Since Disney acquired the rights to the franchise back in 2012, much of the “Star Wars” expanded universe, which consisted of video game storylines, films and comic books, was rebranded as “Star Wars: Legends” and made non-canon. This was done to make room for new stories, as Disney announced that the Star Wars comics would return to Marvel Comics.
This has ended up being good and bad news, because while the expanded universe was a bustling galaxy of rich characters and thrilling story arcs, not everything in it was a literary diamond. That being said, there are definitely tales worth remembering and some that have surpassed the standard in terms of story. Here are 16 of the best Star Wars comic books from both Dark Horse and Marvel, based on the quality of their stories and the richness of their characters.
17. Star Wars: Obi-Wan & Anakin
If you’ve ever wondered what happened in the years between “The Phantom Menace” and “Attack of the Clones,” Marvel’s recent “Obi-Wan & Anakin” may just satisfy your need for an answer. Created by writer Charles Soule and artist Marco Checchetto, this series covers the pivotal moments in both Obi-Wan and Anakin’s lives, and we find them both doubting their destinies.
Obi-Wan is now a Jedi Knight and Anakin his young Padawan learner, stranded on an unfamiliar world where people have apparently never heard of the Jedi Order (despite a call for assistance originating from the planet) and are distrustful of the two who have arrived to save them from civil war. It also shows us how the Chancellor was able to influence Anakin from so early on and makes it more understandable that he would so readily trust the one-day Emperor in the prequel trilogy. This series constitutes Marvel’s attempts to fill in the gaps between the films and it does quite a good job at building on the debatably thin relationships between characters during the Clone Wars.
16. Star Wars: Poe Dameron
When “The Force Awakens” was released, fans knew to expect new characters, but they went in with doubts. Few people expected Poe Dameron to be such a likeable character, especially when you consider that he’s only really in the film for a little more than a quarter of the movie. And yet, he’s already been compared to legendary stalwart of the series, Han Solo.
Fans of the new character may take interest in the ongoing series “Star Wars: Poe Dameron,” by Charles Soule with incredible art from Phil Noto, which focuses on his past with the Resistance and their struggle against the First Order. True to his now-legendary style, Noto paid a lot of attention to Oscar Isaac’s performance in the role, which helps make the comic book adaptation of the character truly come alive. It’s a great comic that adds more depth to a sudden fan favorite, exploring his role in the Resistance and partnership with his faithful droid and fellow fan favorite, BB-8.
15. Star Wars: X-Wing Rogue Squadron
One of the most thrilling aspects of the Star Wars franchise is the continuous war between the forces of good and evil; a staple to every good adventure story. The “Star Wars” universe is rich with political intrigue and deep characters, of course, but sometimes fans just want to see some good ol’ fashioned space battles, lost and won by the wit and will of the leaders. That’s why comic like “X-Wing Rogue Squadron” are a must if you’re into those explosive battles.
Dark Horse’s comic book series shows us the determination and loyalty of the Rebellion through several characters, including everyone’s favorite squadron fighter, Wedge Antilles, seen battling the Empire’s ships and TIE fighters. We see him fight his way back into the fray after crash-landing. Bringing his squadron together after being separated from them, he commands loyalty even from former TIE fighter pilot, Tycho Celchu. This series is great for many reasons, one of them being that it focuses on the Rebels who can’t use the Force or make the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs. These are the average guys who give it all they have.
14. Star Wars (1978)
When “Star Wars: A New Hope” had been released, it was met with widespread critical acclaim. It was new and exciting for its viewership, quickly distinguishing itself from other films with its engaging narrative and mesmerizing lightsaber battle. However, they had to keep people interested somehow until the next film was complete, so Lucasfilms approached Marvel Comics, which ended up creating a comic book series that would last for several years. It was no doubt difficult at first to try and build on the rich world George Lucas had begun to weave without putting the main characters in any real peril, which might have been why, in 1978, Marvel introduced a new character into the Star Wars universe.
