12 Star Wars Graphic Novels You Must Read Before You Die –
There’s a vast swathe of Star Wars history that have been covered by the comics, exploring everything from 5,000 years in the past to 100 years in the future. The heroes and villains you know, plus thousands you don’t, have been taking to the stars, seeking fame, fortune, revenge, and victory for decades now. It all started with a farm boy, a princess, a smuggler, two droids, and an old wizard, but it has spiralled outward into an impossibly rich tapestry of stories.
It may have all happened a long, long time ago in a galaxy far away, but it’s all still out there, waiting to be discovered (and rediscovered).
Yes, much of the Expanded Universe has been relegated to the Legends archives since Disney rebooted the comics, but that doesn’t mean the highlights and best moments are lost forever.
But with literally thousands of issues out there, dozens of story arcs, and an uncountable number of characters vying for your attention, where do you even start?
Whether you’re looking for comedy or adventure, epic storytelling or shocking moments, resolutions or more questions, Star Wars’ EU – legend or otherwise – has it all.
12. The Star Wars
No, this isn’t your aunt’s garbled synopsis of the films. A graphic novel based on the original rough draft of “The Star Wars” by George Lucas, this reimagined universe is very different from the one we know.
The trio of Deak, Annikin, and Kane Starkiller are attacked by Imperial forces, and after a tragic loss, they rendezvous with famed general Luke Skywalker, who is trying to convince the Aquilaean royals to prepare for war with the Empire.
I don’t know who first envisioned drawing new art to Lucas’s original draft of Star Wars, but the end result is a pretty fascinating What If. The love story is just as stilted as Anakin and Padme’s in the prequels, but there are some neat, unexpected characterizations here all the same.
11. Children Of The Force
The multilayered subject of how the Jedi take Force-sensitive children from their families and indoctrinate them into the Jedi Order is finally put under the microscope in this intriguing short from Star Wars Tales.
Inside a Jedi Temple nursery, Depa Billaba struggles with questions about her own parents as Mace Windu tries to ease her concerns, but the entire process is put on trial when a Zeltron intruder seizes one of the children and has a physical (and verbal) throwdown with the famous Jedi badass.
This is a topic that rarely comes up in any of the actual Star Wars stories, so it’s impressive how many sides of the debate are presented in a few short pages. Jedi training, unresolved feelings and connections with family, and even the idea of a black market for Force-sensitive children are all bandied about before Mace and the Zeltron reach an unexpected resolution.
10. Infinities: A New Hope
The Infinities series were alternate history versions of the original Star Wars films, indulging fans with different ways the story could have unfolded if something changed along the way.
In The Empire Strikes Back edition, Luke actually dies of exposure on Hoth before Han can find him, so someone different must rise to challenge Vader and the Emperor. In the Return of the Jedi edition, the attempted rescue of Han from Jabba’s palace goes awry, and Luke doesn’t make it back to Dagobah before Yoda dies.
But in by far the best entry in the series, Infinities: A New Hope, Luke’s miracle shot on the Death Star goes wrong, only temporarily stalling the attack on Yavin 4. The Rebels are crushed, Leia is captured and finds herself in the clutches of Vader and the Emperor, and Luke gets years of Jedi training under Yoda.
It’s a fascinating glimpse at what might have been, as we’re treated to a fully-trained Jedi Luke, a more dangerous Leia, and a more manipulative version of Yoda. Everything spirals out naturally from the change in story, and the narrative universe that follows feels more complete and satisfying than either of the other Infinities tales.
8. Shira Brie, Double Agent
Of course, before Dark Horse took the ball and ran with it, we had the infamous Marvel Comics run of the seventies and eighties. There were rabbit aliens, banking subplots, and a lot of peculiar alien battles… including stormtroopers riding flying serpents!
But there were also true highlights and great stories. One of the strongest was the saga of Imperial agent and Rebel Alliance infiltrator Shira Brie. Serving as both a foil for Luke and a potential love interest, Shira was a character with tremendous depth and potential. She also led to one of the key moments in Luke’s story, as he accidentally shot down her ship during a mission, causing him to question his Jedi abilities.
During a chaotic firefight, sensors were unable to tell friend from foe, so Luke trusted the Force to identify targets. The Force – rightfully! – pointed him at the double agent in his midst. And Luke’s bout of friendly fire caused a great deal of tension in the Alliance at the time.
It was immensely clever and engaging storytelling, and only slightly tarnished by Shira’s later transformation into the whip-wielding Dark Lady Lumiya who was such a thorn in everyone’s side during the Legacy of the Force series of novels.
7. Vader Unleashed!
Marvel has been doing a solid job since taking back the comic book reins from Dark Horse after the Disney acquisition (see Skywalker Strikes! and Screaming Citadel for more new-era goodness), but the crown jewel in their efforts thus far was Vader Down.
The collision point of the Star Wars and Darth Vader titles, Vader Down was all-out war between the Rebellion and the Dark Lord of the Sith. The action is visceral, the art is topnotch, and Vader has never been more terrifying or deadlier. He is an unstoppable killing machine, one worthy of the reputation garnered by the Emperor’s most trusted agent.
Leia, Han, Luke, and many side characters all get their own moments to shine in the story, but let’s face it… this is a Vader story top to bottom. This is an action tour-de-force with emotional moments to boot, and Marvel will have a tough time topping it with the stories to come.
