark Force Rising” (1993)

I don’t hold up Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy with the sort of reverence a lot of fans do, but the middle book, “Dark Force Rising,” is really great. Grand Admiral Thrawn has reunited much of the remains of the Empire and is ripping the New Republic a new one. Then a wild card enters the fray: the mythical Katana Fleet, 200 massive droid-controlled dreadnoughts that had disappeared from known space due to a computer error during the Clone Wars decades earlier. By chance it’s been found, and it’s a race to see which side can claim them first — because the Katana fleet would seriously tilt the balance of the war.

  1. “Enemy Lines” duology (2002)

Late in the “New Jedi Order,” famed Rebel hero Wedge Antilles is charged with holding the planet Borleias from the Yuuzhan Vong, and it’s one hell of a thing. Massively outgunned, Wedge pulls a whole lot of seat-of-your-pants gambits out of his ass — and this pair of books, authored by the late Aaron Allston, is full of great and witty dialogue of the sort you just never got from other “Star Wars” authors. I treat “Enemy Lines” as a singular entity because the two sort of function as a single book split in half.

  1. “Cloak of Deception” (2001)

During the years when the prequel trilogy was released, a lot of novels and comics were commissioned more or less just to clean up the many narrative problems with those films. In “The Phantom Menace,” for example, fans complain about all the talk of trade routes and taxes — but the real problem was just that we didn’t understand what any of it meant just from the movie. Enter “Cloak of Deception,” which gave the Trade Federation’s beef with the Republic exactly the context it needed and by extension improving that bad movie in a real way.

  1. “Wraith Squadron” (1998)

The story of the Wraiths is unique among “Star Wars” stories in a lot of ways. It follows famed Rebel pilot Wedge Antilles as he assembles a hybrid starfighter/foot soldier squadron of emotionally unstable washouts — in hopes that such a group might approach apparently normal war scenarios in really unpredictable ways, and that’s exactly what happens. It’s the most human of all the “Star Wars” stories, full of truth.

  1. “Revenge of the Sith” (2005)

In a stroke of brilliance, LucasFilm had one of its best “Star Wars” authors, Matthew Woodring Stover, write the novelization of “Revenge of the Sith.” It’s so good it might trick you into remembering fondly the awful movie on which it’s based. It’s also notable as a film novelization because it leans heavily on the Expanded Universe, with other books being referenced heavily. And that’s why it qualifies for this list — a lot of stuff here isn’t part of the canon anymore.

  1. “Starfighters of Adumar” (1999)

The late Aaron Allston authored many of the best Expanded Universe stories, and “Starfighters of Adumar” is where really got to cut loose. Wedge Antilles and pals Tycho, Hobbie and Janson, are sent as diplomats to a newly discovered planet full of people who pretty don’t give a shit about anyone who isn’t a fighter pilot. It’s incessantly funny and weird — a great little side story that’s as witty as they get in this universe.

  1. “Iron Fist” (1998)

The Wraiths, now a unit with some missions under their belts, go undercover as a mercenary pirate gang in hopes of being hired by the biggest Imperial threat at that time, the Warlord Zsinj. It’s harrowing as hell, and an escalation of the themes established in “Wraith Squadron,” as the group struggles (and often fails) to keep it together mentally.

  1. “Traitor” (2002)

The peak of the “New Jedi Order,” and where the purpose of its overall narrative arc was revealed. In the ’90s, the “Star Wars” Expanded Universe got really moralistic and stuffy, and “Traitor” was a total refutation of that approach. It’s the darkest “Star Wars” story ever written, but it serves a positive agenda in the end: Maybe the Force isn’t black and white and the Jedi don’t need to stand around wondering about the moral implications of every little thing they do. It was a really great change for storytelling in the “Star Wars” universe.

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