Star Wars Top 8: Ranking the New EU Novels
Is “yo” an appropriate way to start a post? For some reason, it feels a tad on the informal side. So I’m going to err on the side of “No, you should not start posts with the word “yo.” That is a horrible idea.” And now, since I’ve already started the post, I guess I can use it freely? Anyways I’m four lines in and haven’t even mentioned Star Wars yet, so this might as well be entirely useless.
Yo, welcome to the first installment of my (hopefully) weekly column on Star Wars, where I’m going to combine two of my favorite things: Star Wars, and putting things in ordered lists. Ordered lists, of eight, to be more specific, though you could probably get that just by reading the title. I hope that’s the case, at any rate. So, anyways, why eight? Why not, like, five or ten or another more normal number? Well, the answer is that I like to be different, so I chose eight for the sake of being unique.
That’s actually a total lie. I chose eight because there are eight novels in the new Expanded Universe, and I wanted to kick this column off by ranking them. Could I have waited until the release of the tenth novel in May and posted this when it would be a bit more topical? … I guess? But I have issues with patience. Before I get into the actual list (I promise, it will happen eventually), I should probably explain a bit of my methodology:
- I’m not counting the short stories. This should be perfectly obvious for those of you who understand what the term “novel” means, but I don’t want anyone going off in the comments about how “The Perfect Weapon” should be on this list. Yes, “The Perfect Weapon” is great; no, it is not a novel. Also, in high school I was taught to write as if my reader had no understanding of what I was talking about, so I figured this was a pretty good inroad for a funny joke about that. Turns out I couldn’t come up with one, so I’m just going to awkwardly mention it.
- I am also not counting the Young Adult novels–for instance, I did rather enjoy Smuggler’s Run, probably more than at least two of the books on this list, but I’ve decided to leave those out for now. Is it so that I can generate more content in the future? Maybe, but that’s not important.
- Yes, I am counting Lost Stars. I know it was marketed as a YA novel, but come on, anyone who’s read it knows that it really isn’t. Young adults should probably read it, because it’s rad, but it still gets a spot on this list. I know this kind of contradicts the previous parameter, but hey, I make the rules around here. (Ok, maybe not all of them, but for the purposes of this post I make… a decent number of them, shall we say.)
So we’re almost 500 words in and I haven’t even got to the meat of this article. I promise I’ll try to be less long winded in my introduction to future installments, but here we go.
8. Heir to the Jedi
Heir to the Jedi kind of made me want to include the YA books on this list because they are legitimately all better than this. It’s a shame, really. A Luke Skywalker semi-solo story between A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back should be awesome. It’s a time period that hasn’t really been explored–even in the old EU, there weren’t many stories of what was going on in between those two films. It’s a fun space to play around in, especially with existing characters. Anyways, Heir to the Jedi is certainly not fun. I think it was intended to be–it feels kind of light hearted, after all. That being said, it moves at a gruelingly slow pace, and very little of it is actually interesting. In fact, it’s the only book on this list that I would tell 100% of people to avoid 100% of the time.
I think a lot of it has to do with the first person-narration. In general, first person is difficult and falls apart fairly easily. However, the biggest issue with it in this novel is that Luke doesn’t sound like Luke. The characterization doesn’t miss the mark by an insanely wide margin, but it’s more than enough to be off putting. It certainly doesn’t help that the supporting cast, such as it is, can be summed up as “boring,” or any of that word’s synonyms. Unfortunately, the same is true of the plot. Most of my time with Heir to the Jedi felt like a real chore, and I forced myself through it out of some sense of “I must be a true fanboy and if I don’t finish this I won’t qualify.” Even if that WAS true (it isn’t), it’s probably not worth it.
I don’t hate Aftermath with the passion that so many Star Wars fans seem to. I think it has issues, and fairly major ones at that. One of the main characters, Temmin, is an annoying little brat that I hated throughout the entire story, and the attempts at fixing this feel super contrived. The character is kind of important–he shows up in the Force Awakens, after all–but that doesn’t mean we should be forced to put up with him for an entire novel. Anyways, outside of him, I rather enjoyed Aftermath’s cast. I can’t recall most of their names, which certainly isn’t a good sign, but I remember finding them somewhat interesting while reading. It didn’t do anything insanely new for a Star Wars novel, and if anything, it’s the most traditional of the bunch.