6. Agent Of Chaos, Doctor Aphra
And speaking of Vader Down, it simply could not have happened without the sharp pen and sharper storytelling of Kieron Gillen, who shepherded both the current Star Wars series and the brilliant Darth Vader series toward that dynamite collision.
But the breakout character under Gillen’s deft direction has undoubtedly been the amoral, ambitious, and devious Chelli Lona Aphra. An archaeologist readers first encountered in the pages of the Darth Vader title, she has since left Vader’s employ and embarked on her own solo title, Doctor Aphra, to rave reviews.
Star Wars has plenty of rogues, bandits, thieves, and corrupting forces, but there has never been anyone quite like Doctor Aphra, a character as capable as she is unpredictable. Throw in two murderous droids and a Wookiee bounty hunter, and you’ve got a recipe for an enjoyable trip into the darkest alleys of the Star Wars universe.
5. The Emperor Returns
Considered by many to be the highlight of the Dark Horse Comics era, Dark Empire details the return of the Emperor in a clone body, as well as all sorts of superweapons and galaxy-threatening shenaniganry. The linchpin of the story is Luke Skywalker’s journey to the Dark Side in an attempt to understand why his father fell sway to the Emperor.
Although it is a bit of a retread of the original saga, it is a self-aware one, which allows for the Emperor and Luke to reflect on both the similarities and differences between Luke and Vader (and the two story arcs). Leia is also given plenty of time to shine here, as she plays the Luke to Luke’s Vader from Return of the Jedi, rescuing her brother and bringing him back into the light, defeating the Emperor once more.
Dark Empire II and Empire’s End bring the cloned Emperor’s story to a close in satisfying fashion, but it’s the first six issues in the saga that wove their way into the hearts of fans everywhere.
4. Ulic Qel-Droma And Nomi Sunrider
Although the rise and fall of Anakin Skywalker (and the subsequent rise and fall of Darth Vader) is the stuff of legends, the galaxy-shattering story of Ulic Qel-Droma and Nomi Sunrider eclipses it in many ways.
Set thousands of years before the events of the original trilogy, during the height of the Sith Empire, the Tales of the Jedi series chronicled the adventures of both Sith lords and Jedi knights alike, and Jedi-turned-Sith Ulic Qel-Droma was the centerpiece of much of the action.
Manipulated by Sith poisons, then seduced to the Dark Side, Qel-Droma waged war on the Jedi alongside Exar Kun, killing his own brother and carrying the galaxy to the brink of collapse, before his love and fellow Jedi Nomi Sunrider defeated him and blinded him to the Force, leaving him a broken, regretful man.
It is masterful storytelling, a saga that unfolds in a universe that’s familiar to SW fans, but alien enough to be fascinating.
3. Thank The Maker
Wasn’t it absolutely bizarre when it was revealed in The Phantom Menace that Anakin Skywalker had built C-3PO? How had this never come up before?!
Well, in the story “Thank the Maker,” that mind-bending twist is given context and time to breathe. Set during the Empire’s invasion of Cloud City, the story jumps between the events of The Empire Strikes Back and those that happened before The Phantom Menace, as Darth Vader sets eyes on the broken remains of the droid he lovingly assembled so many years ago.
As C-3PO’s pieces are first remanded to the scrap heap, then Imperial custody, and then the hands of Chewbacca, we get the smallest glimpse of who Vader once was. In its simplicity and poignancy, it seamlessly bridges one of the gaps between the prequels and the original trilogy.
2. Quinlan Vos
Although his apprentice Aayla Secura is the only character to ever make the jump from comics to the big screen, Quinlan Vos has undoubtedly become the most fascinating and tormented character to emerge from the background of the films. One of countless random characters populating the background of The Phantom Menace, the image of Quinlan Vos was plucked from obscurity and launched into an epic series of his own.
A Jedi with the power of psychometry – the ability to sense the past history of items – Quinlan worked behind the scenes to keep the galaxy safe. During a case involving glitterryl smuggling, his memory was wiped, and he briefly flirted with the Dark Side during his quest to rescue his apprentice Aayla. Quinlan’s adventures in the grey areas between light and dark continued well into the Clone Wars, serving as a double agent for the Jedi, positioned within Count Dooku’s circle.
The adventures of Quinlan Vos gave a grittier, more sinister feel to the dealings of the galaxy, and the hard choices he faced made for gripping reading.
1. Tag And Bink Are Dead
The Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead to Star Wars’ Hamlet, these are the adventures of Tag Greenley and Bink Otuana, two Rebels who escaped Vader’s attack on the Tantive IV by hiding out in stormtrooper armor and bumbling their way through the major events in the original trilogy (and beyond).
Far more clever and more entertaining than a simple alternate history or comedic take on the saga (a la “The Secret Tales of Luke’s Hand” in Star Wars Tales, Volume 2), this is a well-plotted, hilarious, and surprisingly insightful glimpse of the story we thought we knew. This should be no surprise, as Rubio is also responsible for the classic COPS parody TROOPS.
Hell, the characters nearly made a cameo in this year’s Han Solo film. The perfect mix of humor and fan-fueled nostalgia, the Tag and Bink stories are can’t miss fun.