From Thrawn to A New Dawn: We count down the 31 best Star Wars books

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Oct 2, 2015, 12:36 PM EDT

It's been 32 long years since we last saw our heroes on the big screen in Return of the Jedi. But on Dec. 18, one of the most famous franchises -- if not THE most famous franchise -- in movie history is returning to theaters in the much-anticipated next chapter of their story with Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Over the next 20 weeks, we will celebrate the franchise by looking back and ranking the best, the worst, the weirdest and the most amusing moments in Star Wars history.

One of the best things about Star Wars is that the adventure doesn't end with the movies and TV shows. The Expanded Universe, filled with amazing novels set in and well beyond the time periods we’ve watched on screen, has played an instrumental part in continuing the story.

Disney may be creating its own canon book universe now since they decided the original Expanded Universe is no longer canon, but that doesn’t mean the books currently labeled Legends should be forgotten. Here’s my ranking of 31 individual books and multi-book series in the Star Wars universe, minus the movie novelizations

31. Black Fleet Crisis trilogy: Before the Storm, Shield of Lies, and Tyrant’s Test by Michael P. Kube-Mcdowell

These three books take place about 16 years after A New Hope, during the New Republic era of the Expanded Universe. Things have become peaceful enough in the galaxy that many of the characters are taking time to focus on themselves for a change, but a new threat to the peace quickly changes that. As they deal with the Yevetha, a xenophobic alien species from the Koornacht Cluster, Luke Skywalker goes on a journey to discover information about his mother that of course leads nowhere. Luke’s search is weird to read about now that we know the truth about his mother from the prequels. Though this series predated the prequels,  it was still a frustrating storyline since you get a sense from the beginning that nothing groundbreaking will really be revealed about his mother.

30. The Dark Nest trilogy: The Joiner King, The Unseen Queen, and The Swarm War by Troy Denning

Set about 35 years after A New Hope, the trilogy focuses a lot on the Jedi Knights who made it through the Yuuzhan Vong War. Raynar Thul returns as part of the hive mind of a nest of buglike aliens known as the Killiks, who are causing trouble along the Chiss border.  The hive mind leads to some interesting situations, like the characters learning more about Padmé Amidala and Leia embracing Jedi training. But other plotlines, like jealousy between Jaina Solo, Jagged Fel and Zekk, don’t add much to the story.

They also set up events that will be important to future books, like Luke becoming Grand Master, Jacen Solo’s questionable behavior and Jacen and Tenel Ka having a baby together.

29. Tatooine Ghost by Troy Denning

Tatooine Ghost takes place closer to Return of the Jedi than the Black Fleet Crisis books and sees Leia traveling to Tatooine to obtain a painting embedded with an essential Rebel code up for auction. Of course the Imperials are there to get the painting, too.

During her mission on Tatooine,  Leia is forced to deal with her feelings about her father and ends up learning more about his life on the planet before he left to become a Jedi. She encounters familiar faces from the prequel trilogy and learns about her grandmother Shmi Skywalker. Despite already knowing exactly what happens thanks to the prequels, revisiting the events from Leia’s perspective makes this book a good read.

28. The Truce at Bakura by Kathy Tyers

The Truce at Bakura is set right after Return of the Jedi and sees the Rebel Alliance answer a distress call from an Imperial world, Bakura. The alien Ssi-ruuk are attacking the world and want to enslave humans. A truce is called between the Rebels and the Empire on the planet, so the alliance and Bakurans can join forces to stop the aliens. Since the book takes place so soon after the movie, it picks up on threads caused by those events like the Empire in disarray, Leia and Han’s relationship, and Leia dealing with the news that Darth Vader was her father.

27. The Approaching Storm by Alan Dean Foster

In the beginning of Attack of the Clones, the Jedi mention that Obi-Wan Kenobi has returned from a border dispute on the planet Ansion. This book shows us what happened during that mission. Obi-Wan, Anakin Skywalker, Luminara Unduli and Barriss Offee try to settle a conflict and keep the planet from leaving the Republic. The story gives us a better idea of the state of the Separatist movement going into Episode II, as well as a look at what Luminara and Barriss are like.

