Expanded Universe -- required reading

I've played quite a bit of Saga Edition and have spent a lot of time on these boards off and on. But as knowledgable as I am about the RPG, I haven't read much Star Wars expanded universe literature. So, I come to the mess hall to ask: What do you consider "required reading" in the EU? I've read Death Star, Shadows of the Empire, and the Thrawn trilogy.
NOTHING!!!!!

The less you know about the EU the less is can "polute" your games.  If you don't know when/how Chewie dies then you can use him however you like.  If you don't know how things are supposed to happen then whatever happens in your games is what is supposed to happen.

Now if you just want a general context of what happens in the EU you should be able find summaries of the various books and even bigger timelines of events.  You may now know what happens and maybe even when but you still don't know all of the details that are described in the books which leaves plenty of room for improvising.
    
The less you know about the EU the less is can "polute" your games.  If you don't know when/how Chewie dies then you can use him however you like.  If you don't know how things are supposed to happen then whatever happens in your games is what is supposed to happen.

I guess I should have been more clear. I want to know what people think are the best EU books, not so I can get my campaigns "right," because I run kind of my own setting, about 30 years after ROTJ, and the only things I consider "canon" for my games are the movies.

I just want to know good Star Wars books to read.
The less you know about the EU the less is can "polute" your games.  If you don't know when/how Chewie dies then you can use him however you like.  If you don't know how things are supposed to happen then whatever happens in your games is what is supposed to happen.

I guess I should have been more clear. I want to know what people think are the best EU books, not so I can get my campaigns "right," because I run kind of my own setting, about 30 years after ROTJ, and the only things I consider "canon" for my games are the movies.

I just want to know good Star Wars books to read.



Right now, instead of any of the current books I find myself rather partial to the comics, particularly in graphic novel form. The recent Knights of the Old Republic (not to be confused with The Old Republic graphic novels that are running precursor to the MMO) series is extremely well done, and collected into about 9 or 10 volumes, and so is Star Wars Legacy series, set about 140 years after the movies. The Tales of the Jedi series from about the mid to late 90s are also amongst my all time favorites.

I find that with the graphic novels you get wildly imaginitive narratives without the necessity of having to pack god-like abilities and contrite endings into the story so that everyone's favorite character gets a bit of screen-time and never fails/dies.
I'm partial to the Tales from Jabba's Palace/Mos Eisley Cantina books. They give attention to background characters and add more depth to events around the movies.
Garrett
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As StevenO said, nothing is really required to understand the EU, however, I read all that I can get my hands on, and I encourage you to read everything you can get as well.  For me, it's all about the knowledge, because as GM I find it an indispensible resource (combined with a good memory, it helps me adjust to what players are doing and make on the fly decisions based on what I have read; quotes are fun, too; and last but not least, watching my father-in-law and wife roll their eyes when I start rattling off the statistics of every starship I see fly on the screen, right down to the number of turbolasers, TIE fighters, and crew complement Laughing yeah, I'm a geek).

Even though you learn how the writers decided certain things should occur, most GMs tend to take liberties with canon anyway.  I've read most of the books that can be listed in the back of any Star Wars novel.  About the only ones that I haven't read are the last 3/4 of the Yuuzhan Vong (couldn't find books) and the NJO books (which I plan to read some day).  However, like StevenO also said, most of the time summaries can give you great context (like how Jacen becomes Darth Caedus). 

I really couldn't say which books are best because I love Star Wars so much, but I have found that having books or comics related to the eras that you play very helpful.  I'm running a Clone Wars campaign, and just got a new Clone Wars novel (Jedi Trial).  I haven't read it yet, but already it is helpful to me with a timeline in the front cover.

 
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For novels, I would recommend the Darth Bane books. They're well written, and take place during a time of rebuilding for the Republic, which could give you some plot ideas for your game's era.

For comics, I agree with Khierien about the KOTOR comics. Mind you, I'm not a huge fan of that era in general and have never played the video games, but I really like those comics. They're fresh, yet they still feel like Star Wars.
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My favorite is I, Jedi.

One of the fan favorites is the Thrawn trilogy, although I didn't think it was great.

Stay away from most of the post-Endor EU, especially the Vong Wars stuff and all set after that.  It's all pretty bad.
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I've read way too many crappy Star Wars books to ever touch another one again (Rogue Planet was the final nail in the coffin), but I recently starting reading the Legacy graphic novels (so that I might be able to actually read my Legacy Era Campaign Guide without worrying about spoilers), and they're really good! It's been a while since I read anything SW-related where I felt that the characters were in any sort of jeopardy. Or had any chance of developing, for that matter...

