5) The Force Unleashed
We might not put this one on the list in a few years, but right now, this 2008 videogame (and accompanying novel, comic and toyline) resonates nicely. As an attempt to bridge trilogies -- really, it's more of a pre-Star Wars tale than a post-Revenge of the Sith one -- we get to meet the inspiration for the organized Rebellion while zapping stuff with Force lightning and throwing Stormtroopers into AT-STs. While it doesn't involve the main cast in the bulk of the primary story, it does bring in a lot of fun characters and familiar locations in an era that we don't get to see enough of off-screen.
A nameless "secret apprentice" of Darth Vader (named Galen Marek in the novel) goes out killing Jedi for Darth Vader until the inevitable betrayal, after which we're not entirely sure who he's working for. One of the neater aspects of the game is that it included an alternate ending so you can either follow the continuity set by the films, or a separate one in which you can become a sort of alternate Darth Vader and carve out your own destiny. Much of the Star Wars game Expanded universe's popularity comes from a much more personal relationship with the characters-- after all, you're spending tons of hours and/or pages with these people-- and this game is no exception. Want to meet a drunken master of the Force? A crazed mechanical-enhanced Jedi warrior? Sexy dark side ladies in tube tops? They're pretty much all here.
The Force Unleashed is sort of the ultimate Star Wars pastiche, throwing a lot of stuff fans like into a fairly entertaining whole. The game itself isn't going to win any beauty contests, but the story is entertaining, the voice acting is pretty good, and if you just want to read the comic on the toilet you can pretty much get most of the important stuff. Oh, and Jimmy Smits does a voice in it, which is pretty cool. If you don't want to do a lot of homework, this is a fun story that adds a little more fun to the saga even if it really isn't essential-- few of these stories are, anyway.
4) Apocalypse Endor, Star Wars Tales #14
For quite some time it was extremely fashionable to hate Ewoks. But why? Well, the retired Stormtrooper in this tale relays the story to you by letting you know that they weren't adorable little bipedal guinea pigs so much as they were evil, calculating, and vicious killers. This 2002 tale opens up with the Endor natives greeting Stormtroopers with flowers and open arms, and well, Hell hath no fury like an Ewok scorned. The story shows terrified Stormtroopers on the run, begging to be captured by the Rebels so as not to be the next one picked off. Goofy? Sure. But also awesome.
Also worth noting in the too-short Tales series: Indiana Jones finds the crashed Millennium Falcon in "Into the Great Unknown", Quinlan Vos stumbles on a young Han Solo in "Ghost," and an original trilogy twist is placed on C-3PO's origin story (with freaking awesome art by Kilian Plunkett) in "Thank the Maker."
3) Rookies, The Clone Wars Ep. 5
The fifth episode of the first season of Clone Wars is the brightest point of Star Wars on television so far. A bunch of basically faceless clones are stuck on a remote outpost of supposedly little importance, and after the separatist Droid Army decides their location is of strategic importance, things heat up fast. The bulk of this 2008, season one Clone Wars episode is essentially a bunch of fairly green troopers trying to cope with actually having to deal with a very real threat rather than sitting around all day listening to the radio and admiring the holographic company of the Bettie-Bot (yes, named for/inspired by Bettie Page, that's how awesome this episode is).
There are no Jedi to help, and a routine inspection from troopers Rex and Cody are really the only help these younger clones have against new superior Commando Droids and the giant freakishly sized eels on the Rishi moon that can swallow a man in a single bite. This is one of those few episodes that really captures the scope of a 2-hour film and boils it down to about 23 minutes. You can't not love this one. The only bad thing about this episode is that there aren't more just like it.
2) The Thrawn Triology
While Timothy Zahn's novels Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising and The Last Command didn't coin the term "Expanded Universe" -- that originated with Kenner's 1998 action figure assortment based on these stories -- these stories certainly kicked it off nicely. So nicely, in fact, that as far as the fan consciousness goes nothing seems to be as well-known as this book trilogy (published between 1991 and 1993), which introduced Jaina and Jacen Solo, Grand Admiral Thrawn, Mara Jade, Coruscant (as named "Coruscant") and all sorts of things that are significant parts of Star Wars today.
Basically, it goes like this: Obi-Wan contacts Luke through the Force, five years after Return of the Jedi, saying he can't really talk to him any more. Presumably it has something to do with reception on Coruscant. After this, this Imperial Warlord/Art Critic named Grand Admiral Thrawn (who was blue before the Na'vi brought it back in vogue) goes around the galaxy scouting out clones of Jedi masters, anti-Force bubble creating rodents, and "clone wars" cloning cylinders in a last-ditch effort to rebuild the Empire. Yet another faction, smugglers, are also going crazy while trying to work with the New Republic while one of its agents is actually a former employee of one Mr. Palpatine, and she has to follow his Last Command (get it?) to kill Luke Skywalker. That's the short version, but in the process you get to meet Han & Leia's kids, visit Chewbacca's homeworld, and find Darth Vader's secret short assassin alien buddies who, as it turn out, eventually serve Leia.
There's probably more going on here than in the original trilogy, and these books shaped the entire perception of Star Wars beyond the film for most of your lives. (Unless you're a big fan of the 1977-1987 material, which, our statistics show, you probably aren't.) Even if you don't find the premise of these stories awesome, they're required reading to get the most out of all things Star Wars.
1) Boba Fett: Twin Engines of Destruction, Star Wars Galaxy Magazine
This may be the single best treatment of Boba Fett outside the films ever. Writer Andy Mangels isn't just a Star Wars fan, but a fan first-class. The guy knows his stuff and, most importantly, he knows when not to lay on the cheese. This 1995 tale involves Boba Fett tracking down and killing imposter Jodo Kast, who was originally introduced as a character in Mandalorian armor for the original Star Wars role-playing game. Basically what you get here is a tale of revenge. Boba Fett doesn't talk too much, you don't see Dengar's crazy-hot girlfriend, and this all came out during the peak season of Star Wars' return to popular culture.
Jodo Kast is flying around in a modified Imperial Shuttle, and Boba Fett gives us a glimpse into the wide world of bounty hunting-- taking out bounties as well as shelling out the beatings. While it doesn't introduce much new to the mythos, it does show us our favorite cold-blooded hunter without a hint of compassion or any flashbacks to his time as a youngster. It's just 32 pages of good times. Heck, the author even figured out how to unmask Boba Fett without giving anything away. That's genius.
Having debuted around the same time as the 1990s Star Wars action figure line at retail, they also inspired some of the earliest (and best) custom toys. If you've never seen Gary Weaver's toy gallery, you missed something special. It is a crying shame that Hasbro has ended its Star Wars comic pack collection-- which included a comic book and two action figures-- before this tale graced the assortment. Sadly, the author has never been asked to pen any other fictional Star Wars tales, and hopefully someone corrects this error in the near future.