Every literary genre can lay claim to a series of definitive works, those that have set the standard within a tradition. Perhaps they are responsible for laying the very foundations of a genre, or perhaps they are the mould-breakers, those pushing the boundaries of creativity. Science fiction is no exception, boasting (among others) the works of Asimov, Clarke, Lovecraft, and Burroughs – these are regarded as titans of sci-fi literature. The inclusion of the Star Wars franchise in such esteemed company should come as no surprise to any connoisseurs of sci-fi culture; the struggle between Jedi and Sith goes far beyond the 3 original movies (and 3 subsequent monstrosities). The Star Wars universe continues in a powerful and profound literary saga, more than deserving of proper recognition alongside the other great works of science fiction. It is on that basis that we now pay homage to this classic series in our review of the Top 10 Best Star Wars Books.
“I couldn’t just stand there and watch him blast you. But don’t go tryin’ to make me out as some kinda hero, Chewie. I don’t need a partner, and I don’t want a friend. My name says it all, pal. Solo.”
We begin our survey with Ann C. Crispin’s The Hutt Gambit, an exciting prequel to the original Star Wars trilogy that focuses on the exploits and shenanigans of a young Han Solo. The second novel in the series, it contains all the juicy details one might hope for: the flowering of friendship with Chewbacca, the introduction of Bobba Fett, and the infamous deal with Jabba the Hutt. Crispin has to toe the line in terms of balancing creative license while remaining loyal both to Han Solo’s established character and history, a task she handles with relatively little discomfort. With this in mind, Crispin is able to flex her creative muscle and allow Han Solo to thrive in a role most suited to him – the spotlight. Fast-paced, just like the man himself, this novel won’t disappoint any fans of the classic Star Wars franchise.
The final book in the New Jedi Order series, The Unifying Force brings the Yuuzhan Vong invasion initiated in Vector Prime to an epic conclusion, as the remnants of the Galactic Alliance and the Jedi fight to protect what is left of the galaxy in the face of subjugation and dominion. The book is a gargantuan 576 pages long, and when you take into account that this is the culmination of a 19-book series, it’s completely understandable. James Luceno sticks to the script beautifully, providing a stimulating climax to the Vong conflict, winding down the post-conflict character development, and tying up all the loose ends. This book is well-written, and a fitting end to an arduous series.
Do you love rogue Jedi, kidnapped lovers, and first-person perspective? I, Jedi is a stand-alone novel by author Michael Stackpole, featuring protagonist Corran Horn in his attempt to come to grips with his training as a Jedi as well as the abduction of his wife… by pirates! A good chunk of this novel takes place in Luke Skywalker’s Jedi Academy, and the reader gets an in-depth and well-written glimpse into some of the methods behind Jedi teaching. It’s obvious from the beginning that Luke is not the godsent hero of the day (sorry, Skywalker fans!) and Horn will come face to face with the inevitable choice between light and dark. Stackpole definitely captures the attention with his decision to write Horn’s story from a first-person viewpoint, and personally I found the literal change in perspective refreshing. Stackpole’s take on Jedi training is far from traditional; however, I feel the reader gets something new and unique from I, Jedi – definitely worth checking out!
Now, I know Star Wars fans haven’t been completely satisfied with prequels over the years, and perhaps with good reason, but with this publication, Timothy Zahn provides a solid back story for his acclaimed Thrawn Trilogy. Taking place before the Clone Wars, Outbound Flight sees familiar protagonists Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker take part in a discovery mission organized by Jedi Master Jorus C’baoth in an attempt to colonize unknown worlds. Of course, the mission does not go according to specs, as both the machinations of Darth Sidious and a mysterious being known as “Thrawn” cause events to take a wildly uncertain turn. For anyone familiar with the works of Timothy Zahn, more of the same should be expected; this is a fast-paced, compelling read, with excellent character development. A worthy addition to the Star Wars collection.
Rounding out the top half of our list, Shadows of the Empire gives the reader a look into the events that occur after The Empire Strikes Back and before Return of the Jedi. In the course of the book, we are introduced to new characters and self-contained events that stand independent of the two films, but Steve Perry also takes the initiative, elucidating the reader concerning the giant gap in events leading up to the rescue of Han Solo. Ever wonder how Leia found out about Jabba’s love-lair? What was Luke doing during this time, and how did he get so skilled in the force? Shadows of the Empire is a brave release, in that it dares to play around with characters that, through the films, have already been given established story arcs. The author will always run the risk of developing a character in a direction that conflicts with established events or alienating Star Wars fans by having characters interact atypically. That being said, it is a task that the author fulfils admirably, and Shadows of the Empire is a definite must-read for fans of the classic trilogy.
“Two there should be; no more, no less. One to embody the power, the other to crave it.”
