The 10 Best Stories in the Star Wars Expanded Universe

By Adam Pawlus in Daily Lists, Movies
Friday, March 19, 2010 at 7:57 am
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Since 1977, George Lucas licensed companies like Del-Rey, Marvel, Dark Horse, and Bantam Publishing to sell you paper with the words "Star Wars" somewhere on the cover. He's also allowed several companies to make videogames with "Star Wars" on the title screen, and then created LucasArts to churn them out more efficiently. And it was only a year later that the first Star Wars cartoon came out, although they got significantly better after 2002. In all of these, we've seen epic tales of bravery, joke stories about the droids, and some truly wonderful little tales that, for one reason or another, you might have missed (shame on you). The good news is that there's a lot of badassery there, and in this age of trade paperbacks and DVD sets, you can catch pretty much all of the best ones. For the purposes of the article, we're sticking to the eras of the movies; surely you can find other nerds who can  direct you to Kinghts of the Old Republic if you're looking for a Star Wars adventure minus anyone from the movies. This way, we get to show more really awesome stories about Boba Fett.



10) The Story of the Faithful Wookiee, The Star Wars Holiday Special

While its greatness may be debatable, this segment is easily the most legendary non-movie Star Wars story. In it, we see the first Nelvana-animated adventure in a galaxy far, far away, and the designs would be later modified for the Droids Saturday morning cartoon series. However, this special was particularly notable in that it gave most of the world its very first glimpse of the bounty hunter Boba Fett in 1978.

It's also the only non-movie Star Wars project to feature the entire cast of the original Star Wars film, even though it was only in a voiceover role. The story itself is pretty simple: the Rebels crash on some weird planet with water dragons, Han and Luke fall asleep for some reason, and it's up to Chewbacca and the droids to save the day with the help of their new mysterious friend, Boba Fett. You can probably guess the twist in this one, but it was one of the first glimpses into the future of Star Wars and the beginning of Lucasfilm's on again/off again love affair with television.

Trivia note: Boba Fett was played by Don Franks. His daughter, Cree Summer, would voice bazillions of female cartoon characters in the future including Princess Kneesa on Ewoks in 1985. The animated model for Boba Fett would eventually be reused in the Droids episode "A Race to the Finish" which, in 1985, gave us the above look at Boonta races.


9) Shadows of the Empire

In 1996 Lucasfilm (and its licensees) hit the ground running with a merchandising dry run-- they managed to do everything you might do for a movie, but without a movie. Shadows of the Empire was essentially required viewing of sorts at the time, because nearly everything Star Wars would refer to it for a while. Vehicles and droids from it would appear in the Star Wars: Special Edition, and to this day fans still request new versions of action figures from the stories. The Nintendo 64 game based on it was, to a great extent, a system-seller to the many fans who didn't find Mario 64 to their liking.

Each medium would tell the story slightly differently. The novel focused mostly on the Rebels, specifically Luke, Leia, and Lando as they tried to track down their friend, the Hansicle. Luke developed his Jedi skills, built a lightsaber in a sequence reminiscent of a deleted Return of the Jedi scene, and ran from bikers. All the while Darth Vader was given some rarely seen hero time as the bad guy you might root for against Prince Xizor (that's "She-zor," like "She-Ra"). And what is this Xizor? A criminal mastermind and shipping kingpin. The comic books focused largely on Boba Fett and the bounty hunters who tried to intercept him on the way to Jabba the Hutt as well as some of Jabba's other thugs, while the video game put the player in control of Han Faux-lo, otherwise known as Dash Rendar. Even Dash's ship was stunningly similar to the Millennium Falcon in its design, so if you need a roguish hero, he's your stand-in here.

Trivia note: early in its development Lucasfilm considered placing this story between Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back rather than between Empire and Return of the Jedi. It was reasoned that there weren't many stories between the latter two films. Shadows' movie-less marketing campaign was given a false start with Jedi Quest in 2000, and was successfully rolled out again with the first incarnation of the Clone Wars in 2003-2005.


8) Riders in the Void, Marvel Star Wars #38

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The word "weird" is overused in fan circles these days but it really applies to "Riders in the Void," the final pre-Empire Strikes Back comic book made in 1980. Luke and Leia somehow get bolted out to the middle of nowhere in this uniquely drawn comic, into a part of the galaxy where there aren't any visible stars, ships, or anything. The ship they eventually come across is this weird biological entity that merged with its pilot after winning some ancient war, and initially mistakes our heroes for a computer simulation. There's nothing particularly quirky about it, and it has a hard to describe and adventurous look and feel that's sorely missing from a lot of modern Star Wars stories. As one-offs featuring the original movie's cast goes, you can't do much better than this one. It would have made a wonderful animated program.

Trivia note: Star Wars #38 was supposed to be the first issue of Marvel's The Empire Strikes Back adaptation. They got a lot of hate mail for the bait-and-switch, which you can see in the letter columns of the original editions of these books.


7) Genndy Tartakovsky's Clone Wars

In some interviews George Lucas said that his Star Wars films are something of a latter-day silent movie, which seems like a bit of hooey. The Cartoon Network hand-drawn Clone Wars episodes-- made in 2003 and 2005 by Genndy Tartakovsky of Samurai Jack fame-- managed to pull off some of the most action-packed Star Wars adventures with nearly no dialogue and in a disgustingly short 3-minute runtime.

The first season was essentially the most awesome marketing device ever. These shorts would act as a way to sell toys, books, games, and more in less time than it takes to make a bag of microwave popcorn. In the first batch of episodes we get to see specialized ARC Troopers bring down a planet of bankers and jousting droids, we see Kit Fisto swim through a war with the Mon Calamari ("It's a Trap!") against the Quarren, and yes, even see the very first appearance on TV of Asajj Ventress.

It's not entirely clear if the events of this story are being held to or thrown out with the current The Clone Wars series, but the show has everything you'd want to see from the prequels minus the prequels. Heck, you even get to see the lights go out on the conception of Luke and Leia and a cameo appearance by a Dulok. What else could you possibly want from two of the best hours of Star Wars on television? Trivia note: George Lucas reportedly pitched the idea that the episodes should only be one minute at first.


6) The Mandalore Plot/Voyage of Temptation/Duchess of Mandalore, The Clone Wars

Are things boring? Call in the Mandalorians, they bring out the best in everyone! In 2009 fans got another dose of bucket-headed fun on the small screen with the introduction of the Death Watch into season two of The Clone Wars (episode 12-14, specifically). Lead by Pre Vizsla (get it?) these troopers were heavily armed rebels to the peaceful Mandalorian government, bringing in yet another interpretation of life on the planet Mandalore. (For those keeping track, there are several involving such diverse elements as dinosaur skeletons and nomadic tribes.) These stories try to stitch together many of the existing story elements, and for the most part, it does a pretty good job if you weren't too hung up on any one specific origin story of this warrior race. (Our notes show that you were, in fact, very hung up on one version.)

So, what makes this story so awesome? You get a Mandalorian dude armed with a black light lightsaber, you meet Obi-Wan's almost-a-girlfriend, and you get what may end up being one of the top defining moments of Anakin Skywalker of all time in which he takes a stab at saving a life. Because he stabs someone. Through the chest. (Get it?) As small-screen action goes, these episodes were peppered with fan wanks, awesome future toy designs, and combat galore. The animation team at Lucasfilm actually made the Mandalorians tough enough to put up a good fight against the Jedi, but, as often happens in Star Wars these days, much of the real combat is largely political. Thankfully, there's a lot of explosions to more than make up for that.

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