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The best Star Wars novels and comics to read today

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Star Wars: Squadrons, the first Star Wars flight sim in more than 20 years, is here, and it lives up to its legacy. With Squadrons on my PC and Baby Yoda still ruling merchandising with an iron fist, I’ve had Star Wars on the brain like so many others. As a devotee of Star Wars lore ranging from the obscure (nobody can beat my Arden Lyn) to the embarrassing (having read all the Young Jedi Knight novels), my interest in the upcoming space sim is off the star charts. But if you’re looking to make the jump to lightspeed, it’s important to choose the right ship, since a shady guy once told me that reading Star Wars novels ain’t like dusting crops.

If you're looking to dig deeper into Star Wars books today, here's what you should read.

If you only read three things

The Han Solo Adventures, by Brian Daley 

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The Han Solo Adventures on Amazon

These books have basically nothing to do with modern Star Wars—or even Star Wars as it existed post-Empire Strikes Back. They're not canon. There are no Jedi. And yet they're still the most fun novels written in George Lucas's playground. Published in 1979 and 1980, these pulp adventures from Brian Daley capture the spirit of adventure Lucas loved in the old pulp serials he was inspired by in creating Star Wars and Indiana Jones. They're all about Han Solo and Chewbacca galavanting around space, getting into smuggling shenanigans. They're broke. They hunt treasure. Han gets into fast-draw contests. They fight space cops. They're brisk, action-packed, and perfectly capture Han Solo's character circa the original film. If only the Solo film had been half as good as these novels. 

Bloodline, by Claudia Gray

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Bloodline on Amazon

In Bloodline, Claudia Gray does an admirable job conveying just how horrible multi-system space governments can be (and somehow makes that engaging). We get to see Leia, as the main character, struggle with the trappings of statehood while still getting into some exciting  action setpieces as she unravels plots threatening the divided New Republic. Ultimately, this novel is an excellent piece of background to lead into The Force Awakens, which skipped over explaining how the New Republic was somehow under the rebooted Empire's heel again. Leia discovers the formation of the First Order and ultimately forms the Resistance herself to oppose it. 

The X-Wing series, by Michael A. Stackpole and Aaron Allston

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The X-Wing series on Amazon

Now considered Legends material and thus not-canon in the new Star Wars, the X-Wing novels are still some fantastic reading—and the go-to books if you're in a starfighter mood thanks to Star Wars: Squadrons. The first four novels by Stackpole set the stage with excellent space dogfighting (though they can be a bit too mechanical at times) and some worldbuilding for his vision of the remnants of the Empire.

The series shifts when Allston takes over, and instead we have a ragtag band of misfits in the newly formed Wraith squadron joining hero Wedge Antilles to keep things weird. Star Wars weird. What I'm saying is, there's an Ewok who flies an X-Wing. You can skip to the Wraith squadron books if you're interested in a more dark comedy take on the universe—they're basically the Star Wars version of Suicide Squad, and as fun as old Legends novels get. 

The best of the new novels

Catalyst, by James Luceno 

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Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel on Amazon

Examining the period before the criminally underrated Rogue One, Catalyst gives a longform history of the Death Star. It covers the Death Star's conception, initial designs, and how Galen Erso’s fate was intertwined with it and with villainous director Krennic. Catalyst succeeds in framing just how monumental the design of the massive battle station was, and makes Galen’s character in Rogue One even more sympathetic and heroic for the illumination he receives.

Alphabet Squadron, by Alexander Freed

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Alphabet Squadron: Book 1 on Amazon

The modern successor to the old X-Wing series, Alphabet Squadron absolutely nails the feel of the best parts of the novel series it's a spiritual replacement for. The group of battered veteran pilots from diverse backgrounds (including an Imperial defector in the lead) each use a different starfighter as they try to track down and destroy an elite TIE Fighter squadron in the aftermath of the Battle of Endor. If you want great characterization, dogfighting space combat, and a more gritty and realistic feel a la Rogue One, Alphabet Squadron is going to be your main Star Wars squeeze.

