Star Wars: The Force Awakens introduced us to a galaxy transformed. In the years between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, the galaxy had splintered into three factions — a crumbling New Republic, a resurgent First Order, and a struggling Rebellion. In the months since, comics and novels have fleshed out the history of the galaxy, gradually revealing the story of the Empire's fall — and, most disturbingly, the rise of the First Order.
What happened after the Battle of Endor? How did the New Republic fail? Where did the First Order come from? How did the Rebellion start? These questions and more are answered in the Star Wars novels and comics — and here's your guide to them!
Writer: Greg Rucka
Artist: Marco Checchetto
Set in the immediate aftermath of Return of the Jedi, Shattered Empire features Palpatine's revenge: an attempt to set the galaxy ablaze in the event of his death. The final issue sets up Luke Skywalker's mission to restore the Jedi Order, and hints at his withdrawal from the galaxy.
Shattered Empire stars two original characters, Shara and Kes Dameron — Poe Dameron's parents. It's a strong comic, with an excellent overarching theme. The graphic novel also includes the C-3PO one-shot, by James Robinson and Tony Harris. This one-shot reveals how Threepio got his red arm.
Writer: Chuck Wendig
The first of Chuck Wendig's Aftermath trilogy (to be completed in February 2017), Aftermath introduces us to a host of new characters who will play an important role in shaping the galaxy after Return of the Jedi. It's mostly concerned with the decline of the Empire, although there are a few subtle hints to the rise of the First Order.
Aftermath has received mixed reception, largely because the original characters feel somewhat "shoehorned in" — often, the book skips over events starring the original characters that you're likely to be interested in. It's worth noting that it has a very unusual writing style, with everything written in present-tense; this can become quite clunky when the book transitions between present-tense and characters' memories.
Aftermath: Life Debt
Writer: Chuck Wendig
The second in Chuck Wendig's Aftermath trilogy, Life Debt continues to chart the decline of the Empire while providing tantalizing hints to the rise of the First Order. Its focus is on Han Solo's attempt to liberate Chewbacca's homeworld, Kashyyyk, and on the New Republic's attempt to usher in a time of peace. The end of the novel is carefully setting up the Battle of Jakku, which will be the major plot of the final book.
Life Debt is a stronger novel than Aftermath, with characters now feeling far more fully-developed. Wendig seems to have become more comfortable with the galaxy he's writing, while he gives much more prominent roles to classic characters such as Han and Leia.
Writer: Claudia Gray
A young-adult novel, Lost Stars charts the Imperial career of cadets Thane Kyrell and Ciena Ree. It actually spans the entire Rebellion era, and gives a fascinatingly fresh perspective to events we know so well. Claudia Gray carefully places her characters at the periphery of many of the galaxy's core conflicts, with the destruction of Alderaan causing one of them to abandon the Empire and ultimately join the Rebellion.
Lost Stars gives us a fascinating glimpse of the galaxy after Return of the Jedi, with matters coming to a head at the Battle of Jakku. In a clever move, the novel explains that curious crashed Imperial Star Destroyer we saw on Jakku in The Force Awakens.
Although hardly essential, to date, Lost Stars is the only book to give us real insight into the Battle of Jakku. It's also a tremendously well-crafted book, with well-developed characters and entertaining plot twists.
Writer: Claudia Gray
Based six years before the events of The Force Awakens, Bloodline is essential reading. It sets everything in motion — the New Republic is crumbling, the First Order is beginning to rise, and Leia is struggling to hold back the tide of darkness she can sense is coming. Claudia Gray's novel plays out in fascinating style, revealing the shadow of Darth Vader that still looms over the galaxy — not least when Leia's secret is revealed, and the galaxy learns that she is Darth Vader's daughter. The novel ends with the founding of the Rebellion, setting so many pieces in place for The Force Awakens. It's also tremendously well-written, with even the political themes presented in a fresh and original way.
Before the Awakening
Writer: Greg Rucka
Set before the events of The Force Awakens, Before the Awakening collects three short stories that help you get into the heads of Finn, Rey, and Poe. Although none of the stories are essential reading, Greg Rucka gives you a fascinating window into the characters; Before the Awakening helps to understand and interpret them, setting them up for their heroism in the film. Although Finn's story is set immediately prior to The Force Awakening, I've chosen to put this here because Poe's story is setup for the Poe Dameron comics.
Poe Dameron Book I
Writer: Charles Soule
Artist: Phil Noto
Set after the events of Before the Awakening, Poe Dameron focuses on Black Squadron: an elite starfighter squad led by Poe Dameron, tasked with hunting down Luke Skywalker. Book I is currently ongoing. So far, it reads like an old-fashioned Marvel Star Wars comic, with an overarching plot that's as much an opportunity to explore the galaxy as anything else!
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As you can see, there are still many tales to tell — not least the fall of the Jedi, and the ascendance of Supreme Leader Snoke! It's likely that many of these secrets will go unrevealed until Episode VIII, but for now, we Star Wars fans can dive deep into the history of a Galaxy Far, Far Away, and watch as everything falls apart once again.
Only for a new hope to be born, of course....
What do you want to learn more about in the Star Wars books and comics?
Poll Image: Lucasfilm