The Expanded Star Wars Universe, Explained (By Someone Who’s Never Seen a Star War)

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Patricia Thang

Senior Contributor

Patricia Thang is an educator located in Los Angeles. Though a native Angeleno through and through, her heart also belongs to Tokyo, where much of her family is from. Besides books, she is an enthusiastic devourer of many things, including podcasts, television, and J-pop. She realizes there’s not enough time in the world to consume all of that content, but she’s trying anyway. Other endeavors to which she has dedicated herself include cuddling her dogs until they’re annoyed and taste-testing every vegan ice cream she can find. Twitter: @aintnopthang

Hello, I’m Patricia, your resident Star Wars novice. I have never seen (or read or consumed in any fashion) any part of the Star Wars franchise. Why? Well, the big reason is that I simply don’t like things that take place in space and will not actively seek it out. Space is very scary, and I’m perfectly content without it in my life, thank you very much. Obviously, this does mean I have a lot of holes in my pop culture knowledge, but my mastery of smiling and nodding along have successfully gotten me through life thus far without any major Star Wars–related mishaps. But today, I’ll be putting my ignorance to the test to explain the Star Wars expanded universe to the best of my ability based on what I’ve been able to absorb through social media, references in other pop culture, and just generally living in a world where Star Wars is A Thing.

So, I did look some things up for this. Mainly, I’m referencing a Wikipedia list of all the Star Wars books, because I wasn’t going to figure those out off the top of my head. But beyond skimming through the titles on Wikipedia and preliminary Amazon searches to glance at some covers, I did not read any plot summaries or look up any additional information. But before we get into all that, let’s first just do a quick overview of the Star Wars films so we have something of a foundation to work from.

Star Wars: A New Hope movie poster

The original trilogy: A guy named Luke and his trusty band of friends fight Darth Vader, this dude who wants to take over the universe and has decided talking through a weird scuba mask is an important part of his villain aesthetic. Luke’s friends include: Leia (either his sister or girlfriend, I’m not sure, but as long as it’s not both), Harrison Ford, Bigfoot, and some robots (there’s a cute blue one and a creepy Bicentennial Man-looking one). Turns out Darth Vader is Luke’s dad, by the way.

The prequels: How Luke’s daddy became a baddy.

The sequels: History repeats itself, but this time it’s Luke’s daughter (I think?) versus Darth Vader wannabe Adam Driver. At least Adam Driver seems to have had the sense to lose the helmet at some point.

Alrighty, told you it would be quick! Now onto the books!

From here on out, I’ll be explaining various aspects of the extended universe based on a random selection of the book titles I found. This will by no means be exhaustive (there’s just too much stuff), and I’ve decided to stick to titles listed as part of the officially recognized canon, for the sake of my own convenience. Here goes!

Star Wars Rebels by Michael Kogge cover

Rebels: There’s a bunch of what seem to be kids’ chapter books that fall under some sort of Rebels series, which seem to be related to an animated series of the same name. There are rebels, rebelling against The Empire (the one that Struck Back? Probably because the rebels were messing with their plans?) after the emperor (whoever that is) said something like “let them eat space cake” and got everyone all riled up.

A New Dawn: This title gives me major Twilight vibes (another franchise I am mostly unfamiliar with, ha). Perhaps there are space vampires, because, why not?

Heir to the Jedi: Okay, so my impression is that a Jedi is anyone who can use The Force, which I think is just a fancier/simpler (depending on how you look at it) word for telekinesis. So I’m not sure who The Jedi would be… Let’s just say it’s the very first Jedi from the beginning of time, so their heir(s) would be all the Jedi that came after. So this must be a book about the history of all the Jedi from generation to generation! Look at me, figuring things out (dear self, you are so not figuring things out).

Lords of the Sith: The sith are the bad guys. They have red lightsabers to tell us so. This is about the evil feudal lords pulling all the strings and sending out their red lightsaber-wielding lackeys to pillage other planets.

Aftermath by Chuck Wendig cover

Aftermath series: Action films love to glorify huge, confrontational battles between our good guys and bad guys, but never spend any time considering the effects of all that destruction. Star Wars is no exception, but in these books, we finally get an examination of the plight of the average citizens of space and how they live and endure in the aftermath of Darth Vader’s defeat.

Adventures in Wild Space series: Space cowboys go on expeditions around all the different planets in the galaxy, doing space cowboy stuff!

Catalyst, Rogue One: Clearly, this book is related to the spin-off movie Rogue One. I believe it’s the story of the people who built the Death Star, which is Darth Vader’s spaceship? Riz Ahmed was part of the team. And I guess they went rogue and sabotaged the spaceship somehow, which is why Darth Vader was able to be defeated in the end.