The best of the new comics

Doctor Aphra by Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca

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Doctor Aphra Vol. 1 on Amazon

The morally bankrupt anti-hero Aphra is a blend of some great new ideas in Star Wars. Her job as a questionably legal archaeologist serves as an awesome vehicle for telling stories that don’t have to be centered around the Empire or the Rebellion during the era of the original trilogy. She has a lot of the same traits that we love in Han Solo, but she’s sold off ¾ of his heart of gold to fund her next expedition. 

Star Wars (Marvel 2015), by Jason Aaron, John Cassaday, and others

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Star Wars Vol. 1 on Amazon

Serving as Marvel’s main Star Wars series from 2015-2019 in 75 issues (with collected volumes available), the main Star Wars series is your favorite candy bar in comic form, giving us more time with the characters of the original trilogy. Taking place between A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back, the varied stories in this series give us a look at everything from Han’s early days to flashbacks covering Obi-Wan. Simple, effective, and easy to read, it’s a pleasure to slice through.

The best tabletop RPG

Edge of the Empire, Age of Rebellion, and Force and Destiny by Fantasy Flight Games

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Star Wars RPGs at Fantasy Flight

There have been a few big attempts to nail Star Wars in traditional RPG form, and for a long time the king was still the venerable West End Games take that originally released in 1987. With a threefold approach, Fantasy Flight Games gave us one game system with three different compatible game styles. Edge of the Empire is for scum and villainy living on the fringes, Age of Rebellion about joining the struggle against the Empire, and Force and Destiny has the beginning of rebuilding and exploring the galaxy’s connection to the Force.

The game system does a remarkable and innovative job of creating cinematic storytelling, allowing players to introduce narrative elements into the story along with the GM. If you like Star Wars and enjoy traditional RPGs and don’t mind having to pick up some special dice to play, this is a space fantasy slam dunk.

Legends books still worth reading

Heir to the Empire trilogy, by Timothy Zahn

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The Thrawn Trilogy on Amazon

Widely beloved, Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire trilogy is the original introduction of Thrawn and Mara Jade, who fans still hope to see make it back into the modern canon someday. Zahn managed to nail the feel of the characters and Star Wars universe back in the early '90s when it was almost completely dormant and deserves a lot of credit for its resurgence. These books really influenced the '90s Star Wars games, and set the course for where the galaxy would go post-Return of the Jedi. Its story about the New Republic vs. the remnants of the Empire was far more original than what we ended up with in the new movies.

If you want a new, canon take on Timothy Zahn's Admiral Thrawn, who is one of the few Legends characters to carry over into the new continuity, check out his 2017 origin story novel Thrawn—just be ready for a story that's more plodding, and features a lot of Sherlock-style internal monologuing from Thrawn and his new protégé who both manage to come off pretty boring.

Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor, by Matthew Stover

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Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor on Amazon

This novel, inspired by Brian Daley's Han Solo trilogy, does two seemingly opposite things rarely seen in Star Wars novels, and somehow manages to make them work together. On the whole it feels like a real pulp adventure focused on the action, with Luke doing lightsaber tricks and characters from Rogue Squadron along for fun. But it also gets philosophical about the force and brings some degree of actual physics to bear in the space battles. This is probably the only Star Wars book in which Lando Calrissian thinks about radiation while he's commanding a fleet. Hard sci-fi—in my Star Wars? It's more likely than you think.

Seriously, though, it somehow works, finding a balance between the silly and the "realistic" that's an absorbing read.

Dark Empire, by Tom Veitch and Cam Kennedy

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The Dark Empire trilogy on Amazon

Some of the best comic art of Star Wars comes from Dark Empire, covering the period after Zahn’s Heir to the Empire trilogy where Palpatine has returned from the dead. That's right—Rise of Skywalker's big idea was lifted straight out of a goofy comic from 1991.