Many a “Star Wars” fan’s heart sank when major changes were made to the Expanded Universe following the Disney acquisition of Lucasfilm. For decades, numerous Star Wars novels helped fill the universe beyond what the movies showed us. In particular, there was a golden period from the early ’90s to the early 2000’s where a fantastic number of stories were told. …And yeah, there were some clunkers too.
Today, these stories are regarded as the Legends canon, completely distinct from the current continuity. That being said, certain elements have found their way into the current timeline, like the villainous Grand Admiral Thrawn. So in honor of all things from the galaxy far, far away, let’s take a look at 5 of the best and worst the Star Wars: Legends canon had to offer.
For the most part, we’ll be looking at the bigger stand-out titles, and not the lesser known titles buried in the early Republic era or later New Jedi Order.
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2 Number 5 Worst: “Splinter of the Mind’s Eye” Alan Dean Foster (1978)
This is the only entry on the list where the fault lies in part because of the limited amount of material the author had to work with. Alan Dean Foster is a tremendously talented author whose extensive bibliography speaks for itself. He was also responsible for the novelization of the first “Star Wars” film, ghostwriting it for George Lucas. That story is far better than “Splinter of the Mind’s Eye.” Regrettably this 1978 tale reads far more like a generic fantasy novel than a space opera. If you had replaced Luke and Leia with two other generic characters who crash land on the planet this story takes place on, it would read with virtually no difference. Mind you, this was written only a year after “A New Hope” hit theaters, so it’s not like there was a tremendous amount of world building to use as a spring board. Still, there’s very little here to make this a suitable follow-up to what made “Star Wars” so special.
3 Number 5 Best: “Tales of the Bounty Hunters” – Various (1996)
Edited together by Kevin J. Anderson, this compilation of five stories has each one centering around one of the bounty hunters seen onboard the Star Destroyer in “The Empire Strikes Back.” In case you need the rundown, there’s IG-88, Dengar, Bossk, the team of Zuckuss and 4-LOM, and of course, Boba Fett. The stories are largely consistent in quality and help add some much needed backstory to these characters. It’s nice seeing how terribly ruthless a few of them are, with others having a surprising amount of depth. There were other “Tales of” collections including the Mos Eisley Cantina, Jabba’s Palace, and others. They’re all great for letting lesser characters shine for a bit, but this one ranks above them in terms of focus and depth.
4 Number 4 Worst: “Tatooine Ghost” – Troy Denning (2003)
What if Leia went to Tatooine and found out about her family history? It’s not the most thrilling concept for a story but it’s shoehorned into the plot of this novel that is already lacking. Leia, Han, and Chewie have to go try to retrieve a painting that has some sort of coded messaging in it that is important to the burgeoning New Republic. Why you’d send your highest ranking officials out on this duty? Who knows. Well, actually it’s because you want the plot to happen with recognizable characters who can interact with the past in a way that ties the novels into the prequel films. Troy Denning tries to make it work, bless his heart, but the whole thing reads without any sense of urgency and nothing being at stake. It’s boring as hell and doesn’t even give us much to enjoy between Leia and Han; something that would be worthwhile considering they’re recently married at this point in the timeline.
5 Number 4 Best: “I Jedi” – Michael A. Stackpole (1998)
Some reviewers online consider this to be one of the worst “Star Wars” novels, others consider it one of the best. I personally fall in the latter camp. Written in the first person from the view of character Corran Horn, this is not an easy novel to jump into. To fully understand it you would have to have read the four “X-Wing” novels that Michael A. Stackpole wrote in addition to the “Jedi Academy Trilogy” written by Kevin J. Anderson. This story takes Corran from the “X-Wing” novels and retcons him into Anderson’s trilogy in a way that sometimes reads like a deliberate stab at Anderson’s handling of characters and situations. The end result is a fascinating view of “Star Wars” through the eyes of a secondary character by an author who clearly wasn’t a fan of the way things were going. It’s also a damn good novel that balances it’s action with strong doses of heart and a few good laughs.
6 Number 3 Worst: “The Courtship of Princess Leia” – Dave Wolverton (1994)
When writing for an established franchise, your story lives and dies based on how well you manage the characterization of established names within that franchise. If you’re to include additional characters, you better make sure they’re interesting and manage to fit in well with the established universe. Dave Wolverton doesn’t manage either of these things very well. Leia and Han don’t feel right; as if some of their worst traits are overemphasized for the sake of creating tension. Additionally, the character of Prince Isolder, intended as a foil for Han, is an obnoxious pretty boy. Meanwhile the main villain, Warlord Zsinj, comes off as complete ineffective. Both these characters would be much better handled in appearances in future novels by different authors. While this novel is essential to the “Legends” canon for the characters and locations it introduces, it’s a slog to get through
7 Number 3 Best: “The Han Solo Trilogy “– A.C. Crispin (1997-1998)
There are two Han Solo trilogies in the “Legends” canon. The first ran from 1979 – 1980 by Brian Daley. Their fine for what they are, but are somewhat generic sci-fi. The second trilogy by A.C. Crispin ran from 1997 – 1998 and is amazing. Everything that the aforementioned Wolverton got wrong about handling existing characters and introducing original ones, Crispin gets so incredibly right. There is never a false moment in her characterization of Han and Chewbacca as they go through their early adventures before meeting Luke Skywalker. Additionally, Crispin creates new characters that are strong enough to warrant their own stories. The three novels, “The Paradise Snare,” “The Hutt Gambit,” and “Rebel Dawn” manage to be action packed thrill rides that are also alive with romance and raw emotion. This is one of the few “Star Wars” stories that may very well make you shed tears at points and laugh out loud at others.