“Star Wars” #16 gave us Jaxxon, the rabbit-headed smuggler hailing from Coachelle Prime. It also introduced Valance the Hunter, an ex-stormtrooper who now leads a pack of mercenaries. This issue marked the first time the main characters (Han Solo, Luke and Leia Skywalker, Chewie, R2 and 3PO) didn’t make an appearance, so you could say that this issue was really the birth of the expanded universe; a worthwhile read for that fact alone.
13. The Thrawn Trilogy
The Thrawn Trilogy was a fantastic series of novels written by Timothy Zahn, detailing the rise of Imperial Grand General Thrawn, one of the Emperor’s warlords who returns from the farthest corners of the galaxy to rebuild the Empire. He does quite well, considering he’s able to amass a large army from the remnants of the Imperials, including dark Jedi. He’s the perfect representation of the shattered darkness that still threatens the New Republic, which is, at this point in the story, still trying to find its legs.
As incredible as the Thrawn Trilogy novels are, their Dark Horse Comics adaptation by writer Mike Baron really brings the story to life in a whole new medium. The artwork is nothing short of breathtaking in its attempt to highlight the daunting forces that approach Luke, Leia and Han, as well as their children. If you want to see Thrawn in action and you’re not much for straight-up novels, give the Thrawn trilogy comic book adaptation a try, since it only adds to the incredible tale.
12. Star Wars: Shattered Empire
This fairly recent four-part miniseries by Greg Rucka and Marco Checchetto was written to bridge the gap between “Star Wars: Return of the Jedi” and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” It follows Shara Bey of the Green Squadron, who escapes the destruction of Death Star II, spends a romantic evening with her husband, Kes Dameron, during the celebration on Endor, and goes on to fight the remnants of the Empire, which seems to be doing quite well despite losing their Sith Lord emperor.
This is the first time Marvel has explored the period of time between Episode VI and Episode VII in the new Star Wars canon and its intricate narrative is written quite beautifully by Rucka. With the inclusion of all the familiar faces such as Luke, Leia, Han and Chewie, as well as newer ones like Poe Dameron, it’s a fitting bridge between the two trilogies, arguably better so than the tales that have now been categorized as non-canon.
11. Dark Empire
Dark Horse Comics’ “Dark Empire” trilogy, by Tom Veitch, Cam Kennedy and Jim Baikie, covers a period of time after the Battle of Endor. The rebellion continues to battle the Imperial remnants with Luke and Lando Calrissian hiding out on Coruscant following an epic crash-landing involving star destroyers, some of which had been commandeered over the years by the rebellion. During their adventures, Luke discovers something horrible and heartbreaking: The Emperor is alive and well. Surviving by transferring his mind into one of many clones, the Emperor continues to rule from the shadows. Luke discovers this and after a time, by the Emperor’s manipulative words, Luke is persuaded to submit as Palpatine’s new apprentice.
It’s an exciting story with each chapter full of great twists worthy of the franchise. It also boasts fresh takes on everyone’s favorite characters to highlight the struggle between the dark and the light, with fantastic artwork to really make that theme clear. It may not be canon anymore, but it’s one tale you will not regret reading.
10. Star Wars: Republic, The Battle of Jabiim
Focusing on the era before the rise of the Empire was Dark Horse’s “Star Wars: Republic” series with one story arc in particular focusing on the growth and inner demons of Anakin Skywalker during the Clone Wars. “The Battle of Jabiim,” by Haden Blackman and Brian Ching, takes place on the small Outer Rim planet of Jabiim, where Republic and Separatist forces are fighting for control. Obi-Wan and Skywalker have been sent to aid the Republic in the attack, but Obi-Wan soon meets his apparent demise at the hands of Jabiimi rebels, leaving Anakin to lead a small squad of masterless Padawans.
You’ll want to read this arc for yourself as these four issues build on Anakin as a character in a way the films never quite managed to do. There was a real struggle within Anakin and it wasn’t just a matter of stifling his anger when things went wrong and staying faithful to the light. He was fighting against a world that seemed to tear away at him as though it was pushing him into the Dark side of the Force.
