If you’re going to read Star Wars novels, which ones should you read? If you’re dedicated enough, you read them all, of course. But if your time is limited or your tastes not quite so focused, which ones are worth your time? Here’s my stab at answering for each of the new Star Wars novels I’ve read.
By John Jackson Miller. The novel that started it all doesn’t have a ton to offer, even for fans of Kaden and Hera from Star Wars Rebels, whose introductions it tells. Here’s where they meet, in a story about an evil corporate overlord in cahoots with the Empire, and his plan to blow up an inhabited moon to speed up mining operations.
The book took me a while to get through because I just didn’t care much about what was happening. We don’t need to know how Kaden and Hera met, especially given how little both of them in A New Dawn resemble their Rebels versions. This reads like it was written by someone who’d never seen the show.
Recommendation: Skip it.
By Chuck Wendig. The first novel to give us a peek at events between Episodes VI and VII, Star Wars: Aftermath is mostly about dropping hints. It also suffers from a problem common to many of the new books. Namely, because big reveals must be saved for the movies, reveals in the novels are necessarily small. A such, Aftermath spends most of its time following a rather inconsequential story, though it does give a decent sense of what the galaxy looks like immediately following the Emperors death. Is it worth reading? Maybe. Though perhaps it would be better, if your interest is mostly in the state of the universe stuff, to just read the Interludes spread throughout the book, instead of the whole thing. Still, like Bloodline, Aftermath probably falls in the category of novels to read only if you’ve got nothing better. Otherwise, the Wookieepedia coverage is just as good.
Recommendation: Skip it.
By Chuck Wendig. The second in the Aftermath trilogy, Aftermath: Life Debt is more of the same. We get to see the liberation of Kashyyyk, but its less interesting than it ought to be. We get to see the remnants of the Empire continue to sputter, intrigue, and seek to regain control. But, again, theres not enough good here in terms of storytelling, characters or prose to make reading 400 pages worth it unless you really liked Aftermath.
Recommendation: Skip it.
By Alexander Freed. The thing about Star Wars novels is that if you took away the Star Wars branding and set them in an original universe, we fans probably wouldn’t see much value in reading them. Top-shelf sci-fi they’re typically not. Battlefront: Twilight Company’s a rare exception. Not much new in terms of world-building or secrets revealed, but this story of grunts fighting for the Rebellion is just so damn good, with compelling and adult characterization, meaningful emotion, and excellent, if a little workmanlike, prose. If you read just one of the novels in the new Star Wars cannon, make it this one. Though you run the risk, as happened to me, that Alexander Freed’s book will ruin a bit whatever else you read in the series, because its that much better than its peers.
Recommendation: If you read only one Star Wars novel, make it this one.
By Greg Rucka. Oh man, do I wish I’d read this before seeing The Force Awakens. A collection of three short stories set just before the events of the film, Before the Awakening answers a few of the most confusing things about Episode VII while not spoiling the introductions of Rey, Finn, and Poe. Rey’s story tells us why she’s such a good pilot if she spent her life landlocked on a single planet. Poe’s tells us what the Resistance is and its relationship to the New Republic. Okay, theres not much in Finns. But its still good. The book arrived from Amazon a few days before Episode VII’s premier and I held off reading it, fearing spoilers. That was a mistake. I would’ve enjoyed the movie more if Id read this first.
Recommendation: It’s a short read, but probably not better than just looking up some info in Wookieepedia.
By Claudia Gray. A grown up novel fro the author of the much better YAStar Wars: Lost Stars,Bloodline ploddingly tells a story that shouldve been better, given the importance of its premise. Episode VII begins with the new that Leia is no longer a senator but instead back in a military role leading The Resistance against the First Order, and this Resistance is somehow distinct from the Republic Navy. So what gives? Thats the storyBloodline sets out to tell. But its just not all that interesting when the events are all out on the table. And while the author handles the tragic love affair inLost Stars with the necessary YA ham-handed starry-eyedness, when shes writing adults engaged in whats supposed to be political intrigue, she lacks the chops to make it at all convincing. Simply put, the book is boring and not worth the time. Better to just read about the events and characters online.
By James Luceno. Catalyst is a difficult novel to slot into this list. On the one hand, its pretty dull and largely plotless. On the other, having read it before seeing Rogue One, Im convinced it make me enjoy that movie more than otherwise. Introducing Galen Erso and Orson Krennic, it strengthens the characters and relationship of both men, and so makes the events ofRogue One better resonate. Recommended for that, but not much else.
By Claudia Gray. The first genuinely interesting novel in the new canon, and the first thats an unquestionably recommended read. Star Wars: Lost Stars gives us a bit of new information on the post-Return of the Jedi era, mostly regarding the Battle of Jakku, but its good stuff comes in presenting a thoughtful, realistic look at the events of the original trilogy from an Imperial perspective. We get to see the Rebels as terrorists. If we don’t rebuilt it, the terrorists will have won.and the Imperial rank and file as sympathetic true believers.
My only knock against the book is that as a YA novel, it shoehorns in largely uninteresting teenage drama and romance. But thats easy enough to overlook when the rest contributes so much to a story I thought I already knew inside and out.
By James Luceno. Okay, if a little unfocused. It fills in a good deal of Tarkin’s backstory, but I found it didn’t do much to change my sense of the character or make me appreciate him more. Lucino’s a decent enough writer, but theres just not enough here to make reading the novel worth the extra time over just reading Tarkin’s entry in Wookieepedia.