‘Star Wars’ Expanded Universe: Where Should a New Reader Begin?

When it comes to the novels of the Star Wars Expanded Universe, we have a literal (and literary) embarrassment of riches:  a wonderful saga that could rival any in the history of mankind. Authors have explored this rich setting and its characters for decades now, and there’s still plenty left to see. Characters like Luke Skywalker, Mara Jade and Darth Vader will probably ascend into the mythological ranks to join Gilgamesh, Vainamoinen and Beowulf in future centuries. Who knows? thousands of years from now our descendants may look at the constellations anew, renaming them in honor of these mythic characters. As a Star Wars fan, I feel proud to be a part of this legacy.

That being said, I often wonder what a good beginning point would be for a new reader in the Star Wars universe. Should I recommend Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire? Stackpole’s X-Wing: Rogue Squadron? What about the Fate of the Jedi books? Something else? It can be a daunting task: recommend the wrong book and you may lose a reader forever.

With this in mind, I turn to you, dear readers and Star Wars scholars, with this question: What is your recommendation for a reader’s first Star Wars novel? Assume that our hypothetical reader is familiar with all six films and enjoyed them all equally, and generally enjoys science fiction literature. Where would you tell him or her to begin?

  • Heir to the Empire. Period. Hell, if you value your sanity, maybe it’s best to just read Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy and stop, because from there on out it’s a total mixed bag… 😉

  • Hey Dunc, did you choose your handle based on the Dunc and Egg stories? I love those.

  • Blankitout

    Heir to the Empire or Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor. Heir is the perfect start to post-ROTJ EU, and Mindor is the best standalone story in the EU. In fact, I just let my buddy borrow my copy of Mindor – it will be the first Star Wars book he’s ever read, and so far he’s loving it.

  • Definitely Heir. Then I’d recommend the X-Wing novels, both Stackpole & Allston. But to me, the Thrawn trilogy are as much Star Wars as the films. They set so much of the stage for everything to come.

  • Heir to the Empire is a great place to start, very OT feel. The X-wing series is 9 books of fan fun, and with Allston’s X-wing: Mercy Kill on the way next year I’d recommend those books for stepping into the EU. Although it can be heavy at times, I enjoyed the New Jedi Order too. Embedded in that series are some really great stories. A reader can pick up Vector Prime and not feel lost without the rest of the EU.

  • Matt Staggs: Nope, I’ve been Dunc online since 1996.

  • LaneWinree

    It’s Heir to the Empire and, really, will always be Heir to the Empire. The better question is what to read after someone has finished up that trilogy. For that, I say the X-Wing novels by Stackpole and Allston

  • There are not too many noteworthy books that take place before a reader could begin the New Jedi Order series. But I would definitely reccomend the following as must reads for a first timer… I, Jedi (Michael Stackpole), Thrawn Trilogy, and Hand of Thrawn series (Timothy Zahn).

  • [droid]

    For me it was wery simple, Heir to the Empire.

    Now explanation. I’m from Poland, 45 years old. ‘Dziedzic Imperium’ (Polish version of Heir… in 1994) was the first Star Wars thing I saw and read after the classic trilogy (iron curtain, comunism etc.).

    Today Star Wars is a very different thing, very different and more far, far away Galaxy then in 1994 in Poland. Why? Ask the Maker (G.Lucas).

    Where to begin? Where you want. It doesn’t matter. It’s so big galaxy, that everybody will find something for him. If he find it…

    [droid] from Poland

  • Shawn

    Heir to the empire, then new Jedi order books… yeah, it’s a LOT of reading… but you just can’t fully understand the rest without it …

    Another way would be heir, then outbound flight then whatever

    One to bolster movie appreciation would be rise of Vader followed by tatooine ghost.

    It really depends on how into it they are gonna get/how much time to spend. I’ve been through well over 100 books and people always ask what I recommend, I have the most trouble recommending just ONE book, but if I do, it’s usually one that accents and makes the movies more enjoyable 😉

  • Shawn

    Heir to the empire, then new Jedi order books… yeah, it’s a LOT of reading… but you just can’t fully understand the rest without it …

    Another way would be heir, then outbound flight then whatever

    One to bolster movie appreciation would be rise of Vader followed by tatooine ghost.