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That is the nice thing about using original characters instead of ones with a lot of history. You can do just about whatever you want with them.
EU Required Reading:
Anything by Timothy Zhan, but especially the "Thrawn Trilogy" (Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising, The Last Command) and the Hand of Thrawn Duology (Spectre of the Past, Vision of the Future.)
Anything by Michael Stackpole.
Truce at Bakura by Kathy Tyers.

EU Required AVOIDING:
Anything by Kevin J. Anderson.
The Corellian Trilogy (this series KILLED Star Wars EU novels for me.)

And another I consider required reading, but must be expanded upon:
The New Jedi Order
This series has incredibly mixed reveiws.  It's probably the single most divisive topic among Star Wars fans after the prequel trilogy.  This, to me, is a good thing.  The series set out to be something different, and it was.  Some people love it, some people hate it, but I haven't yet met anyone who is indifferent to it.  For an artist, the worst response to their work is indifference.  If you love it, great!  If you hate it, at least I made you care enough about it to invest the energy of hating it.

Personally, I love it.  It's darker and gritter than the usual Star Wars, but it doesn't fall into the "ho-humness" that most Star Wars EU novels fell into between the Thrawn Trilogy and Thrawn Duology.  Pretty much all books after Thrawn follow the same formula. . . three books, the Empire comes up with some great new doohickey, the New Republic is brought to their knees, Luke, Han, and Leia have to dust off their blasters and lightsabers yet again and sally forth to save the day because, apparently, they are the only marginally-competent people the New Republic has on its side.

The New Jedi Order really messes with that structure.  In fact, in a lot of ways, it throws it completely out the window.  Luke, Han, and Leia are still important characters, but a lot more time is spent with other characters as well.  Jacen, Jaina, and Anakin really come into their own in the series, and a number of other, "lesser" EU characters get their times to shine.  Wedge Antilles at the Second Battle of Borleias, in particular, is one of the most awesome things ever committed to print in a Star Wars book.

The villains of the series, the Yuuzhan Vong, are terrific bad guys.  In fact, one of the complaints from those who hate the series is that the villains are too good, totally eclipsing Palpatine's Empire.  In some ways, they do indeed have a point.  However, enough time is spent with the villains that you really get a grasp for who they are, what they believe, and why they do what they do.  They are well-written villains, in that you can understand their motivations and relate to them as whole people, rather then just disposable suits of armor to be blasted.

Those are my recommendations.
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I liked Paul S. Kemp's Crosscurrent. I haven't really read a whole lot of Star Wars books so take it with a grain of salt...

HAND OF KARSUS!

 

 

OH! I should mention: if you wanna get 'old school', Alan Dean Foster's Splinter of the Mind's Eye and Brian Daley's Han Solo novels are a lot of fun!

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On the New Jedi Order series, I would say that I fall into a funny position on it.  I still have not read all of the books in the series, I get tired of them at around Balance Point every time.  Ignoring the changes to the Star Wars universe, they just are not well written books.  Yes, some degree of that is to be expected - Star Wars EU authors are rarely good authors - but those books are worse than the norm.  Switching around between writers makes the overall narritive feel unfocused.  One minute we're following Han on some little mission, then we get a book all about the Jedi, and so on.  Plot elements brought up in one book are simply dropped, not built upon.

But, to get to the effect on the Star Wars universe, I sort of like the Vong.  I, for one, don't feel that they overshadow the Empire.  The New Republic is still a very new government and it has had to deal with dozens of little wars and crisis ever since Endor.  It wouldn't be nearly as powerful as the Empire was in its prime, and they did manage to beat the Vong.  It seems to me that the Vong would have been completely destroyed against the Empire.  And that's ignoring the parts about the Empire actually being created in order to combat the Vong.  In the books, Vong culture is one of those alien warrior cultures that are very popular and their bio-tech, while still a nutty premise, ends up working well enough for the story and universe.  The big problem with the Vong is that they get old as nemesis's.  They're interesting at first, but I get tired of the overly-long description of the same old thing we've read since Vector Prime.  Their kind of like Star Trek and the Klingons.  Yes, a few Klingon episodes are fun, but too many near each other, and we get sick of them.

