Since the release of The Force Awakens, I've had some people ask me about the Star Wars books: where should a new reader begin? Well, it depends. Which continuity are you interested in? If you aren't familiar with Star Wars continuity, check out my earlier post, Star Wars Continuity Explained. If you want to read Disney's new canon, then the number of books available to you is relatively small (at least as of May 2017).
On the other hand, if you want to read the Legends continuity, things are a bit more complicated. There are over 150 novels in Legends, and that isn't including comic books, young adult fiction, etc. You could read through the books chronologically, starting with Dawn of the Jedi: Into the Void and ending with Crucible. I wouldn't recommend it. That is a lot of books, and you are likely to get bogged down at some point.
A second option is to read the books in the order they were published. I would also advise against this, for similar reasons.
Instead, I'd recommend you start with the book that fundamentally shaped the Legends continuity, Timothy Zahn's 1991 novel, Heir to the Empire. Don't stop there - it is a trilogy! Once you have read Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising, and The Last Command, then you have many options to choose from. My recommendations and some brief commentary are below…
This is for those who want to stick with the new canon. Read these in any order:
- Thrawn – My favorite in the new canon so far, but then again I was already a fan of the character.
- Lost Stars – This one is actually a YA novel, but is very good. It gives differing perspectives on the Galactic Civil War from two compelling characters.
- Ahsoka - Another YA book, but if you are a fan of Clone Wars or Rebels, you'll want to check this out.
- Bloodline – A nice look into Leia’s life before The Force Awakens.
- Tarkin - An interesting look into Tarkin's background
- Catalyst – A prequel to Rogue One… Read it, and watch Rogue One again!
- Aftermath Trilogy – I’m honestly not a fan of this author's writing, and the first book in particular I found disappointing. That said, the second and third books were intriguing and provide some hints at how things progress towards The Force Awakens.
Legends: New Republic
A reading list for those who want to stay in the timeframe and continuity of Heir to the Empire. This list is exactly what I read my daughters when they expressed an interest in Star Wars novels.
- Thrawn Trilogy (Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising, The Last Command) - start here; these are fantastic.
- Dark Empire Trilogy – Contains what is probably the most fan-contested plot point in Legends, but worth a read. This is the only comic book series I'm including in this post. There's actually a ton of great Star Wars comics, but I'll save that for another post. I'm including this one because it was an early influencer of the Legends continuity.
- The Jedi Academy Trilogy – Fans like to criticize the writing and stories of these books, but I enjoyed them as a youngster. They are fun and contain a lot of details that are referenced and built upon later.
- The Courtship of Princess Leia – Reading this is actually jumping back in (Star Wars) time, but this book is worth reading. It has some important universe-building concepts, and it is just fun, although the fundamental premise is a bit wacky.
- Hand of Thrawn Duology (Specter of the Past, Vision of the Future) – Honestly, these are my least favorite of Timothy Zahn’s Star Wars books, but they were still enjoyable. They continue the mythology of Thrawn, and establish some important aspects of Legends continuity.
Legends: The New Jedi Order
If you've completed the New Republic books, this is the next chronological series. Summary: a extra-galactic species that exists outside of the Force invades the Star Wars galaxy. It is a contentious story among fans: some fans hate the premise, but I personally love it, although the series was too long…19 books! As a bonus, read Rogue Planet, set between Episodes 1 and 2 as a prequel era tie-in. 20 books is a big commitment!
Legends: Legacy of the Force
If you make it through The New Jedi Order, this is the next chronological series. Summary: the galaxy is torn apart as... well, really anything more is a spoiler. I'm a fan of the core storyline here, although some of side stories I could do without - the Mandalorian story in particular didn't hold my interest. There's a lot of interpersonal strife here, which I think is good for character development, but it is a rough ride for the Skywalkers and Solos.
Legends: Fate of the Jedi
After Legacy of the Force, this is the next chronological series. Summary: a lost civilization of Sith come into contact with the larger galaxy, and an ancient powerful Force being emerges. This series starts off slowly, and has some odd aspects, but overall it was worth a read. I really enjoyed seeing an ancient Sith culture thrust into the Star Wars galaxy, and one character in particular was a great addition: Vestara Khai. Bonus: read Lost Tribe of the Sith (a short story collection) for some "historical" context.
If you read all of Fate of the Jedi, wrap things up with Crucible. It is the last novel, Star Wars chronology-wise, in Legends.
Legends: X-Wing series
These are fan favorites, written by two authors. I personally prefer the books by Michael Stackpole, and I'll admit not finishing this series after Aaron Allston took over the writing. These are set in the New Republic era, but they can be read independently of everything else.
Legends: Darth Bane Trilogy
This trilogy describes the beginnings of the Sith's rule of two. Great characters, set very early in the timeline. Kind of dark, as you'd expect.
Here are some recommendations that mostly can be read independently of everything else.
- Darth Plagueis – Excellent book, includes Palpatine’s backstory
- Cloak of Deception – Nice lead in to The Phantom Menace. Palpatine at his manipulative best (or worst?)
- Survivor’s Quest – Mara and Luke investigate Outbound Flight. This is set several years after Vision of the Future, but before The New Jedi Order. Best when read after the New Republic books.
- Outbound Flight – Great backstory on Outbound Flight, Jorus C’Baoth, and Thrawn. Ties in nicely with the new canon's Thrawn. Best when read after the New Republic books and Survivor’s Quest.
- Revenge of the Sith trilogy (Labyrinth of Evil, Revenge of the Sith, Dark Lord) – A book before and a book after Revenge of the Sith makes for a more complete and interesting story of the Empire's and Vader's beginnings.
- Kenobi – One of my favorites. An awesome look at Kenobi on Tatooine.
- Death Star - An inside look at the Death Star, before Catalyst and Rogue One gave us a new story.
- Allegiance and Choices of One – A Zahn duology set between A New Hope and Empire. Cool to see Mara and Thrawn in a different time period.
- Shadows of the Empire - Fills in the details of what happens between Empire and Jedi. This book was a big deal when it was released, with a comic book, toy line, soundtrack, and so forth.
I hope you find this post useful if you are a new Star Wars reader!