Star Wars

It’s a Big (Expanded) Universe – A Fangirl’s Thoughts on Where to Start


It’s a Big (Expanded) Universe – A Fangirl’s Thoughts on Where to Start

Last year at GeekGirlCon’s Star Wars Expanded Universe panel, an audience member posed the question – Where should I start?

In the Star Wars Expanded Universe where the books and comics present one continuous canon, this question pops up with regularity. I’m always interested to see how fans answer it. It’s natural to want to pitch our personal favorites in response, but not everyone who’s asking is going to have the same tastes. So when I’m presented with that question by a curious potential fan, I try to return a question to him or her before considering my response – What is it that you like?

In his recent interview with the ForceCast, Frank Parisi talked about creating gateways into the Expanded Universe. I believe that the key, if you really want to suck someone into the fandom, is to give the person the flavor they prefer the most first. For instance, what if I’m talking to a friend who mentions, “I really love The Godfather”? Well, the Galaxy Far Far Away has something that just might float their gangster-loving boat. That’s when the lightsaber of an idea would ignite in my head and I’d say, “How about you give this new book Scourge a try?”

I’ve been turned on to books or television shows I might not have chosen on my own based on recommendations from sources varying from personal friends to online personalities. Recently, The Hunger Games books and The Legend of Korra television show come to mind. I trusted the judgment of the people who recommended them to me. As a blogger, creating that kind of trust with my own audience is very important.

Over the past year, after answering many tweets and emails with that daunting question of where to start reading the Star Wars Expanded Universe, I put together a little cheat sheet. My selections come in part from my own sensibilities, but all of these books are well regarded by a broad spectrum of fans. I’ve also found that one-shots or duologies are much less imposing as a place to begin. If one or two characters grab their attention, though, readers are often hooked. For each of my selections, I’ve tried to give a frame of reference – if you like this franchise or genre or movie, then you’d probably like that book.

So below are my fangirl suggestions. I’m always happy to answer the question directly on Twitter or at FANgirl Zone on Facebook, too.

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Are movie novelizations your thing? Then you can’t miss Revenge of the Sith. Author Matt Stover sat down with George Lucas to get a peek inside the characters’ heads. This is one of the very best novels in the entire Expanded Universe, and it expands on the film in brilliant and unexpected ways.

Do you like romance? Are Han and Leia your dream team? If you were wondering how the pair finally tied the knot, read The Courtship of Princess Leia by Dave Wolverton. Sure, parts of it are a little cheesy, but that’s to be expected in a space opera romance. Or if you’d prefer to read about them as newlyweds, I suggest Tatooine Ghost by Troy Denning.

Is Top Gun one of your favorites? Do you think the trench run was the best part of A New Hope? Ever wondered what it’s like to fly an X-wing? Pick up X-Wing: Starfighters of Adumar by fan-favorite author Aaron Allston. This is also one of the laugh-out-loud funniest books in the Expanded Universe.

Did you like frontline storytelling like M*A*S*H – assuming you’re old enough to know what that is – or medical practitioner procedurals? Do you like stories about side characters? Medstar I: Battle Surgeons and Medstar II: Jedi Healer by Michael Reaves and Steve Perry feature doctors and a female Jedi healer struggling to make a difference in the Clone Wars.

Are you a fan of the original Star Wars movies? Timothy Zahn set the high bar with the Thrawn trilogy, which some fans consider their Episodes VII, VIII and IX; the first book is Heir to the Empire. Allegiance, which takes place shortly after A New Hope, has Luke, Han, Leia, an intriguing squad of honor-bound stormtroopers, and Zahn’s signature strong female heroine, Mara Jade, in her days as the Emperor’s Hand. His latest Star Wars book, Choices of One, has a similar tale.

Would you prefer something from the prequel movie era? James Luceno’s Darth Plagueis shook the collective fandom mind with its carefully crafted exposure of the Sith machinations to take over the galaxy. If you think Mace Windu is the man, Shatterpoint digs into the Jedi Master’s backstory and Force philosophy. And if clones are more up your alley, Republic Commando: Hard Contact turns the troopers-beneath-the-armor into human beings.