9. Star Wars: Purge
Darth Sidious’ infamous Order 66 essentially decimated the Jedi order and was crucial in the rise of his galactic Empire. As we all saw in the prequel trilogy, most of the masters fell. 2005s “Star Wars: Purge” shows us what happened to those who managed to survive just a little bit longer. It follows Darth Vader as he embraces his anger and falls further and further into the Dark Side with every remaining Jedi he murders in cold blood. Even Sidious doesn’t approve of it.
For every fan of Vader, this comic is sure to please. It depicts the Darth Lord’s rise as a prominent figure in the Empire, forged from exaggerated tales of his exploits. It also confirms what we all already knew: that he has always been more than just an angry apprentice. At the same time, despite all the power he drew from the Force, he was still just a man in a mask. In the end, the comic adds more weight to Vader’s portrayal in the original film trilogy.
8. Star Wars: Infinities
This series is divided into three parts for each of the three episodes in the original film trilogy, from “A New Hope” to “Return of the Jedi.” Each part consists of four issues and each issue delves into what might have happened if things had gone differently. “Star Wars Infinites: A New Hope” #1 begins the series by exploring what might have happened if Luke missed his target at the end of “Star Wars: A New Hope” and failed to destroy the original Death Star. Luke nears madness and Leia falls of the Dark Side. Yoda comes out of hiding and the Vader isn’t the one that reveals Luke and Leia’s origins.
This fun little four-part comic by Dark Horse is a bit like Marvel Comics’ “What If” series, so we may be able to look forward to some sort of continuation of it. It’s the answer to any questions you might have had about what might have happened if our favorite galactic adventurers hadn’t performed one of a dozen miracles in their struggle against the Empire.
7. Star Wars: Crimson Empire
Some Star Wars fans, who have only watched the films may have wondered what the story was behind the Emperor’s red guards. “Star Wars: Crimson Empire,” written by Mike Richardson and Randy Stradley with art from Paul Gulacy, follows Kir Kanos, a former imperial guard trying to make his way through the world after the fall of the Empire. Through him, readers are shown how the Emperor’s personal bodyguards functioned. Chosen from among the most skilled stormtroopers, the red Imperial Guards were Sidious’ personal bodyguards and assassins. After the Empire fell, the Guards were hunted down and exterminated due to the combination of their unshakeable loyalty to Sidious and their lethal skills.
Kir Kanos proves just how deadly they could be. This giant story is a fantastic display of how such background film characters could be given such epic and memorable backgrounds. It may be non-canonical now, but it’s a great read and a fun way to explore the potential behind what seemed to be trivial background characters.
6. Star Wars: Kanan
One of the best things to come out of the “Star Wars” expanded universe was Kanan Jarrus, who was introduced to us through the “Star Wars: Rebels” animated TV series. The show takes place after the rise of the Empire but several years before the events of “A New Hope,” so Kanan’s comic series delves into how he survives Order 66 and the extermination of the Jedi Order. For those who aren’t familiar with him, Kanan was just a Padawan when Sidious’ infamous order was given. He survived thanks to his master’s sacrifice and his willingness to hide his force powers, eventually going on to assist Ahsoka Tano in her struggle against the Sith.
Through the two story arcs, “The Last Padawan” and “First Blood,” Marvel’s “Star Wars: Kanan” series expands on Kanan’s past in ways the television series couldn’t have done. Greg Weisman, who wrote several episodes of “Star Wars: Rebels,” including those which featured appearances by the character, is able to really give the character life even through the still, yet electrically kinetic images pencilled by the talented Pepe Larazz. Altogether, the creative team’s work makes this a great comic for fans of the character and of the show.
5. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic Vol. 1
One of the reasons why some fans might have found Disney’s choice to label the majority of the expanded universe as non-canon infuriating is the old “Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic” series from 2006. Written by John Jackson Miller and illustrated by a host of amazing artists, the series was based on the rich history established by the video game series of the same name. Set thousands of years before the events of the films, “Knights of the Old Republic: Commencement” is the first and largest volume of the series. It follows Zayne Carrick as he tries to save the Jedi Order from murderous Jedi Masters.
