Setting Your Young Reader Loose in the ‘Star Wars’ Universe
by Jamie Greene
Disney and Lucasfilm may have “rebooted” the Star Wars universe and relegated nearly 30 years of stories to non-canon Legends, but they’ve certainly been busy charting their own course with new stories over the past couple of years.
Yes, obviously there’s been The Force Awakens and the other films currently in the works, but (as was also true over the last 30 years) a vast majority of the new stories being told in the galaxy far, far away take place on the printed page.
There are several different ongoing monthly comics, there have been quite a few novels and short stories, and there has been a surprising number of books aimed at younger readers. And that’s what I’m here to talk about today.
Disney (and, by proxy, Lucasfilm, Disney Publishing, and Del Rey Books) has made a concerted effort to target young adult readers in their new publishing model. So much so that the number of YA and young reader books outnumbers the “adult” novels so far. These books primarily target middle-grade kids and up, but there’s nothing here that prevents younger, more precocious readers from taking them on (or from you reading them aloud).
But don’t let the “young adult” label fool you. These books are all great fun and worth the read for all ages. They’re excellent stories from excellent authors, so give them a chance even if you don’t have a young reader at home.
So, where to begin with your young Star Wars reader? Here are ten suggestions, in rough chronological order…
“Ciena couldn’t resist shaking her head at the arrogance of anyone who thought she knew better than the whole Empire.”
Lost Stars (by Claudia Gray): Don’t let the size of this book intimidate your young reader. At more than 550 pages, this is definitely the longest of this bunch, but it is so, so worth it. Lost Stars is set during the events of the original trilogy but follows two new characters–best friends Thane Kyrell and Ciena Ree–who give a unique perspective to everything we think we know. Their combined journey intersects with the major events of the original trilogy (and beyond) but puts a new, emotional, heart-wrenching twist on those events. Even though there’s a sense of inevitability hanging over the events of Lost Stars, it still feels incredibly fresh and vibrant. Imagine Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead set in the Star Wars universe, and you’re close. If I’m going to recommend one of these books above all others, I’d have to go with Lost Stars. This is “expanded universe” storytelling at its finest. [Check out our chat with Claudia Gray here.]
“The only thing Leia had successfully managed to do in her time in the Senate was irritate the Emperor like a sunburn that refused to fade.”
The Princess, The Scoundrel, and the Farm Boy (by Alexandra Bracken): A trio of established YA authors were tasked with writing the original trilogy as middle-grade novels, and Alexandra Bracken took on A New Hopewith this book. The title shows how the story is divided up. The events of the first film are related in three chunks, each from the perspective of Princess Leia, Han Solo, and Luke Skywalker. Their stories don’t overlap; rather, Han’s narrative picks up where Leia’s leaves off, and Luke’s point of view naturally rounds out the story. Bracken’s retelling of this familiar story is so good that I actually prefer it to the original Alan Dean Foster novelization. If a young reader is interested in reading a book about A New Hope, this is the book I’d put in his or her hands.[Check out our chat with Alexandra Bracken here.]
“He was just a kid who’d made a million-to-one shot, guided by a mysterious power he barely understood.”
The Weapon of a Jedi (by Jason Fry): Set between the events of A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, this book focuses on an untrained and insecure Luke Skywalker who is trying to find his way as a Jedi apprentice without a master. The story opens with a post-Jedi, red-armed C-3PO who ultimately tells the tale to a young Resistance pilot. The story centers on an early mission in Luke’s life as a rebel and a Jedi, and we’re witness to some of his self-taught Force training and his first battle with a lightsaber. The book also introduces the mysterious Sarco Plank as a foil to Luke, and Plank eventually goes on to make a background appearance in and connection to The Force Awakens. Fry does a great job relating Luke’s frustration at not having a master and not really understanding what he’s supposed to do as a Jedi.
“The galaxy was a big place, the universe a bigger one; it seemed a waste of a life not to try to taste at least some of the feast that was out there.”
Smuggler’s Run (by Greg Rucka): Also set between the events of A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, this one begins with an older, just pre-The Force Awakens Han Solo telling a story from his youth to a few patrons in a bar. In the story, Han is still just a smuggler trying to avoid his fate as a rebel, but Leia convinces him to run a vitally important mission that only he (and Chewie and the Falcon, natch) can pull off: rescue a member of the Shrikes who survived an Imperial ambush. Who are the Shrikes? They’re the elite rebel operatives responsible for scoping out and finding new rebel bases. Rucka’s story is so true to the character of Han Solo that you can hear and see a young Harrison Ford leap to life on these pages. Star Wars books are also notorious for introducing brand-new villains that sometimes feel all-too-disposable. But with Commander Beck, the ruthless Imperial with a cybernetic eye, Rucka has created a character I genuinely want to see more of. I hope we get to see her again.
“You shake your head, staring at your only means of getting off this fetid, stinking swamp-planet — as it disappears into the muck.”