The other complaint I have about the Vong is their Force-deadness.  The reason for it is stupid when you stop and think it through.  They're Force-dead because the writers needed an opponent that the Jedi couldn't easily blow through like cheap tissue paper, but Jedi would only be able to do that if you give them extreme powers which the movies never gave them.  So they powered Jedi up to a ridiculous degree and then had to create a bizzar Force-deadness to their main enemy so that the Jedi couldn't use all of their ridiculous powers.  Why not just keep Jedi as powerful as they are in canon, and then you don't have to create such enemies.

But all that is not why I cannot finish the New Jedi Order.  All other compliments and complaints aside, the real reason that I do not recommend reading the series is that it is full of preachy moralizing about all types of stuff.  It is terrible.  There is page after page devoted to nothing but telling the reader what is right and what is wrong, and no, it is not written in such a way that it sounds like we're really delving more into the character's opinions.  What's worse, a lot of the "good" morality the books push directly conflicts with the movies.  One of the "wrong" characters even points this out; Kyp complains that the actions Luke and all took during the Rebellion are the same actions they're opposing now.  It really did ruin the series for me, and every time I try and move through, I run into more ridiculous moralizing.

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EU Required Reading:
Anything by Timothy Zhan

Except Outbound Flight, which is as pompous and overblown as its egotistical central character, the Moses-like Jedi Master Jorus C'baoth. Boring and tedious, too.
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I have never really gotten into the novels beyond the Han Solo and Lando trilogies. I really don't like Thrawn, he's annoyingly overcompetent until he's annoyingly incompetent. But to each their own. I can name only a few SW novels I really enjoyed: Darth Maul Shadow Hunter, Shatterpoint, RotJ novelization, and the Young Boba Fett series.

Now for the comics, just about anything put out by Dark Horse for Star Wars is at least worth reading once, except for some of their reprints from older comics. Star Wars Tales was probably the best SW anything I've ever read. It's a bunch of short stories covering everywhere and everywhen of the SW universe. And every story is the epitome of what SW is to me.

Beyond that SW Republic was really poingant, if not somewhat made discontinous by the Clone Wars TV series. And it went into SW Dark Times, which is probably some of the most "dark" SW tales I've read.

Halber
I'd also echo the following books:

Thrawn Trilogy" (Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising, The Last Command)
The Bane series

now for my own rec
The Fate Of the Jedi series, I only read the frist book in LotF series and just got up to date via wookipedia and since I had the chrono book, I skipped the NJO series.

Some folks also enjoy reading the controversial  Karen Traviss written series Republic Commando, I however read her Star Wars The clone Wars novel and didn't enjoy her writing style. ( I'm slightly hesitent to read the Halo book she's working on)

I also dislike the comics for numerous reasons, I've jsut never been a comic fan and reading the comics jsut feels like i'm peeking at the end of the universe so it feels to me like a spoiler sicne it takes place so far into the future.


EDIT: If you can wait till next year you can jsut get The Essential Reader's Companion

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As a guy who has read all of the EU novels, I have to say that there are a number of must-reads. 

Older Books:
Wraith Squadron (might want to read the rogue squadron ones first, btu the Aaron Allston Wraith books are pee-your-pants funny)
Han Solo Trilogy (by A.C. Crispin, amazing backstory trilogy for Han Solo.  Very entertaining.)
The rest of the older books just arnet that good, considering you have already read the Zahn trilogy.

Newer books:
Republic Commando series.  It is slow to start, the first two books arent the best, but True Colors and Order 66 are fantastic reads.  Some will complain about Traviss' anti-Jedi bias, but IMO, it doesn't really come through in the RC books, since the opinions are voiced by a mandalorian, who IS anti-jedi, so it makes sense.

Deceived: The new TOR tie-in book was fantastically written.  One of the better EU books I've read in a while.
Knight Errant: The comic book tie in novel was fascinating with its study of different Sith ideologies. 
Legacy of the Jedi/Fate of the Jedi: Both these series were great, and while they occur int he fallout of the divisive New Jedi Order (which I enjoyed), you don't need to know anything about NJO really, to enjoy the two 9-book series.

Don't forget about the comic book EU!  The KOTOR comic (50 issues), the Republic comic (83 issues, though from issue 49-83 is when it was really interesting) were amazing series, and DHC has a number of other interesting Star Wars books as well.
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Except Outbound Flight, which is as pompous and overblown as its egotistical central character, the Moses-like Jedi Master Jorus C'baoth. Boring and tedious, too.

I'm glad I didn't pick it up yesterday, then. Neither of the bookstores I went to had any of the ones that have been most recommended to me, except Vision of the Future, but I don't want to read it without first reading Spectre of the Past. And the comics collections I could find were all either of a comic I haven't heard good things about, or starting at volume 5 or so. I guess I'll have to go to Amazon.

