Since the early days of A New Hope, Star Wars has always been supported by a wider merchandising offering: with books, spin-offs and most importantly, toys. However, the books created to support the deep lore of the Star Wars universe are perhaps the greatest contribution to the wider story of the franchise.
The Story Begins: the Expanded Universe (No Longer Canon)
The first book in the franchise was released in 1977. Each title was part of the Star Wars Expanded Universe and explored stories that involved Luke and the Jedi as well as a host of side characters.
Unfortunately, with Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm and Star Wars as well as all of its rights, many of these books ceased to be regarded as official canon. What was originally the Star Wars canon became the Star Wars Legends series.
To make this simple, consider ALL Star Wars Legends books not-canon. They are not officially part of the story and have no tangible connection to the Disney-owned era of Star Wars. However, if you’re a fan of some of these incredible stories, remember one thing: no fictional story is really true, it’s about what the reader gets from it - if you love these stories, you can love them on their own terms.
But there are more than 100+ of these ex-canon stories, so choose wisely!
Our top picks for non-canon novels in the Star Wars Legends universe:
- The original Thrawn trilogy by Timothy Zahn. Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising and The Last Command. These books helped renew interest in the Star Wars series and were a motivator for George Lucas to create the prequels. In them, Grand Admiral Thrawn plots to take over the galaxy. Confusingly, there is a new, canon series about this character ALSO written by Timothy Zahn - but these first books are the true originators and are set after the downfall of the empire.
- Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter by Michael Reaves. Okay, okay -so we have a soft spot for Darth Maul. As well as stocking a Darth Maul replica lightsaber, our team absolutely loves the character. But sadly, he’s underexplored in the main series and would have remained so if not for the animated series. This book, however, explores the origins of Maul and is a precursor to Episode I.
- The Darth Bane Series by Drew Karpyshyn. Fans of the Sith will love this one - which explores the origins and rise of Darth Bane, one of the most legendary baddies in the expanded universe. Set 1000 years before A New Hope, this is a must-read that looks at the transition of the Sith in the old republic days to modern day villains.
- Shatterpoint: A Clone Wars Novel by Matthew Stover. Mace Windu is criminally underused in the main films. This, the first of the Clone Wars novels, is a great redemption for that - offering glimpses of Windu’s past and presenting some heavy themes such as religion, war and death.
There are many, many more books worth exploring - but those above are our top picks for those who don’t have enough time on their hands to delve deeply into a series which is no longer considered part of the real Star Wars story. However, as we mentioned, they’re all worth reading regardless. A bonus suggestion is the X-Wing series, which is amazing for those who like to see the universe without any main characters.
The Story Evolves: What Star Wars Books Are Canon?
The Force Awakens heralded a new era of Disney-owned Star Wars and with it, many of the stories originally written were no longer canon. Originally this meant readers had less to be intimidated by, with only a handful of stories released.
Now, with over 150 official ‘canon’ novels available and new ones still ready for release, listing them all is a little silly. Here’s a handy timeline-ordered official list from Wookieepedia.
So what Star Wars books are canon are which are worth reading? Well, we know now that all Star Wars Legends books are no longer canon and that instead, the Disney-era has resulted in a huge number of new books.
What are our picks of the best Star Wars books in the canon? Here are our choices:
- Bloodline by Claudia Gray. Leia Organa is an inspirational character and one whose backstory is underexplored in the films. This novel by Claudia Grey explores Leia’s term serving as a member of the galactic senate of the new republic.
- Master and Apprentice by Claudia Gray. Okay, so this is yet another addition by Claudia Gray - but many of these new novels are from authors who are repeatedly invited to write for the franchise. This one stars everyone’s favourite duo, Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi, exploring the origins of this iconic master/apprentice pairing.
- Ahsoka by E.K Johnston. The real strength of canon Star Wars books is their ability to explore stories, characters and plots that the main films never have time for. Ahsoka is a great example of this, showing us more of one of the cooler Jedis in the franchise
- Thrawn by Timothy Zahn. So it’s Thrawn, again? Confusing, we know - but remember: the original Thrawn trilogy is now a Legends book and not considered canon. This one, written by the same author, focuses more on Thrawn’s origins but is still just as amazing and unforgettable as the originals. Some would even argue that this and its sequels are better than Zahn’s first series. We’ll leave that one up to you.
There are hundreds of Star Wars novels to choose from. Instead of asking what Star Wars books are canon, why not just delve in to the ones who explore the characters or settings you’re most interested in? After all, a good story is a good story - regardless of whether it’s endorsed by a billion-dollar entertainment giant.