The story sees Zayne visit places and characters from the video games and it expands on the lore throughout them. It may not be crucial to fans of the films but it’s a fantastic tale worth reading nonetheless, revolving around the Jedi and their prophecies about the Dark Side. For those looking for unique stories set in the foundations of the Star Wars universe, this is something you’ll love, with its thrilling storyline and beautiful artwork on each page.
4. Star Wars: Legacy Vol. 1
After so many years, it’s understandable that continually filling the Star Wars universe with exciting events and characters would become difficult. That was apparent when Dark Horse Comics released John Ostrander’s “Star Wars: Legacy” series. Set 100 years after the events of the original trilogy, “Legacy” revolved around a new Empire and a new dark lord of the Sith named Darth Krayt, who fell to the Dark Side because of Darth Vader. It’s fitting that Luke Skywalker’s own descendant, Cade, would bring Darth Krayt down.
“Legacy” builds on what the films established and explores the long-term impact of Darth Vader’s actions on everything he left behind. The character designs may take some getting used to, but the series has many great qualities. The plot alone is enough to make this series worthwhile. Its characters aren’t perfect, its heroes aren’t all completely good, nor are its villains completely evil. That’s one of the reasons why the films and their characters were so great, of course, but it was made all the more intriguing here.
3. Star Wars (2015)
This particular comic book issue is exciting even for those who haven’t been following the new Marvel-published series. Before “The Force Awakens,” anyone who had watched the “Star Wars” original trilogy might have wondered if Leia would ever connect with the Force the way Luke did. After all, Yoda did say that there was another. That must have meant Leia, right? While she never actually does start digging into that Force sensitivity, she was depicted with a lightsaber in this issue of Marvel’s “Star Wars” series in 2015, written by Jason Aaron with art from Stuart Immonen, wherein R2-D2 gives Leia, Han Solo and even Chewie lightsabers from his personal stash so they could escape from a tight squeeze on Nar Shadaa.
As exciting as it is knowing that such a thing is part of the Star Wars canon, it doesn’t really show Leia ever nearing Jedi-hood. It’s still great just seeing her wield a lightsaber, though, cutting a swath through her Imperial enemies.
2. Star Wars: Princess Leia
One character that certainly deserved a comic series is Princess Leia, who we never really got to see fully explored as a character in the film series proper. That’s where the 2015 five-issue miniseries “Star Wars: Princess Leia” comes in. The story, written by the inimitable Mark Waid with art from Terry and Rachel Dodson, takes place after “A New Hope,” with Leia finally taking time to mourn the loss of Alderaan and everyone on it. This of course includes her parents, Queen Breha and Bail Organa, the latter of whom was also a founding member of the Rebel Alliance.
Fans of Princess Leia will definitely enjoy seeing her character more fully developed and her thoughts laid out across each panel, unlike on film, where we can only guess what might be going on in her head after seeing General Tarkin cruelly murder billions. Given how much pressure she’s under and how much of a toll the destruction of an entire world leaves on a person, you’re sure to develop more respect for Leia, who is evidently pretty awesome even without having connected to the Force in the same way as her brother or father.
1. Star Wars: Darth Vader
Fans of the original trilogy may also enjoy Kieran Gillen, Salvador Larroca and Leinil Francis Yu’s “Star Wars: Darth Vader,” which fills in the gaps between Vader’s tragic origins and his rise through the ranks between “A New Hope” and “The Empire Strikes Back.” We find out that Vader did spend quite some time investigating Luke Skywalker after the destruction of the Death Star and that, even after all this time, Vader was still not done fighting through Sidious’ cruel machinations and treachery.
The series makes you realise how alone Vader really was for all that time. He had to defend himself and his place within the Empire, as well as under the Emperor’s tutelage, as the way of the Sith dictates. Vader is depicted as being much more complex here than the pure evil that his Sith master embodies throughout the films and comics. This is a wonderful series that adds much more gravity (space pun intended) to the famous scene between Vader and Skywalker, and to his final act as both a father and a Jedi.
What are your favorite “Star Wars” comics of all time? Let us know in the comments!
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