26. MedStar duology: Battle Surgeons and Jedi Healer by Michael Reaves and Steve Perry

Speaking of Barriss, these were the two books that made me really like her character. I enjoyed the focus on her healing powers in The Approaching Storm as she goes on a solo mission to the planet Drongar during the Clone Wars and joins a medical unit. The Republic and Separatists are fighting over a plant called Bota that leads to a struggle with the dark side for Barriss. The medical unit features an intriguing cast of characters as we get a unique look at what’s happening away from Coruscant and away from many of the staple main characters that are often the focus of books as the war engulfs countless worlds.

25. Choices of One by Timothy Zahn

Timothy Zahn is best known for writing the Thrawn trilogy—which I’ll discuss later—but his other Star Wars books are also well worth the read. This is especially true if they include Mara Jade, who is one of the best Expanded Universe characters. The book takes place between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back and features Mara working with the Hand of Judgment stormtroopers, who were first introduced in Allegiance (another book I’ll mention later on my list).

The Hand of Judgment are as fascinating as ever in this story. Our favorite Rebels are trying to work with an Imperial Governor to find a new home for their base while Mara and the stormtroopers arrive to punish the Governor for working with the Alliance. The plots are interwoven in such a way that many of the characters never really meet face to face.

24. The Old Republic: Fatal Alliance by Sean Williams

This book ties into BioWare’s massive MRPG The Old Republic. It takes place more than 3,000 years before A New Hope during the time of the Republic and Sith Empire. Characters from both sides are brought together at an auction where they want to steal parts from a wrecked ship to gain what they may contain. Things don’t end up exactly going to plan, and the groups find themselves joining forces to defeat a greater threat in a book that offers a riveting picture of what the galaxy was like at this time.

23. Empire and Rebellion: Razor’s Edge by Martha Wells

Set close after A New Hope, this novel focuses on Leia and takes a closer look at her feelings towards losing her home planet Alderaan. Leia encounters Alderaanian survivors who have become pirates and seem willing to do anything in order to survive, including betraying their Princess. It’s an interesting exploration of what survivors of the Death Star’s attack might resort to now that they are on their own. Plus it’s always great to see Leia at the center of a story, in charge and wanting to help this crew who has lost their way as she deals with her own feelings regarding home.

22. Crucible by Troy Denning

Crucible is the last book in the Legends timeline, having been set about 45 years after the events of A New Hope. Our classic trio of characters Luke Skywalker, Leia Organa, and Han Solo are the focus of the story, which ties in elements from the Fate of the Jedi series set before it. While it’s not exactly a return to the old classic adventures, it does bring the magic of the core characters into the setting of this post-Fate of the Jedi universe and there’s something fitting about the gathering that shows all the characters together at the end of this book as the final scene we’re given in the Expanded Universe timeline.

21. Cloak of Deception by James Luceno

Luceno’s novel is set before The Phantom Menace and highlights what Chancellor Valorum was struggling with in the Republic. Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi get involved as trouble brews for Valorum and around the Trade Federation.  Meanwhile, Palpatine is at work manipulating the galaxy in his role as senator. It’s a great look at the political landscape that slowly lead to the end of the Republic.

20. The Corellian Trilogy: Ambush at Corellia, Ambush at Selonia, and Showdown at Centerpoint by Roger MacBride Allen

Han Solo returns to his home planet in this New Republic era book trilogy that sees the Corellian Sector in turmoil. Groups want the sector to leave the New Republic and seize control, threatening to use the powerful Centerpoint Station if they don’t get their way. Han and the others have to stop them in a story that introduce us to Centerpoint, as well as Han’s cousin Thrackan Sal-Solo, who would be a recurring antagonist in future Star Wars books.

19. Millennium Falcon by James Luceno

This book is set between the Legacy of the Force and Fate of the Jedi series, taking place more than 40 years after A New Hope. What makes this book appealing is the glimpse it gives us into the history of the famous starship as Han, Leia, and their granddaughter go on a journey that reveals more about what the Falcon has been up to through the years. It’s made even more interesting by the fact that it’s placed after the events of the previous series, where their son Jacen Solo turned to the Dark Side leaving Han and Leia to raise their granddaughter Allana. The book delves into how the family deals with this tumultuous time in their lives.

18. The Jedi Academy Trilogy: Jedi Search, Dark Apprentice, and Champions of the Force by Kevin J. Anderson

These books chronicle the efforts of Luke Skywalker to rebuild the Jedi Order after the events of Return of the Jedi. As our heroes continue to deal with the Empire’s remains, Luke runs into trouble during academy training due to the spirit of Sith Lord Exar Kun, who turns aspiring Jedi Kyp Durron to the Dark Side. Kyp begins to use the deadly Sun Crusher weapon  and it’s up to the Jedi, Han Solo, and the others to put a stop to him and the Sith Lord.