Edit: I ended up placing an order for the two volumes of Tales of the Jedi omnibus. Now I just have to wait 5-8 business days.
Now I just have to wait 5-8 business days.



You should check out your local library, while you're waiting! Smile

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They're Force-dead because the writers needed an opponent that the Jedi couldn't easily blow through like cheap tissue paper, but Jedi would only be able to do that if you give them extreme powers which the movies never gave them.  So they powered Jedi up to a ridiculous degree and then had to create a bizzar Force-deadness to their main enemy so that the Jedi couldn't use all of their ridiculous powers.  Why not just keep Jedi as powerful as they are in canon, and then you don't have to create such enemies.



That's part of why most non-Zhan Star Wars novels suck.  Everyone took "The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of the Force," a little too literally.

In fact, that's my favorite thing about the Hand of Thrawn duology.  Timothy Zhan scolds all the bad Star Wars authors for frelling everything up.  Near the beginning of the first book, Luke is pondering on how to take out a small pirate cruiser, and trying to decide whether to use the Force to: A) tear the hull plates off, B) crush all the weapons, C) force the crew to just sit motionless while the local police arrest them, D) do something else incredibly flashy and overpowered.  And that's when Timothy Zhan starts a thread that continues well into the second book, about WHY Jedi shouldn't beat every nail-shaped problem with a gigantic Force hammer.
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But all that is not why I cannot finish the New Jedi Order.  All other compliments and complaints aside, the real reason that I do not recommend reading the series is that it is full of preachy moralizing about all types of stuff.  It is terrible.  There is page after page devoted to nothing but telling the reader what is right and what is wrong, and no, it is not written in such a way that it sounds like we're really delving more into the character's opinions.  What's worse, a lot of the "good" morality the books push directly conflicts with the movies.  One of the "wrong" characters even points this out; Kyp complains that the actions Luke and all took during the Rebellion are the same actions they're opposing now.  It really did ruin the series for me, and every time I try and move through, I run into more ridiculous moralizing.



That's actually one of the things I loved about the series.  I felt these things were written from the points of veiw of the characters involved, and it was really interesting seeing the philosophical exploration of where these lines were.  It all felt like opinion, and wildly differing opinion at that, which is exactly what you'd have in reality.  There was never any absolute right or wrong that was established in the story, but a lot of discussion and thought-provoking ideas.  Honestly, I didn't find it at all "preachy."  While the characters were mostly saying that what they believed was true, it was because the CHARACTER believed it to be so, not because of any objective evidence.  Now, if Luke's position had been backed by "writer fiat," and those who opposed him wound up getting gruesome poetic justice, and Luke was seen bouncing up and down screaming "I TOLD YOU SO!!", then I could see how it would be preachy.  But it wasn't.  It was philosophical. . . here are the differing points of veiw, both have merit, decide where you think the truth really is.
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Well, since you've read Shadows of the Empire and the Thrawn Trilogy...

Tales of the Jedi comic series 
KOTOR comic series
Darth Bane trilogy [Seriously... read these]
Jango Fett: Open Seasons graphic novel
Republic / Imperial Commando series
Han Solo trilogy (A.C. Crsipin)
Allegiances
X-Wing series 
I, Jedi
Hand of Thrawn series
New Jedi Order series (while some of the books are spotty, there is some real gold)
Legacy of the Force series (definitely worth it if you are into Boba Fett / Mandalorians)
Millenium Falcon
Fate of the Jedi series

Outbound Flight / Survivor's Quest is an interesting read in tandem. While Outbound Flight gets really depressing if you like Jedi, it gives you a frightening glimpse into the mind of Jorus C'boath... and gives you pause to wonder about his clone. 

Honestly, Zahn wrote the best EU stuff. Followed by Karpyshyn, Stackpole, Traviss, Alliston, Golden, and Denning. 

Avoid:

Anything Kevin J. Anderson
Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor
Death Star
Corellian trilogy
Blackfleet Crisis trilogy
The majority of the Clone Wars novels
Force Unleashed novels


If you really need to know what happens, Wookiepedia has a nice synopsis for all the books. 


 
Honestly, Zahn wrote the best EU stuff. Followed by Karpyshyn, Stackpole, Traviss, Alliston, Golden, and Denning. 
 



personally unless you like mandolians and dislike the spotlight the Jedi always seem to get ,I'd avoid Traviss

oh on the bright side the following are due out later this year:

Star Wars: Heir to the Empire: The 20th Anniversary Edition and Star Wars: Choices of One which is a suqeal to  Allegiance (which is also another good read)

on a side note Zahn was a bit mad that Mara Jade was killed without being talked to about it.