In this title (the second instalment of the Darth Bane trilogy), Drew Karpyshyn expands on the nature of the Sith Lord – apprentice relationship. The novel follows Darth Bane and his new apprentice Zannah in the aftermath of the Battle of Ruusan, and the destruction of a majority of the Sith forces. It’s very character-focused, as opposed to many of the other books on this list, which definitely comes out as a positive characteristic, due to the skill with which the author explores the interpersonal relationships between those loyal to the dark side. Instead of the usual focus on the inner turbulence facing the Jedi, Rule of Two explores further the inner workings of a Sith Lord, finding most satisfying subjects in Darth Bane and his apprentice Zannah. That being said, the author still manages to create stimulating plot progression using new settings and intriguing event structures. All in all, a very solid work and an excellent follow-up to Path of Destruction.
What do you get when you cross an old-school horror movie with an Imperial Stormtrooper? Death Troopers is a definite departure from the traditional Star Wars approach; it features much a more gritty narrative, and author Joe Schreiber has amped up the gore level tenfold. As another stand alone novel, it features for the most part new and independent characters, though Han Solo and Chewbacca do make a cheeky cameo. The author jumps right in, and the pace continues at breakneck speed throughout the entire novel. This is not a publication for the traditional Star Wars fan; this is a rule-breaker, a shot of creativity into the genre in an attempt to demonstrate just how much room to breathe there is. It’s likely that just as many will be alienated as charmed, if the idea of zombie Stormtroopers could ever be charming, but taking risks should never be discouraged when it comes to literature, and I feel this book just about pulls it off.
“Can you imagine trying to face the fears of your own death knowing that your best friends were going to die because of you?”
R.A. Salvatore is a recognized author with proven pedigree writing in the sci-fi/fantasy genres, so it should be no surprise that his contribution to the Star Wars universe should constitute a serious contender for the title of Best Star Wars Book. Vector Prime is the first in the New Jedi Order saga, and it sparks the beginning of a major storyline with the introduction of the Yuuzhan Vong, an invading force that causes the New Republic to reassess the safeguards set in place to protect its so-called peace. Salvatore has an exceptional talent to set up and manipulate story arcs, and he does not disappoint; Vector Prime is a thrilling read, and brings into the spotlight several less familiar, but nonetheless well-worked characters. Heart-breakingly, the author also has the literary spine to contrive the death of one very familiar, hairy, unintelligible character – something relatively unprecedented in this particular saga. I won’t say who it is, though.
Ah, Darth Bane, we meet again. The first novel of the Darth Bane trilogy, Path of Destruction is our first glimpse into the life and times of one of the more compelling Dark Lords in the Star Wars universe. We begin with Bane’s childhood, and the traumatic events that lead to his serious anger management issues. Unlike Vader’s origins as Anakin, Bane was not a troubled Jedi lured to the dark side; this one was bad to the bone from the beginning, labelled one of the most powerful Sith ever to have lived. Again, we see author Drew Karpyshyn’s stunning ability to create and mould absolutely absorbing characters, as Darth Bane and his young apprentice attempt to come to grips with their apparent fates. Throughout the rest of the Star Wars universe, the Sith remain somewhat of an unexplored territory, at least in comparison to readers’ interactions with the Jedi. In Path of Destruction, and the Darth Bane trilogy as a whole, the reader finally gets to interact with the dark side in a more intricate and in-depth manner, making it a very satisfying read for those with certain… dark tastes.
“History is on the move, Captain. Those who cannot keep up will be left behind, to watch from a distance. And those who stand in our way will not watch at all.“
The top spot in our review goes not to one title, but three. Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy is widely accredited as being responsible for the re-invigoration of the Star Wars universe. Taking place 5 years after Return of the Jedi, the first book in the trilogy, Heir to the Empire, tells of a galaxy adjusting to the destruction of the Death Star, the death of Emperor Palpatine, the creation of the New Republic, and the impending birth of Leia and Han Solo’s twin children.
The main conflict throughout the series is between the forces of the New Republic, aided by the newly reformed Jedi Knights, and the remnants of the old Empire mustered under its elite remaining Warlord and bolstered by an insane evil Jedi-clone. Grand Admiral Thrawn is a cold, calculating military genius that provides a different challenge for the New Republic to deal with, in contrast to the raw and manic Sith Lords.
The author stokes the fires using clever plot devices and intriguing complementary characters best described as ‘morally grey’, skilfully bringing the pot to boil in The Last Command. What makes Zahn’s trilogy unquestionably the most outstanding work on the list is the fact that he manages to create several new and compelling characters that interact in and around an equally compelling plot, all while maintaining the familiar Star Wars feel. Highly recommended for all old-school or would-be Star Wars fans, the Thrawn Trilogy deservedly takes its place at the top of the list of Top 10 Best Star Wars Books.