Resistance: Apparently there is another animated series called Resistance, and I can only assume the various books with “resistance” in the title are related to that. I’m not sure what the difference is between this and the rebels, though, because I’m pretty sure they’re all against The Empire, no?

Forces of Destiny: This title made me think “love story”, and since there’s clearly a play on The Force here, I’m gonna go with Jedi romance. Which sounds freaking excellent.

Phasma: Thanks to fellow Rioter Alex’s incredible Game of Thrones explainer, I’ve deduced that this is Brienne of Tarth. She probably came to space so she could continue being the badass warrior she is, but without any toxic Jaime Lannisters to get in the way.

The Legends of Luke Skywalker: If you were wondering what Luke was up to between the events of the original trilogy and the sequels, this book will give you a rundown of all the heroic feats he accomplished during that time, a la Hercules. Space lions and space hydras were no match against his lightsaber!

Most Wanted: This feels like it fits it with the space cowboys and their wild space adventures. One of the space cowboys has found himself on a bunch of wanted posters because he’s got beef with the space sheriff and now the whole town is after him. The rest of the story plays out like a classic western, complete with a thrilling fast draw duel.

Queen’s Shadow, Queen’s Peril, and Queen’s Hope: There are some books about a queen, and based on the covers, that queen is Natalie Portman, who I’m pretty sure was a character in the prequels. Based on the titles, she’s got a dark past, runs into danger, but in the end thrives and has a promising future ahead.

Master and Apprentice: Mickey Mouse and The Sorcerer start a special spaceship cleaning service using their enchanted brooms. (Yes, Fantasia is the first thing I think of when I see the word “apprentice”.)

Alphabet Squadron: I’m probably totally wrong here, but is this about all the robots? Because don’t they all have names that are just letters of the alphabet? Will this explain to me more about our sentient robot friends???

Myths & Fables and Dark Legends: I presume these vaguely titled books give us a lot more history and context about the Star Wars universe. Maybe they explain how Bigfoot made it all the way to space from the Pacific Northwest, or about what’s going on on that Antarctica planet (Hoth?), or the secret reasons behind everyone wearing permanent helmets that make it hard for me to tell who the heck they are.

Galaxy’s Edge: Someone makes it to the edge of the galaxy and discovers things that defy science and logic. But let’s not get any deeper than that because we’re starting to approach the aspects I find most frightening about space and it’ll make my stomach hurt.

From a Certain Point of View: The Empire Strikes Back cover

From a Certain Point of View: The Empire Strikes Back: This seems to be an anthology about the events of The Empire Strikes Back but from various non-main character points of view. Which sounds pretty awesome. Would definitely love to hear from Storm Trooper #237 about how hot it is running around in that exoskeletal suit, or from the bartender at that cantina place about all our heroes’ favorite cocktails.

There were also a bunch of titles that contained what seemed to be the names of characters (or places or things) that I’ve never heard of. Like who/what is Tarkin? Thrawn sounds like a cross between “thrown” and “spawn”, not that that gives me any clues. I’d definitely call up Doctor Aphra for help with nasal congestion. And Ahsoka rings zero bells.

It’s worth noting that much of the backlog of Star Wars books seems to be largely dominated by cis white male authors. However, I did see a distinct increase in books written by women and authors of color in recent years, which I will take as a promising sign toward a much more diverse franchise.

Lastly, let’s wrap up with a couple other movies/series that I haven’t gotten to touch on yet.

Solo: The backstory of Harrison Ford (but he’s not played by Harrison Ford this time). Daenerys Targaryen and Childish Gambino are there too, making for quite the motley crew.

The Clone Wars: I imagine something like the first Pokémon movie, where there’s evil clones of everyone and so everyone has to fight themselves and it’s really heartbreaking. (By the way, there are, like, so many wars/conflicts and I have no idea what order they’re in? It’s like real history, I cannot.)

The Mandalorian: Yet another person covered up by a helmet to make them indistinguishable from everyone else for no apparent reason. And this time it’s Pedro Pascal — why cover up that face?! He wanders around carrying a baby Yoda wrapped in a blanket, and everyone on the internet lost their damn minds.

Well, there you have it folks. A totally accurate guide to the Star Wars extended universe! You’re welcome!

If you’re interested in what people who do know what they’re talking about have to say about the Star Wars books, here’s a small sampling of posts by Rioters who are actual fans. Read their posts, then read the books, and then you can come on back here and laugh at me!