I know that most fans grimace when they hear the words prequel and Star Wars together. Characters like Jar Jar Binks did their best to destroy the franchise, but there is actually a lot to like about the prequels. There’s an entire Jedi Council, a clone war with hundreds of Fetts, a skilled cyborg named General Grievous, and an almost invincible demon Sith called Darth Maul. Some of the expanded universe novels take advantage of the great characters and history in this time period.
With the release of Maul: Lockdown by Joe Schreiber coming out next week, I wanted to list the top five novels that I have read from the Rise of the Empire era in Star Wars history. Before I do this, here is the synopsis for Maul: Lockdown
It’s kill or be killed in the space penitentiary that houses the galaxy’s worst criminals, where convicts face off in gladiatorial combat while an underworld gambling empire reaps the profits of the illicit blood sport. But the newest contender in this savage arena, as demonic to behold as he is deadly to challenge, is fighting for more than just survival. His do-or-die mission, for the dark masters he serves, is to capture the ultimate weapon: an object capable of obliterating the Jedi and conquering the galaxy.
Sith lords Darth Plagueis and Darth Sidious are determined to possess the prize. And one of the power-hungry duo has his own treacherous plans for it. But first, their fearsome apprentice must take on a bloodthirsty prison warden, a cannibal gang, cutthroat crime lord Jabba the Hutt, and an unspeakable alien horror. No one else could brave such a gauntlet of death and live. But no one else is the dreaded dark-side disciple known as Darth Maul.
And now for my list of top 5 Star Wars prequel novels worth reading:
5. Shatterpoint by Matthew Stover — Matthew Stover is a veteran of the Star Wars universe and writes well. This novel is a great introduction to the clone wars and gives the reader a little more insight into the Jedi, including Mace Windu. And as can be expected in times of war, this novel is packed with action and light saber duels — something every Star Wars fan can enjoy. This novel takes place shortly after Episode II.
4. Yoda: Dark Rendezvous by Sean Stewart — I remember watching Episode 2 in the theater and when Yoda removed the light saber from his belt, the entire audience cheered. It is for good reason because the wise Jedi Master is a favorite among most Star Wars geeks. In addition to Yoda, we get a lot of insight into Count Dooku, a formidable enemy of the rebels, but one often wonders if there is good left in him. This novel takes place after Shatterpoint, but prior to Episode III.
3. Kenobi: Star Wars by John Jackson Miller — Miller takes one of our beloved heroes and tells a western story that is reminiscent of the short-lived Firefly series. In fact, this novel doesn’t read like most Star Wars novels, which was a nice change of pace. We get accustomed to Tatooine life and Kenobi, who seeks to remain hidden, is seen as discreet through the eyes of the other characters. This novel takes place shortly after Episode III.
2. Han Solo Trilogy by A.C. Crispin — Perhaps I am being nostalgic in including A.C. Crispin’s trilogy on the list. It was sad to hear of her untimely death last year, succumbing to cancer. Her Han Solo trilogy is somewhat sentimental as we learn of Han Solo’s touching relationship with a love interest and a friendship with Chewy. We learn what gave him a hard edge around women, how he became a smuggler, and where his troubles began with Jabba the Hut. The trilogy ends with a familiar scene in Episode IV, which nicely ties the novels into the Universe.
1. Darth Plagueis by James Luceno — If you are only going to read one novel in the Rise of the Empire Era, I recommend Darth Plagueis. The novel gives the back story for Darth Sidious/Emperor Palpatine, the most evil and conniving character in Star Wars. Maybe it’s not the most exciting story on the list, but it is both engaging and informative. I really got sucked into the mind of Palpatine in this novel and Luceno did an excellent job of developing his character. Had he omitted the word, midichlorian, from the novel it would have been even better. The other novels on my list coincidentally had a nice chronology to them, but Darth Plagueis starts at the beginning, before Episode I.
So there you have it, five novels (actually seven with the trilogy) that are certainly worth reading if you have any interest in the period before the Rebellion era. There are a few duds as well, but I think it is pretty safe to start with any of the novels I mention above. There’s really no starting place when it comes to Star Wars novels, but I would recommend starting with either Darth Plagueis and sticking with the Clone War era or the Thrawn Trilogy by Timothy Zahn and reading the novels that start after Return of the Jedi. May the force be with you in your reading.