17. The Old Republic: Revan by Drew Karpyshyn

I enjoyed how this book offers an engrossing look at Revan and the Jedi Exile, as they were once considered in the canon universe. It follows Revan as he tries to recall more of his memories and ultimately disappears leading the Jedi Exile known as Meetra Surik to try and find him. The ensuing encounters with the Sith Empire don’t exactly lead to a happy ending for these beloved video game characters, but it does build to a thought-provoking one, even if it does leave events up in the air.

16. Allegiance by Timothy Zahn

Zahn’s Allegiance takes place before Choices of One and introduces the stormtroopers known as the Hand of Judgment.  It does a slightly better job or at least a more unique one in how it handles its threading storylines than Choices of One . We get a welcome look at Mara Jade during her early years as the Emperor’s Hand, and  an interesting perspective into the stormtroopers that make up the Hand of Judgement. Add our favorite Rebels to the mix and the weaving stories will leave you unable to put the book down until you finish it!

15. Young Jedi Knights series by Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta

This series of 14 books is meant for younger readers and they succeed in offering a unique way for readers to enter the Star Wars universe.  They may technically be YA, but they do a good job of showing the struggles and exploits of the twins Jacen and Jaina Solo and their friends as they are growing up and training to become the next generation of Jedi.. Some story arcs are more absorbing than others, but the main characters introduced here are all great additions to the universe and continue to be fleshed out in future novels.

14. Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter by Michael Reaves

Darth Maul didn’t say much in The Phantom Menace, but that didn’t keep him from being one of the most interesting characters in the prequels. In this book, we learn more about what Darth Maul was up to as Darth Sidious’ apprentice. Maul is sent on a mission by his master to track down anyone who’s been given information that could lead to the end of the Sith Lord’s plans. It’s an action-packed story that lets us see even more of the events that led up to Episode I.

13. A New Dawn by John Jackson Miller

I shared a few of my initial thoughts about this book in an installment of The Geekender ( this summer. It’s the first book in the new canon. A New Dawn hits the sweet spot of keeping the Star Wars magic of old while working with newer characters from the animated series Star Wars Rebels. The book is set before Rebels and tells the story of  how Kanan Jarrus and Hera Syndulla met. It all takes place between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope,  so we get a glimpse of what life is like in the galaxy under Imperial control, pre-Rebellion.

12. Outbound Flight by Timothy Zahn

This book tells the story of a project that has been referenced before in the Expanded Universe. Taking place after The Phantom Menace and before the novel The Approaching Storm, we finally get to learn about how the project started and meet Jedi Jorus C'baoth as he works to get the project into motion. Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker, and Thrawn each play a role in this intriguing story of an event in Star Wars we’d been left wondering about.

11. Dark Disciple by Christie Golden

Dark Disciple takes place after the finale of The Clone Wars series and continues Asajj Ventress’ story, as well as that of the Jedi Quinlan Vos. The pair embarks on a dangerous mission to assassinate Count Dooku. Despite fans knowing they don’t succeed since Dooku isn’t killed until Revenge of the Sith, the novel still manages to keep the attention of the reader with its interesting storyline. Quinlan and Asajj make a great team; Their relationship is complex, captivating one.

10. Fate of the Jedi series by Aaron Allston, Christie Golden, and Troy Denning

Fate of the Jedi is a nine book series that picks up where Millennium Falcon leaves off. The people of the Galactic Alliance don’t exactly trust the Jedi after what happened with Jacen Solo, leading to Luke Skywalker’s arrest and eventual exile. He goes on a journey with his son Ben and attempts to find out why Jacen turned to the Dark Side. Luke’s search brings up more mystical elements of the Force. It also introduces a lost tribe of Sith making is way back into the fold of the galaxy and has its own enthralling history.

9. The Courtship of Princess Leia by Dave Wolverton

This book is the RomCom of Star Wars books  as it follows the romance between Princess Leia and Han Solo, ultimately leading to their marriage. When Han learns Leia is considering the marriage proposal of Hapan Prince Isolder it kicks off a series of events that result in a journey to the planet Dathomir and a confrontation with the warlord Zsinj. The book also introduces the Hapes cluster and the witches and Nightsisters of Dathomir, both of which end up repeatedly appearing in the Expanded Universe.