So You Want to be a Jedi? (by Adam Gidwitz): This is the second of the middle-grade novelizations of the original trilogy. Gidwitz takes on The Empire Strikes Back, but he does it in the second person. The conceit here is that he casts you, the reader, as Luke Skywalker. (“You sit, cross-legged, before Yoda’s house. Your eyes are closed. You are listening. You are feeling.”) To help you on your path to becoming a Jedi, he includes brief “Jedi Lessons” between chapters (such as “Patience Plus Compassion Equals Strength”). It’s an interesting approach, to be sure, and it might not be to everyone’s taste, but the book does an admirable job of immersing the reader in the story, and I think that goes over very well with the target audience. [Check out our chat with Adam Gidwitz here.]
“I mean, isn’t that what we’re fighting for? To make the galaxy a place where people are free to worry about silly things?”
Moving Target (by Cecil Castellucci & Jason Fry): The third of the “Journey to The Force Awakens” novels focuses on Leia and is set between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. The story begins close to the events of The Force Awakens, and General Leia tells a tale of the rebellion to a droid bent on recording her memoirs. The story she tells centers on a decoy mission she led that hopped from planet to planet in a desperate attempt to gain the advantage against the Empire. Of the three books in this series, I think this story is the most compelling with scenes of genuine tension. Moving Target might be the closest thing we have toRogue One at the moment. It’s also great to see a young Princess Leia step up and take charge (something we never really saw in the films), even if it is over a small, ragtag group of rebels. Her team in this book is also fairly colorful, and it’s fantastic to the character of Nien Nunb explored a little more fully. He’s so much more than that giggle.
“Not every story is worth reading if you already know the ending. But this story is.”
Beware the Power of the Dark Side! (by Tom Angleberger): This is the third of the middle-grade novelizations of the original trilogy, and it was taken on by Origami Yoda author Tom Angleberger. It’s the longest of the three (complete with footnotes!), and it clearly shows Angleberger’s love for the source material. He also employs a “dear reader” approach where the narrator is seemingly telling the story to the reader. It’s not fair to say that this story is told tongue in cheek, but it is told with wit and charm in a casual tone that makes the book a pure delight. And it’s incredibly detailed. Did I mention the footnotes? [Check out our chats with Tom Angleberger here and here.]
“The problem with a reputation is that it can become a legend.”
Before the Awakening (by Greg Rucka): I guess you could call this the first “expanded universe” book starring characters from The Force Awakens. Rucka divides the book into three sections and uses each to relate a specific story about Finn, Rey, and Poe. All three stories take place before the events of The Force Awakens, and each provides a bit of insight into the characters. Finn’s story takes place during his New Order stormtrooper training. As such, we also get to spend more time with Captain Phasma and meet a few of his fellow stormtroopers. His story takes place immediately ahead of The Force Awakens and goes right up to his mission down to Jakku with Kylo Ren. Rey’s story obviously takes place on Jakku, but it’s not exactly clear when it’s set. It’s an incredibly fun story about Rey fixing up a salvaged ship and trying to work with and trust fellow scavengers. It provides a great deal of insight into her character, and her chapter alone is worth picking up this book. Poe’s story rounds out the book and is also the longest of the three. It’s set during Poe’s time as a Republic pilot and relates how he came to be in the Resistance. If you’re in love with these new characters as much as I am, this book is a must have.
“On the best days, she would find old data chips that told stories about the galaxy outside Jakku.”
Rey’s Story (by Elizabeth Schaefer): This slim book relates the entire story of The Force Awakens from Rey’s point of view. It’s interesting in that we’re only treated to the events she was there to witness, but the story is still a powerful, cohesive whole. Also interesting is that the book begins before the film actually begins, and we get to see Rey flying a flight simulator in her makeshift AT-AT home and a bit of explanation for why she’s such a good pilot. A few other discrepancies between this story and the final film also make for intriguing reading. We also get confirmation that Kylo Ren was Luke’s apprentice who turned on him and caused him to walk away. But in the end, if you’ve got a Rey fan on your hands, this book is a phenomenal place to start, especially for beginning and young readers.
The Force Awakens Junior Novel (by Michael Kogge): I’ll admit that this is the only book on this list that I haven’t personally read. The novelization of The Force Awakens was famously written by Alan Dean Foster (who wrote the original novelization for A New Hope and the first “expanded universe” book Splinter of the Mind’s Eye), and this junior novelization is based on that book. I’ve heard good things about this version, though, so it definitely deserves a place on this list. Have a fan of the new film and characters? This book is sure to be a perfect fit.
Jamie is a publishing/book nerd who makes a living by wrangling words together into some sense of coherence. When he’s not knee deep in a convoluted grammatical mess of a sentence, he’s likely on an adventure with his two adorable ragamuffins. You can check out more of his ramblings on The Roarbots, StarWars.com, and Babble.