Have you wondered about Han’s and Leia’s children, or had an inkling to taste-test the epic nineteen-book New Jedi Order but felt a little daunted about jumping in without knowing much about it? (Or wondered about that character Jaina Solo who FANgirl Blog won’t stop talking about?) Get Ylesia. It’s an ebook short story with a little romance, some Jedi swinging their lightsabers, a good sense of the Yuuzhan Vong villains of the series, and some fighter pilot action to top it off. You can find the story in print in the first book of Troy Denning’s Dark Nest trilogy, Dark Nest I: The Joiner King.

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That’s my list. I hope it didn’t boggle the newbie mind too much. And, of course, if you have some others, please feel free to make suggestions in the comments.


Tricia Barr is a transportation engineer, who in her spare time blogs about fangirls, storytelling, and Star Wars at FANgirl Blog. This August, she is hosting a panel on the Star Wars Expanded Universe at GeekGirlCon in Seattle.


15 Responses to “It’s a Big (Expanded) Universe – A Fangirl’s Thoughts on Where to Start”

  1. Octane says:

    There are some great recommendations for beginners in your list (especially the Thrawn trilogy and the Medstar books) but I don’t quite understand why you recommend the last book in the X-Wing series? Wouldn’t the first one, “Rogue Squadron” be a better choice? It certainly has its share of space combat and humour, as does the rest of the series.

    “Courtship of Princess Leia” was one of my first Star Wars books, and it almost made me give up on the Expanded Universe, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone, least of all a newbie. In my opinion it’s badly written, the characters’ behaviour (especially Leia’s) is absolutely inconsistent with what you’d expect from the movies and the rest of the EU and (probably because it was written before the prequel trilogy) the way the Force works doesn’t really square with current canon. “A little cheesy” might also be a little too much understatement. YMMV I guess, but if I had to pick my least favourite EU book, this would be it.

    However, thanks for recommending “Choices of One”, I somehow completely missed that!

  2. AngelaG says:

    I agree with Octane, why the last book of the X-Wing series? I usually suggest the whole series to new EU fans. The whole series is so much fun, and so engrossing, they’re usually hooked. I also recommend the Republic Commandos books, for people who want to see the other side of the Clone Wars.

  3. JohnB says:

    Kind of disappointed Shadows of the Empire didn’t make it. I won’t say it’s my favorite but it was my first so I still have up towards the top. But I don’t think anyone will disagree with a Zahn book.

  4. Lumpy says:

    I am a big fan of the New Republic Era & NJO so I always tell people to start with the Thrawn trilogy. you can’t go wrong with that series, it has a little bit of everything! plus it really jump started the EU & helped make it into what it is today.

  5. Random Comments says:

    Although I loved Darth Plagueis, I think it would be too confusing for a good first entry into the Expanded Universe. It references a lot of other books, and the references are important to understanding the plot.

  6. James says:

    I have been reading Star Wars for a good solid 7 to 8 years now. This is my Recommendations

    If you want to know about the Prequel I suggest you start with the Childrens books so you can get better familar with Obi Wan and Qui gon. The read Episode One. After that Anakin Comes in the Picture so I recommend you read the Jedi Knight’s series. And the Novel in during the Clone wars. (I personally don’t like the clone wars because when you watch the cartoon version and read a book from the same time it throws you off.)

    If you Want to know what happens way back when before Yoda A great start is actaully playing Knights of the Old Republic. In this Era there are more writtings about the sith that do have a huge effect for the Prequel stuff.

    Are you A rebel or and Imperial, smuggler, or pirate? After The Jedi Returns This is the most Detailed part of the time line. It is a for me to suggest as a must read but do read the book in between the Trilogy. They give you better background on the Characters and situations.

    I do suggest the Young Jedi Knights Series because it introduces the New Jedi Nights you will read about in the Dark Nest Trilogy through out the Fate of the Jedi and possibly much more.

    There is something for Everybody and if you like Politics you will love Fate of the Jedi
    If you like Alien invasion read about the Yuzhanvong war ( I can never spell that right from the top of my head)

    If you like Horror (which is rather new and ingenious to the Star Wars timeline.) there is Death Troopers and Red Harvest. (in The Fate of the Jedi Apolcalypse is kinda scary but to think about it the whole series is kinda dark)
    There is so much to read you’ll be busy for years lol.