    It really depends on how into it they are gonna get/how much time to spend. I’ve been through well over 100 books and people always ask what I recommend, I have the most trouble recommending just ONE book, but if I do, it’s usually one that accents and makes the movies more enjoyable 😉

  • Bahnree

    Definitely Heir to the Empire.

  • Is there even a question? The first books any newbie should read is the first books all of us read in the early 90s – the Thrawn triology.

    When asked what book people should read first, I always say the Thrawn Triology. Then I say I Jedi, because I know they’ll be hooked after that and move on the X-wing series and then everything else.

    I’m almost done with my 2011 goal of re-reading all the SW novels, and when I reached the Thrawn Triology, it was like a breath of fresh air. Everything else is good, don’t get me wrong, but Zahn set a high bar 20 years ago.

  • [droid]

    Timothy Zahn?

    Only a good craftsman in the beginnig of ’90 (today no so good, but 20 years older, TWENTY!).

    Success? Yes. For a first job for Bantam Spectra. FIRST contract… ‘New’ writer and a such big book? Big book? When Star Wars was DEAD? Realy dead… Ask Autrey Wilson and Betsy Mitchell (quiz: what is a name of Zahn’s bathroom?).

    Do not exaggerate his role. He did his contract. Yes he did it right. Built a house for trilogy money (and THE bathroom). But today, I think (Outbound Flight, Allegiance), he would not make it.

    And Star Wars today… is only a market product. No magic, no Jedi hocus pocus… Everything was said. Than no matter where you begin expanded universe… (or universes, see The Clone Wars and Mandalorians). Everything is cool, if you pay money for the Maker.


    ps. I met and talk with a genuine Mandalorian, the first Boba Fett.

  • izikavazo

    The Thrawn Trilogy is 100% the correct place to start. No question. (I’m glad we all agree).
    Personally I started with Star by Star and then Balance Point. That was like doing a cannonball into the deep end before learning the dog-paddle. But it was fun. I’m a huge fan because of it. If someone is bored by Heir to the Empire jump them ahead to something crazier, see what happens.

  • Alex Ezell
  • of course the thrawn trilogy, then the hand of thrawn duology. i would also recommend truce at bakura, while it is not the most amazing novel, it does take place immediately after the movies, making it more accesible

  • Anna

    Thrawn Trilogy, hands down. The X-Wing books should be next, particularly the Stackpole ones. The movie novelizations are good too. Anything by Stover or any of Zahn’s other Star Wars books are good. I, Jedi by Stackpole is good. A.C. Crispin’s Han Solo trilogy is worth a read.

    I would recommend you stay far away from the New Jedi Order, at least for a while. Don’t start with them because while they are well written books, they are nothing like the movies in terms of feel, plotting, and characterization. Fans of the movies who are trying to get into the EU are likely to think that the EU isn’t real Star Wars since the NJO is so different from the movies and therefore they won’t be interested in reading anything else. Many characters will have the same names as the ones they love but will seem completely out of character.

  • Peter

    Definitely Heir. You should NEVER, EVER, BY ANY MEANS recommend The Lando Calrissian Adventures. Ever. Just saying;)

  • I agree, Heir is probably the best choice, but I think the X-Wing books would be an okay place to start or maybe the original Han Solo books. Both of those series are pretty fun and start to pull you into the universe.

  • Alexander Beldan

    I really like the Thrawn trilogy. But, to be true to the storyline, I start with Truce at Bakura. I had to read it 3 times before I really got an appreciation for the book. Loved Courtship of princess Leia, so once you get to the Thrawn trilogy, you get catapulted into a tale of awesome proportions.

  • Ryan O

    Thrawn Trilogy! Unless you want to go chronologically, but then I’d say read Thrawn to get the feel of some of the characters, go back to the beginning and read things the chronological way, re-reading Thrawn when you get there.

  • Jernell R.

    I would tell them to read Vector Prime because of the familar characters and great storyline. Even better choice would be Shadows of the Empire.

  • Kalandraofthesith

    I would start with the bane series . I feel it gives strong. Background information as to how the dark side eventually rules the galaxy in the movies .

  • Enaz

    I agree the Thrawn trilogies are good for an older StarWars fan who new only the original trilogy, until the prequels were released because it follows a character they grew up with and would be interested in seeing evolve even more. With that being said and a whole new generation of fans becoming entranced with a galaxy far, far away and Anakin/Darth Vader/Darkside being the main vocal points of the audiences worldwide. I would say Darth Bane’s trilogy would resonate more with new audiences because they could learn more of the lore of the Darkside. Also, they could learn about a completely new set of circumstances that leads a new character down the road to the Darkside and ultimately his rise to Sith Grand Master (Sith’ari)!