8 Number 2 Worst: “The Bounty Hunter Wars“ – K. W. Jeter (1998-1999)
Take everything that “Tales of the Bounty Hunters” did well, throw it out the window, and you have yourself “The Bounty Hunter Wars” by K.W. Jeter. Taking place around the time of “Return of the Jedi” this trilogy encompasses the books, “The Mandalorian Armor,” “Slave Ship,” and “Hard Merchandise.” The plot focuses too little on the hunters themselves and more on tertiary original characters like Kuat of Kuat and a giant spider named Kud’ar Mub’at. Oh, and there’s Mub’at’s associate, another spider who works as an accountant. His name is Balancesheet. I’m not making this up. And for a series called “Bounty Hunter Wars” very little warring between bounty hunters actually occurs. It adds absolutely nothing of value to the “Legends” EU nor is it exciting or very interesting to read in and of itself. It is a magnificent example of not only a wasted opportunity, but how to make characters actively worse than what they were.
9 Number 2 Best: “X-Wing Series” – Michael A. Stackpole & Aaron Allston (1996-2012)
This sprawling sub-series within the Star Wars EU features 10 novels that bounce between two authors and two different sets of characters. The first four novels, “Rogue Squadron,” “Wedge’s Gamble,” “The Krytos Trap,” and “The Bacta War” were written by Stackpole between 1996 and 1997. They form a complete story arc around pilot Wedge Antilles and his elite X-Wing fighter group, Rogue Squadron. We’re also introduced to Corran Horn and people from his life that later become bigger characters in the story. The next three novels, Wraith Squadron, Iron Fist, and Solo Command are written by Aaron Allston and feature Wedge heading up a new team called Wraith Squadron. This series doesn’t have as central a figure as Stackpole’s work, making for an ensemble that is riveting to spend time with. Both authors can be humorous, with Allston leaning heavily on that in between moments of tragedy. The remaining three novels, Isard’s Revenge, Starfighters of Adumar, and Mercy Kill all exist to tie up loose ends for the characters introduced in the novels with Stackpole writing the first two, and Allston writing the last entry in 2012; a full 13 years after Adumar. It’s hard to succinctly describe everything these novels accomplish, but between memorable villains like Ysanne Isard, the re-invention of Warlord Zsinj, and heroes like “Piggy,” Lara Notsil, and the aforementioned Corran Horn, this whole series represents the very best in what the Star Wars EU has to offer.
10 Number 1 Worst: “The Lando Calrissian Adventures” – L. Neil Smith (1983)
When Lando Calrissian was introduced in “The Empire Strikes Back,” we didn’t get the chance to spend a lot of time with him. All we knew is that he was pressured by Darth Vader to betray his friend Han Solo and that he was remorseful for doing so. We also know that he used to own the Millennium Falcon and called Han, “you old pirate, you.” The last of these seems to be the only character trait L. Neil Smith used to form his version of Lando across three novels “Lando Calrissian and the Mindharp of Sharu,” “Flamewind of Oseon,” and “Starcave of ThonBoka.” Each one of them is guilty of the same problem; descending into generic fantasy while being mindlessly dull and uninteresting. Lando picks up a weird droid called Vuffi Raa, so he can have some kind of companion, but it somehow just makes things even more laughably bad. Did you think Lando was supposed to be some kind of bad-ass, loveable rogue? Well not here he isn’t. Instead he’s just a bland gambling adventurer who plays like a cartoonish version of James Garner in “Maverick.” Similarly to the previously mentioned “Bounty Hunter Wars,” nothing of note happens here that contributes to the overall canon and reading this will only serve to diminish your opinion of Lando as a character.
11 Number 1 Best: “The Thrawn Trilogy” – Timothy Zahn (1991-1993)
When Timothy Zahn released “Heir to the Empire” in 1991, the modern era of the Star Wars EU began. Sure there were stories and comics that came out before this, but Zahn reinvented what a Star Wars novel was meant to be. One could easily argue that these were the first Star Wars novels to actually represent the source material in a way that did it justice. Zahn made Luke, Leia, Chewbacca, Han Solo, C-3PO, R2-D2, and other returning characters, feel like they were extensions of what we saw in the films. “Heir to the Empire,” “Dark Force Rising,” and “The Last Command” also introduced a number of original characters like Talon Karrde, Mara Jade, Garm Bel Iblis, Captain Pellaeon, and of course, Grand Admiral Thrawn. Thrawn is possibly the best character to ever come out of the EU though Mara Jade could debatably hold that title too. If you were to ever read any Star Wars novels from the “Legends” canon, these would be the ones. One of the best things Disney ever did with Star Wars was not only bring Thrawn into canon via “Star Wars: Rebels” but also bringing Zahn back to write two more book trilogies about the character’s backstory and rise through the Empire. This is arguably the trilogy we should’ve received instead of the VII, VIII, and IX we got as it so easily captures the magic of what made the original films so special.