?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
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.
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.