  • Doug

    I know everyone is saying ‘Heir’, and it’s a good start for those of a certain age, but if they’re 25 or younger, I might suggest ‘YODA: DARK RENDEVOUS’, which is the only Yoda novel and is among the best books I’ve ever read, Star Wars or otherwise. Even with The Clone Wars series going on, this still stands as a testiment to how good a story can be set in that time, even within book form. I’d put it up against the best of Zahn or anyone else, anyday. And honestly, it feels more like ‘offical’ Star Wars to me, than just about anything else. Unfortunatly it was never released in hardback, for reasons beyond me. So much better than all the newer novels…

  • Matt

    Start with all the Timothy Zahn books, the Thrawn Trilogy than the later Hand of Thrawn Series, and Survivor’s Quest. Than the X-Wing Series, and Jedi Academy Trilogy and I Jedi. Than New Jedi Order and Fate of the Jedi.

    Timothy Zahn, Kevin J Anderson, Aaron Allston, and Michael A. Stackpole, are my four favourite Star Wars novel authors.

  • I would suggest that you start from the beginning, you learn so much from each book.

  • You have to read them in order or you get confused on what’s going on. Each book has so much information in it, and the back stories in each novel. You learn so much about Luke and Leia, things that you didn’t know before.

  • Cosmosis

    I feel that the Heir to the empire pushers in this forum are from an older generation. Many of these new (possibly) younger readers will be starting in the Clone wars era and would be completely lost. I started into the EU with Shadows of the Empire. I think the main thing for a starting point into the EU is that it should be within the period from Phantom Menace to ROTJ. Personally I would never introduce someone to the prequels first so I think Allegiance or Shadows of the Empire are two of the best between the film books from the original trilogy.

  • Pete

    I have been a fan since the beginning. However, until the prequels I just watched the movies over and over every year or so. Played the games, Dark Forces and eventually the prequels and on to Clone Wars cartoons. But it still wasn’t enough.
    After discovering the fun of audio books, I decided to open my Star Wars geekdom into the novels.
    I recommend starting where you are most familiar. So I began with Dark Lord- Rise of Darth Vader. Next is the Han Solo Trilogy. Now worries. I will get through chronologically to Thrawn Trilogy (Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising, Last command), but not before Force Unleashed, Dark Forces, and Shadows of the Empire along with reviewing the beloved original trilogy once again in its respected place.
    I’ve only been so excited since Return of the Jedi and later Revenge of the Sith as I am to uncover the connections between Han Solo, Chewbacca, the Millenium Falcon, Mara Jade, and the Jedi Academy!

  • Ludek

    I think it’s ought to be phantom menace, or new hope, or some book which is prequel to the person’s favourite episode.

  • Ludek

    or sequel. Generaly it should give wider view of what’s happening in this world and in minds of characters. For example if someons favourite episode is Empire Strikes Back I’d recommend Shadows of the Empire, if someon’s favourite character is Boba Fett I’d recommend Bounty Hunter Wars Trilogy. I stared when I was a teenage from Jedi Apprentice Series The Rising Force, and my goal was to read chronogically all the books, already released in Polish.

  • Ludek

    or sequel. It ought to be a book with familiar characters and setting, like Shadows of the Empire. My goal was to read chronologically already released books in Polish. And I stared from Jedi Apprentice Series The Rising Force.

  • Branden

    Im only 16 and the first Star Wars book i read was The Courtship of Princess Leia and i loved it! Since then ive powered my way through the big series. I would either reccomend TCOPL or The Truce at Bakura because they are fairly easy to understand in terms of lack of EU characters ect.