8.  Splinter of the Mind’s Eye by Alan Dean Foster

Foster’s book was the first novel after A New Hope, though it wasn’t really thought of as canon because Empire ultimately replaced it as the sequel. What Empire revealed made a number of aspects in the book no longer work. But it’s the what-almost-was that makes this story all the more fascinating.

Luke and Leia go on a mission for the alliance and end up searching for the Kaiburr crystal, ultimately leading to the heroes facing Darth Vader. There are some odd situations in the book, like a romantic relationship between non-siblings Luke and Leia, and it feels a bit like a bizarro Star Wars,  but it’s still a must-read for the alternate universe story it offers fans.

7. Legacy of the Force series by Troy Denning, Karen Traviss, and Aaron Allston

This nine book series followed Jacen Solo’s fall to the dark side and another major galactic conflict that puts everything at stake. However, it’s the personal aspects of the story more than the space battles that make this Star Wars series stand out.

The main story revolves around the fallout from Jacen following in his grandfather’s footsteps. The books include a number of surprising and heartbreaking character deaths that add to the emotional stakes, as the family has to come to terms with what they have to do to stop Jacen, especially his twin Jaina. Add in Boba Fett and the Mandalorians, and it’s an interesting chapter in the Star Wars saga.

6. Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader by James Luceno

Set close after Revenge of the Sith, this novel follows Darth Vader as he came into his own in his new role as a deadly Sith Lord. It’s a different Darth Vader readers  than the ruthless one we’re used to in the movies. Vader struggles as he transitions into the infamous villain fans know. Tracking down survivors of Order 66 plays an intricle part in Vader’s journey to the Dark Side. The book also portrays an engaging, albeit predictable, view of  the surviving Jedi as they try in vain to fight off the Empire.

5. The Old Republic: Deceived by Paul S. Kemp

Another tie-in novel to the video game, this book recounts the attack on the Jedi Temple seen in the Old Republic trailer. Malgus must face a Jedi Knight out for revenge as well as his own weaknesses as the Sith Empire and the Republic come closer to a peace that he believes will be disastrous for the Sith.

4. Darth Plagueis by James Luceno

The story of the Sith Lord mentioned by Palpatine in Revenge of the Sith is told in this Luceno novel. It traces Plageuis’ life from a Sith apprentice to a master to his death. It shows us how Palpatine started on his own Sith path and outlines his masterful manipulation we’ve come to know in other books and movies. The novel allows us to see what Palpatine’s words regarding Plageuis’ control over life and death really meant in one of the most absorbing books of the Expanded Universe.

3. Darth Bane trilogy: Path of Destruction, Rule of Two, and Dynasty of Evil by Drew Karpyshyn

“Always two there are, a master and an apprentice.”

This famous line Yoda says in The Phantom Menace first referred to the now well-known rule of two followed by the Sith. The history of that rule and the Sith who created it, Darth Bane, is explored in this masterful trilogy. It’s a gripping story that shows us why Bane felt this was the right path for the Sith, how he destroyed them, and how he began to carry out the rule by taking on an apprentice. The two continue the work of the Sith all while remaining under the radar of the Jedi as Bane begins to question whether his apprentice Darth Zannah is strong enough to carry out his legacy.

2. The New Jedi Order series by multiple authors

This massive 19 book series is often a controversial one among fans, but its epic story and compelling character development earn it the number two spot on my list. The series introduces a new threat to the entire galaxy: the Yuuzhan Vong.. A number of characters are  finally given their chance to shine in the series alongside our more fleshed out well-known main characters. It sets the stage for the future of the book franchise, and hints at the paths many of the characters will take later on. While some books within the series are certainly better than others, as a whole, the series stands out as one of the best and biggest accomplishments undertaken in the Expanded Universe.

1. The Thrawn Trilogy: Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising, and The Last Command by Timothy Zahn

Zahn’s trilogy changed everything for fans and has withstood the test of time to top my list of Star Wars books. For the first time we’re introduced to Grand Admiral Thrawn, Mara Jade, and others,  who would become beloved entries into the Expanded Universe. The engrossing story saw Thrawn leading remnants of the Empire against the New Republic as his ally, Dark Jedi clone Joruus C'baoth, goes after Luke and Leia, who is pregnant with the twins. The trilogy keeps the spirit of the original three films while successfully expanding Star Wars lore and left fans wanting more Star Wars stories.