[Spoiler Alert: This article discusses plot points from Star Wars: The Force Awakens.]
I saw The Empire Strikes Back the way most millennials did: on VHS, on my parents’ TV, and without digitized beasts blocking out entire shots. My family had just bought the VHS box set, and we’d made our way through each video in the trilogy in short order. But at the end of Empire, my own father posed a cruel scenario: Imagine, if you can, waiting three whole years until seeing Return of the Jedi. The proposal seemed sick. I mean, what kind of sadist writes a cliffhanger like Empire’s and then peaces out for like 1,150 days!? Saw hadn’t yet been released but had I been exposed to the Jigsaw killer’s mind, I would’ve argued that this was one of his scenarios—and one of his more cruel ones, at that.
I’ll still argue that my generation hasn’t experienced a wait like Empire’s. The closest I’ve come would be waiting for Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ excellent space opera comic, Saga—an emotional hiatus that’s boiled down to months and months, maximum. Sure, we experienced Star Wars’ prequel trilogy, but there wasn’t a whole lot of mystery in the story’s future: audiences knew that Anakin went to the Dark Side, Padme didn’t pull through, and—to the relief of many—Luke Skywalker would’ve been puzzled at any mention of “Jar Jar Binks.” And in the realm of other sci-fi/fantasy titles, the waiting game’s been a different story: Game of Thrones’ gaps have felt excessive and borderline hopeless for many readers, while the more bountiful Harry Potter series was produced at a relatively fast clip and had accompanying movies to fill the spaces between.
And then The Force Awakens was released. The movie’s inspired so many questions, theories and sheer enthusiasm from fans that I’m still excited to break down the variables: Rey’s origin, Luke’s post-Jedi story, or who the hell Snoke is, exactly. And here’s the thing about the wait: it’s actually not so bad, especially with the publishing output that’s been produced recently. With the Star Wars canon expanding rapidly in the comics and books medium, there’s been a ton of material to dig into and fully flesh out the story of the Star Wars universe after the iconic Endor battle in Return of the Jedi. With nothing but time until Episode VIII, we read and ranked all of the printed post-Jedi books and comics within the official Star Wars canon.
1 of 5
5. Star Wars: Aftermath by Chuck Wendig
Timeline: Immediately following the events in Return of the Jedi.
Intended Audience: Adults
Readers won't have lukewarm reactions to Chuck Wendig's Aftermath novel. My guess is, and plenty of Goodreads reviews endorse this, people either love the thing or hate it. Aside from Greg Rucka's four-issue Shattered Empire comic miniseries—and to some extent, the Force Awakens novelization—this is the series' most adult-oriented book, and I get the sense that Wendig was really looking to hammer that sentiment in with this take on the post-Jedi world. Though we've read—and enjoyed—Wendig's work in the past, Aftermath explores a side of the Star Wars universe that seems off-kilter to this reader. The prose is written in jagged, fractured sentences and explores a grittier, booze-fueled Star Wars world, all of which feels tonally off-kilter in the proper Star Wars universe. Don't get me wrong, Aftermath has a few great moments: There's a hilarious new droid called Mister Bones, who read like a murderous, mechanical manifestation of Jesse Eisenberg's ultra-literal quips; as well as a touching story between a Rebel pilot, Norra Wexley, and her son. We get to catch up with all-star Rebel pilot Wedge Antilles, who played a key part in destroying all of the Death Stars; as well as Sinjir Rath Velus, one of Star Wars' first gay leading characters. Again, Aftermath is by no means unreadable, but it feels like it takes place a long time ago, in another galaxy far, far away. Still, Aftermath is only the first part of a trilogy. I'm excited to see what's next from Mr. Wendig.
2 of 5
4. Star Wars: Before the Awakening by Greg Rucka
Timeline: Directly before the events in The Force Awakens.
