Novels from a galaxy far, far away…
Star Wars novels - they're better than you might think. Seriously. If you're a Star Wars fan, you might want to give one a go. If you're a hardcore Star Wars geek, I'm willing to bet you'll really enjoy them. Well some of them at least, and that's part of what I want to talk about.
- Canon novels vs. non-canon novels
- My recommendations
- What’s on my radar
Canon vs. non-canon
Simply put, canon novels are officially a part of the actual “Star Wars universe”. Non-canon novels are deemed to be unofficial stories, whose events do not form part of the Star Wars universe.
You may be wondering why the distinction is necessary. In many ways I guess it’s not; a good novel isn’t dependent on whether it’s official or not. An obvious example here would be the non-canon Thrawn Trilogy. A truly excellent series of books, but not a part of the canon universe. That said, the character of Thrawn is so well liked by fans of those books that Lucasfilm are bringing the character back as canon (in both the TV show and a future novel!), as Dan talked about on this site last month.
Probably the most important point I would make about canon novels is that any character or event that occurs in a canon Star Wars novel may feature/be referenced in a future movie, such as Rogue One. Similarly, events that occur in a canon novel to existing characters are equally “official”. So if for example you wanted to know a bit about what happened to Luke Skywalker between A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back, you might want to check out Heir to the Jedi.
Audiobooks – Why I love them and you might too
I feel there is something of a social stigma when it comes to listening to audiobooks. It doesn't seem to be 'the done thing' and it's clearly the poor cousin of the physical book. Podcasts are cool though, so why not audiobooks? Well I am here to convince you. And what I’m about to say here applies to any audiobook of course, not just Star Wars.
Sometimes it feels like I don’t have enough time to read everything I want to read. This is where I have found audiobooks to be a really good option. There are so many opportunities where listening to a novel presents itself. Walking from one office to another, you can get a chapter in. Mowing the lawns for an hour was not something I got any enjoyment from before, but with an audiobook I do now. I even listen whilst driving to and from work. You get the idea.
And it's not just the convenience factor that has got me hooked on them, the quality of the production is really top notch too. The narrators I've listened to have a great range of character voices and the use of classic Star Wars music at poignant moments is great. And then there's the background noise which really adds to the experience too; droids, blasters, hyperdrive engines, lightsabers or simply the sound of Vader breathing. These are very Star Wars specific, but I'm sure other modern day audiobooks adopt a similar approach.
OK I'll stop the sales pitch, but yeah, I'm fully on-board with audiobooks.
It wouldn’t be a proper post if I didn’t give you a top 5 now would it? Alphabetically…
Darth Plagueis (non-canon)
Spanning several decades, this novel tells the backstory of both Darth Plagueis and his apprentice Darth Sidious (aka The Emperor). The main focus as you might expect is on Plagueis, however what I found the most interesting was how an intelligent young Palpatine might have "learned his trade" and paved his path to power. There are even times when you sympathise with Palpatine!
Heir to the Jedi (canon)
Set between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, the novel Heir to the Jedi tells the (official) story of what happened to Luke Skywalker following the medal ceremony at Yavin IV. What is quite unique about this novel is that it is the first Star Wars novel to be written from the first person perspective. It’s not necessarily something I would always want, but it’s certainly really interesting hearing Luke’s thoughts as he starts to use the Force. This was the first ever canon novel I read, and it’s subsequently inspired me to start reading all the canon novels (as per the final section of this
Takes place between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, during the early days of Obi-Wan's exile on Tatooine. Obi-Wan has always been one of my favourite characters and I’ve always wondered what he might have got up to after delivering Luke to Owen & Beru. This novel gives an insight in to what that might have been like, including a really interesting plot that tells you things from the perspective of the Sand People. I highly recommend the audiobook version of this book; the narrator Jonathan Davis provides an astonishing voice similarity to Ewen McGregor's Obi-Wan.
The Dark Lord Trilogy (non-canon)
OK, I’m kind of cheating here as this is three novels for the price of one. But they do come as a set! I have to admit, one of the reasons I love the TV show Star Wars Rebels is because it is set in the period of time within the Star Wars universe that I am most interested in, i.e. between Revenge of The Sith and A New Hope.
This trilogy of books includes Labyrinth of Evil (which sets up the events just prior to Revenge of the Sith, including how Palpatine orchestrates his kidnapping, which is how Episode III starts); the Revenge of the Sith novel adaptation itself; and The Rise of Darth Vader. The third book is the best, as Vader starts to find his identity and tries to shed his association to the name Anakin Skywalker.
The audiobook version is great especially for added Vaderness.
The Thrawn Trilogy (non-canon)
OK, blatantly cheating now as I attempt to throw another trilogy in to a top 5 list. But this trilogy really is the king of all Star Wars novels. Set after the events of Return of the Jedi, this trilogy tells the story of how the Rebellion is still up against the last of the Imperials. A brilliant Grand Admiral known as Thrawn convinces a Dark Jedi (there was no such thing as “The Sith” when this was written back in 1991) to join his side.
Marc Thompson provides a really compelling audiobook version in the 20th anniversary special that was released in 2011.
What’s on my radar
I tend to always have two books on the go; a physical book for when I’m at home in my slippers and an audiobook for when I’m out and about (not in my slippers...)
Currently I’m listening to:
This is the first book in a trilogy that takes place between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, and sees the beginnings of a new government in the wake of the Empire's losses during the Battle of Endor. So far, so good.
Currently I’m reading:
This is another novel set six years prior to The Force Awakens. It centres on Princess Leia serving as a member of the Galactic Senate, in a series of events that ultimately leads to the formation of the Resistance; so far so good!
Once I’ve finished with these two, next up are:
Beyond these two, all the books I have lined up for the foreseeable future are canon. When it comes to Star Wars, if there’s something canon out there, I need to know about it ASAP otherwise it’s FOMO for me. And in case you’re interested, here’s a timeline that shows where these canon novels appear in amongst the existing movies & TV shows.