  • Althaltallik

    I’d recommend them start where i started: with reading novelized forms of the movies. That way, they’d be used to how Star Wars books read, and there have been a few scenes and details in the novelizations that weren’t in the movies. (Ex: the scene where Luke hangs out with other teens from Tattoine in ANH)

    Then, turn them to the Hand of Thrawn Books.
    I, myself, read Shadows of Mindor first, simply because Star Wars was new to me, and i wasn’t even aware that there WAS an EU. I went to WalMart, and it was on the bestsellers rack. Since then, I’ve been hunting for them and grabbing with a quickness any time i see more SWEU books. 😀

  • David

    I am an avid believer in start at the beginning. I didn’t start there myself only due to a reference I read accidentally online that got me hooked on knowing what happened. I started with the New Jedi Order to find out how Darth Caedus came about. I then had to jump back to Vector Prime and go through the whole Yuuzhan Vong that I saw massive references to in NJO. I started back at the very beginning with a few out of sequence ones later when the library did not have what I was looking for next and have loved the entire EU thus far. I just finished the first two Lando novels that someone else dissed. I liked them too. I don’t think there is a bad book in the bunch. All that said, if I could manipulate the past, I would try not to find that reference to Darth Caedus and his prior identity and start with Crosscurrent. If someone were to ask my favorites I would be torn between the Darth Bane trilogy, the Yuuzhan Vong and NJO. Fair warning I think that no matter what Rogue Planet should be read before Vector Prime and the rest of the Yuuzhan Vong stuff.

  • mandoclone3381

    I actually came into reading the EU by reading the Xwing series, mainly the Stackpole stuff. I find the stories moving and I liked the characters. I tried reading the Thrawn trilogy and it just seemed long winded to me for whatever reason. I listen to the old audiobooks though and that makes it a bit more palatable.

  • EdoAon

    I started with the X-Wing series, really preferred stackpole’s take over allston’s, then read the Thrawn trilogy. I had my sister start with Allegience, gives a good tie-in to the movies and introduces Mara Jade. My aunt is going by galactic chronological order, starting with the ancient republic stuff. Also, I think the \tales from\ short stories help give a nice introduction.

  • harvester

    maybe the darth bane series is a good start for star wars beginners…

  • I have always been an avid follower since I was three in 1986. I dropped out since the 3rd prequel came out. When SWTOR was released I jumped on board and tried to find everything I could reading wise. I made a spreadsheet based mostly of wookiepedia’s site of every piece of content. I am starting at the beginning and going to legacy. I think this is a great way. Some content might be hard to find but I am working on finding it all.

  • My website is the link to my personal spreadsheet.

  • Kondorr

    Shadows of the Empire or Heir to the Empire…

  • Justin Turner

    I started at the very beginning of the timeline, Lost Tribes of the Sith

  • Antonio

    Depends on what you like. Prequel fan? Start with Cloak of Deception. It is a prequel to Episode one. Original Prequel fan? Start with Shadows of the Empire. It is set between episodes 5 and 6. Your favorite character is Han Solo? Start with The Paradise Snare. It is the First of Han Solo’s own prequel trilogy.

    These are not necessarily my favorites books but I think they are a good entry point because they require no previous knowledge other than movies and also they do not require a big commitment on the reader’s part.

  • Antonio

    \Original Prequel fan? \
    That shoul have been Original Trilogy fan.

  • Josh

    I just finished reading my first Star Wars book today. I decided to start right where Return of the Jedi finished with “The Truce at Bakura”. It’s as great place to begin since it starts where the movies left off. There is nothing that you wouldn’t understand if you have seen the movies. After reading Bakura, I suggest reading Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor, then reading the first 7 X-Wing Novels if you want to read the books in chronological order.

  • Mitth’raw’nuruodo

    Heir to the Empire is where I began reading after the movies and it has served me well. Its really a good story to get you hooked on and to get a grasp on some new ideas and the state of the galaxy.

  • Elijah Korneffel

    Hi, I want to go swimming in the EU and have felt this way because I was re-watching with my gf and were at episode II (not the best). However, I started “wookiepeding” some of the names I had not really understood when watching them when I was younger. I found out about how Count Dooku betrayed his friend and murdered him after finding out the truth about the sith lord and his dealings.

    The point >>>>> I want begin where things interest me. For me, the origin of the Jedi (Dawn of the Jedi) and the origin of the Sith are very interesting to me. I am not overly attached to the cinema masterpieces, so delving into the past long before Luke, Leia, and Han is quite alright with me. I am super curious about the past. I feel like the Thrawn would be boring for me before I get to view the past, so please experts inform me if I would be making a grand mistake.