Intended Audience: Junior Readers
Though the selling point is clear here—it's a prequel tale, and it tells Rey's story!—Before the Awakening readers aren't going to gain a whole lot of information that couldn't be found in TFA. What we get from Rucka's collection is fun, sometimes emotional fleshing out of characters, and it's a totally Easter Egg-filled journey after seeing TFA. Here, the prose is simple. The dialogue almost eye-rollingly advances the plot, but there were times when I almost had to remind myself that I'm an adult man reading junior novels as an excuse to mine for TFA details. And once I settled down, Before the Awakening was a pretty pleasant, fun book. Inside, we get three short tales (around 60 pages each) that cover three of TFA's main characters. We see Finn develop as a bright leader in First Order training—as well as a storyline that hints at the identity of that blood-wiping Stormtrooper; we get a first-hand look at why Rey never makes bad deals for portions; and we see Poe become personally recruited as a Resistance pilot by Leia Organa herself. Before the Awakening is a cool book for what it is—I just wish Rey's timeline went back, oh, I don't know, 15 years further.
3 of 5
3. Star Wars: The Force Awakens by Alan Dean Foster
Intended Audience: 13+
Only so much can be said about a film's novelization, and it's common sense that author Alan Dean Foster is pretty limited in translating the on-screen images here—so if you're upset about TFA's similarities with A New Hope, all of that's still going to apply to this book (and I'm still not going to care! Haha!). But for many die-hards, the novelization contains key elements for filling out the whip-fast Force Awakens story, and Foster does a respectable job. If you didn't quite understand how the Rebellion was different from the Resistance, or missed the prequel-like breakdowns of galactic politics, this book has 'em.
4 of 5
2. Star Wars: Lost Stars by Claudia Gray
Episode IV: A New Hope through Post-Return of the Jedi
Intended Audience: Young Adults
From a young age, I was always amazed at how Star Wars' extended universe could place massive weight on small pieces from the films. Look at the countless action figures based on mere moments of screen time: Luke Skywalker dressed in a stormtrooper uniform, or Han Solo in his Hoth parka. In fact, the entire Boba Fett fanbase might be enough to prove that Star Wars fans hold stock in micro-moments, which is all part of the fun, frankly. So I had a pretty good laugh when, nearly 500 pages into Claudia Gray's entertaining Lost Stars, I realized that the book's entire setup detailed the origin of a set piece from The Force Awakens.
The aforementioned piece might only appear for a few moments on the desert planet Jakku, but its backstory is more significant than a simple nod to the Empire's defeat. And with TFA references aside, Gray's Lost Stars is a thoroughly entertaining read, even if I'm outside of its target demographic. As a book destined for young readers, the book succeeds in a place that the original trilogy often stumbles; it blurs the black-and-white lines between the Imperials and the Rebels, the light and the dark—and adds more fuel to the flame to Randall's Death Star argument in Clerks. The premise is simple: Thane Kyrell and Ciena Ree, two Imperial pilot recruits, turn into war-torn lovers after Thane defects to the Rebellion. Between the Star Wars universe and Romeo and Juliet, Gray's Lost Stars might do its fair share of borrowing, but it's a good, nostalgic trip through the SWU viewed by a set of fresh—and more empathetic—eyes.
5 of 5
1. Star Wars: Shattered Empire by Greg Rucka (writer) and Marco Checchetto (artist)
Timeline: Immediately following Return of the Jedi's Endor battle.
Intended Audience: 13+
Many long-time Star Wars fans were upset to see the comic franchise leave Dark Horse comics after years of quality work, but Marvel comics' treatment of the Star Wars franchise has been spot-on since its genesis. I felt right at home reading Shattered Empire, a four-part miniseries that yanked readers into the action that followed Return of the Jedi's bursting fireworks and burning baddies. While some of the titles that orbit the Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens series only touch on secondary characters (and why shouldn't they?), Shattered Empire takes us behind a super relevant storyline: Shara Bey and Kes Dameron, a.k.a. Poe Dameron's parents. Though we get glimpses of The Dark Side and Luke Skywalker, Shattered Empire's heaviest moments aren't focused on the lightsaber-wielding symbols for good and evil—instead, Rucka and artist Marco Checchetto turn their gaze toward two insanely likable Rebel lifers who, after serving their cause, aren't quite sure how else to live. The look of the comic is totally timeless and wedges into the Star Wars universe perfectly, proving that it'll hold up over time. And hopefully it was created for a significant reason, as Shattered Empire contains one final, significant plot point that's only going to add fuel to the fire of how one could forge a bond with The Force in a Jedi-less universe.