  7. Space Girl says:

    My younger brother just asked me where to start in the EU. My go-to is, and always will be, Heir to the Empire. Well known characters from the films, excellent gripping storyline. My brother is officially hooked he said.

  8. Tony says:

    My recommendations are: For original trilogy fans: Shadows of the Empire and Heir to the empire. For prequel fans Cloak of Deception by Luceno, specially if you are a fan of political thrillers. My “in theory it should be a good starting point but you should really stay away from it” novel is Truce at Bakura.

  9. Chris says:

    I agree strongly with Tony above. For those who love the original trilogy, I’ve recommended Shadows of the Empire as an EU starting point for many people. The Thrawn trilogy is also a fantastic starting point. Crispin’s Han Solo trilogy is a fun entry point too. The \Tales of\ series are quite fun too.

    There have been some gems in the prequel-era, like Labyrinth of Evil & the Ep III novelization.

    My own entry point was the Jedi Academy trilogy, just btw.

  10. Robert Markham says:

    As someone who *really* doesn’t like 90% of the EU, I’d suggest the old Marvel comics and the Droids cartoon. That was the last time before the overly melodramatic EU as we know it came about. (Alcholism! Fratricide! Space Cancer! Fun!)

    “Shadows of the Empire” was hemmed in by being an “interquel” (or what you will), so works pretty well. For similar reasons, I liked “Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter” because it couldn’t screw with the characters too much.

    Basically, if it’s something that Lucas wouldn’t do himself or allow to be done on The Clone Wars (which, again, represents about 90% of the EU), I ignore it and suggest others do the same.

  11. Josh says:

    I think Adumar is a good choice for the X-Wing series because 1) It’s a standalone 2) Like she said, it’s considered by many to be one of the funniest books in the EU and 3) Three of the main characters were movie characters whose faces we see onscreen.

  12. Tony says:

    Chris, thank you for remainding me of the Han Solo Trilogy. If Han Solo is your favorite character in the Star Wars saga you own it to yourself to read the A.C Crispin books – The Paradise Snare is the first book in the trilogy. It shows you how Han won the Falcon from Lando, the first encounter with Boba Fett, Han history with Jabba, how Han did the Kessel run so fast and in such a short distance (for those who complaint that “parsecs is a unit of distance not a unit of time”). It has a great space battle and there are scenes were assasinations are taking place that read as if they were taking right out of The Godfather. There is also some romance and a rebel alliance connection. And best of all it leads right into A New Hope.

  13. Tony says:

    Thanks Chris for reminding me of the Han Solo Trilogy. If your favorite character of the Star Wars saga is Han SOlo you own it to yourself to read A. C. Crispin’s Han Solo trilogy which starts with the novel The Paradise Snare. It shows how he met Chewbacca and Lando, how he won the Falcon from Lando, his history with Jabba, first encounter with Bobba Fett,how he did the Kessel run so fast and is such a short distance (for those who complain that parsec are a unit of distance and not a unit of time) and it leads right into A New Hope. There is romance, the Rebel Alliance, Han’s days in the imperial academy, a nice space battle and the criminal undergorund elements had some scenes that read as if they were taking from The Godfather. I cannot recommend this enough.

  14. Tony says:

    Sorry for the double post, my browser crashed so I thought the first post did not worked but there it is one day later. I’ll take the opportunity to add that my personal gateway to Star Wars novels was the first book in the Corelian trilogy. I did not know who Mara Jada, Jacen, Jaina or Anakin Solo were but I enjoyed it nonetheless. Even before that I read the Original Tales of the Jedi comic series. Short soties on the Star Wars Adventure Journal (some of them collected in Tales of the Empire and Tales of the Republic-) were also some of my first EU experiences.

    Del Rey, please, please make an anthology collecting existing short stories from the now defunct Star Wars Galaxy Magazine by Topps and Star Wars Insider. The multipart New Jedi Order story- Emmisaries to the Void- particularly comes to mind.

  15. Matt says:

    Well Tony, I’ve been asking them to release more hard to find short stories for months with no reply so I guess our requests are falling on deaf ears on that. You can find Galaxy and Insider shorts stories fairly easy if you know where to look. It’s those other darn stories (like “Death in the Slave Pits of Lorrd” and “Imprint”) which are impossible to find anymore.

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