Aftermath is also written in an odd tense, making it difficult to read at times. Again, I didn’t mind this as much as some people seem to, but it doesn’t earn the novel any points. My biggest problem, actually, is that Aftermath is mostly set up for future stories and has major pacing issues as a result. There are frequent interludes where we leave the main cast behind and go check in with Han and Chewie, or Mon Mothma, or even Sabine. These are, hands down, the most interesting bits of the novel, but they just don’t go anywhere, and most of them seem to end on cliffhangers. Plus, they do have a tendency to come at odd times and make reading the novel a disjointed experience.
6. A New Dawn
A New Dawn was a promising start for the new EU novels. Coming out about a month before the premiere of Rebels, it was the first real time we got to spend with the characters. I think the shorts were already out at this point, but A New Dawn is what truly introduced Kanan and Hera. It’s probably the most actual characterization Hera’s had to date, actually, so fortunately John Jackson Miller did a pretty great job with her . The plot is fairly simplistic, and pretty much what you would expect out of a Star Wars novel, at least to an extent. Regardless, that isn’t really this particular novel’s major selling point.
A New Dawn rides almost entirely on the duo of Kanan and Hera. It chronicles their first meeting and their first adventure together, establishing their dynamic. It’s also a little bit more mature than Rebels ever is, so we get to see a few more layers of their relationship than we do on the show, which is cool. I think A New Dawn does suffer from being first out of the gate, so my memory of it is not as clear as some of the others on this list. I do remember enjoying it, for the most part, and I’m pretty sure I had no major qualms with it. It is far from perfect, definitely, but overall I remember it being a light, fun read with two characters I really enjoyed spending time with.
5. Lords of the Sith
This is where the ordering of the list starts to become a bit difficult, because all five of the novels at the top are excellent and come highly recommended, at least from me. Lords of the Sith is probably the least excellent of the five, but how could it be possible to not enjoy a book about a rebel cell on Ryloth attempting to assassinate not only Darth Vader, but also the Emperor? Of course, the result of the plan is a foregone conclusion, but that’s not important. It’s also easy to forget, because at times it really feels like Cham Syndulla (Of Clone Wars fame, and also Hera’s father), Isval, and the rest of the rebels actually have a shot at succeeding. Paul S. Kemp pulls off a pretty insane level of suspense here, much of which stems from how easy it is to root for the characters that he creates.
However, the real allure of the novel is that it delves into the relationship between Darth Sidious and Darth Vader. It does take a while to get to this, and it’s not like half of the novel is devoted to their dynamic. However, what we do get is immensely interesting, especially since it’s not really something that’s explored in the films. Plus, it establishes some amount of lore surrounding the Sith from the old EU as being canon–no major characters, but some of the ideals and tenets are at least present. Regardless, seeing these two characters on their own, interacting with one another, is absolutely fascinating. Sure, you may never want them to get out alive, but I, for one, found myself invested in them enough to want their respective stories to continue (which, of course, they do).
4. Battlefront: Twilight Company
Well, at least SOMETHING good came out of Battlefront. Twilight Company is everything that game isn’t: engrossing, deep, and something that I found myself wanting to come back to. Anyways, as the title may suggest, this particular novel focuses on Twilight Company, who are essentially the Rebel Alliance’s equivalent of the 501st Legion. It’s reminiscent of the Republic Commando novels from the old EU, but rather than zeroing in on a group of characters, it centers largely around a single character, with the rest of the company acting as the supporting cast. That supporting cast is, to say the least, fairly large. Anyways, Twilight Company is kind of a war novel, focusing on the gritty reality of the Rebellion. Turns out not everyone could blow up a Death Star on their first go at it.