  • John C

    I am so glad I stumbled across this. I picked up “Fate of the Jedi” and was hooked through all nine books. This was my first books since ROTJ. I really enjoyed them because they were the first books I have read since the movies. (Yeah, I thought I was a Star Wars nerd until these books… now it has re-kindled my, what I call “Nerd Fire” for the series.) I ran into a guy at Barnes and Noble and he said that I NEEDED to read “The Truce at Bakura” and “The Courtship of Princess Leia”. He did warn me that they weren’t written very well, but that I HAD to read them. I just finished “The Courtship” and was wondering where to go from there. Thanks for all of your input… I am now half way through “Heir to the Empire” and I am glad y’all recommended it. I hate to say it, but Tyers and Wolverton just don’t know how to capture the Star Wars universe like Zahn, Denning, and Golden. (I think I might have missed one author… sorry) Now… when I finish these books, do I move on to “The Jedi Academy”?
    Thanks again for all of your input!!!!

  • Cameron

    I started with “Shadows of the Empire,” and it, being set within the movies, was a great starting point. ‘Heir’ is the favorite here, and it’s a great book, but I also recommend a film adaptation, particularly the stunning “Revenge of the Sith” novel by Stover. Other options would be to explore the horror entries “Death Troopers” and “Red Harvest,” as they require little backstory. I later dove into “Fate of the Jedi” and love the Legacy Era now. I had to look some things up and put things together, but I love it!

  • Oance Raul Calin

    And I started to write a book,called “THE SITH RETURNS-THE REIGN OF DARTH URIEL EXOR”,the plot takes place on 80.000 ABY,where a non-sensitive being,finds an ancient sword,used by a “hiemps”(my own species)and infuse it with the Dark Side of the Force,so the sword changes into a “darksaber”(lightningsaber),somehow that hiemps is destroyed,but his sword will be found by an Yetsar(my own species,in the book is detailed,so I will say on short),who is a non-sensitive,but in the mean time,the ancient sword will infuse him with dark energy,thus this will change his body,

    “The darksaber grew so powerful,that Frassta Uri could not control it anymore,as a result,the darksaber took his mind and made him lose his sanity.
    The dark energy,with a mixture of red and blue lightning,enveloped his whole body,the eyes changed from white to dark black,from his veins began to flow purple blood,the hair became from white to red,his teeth have fallen down on the ground.
    After that, he started to fell from height,most of his neurons were decimated permanently,but especially the power of the dark side,made him also to lose weight,his skin went into a state of decay only just in a few moments….”

    His eyes,especially the left one,was petrified by the dark energy,his feet disappeared,the arms and hands were totally with no skin,his red hair disappeared in air,taken by the wind.”

    “After Frassta-Vir become chancellor,she took the remains of Frassta-Uri and put them in the system “Caligo-Nox”-a system with no life support,only “empty” energy.Because the remains of Frassta-Uri grew so full of dark energy,that he was a threat to all kind of beings.
    But this was not the end,it looks like the “empty” energy consumed his most dark energy,but in the same time,through that process, he was resurrected,and gave him abilities beyond those of a Sith Lord.
    In that “emptyness” and silence,Frassta-Uri opens his right eye,he starts moving his hands…”

    -Where am I?(being unconscious)
    -What is this place?
    -I am alive!(after he figured out what happened with him)
    -I can feel the Dark Side…,how is flowing through me.
    -I knew it,my hatred kept me alive,the Dark Side resurrected me,I will bring terror over the Jedi Order,and I shall rule the Yetsar.The darkness is my ally.I have reborn!
    -Frassta-Uri is gone,I am “Darth Uriel Exor”,the Lord of Death.-Making referring to his new acquired powers and second life.

    On short he found someone who built for him a battlesuit,which serves both as “battlesuit” and koltotank,this is a phrase to describe it:

    “From the depth of the shadows and mightiness,his new flesh appeared,very fearsome,where only the bravest could see something like this…and to live on again.
    Indeed,a great power is in that battlesuit,but also a great doom”-Farasty Blair’s thoughts about the battlesuit.

    So what do you think my friends,it’s interesting this story,?

  • Elliot Brack

    I started in 2006 by reading a book from the legacy era (I saw one of the books in Iraq at a PX store and bought it to have something to read, being a Star Wars fan it help me escape from the nasty reality I was living in to the beloved Star Wars world). I was so interested and wowed by the characters that I looked at the beginning of the timeline (For novels) and started from the beginning of the timeline. I read and bought every book on the timeline and even getting into the graphic novels now. I am up to The Fate of the Jedi, but went back to read the new books coming out.
    My favorite was the Commando series by Karen Traviss. Got to love those Mandalorians.

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