EDIT: also Zahn has said he would love to bring back Thrawn,but as a clone who knew he was a clone

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Honestly, Zahn wrote the best EU stuff. Followed by Karpyshyn, Stackpole, Traviss, Alliston, Golden, and Denning. 
 



personally unless you like mandolians and dislike the spotlight the Jedi always seem to get ,I'd avoid Traviss

oh on the bright side the following are due out later this year:

Star Wars: Heir to the Empire: The 20th Anniversary Edition and Star Wars: Choices of One which is a suqeal to  Allegiance (which is also another good read)

on a side note Zahn was a bit mad that Mara Jade was killed without being talked to about it.

EDIT: also Zahn has said he would love to bring back Thrawn,but as a clone who knew he was a clone



that would be so cool if he/They do bring back Thrawn, i can think of only one realy cool way to reintroduce Thrawn, have him rescue Luke skywalker

Zahn has set up the possibility of Thrawn's return already (a comment Mara makes at the end of Survivor's Quest is the particular source)...
Zahn has set up the possibility of Thrawn's return already (a comment Mara makes at the end of Survivor's Quest is the particular source)...



yup

Timothy Zahn explained that he could bring another clone of Thrawn to life if the Grand Admiral's ability is an absolute necessity to solve future galactic crisis. However, to escape the traditional archetypes of clones, Zahn stated that that clone would be aware that he was not Thrawn, and would be aware of immense pressure to live up to the original.

ThorvaldHafgrimsson wrote:
Life is full of choices. Sometimes you make the good ones, and sometimes you have to kill all the witnesses.
NastasiaLorn; wrote:
But then you have to pay the liability insurance.
A note about character and world creation
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Character and world creation are a form of expression. The point is that some people don't have much to say...
57949688 wrote:
Why doesnt anyone ever sig my qoutes!?
On the subject of who post in the Off-Topic Tavern:
57131438 wrote:
most of them are bored, immature adults.
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That could actually be really cool.  Seeing a "Thrawn" wracked with self-doubt and fear.

Kind of a Kai Allard-Liao of Star Wars.
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That could actually be really cool.  Seeing a "Thrawn" wracked with self-doubt and fear.

Kind of a Kai Allard-Liao of Star Wars.

And suddenly we have a Duncan Idaho for the galaxy far far away.   Sigh...
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Actually I much prefer The Losers.
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When I and my friends sit down we want a game of heroic fantasy. Rare is the moment when I have cried out in a video game or RPG "that's unrealistic." (Unless there is no jump button. Seriously makes me mad, single handedly ruined the N64 zelda series for me, but that's a digression of a digression.) I mean, we play games with the force in galaxies far, far away, with supernatural horrors, dragons and demi-gods, alternate cosmologies, etc. Reality and it's effects hold little sway to what makes a Heroic fantasy game fun IMO. Just repeat after me: You are not a beautiful or unique snowflake. You are not how much you've spent on WotC products. You are not whatever RPG you play. You are one of tens of thousands of people that spend money on a hobby. You will not always get what you want
That could actually be really cool.  Seeing a "Thrawn" wracked with self-doubt and fear.

Kind of a Kai Allard-Liao of Star Wars.

And suddenly we have a Duncan Idaho for the galaxy far far away.   Sigh...



one mroe thing add to the long list of things the SW has taken cues from

ThorvaldHafgrimsson wrote:
Life is full of choices. Sometimes you make the good ones, and sometimes you have to kill all the witnesses.
NastasiaLorn; wrote:
But then you have to pay the liability insurance.
A note about character and world creation
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Character and world creation are a form of expression. The point is that some people don't have much to say...
57949688 wrote:
Why doesnt anyone ever sig my qoutes!?
On the subject of who post in the Off-Topic Tavern:
57131438 wrote:
most of them are bored, immature adults.
Offical troller of the House of Trolls
l am pretty easy to please so find most of the Star Wars books at least enjoyable to read. I wouldn't read all of them more than once, but I encourage you to form your own opinion and give them a try. I'll echo that the "Tales" books were good since they have multiple stories based on a loose central theme, like characters from Jabba's palace. I also enjoyed most of the X-Wing series of books. The fairly new "Fate of the Jedi" series is interesting too, though I found it repetitive at several points.
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