The novel delves pretty deep into the lives of “average” members of the Rebellion. We follow Twilight Company across the galaxy–occasionally crossing paths with events from the films, but the novel largely keeps itself isolated. It’s an entirely different perspective on the Galactic Civil War from that of the original trilogy. Instead of being light hearted and fun, Twilight Company gets pretty dark, and there’s definitely a sense of dread that looms over the novel from the very beginning. That said, it’s definitely entertaining, and Alexander Freed seems to know that some degree of levity is necessary to keep the narrative afloat. As with the previous two novels, I really have no major issues with this one.
3. Dark Disciple
For fans of The Clone Wars, Dark Disciple offers massive pay off for Asajj Ventress’ story, which never really got an appropriate ending in the TV show. Even if you haven’t watched the show, this novel is still exceptional. The closure to Ventress’ story may not have the same emotional impact, but the quality of the storytelling is high enough that it’s worth reading anyways. The standout, however, is definitely Quinlan Vos. He’s not quite the Quinlan of the old EU, but it’s definitely an improvement over his appearance in Clone Wars (for the record I don’t think those episodes are bad, I’m just a salty fanboy). Anyways, this is mostly a return to the Quinlan I loved, which is pretty huge for me, since he’s one of my absolute favorite Star Wars characters.
Dark Disciple definitely borrows from the old EU more than any of the other novels, but it iterates just enough to make it feel unique. Asajj and Quinlan have a great dynamic, and that’s pretty much the reason that this novel occupies the third spot on my list. It’s close to interchangeable with my number two, actually, but not quite. Anyways, outside of the two leads, this novel actually has a lot going for it. The plot is super interesting and is a pretty crazy ride with twists and turns that simultaneously come out of nowhere and also feel 100% justified. Anyways, this is definitely one to check out.
2. Lost Stars
Lost Stars might actually be my favorite of the novels, but I finished it fairly recently so I’m going to hedge a little bit and put it in the second spot. It’s definitely a novel I could rave about for hours (actually, I have). There’s so much great stuff here–mostly the two leads, but I’ll come back to them in a second. First, I want to mention that this is a great lens into the inner workings of the Empire. It’s a reminder that the Empire is actually made up of humans. Not everyone involved is 100% evil. It’s also a reminder that hey, they didn’t even really know they were in the service of the Sith, so the vast majority of them really do have an excuse for picking the wrong side.
Anyways, the driving force behind Lost Stars is the romance between Thane Kyrell and Ciena Ree. This particular romance is something that I’m surprised I loved, since that’s not necessarily what I look forward to in my Star Wars novels. It really emphasizes the star crossed lovers theme, which is actually a fairly large part of Star Wars (I actually wrote a paper comparing Star Wars to Romeo and Juliet once). Getting to know them is a real treat, and watching their relationship grow over the course of the novel (which spans almost two decades, I should mention) is rad. Based on this novel alone, these two characters have rocketed to the top of my list of Star Wars characters, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Jaian Solo, Omega Squad, and Quinlan Vos. That should be enough to convince most people that this is a must-read.
Tarkin tops this list largely because of my personal enjoyment of the subject matter. Sure, the lead character (Tarkin, if you were unsure) isn’t one of my favorite Star Wars characters… oh wait, he is, because James Luceno does some great things with him. Anyways, that’s not the point. Tarkin is a political thriller set in the Star Wars universe and delves into the politics of the Empire, which is fascinating to me. Sure, it may not be as interesting to others (I am, after all, majoring in International Relations), but it’s all super well realized and comes together perfectly. Even if it isn’t usually your thing, I would recommend checking out the novel.
If nothing else, it resembles a buddy cop film (minus the humor) with Tarkin and Vader as the lead characters. The two have an interesting dynamic that I would love to see more of in the future. The groundwork for this was laid in Clone Wars (the Citadel arc, specifically), and this builds heavily on that, but I imagine that it would work fine in a vacuum. I mean, you should probably watch the movies first, but you know what I mean. Even though the pacing is fairly slow, the novel never felt like a chore to get through, at least for me. The pacing feels like a conscious decision, and I wouldn’t describe any of the novel as being dull. Every bit of dialogue and exposition has a purpose, serving to develop either the world or the characters. I ate up every bit of it, and loved pretty much every second I spent with the novel.