From comics to novels, the “Star Wars” universe is expanding again

3:00 p.m Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2016 Movies & TV
“Star Wars: Darth Vader” Vol. 1

Long-term “Star Wars” fans, the sort that kept up with the novels and comic books and video game tie-ins and so forth, were mighty bummed when those things, known as the Expanded Universe, were swept aside as noncanonical after Disney purchased “Star Wars.” New owners, new mythology.

From then on in, the six movies made by Lucasfilm were considered canonical, as was any movie made by Disney from 2012 forward, such as “The Force Awakens” and “Rogue One.”

But Disney, not exactly a company known for leaving money on the table, almost instantly repopulated the shelves with books, games and comics. The following are all considered canon, for those invested in such things.

The comic book offerings from Marvel Comics (also owned by Disney) have been particularly strong:

“Star Wars.” The line’s main title is written by award-winning comics scribe Jason Aaron (“Scalped,” Thor”) and drawn by various artists, including fan-favorite John Cassaday, and takes place right after the end of “A New Hope.” It’s a strong space opera book, filled with characters familiar (Luke, Han, Leia, droids) and unfamiliar (a woman who may or may not be Han’s wife). A solid, if occasionally vanilla, core title.

“Star Wars: Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens: Shattered Empire.” Written by Greg Rucka and penciled by Marco Chechetto, this mini-series is a decent bridge between the time of “Return of the Jedi” and “The Force Awakens.” The cover for the trade paperback is famously misleading — the story actually concerns two minor Rebels whose relationship becomes crucial to future events. Also strong: the five-issue “Star Wars: Princess Leia” mini-series written by Mark Waid and penciled by Terry Dodson.

“Star Wars: Darth Vader.” It is in no way an insult to any other property on this list to note that “Darth Vader” is by far the best “Star Wars” tie-in, which is especially impressive because comics centered around villains (not anti-heroes, but actual bad guys) are notoriously hard to pull off. (It may actually be a better “Star Wars” story than “The Force Awakens” — yeah, I said it.)

Writer Kieron Gillen (“The Wicked and the Divine”), with artist Salvador Larroca, started with a brilliant premise: When we see Darth Vader in “A New Hope,” he seems to be Tarkin’s hit man and not much more.

Indeed, after the Death Star explodes, he flies off into deep space with his tail between his legs. When we see Vader in “Empire,” he is the Emperor’s right hand, unquestionably in charge of the Imperial military. How did this happen?

Over 25 issues, Gillen unpacks Vader’s violent climb from hacked-off henchman whose boss is furious with him to fearsome military commander. Gillen, one of the best writers in contemporary genre comics, has Vader’s personality down cold, and the supporting cast is outstanding, from the roguish, female archaeologist Dr. Aphra (essentially an ethically challenged Indiana Jones) to two homicidal droids, 0-0-0 and BT-1 (essentially evil versions of C-3PO and R2-D2), who are perfect black-comic foils. It is one of the best “Star Wars” stories of all time.

“Darth Vader” recently wrapped, but Gillen and artist Kevin Walker just launched the ongoing “Star Wars: Doctor Aphra,” which is nearly as good. The first issue is in stores now.

As far as the books go, the vast majority of in-canon new ones have been for younger or middle-grade readers (the comics have a strong PG-13 vibe).

“Star Wars: Catalyst” by James Luceno (Del Rey Books) is the most recent “Star Wars” adult (as it were) novel and gives all sorts of background on the complicated relationship between Orson Krennic (the main baddie in “Rogue One”) and Galen Erso, the conflicted scientist whose work helped created the Death Star.

Luceno has written a ton of “Star Wars” books, both canonical and not, stretching back to 2000.

Fans seemed most pleased with “Star Wars: Darth Plagueis,” an apparently now-non-canonical book about the guy who groomed the Emperor, and the canonical “Star Wars: Tarkin,” which is a thriller of sorts about Peter Cushing’s immortal (well, to a point) baddie from “A New Hope.”

Also, turns out Tarkin’s first name is Wilhuff. No wonder he was evil.

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