Now, we’ll talk about the novels within the new “Canon” Universe.
Overview of the Canon Universe
As discussed in part one, the Canon Universe was “born” April 25, 2014 when Lucasfilm decided to do away with all of the previous Expanded Universe (EU) material, delegating that to a new status as “Legends,” and (mostly) everything after that point would become the official Canon Universe – a name of my own choosing, since there’s no official name for it. I have seen it referred to as “Story Group Canon” or just “Star Wars Canon.” For the sake of this article, though, I’ll keep it simple and delegate it as the Canon Universe.
Unlike the comprehensive Legends Universe that had 37 years of material in it, the Canon Universe is only 3 years old this month, so it can be forgiven that there is far less material in it. But the vacuum left by the removal of the Legends materials has quickly been filling up. Besides the novelizations of the seven movies (the six main episodes and The Clone Wars movie), which before had been only canon so long as the parts didn’t delve outside what was in the movies, there are 14 adult novels to date (April 2017).
One difference with the current Canon Universe is that there is another novel type that we are going to consider. Previously, the Young Adult (YA) fiction was geared toward much younger readers. However, with this new Canon and the ownership of Disney, there have been some books that have been labeled as “Young Adult” but have been geared toward the older teens and even adults. Think books like The Hunger Games or the Twilight saga.
Another huge difference between the Canon Universe and the Legends Universe is the new movies. Previously, Star Wars didn’t have movies set outside the main six in the timeline. Therefore, to produce books outside those time periods, LucasBooks was forced to create “tent-pole” events and series that were supported by the books. Events like the Yuuzhan Vong invasion or the fall of Jacen Solo. It was these events that drove the book series and drove people to read them. It was also these events that dictated the different eras which the books were written in (see Part 2).
We no longer have those eras, and we no longer have the need for those tent-pole series. Now the tent-poles are the movies, and to a lesser extent, the cartoon series (The Clone Wars and Rebels). This results in the books becoming fillers attached to the media giants. This is an issue that several fans of the old Legends Universe have with the new canon. The books no longer feel “important” in the ways that they were before. Now, they are just mainly used to fill in backstory. And although that may not be the case forever, it is certainly how it currently feels.
The Timeline Comparison
A quick comparison between the Legends and Canon Universes shows how vastly the content has dwindled. Previously, within the enormous Legends Universe, the books spanned from Dawn of the Jedi: Into the Void, a novel set over 25,000 years before any of the Star Wars movies traversing all the way to Crucible set more than 40 years after Return of the Jedi.The bookends of the Legends Universe novels.
In comparison, the earliest placed Canon novel (that is not a movie novelization) on the Canon novel timeline is Dark Disciple set during the Clone Wars. If we expand our search and look at novels with all of their flashbacks, prologues, etc., then the current earliest novel scenes are in Tarkin, which is still only about 50 years or so before A New Hope.The Canon novel timeline from Aftermath: Empire’s End.
The Canon Novels
So, let’s take a look at the books released so far (in approximate release order).All books in the Canon Universe sans “Thrawn,” since it hadn’t been released yet by the time of this picture.
A New Dawn – The first new canon novel released is a backstory for some of the major characters (Kanan and Hera) from the Rebels TV Series.
Tarkin – This story provides background for Grand Moff Tarkin, seen in A New Hope, as well as appearances in The Clone Wars, Revenge of the Sith, and Rebels.
Heir to the Jedi – As mentioned in Part 2, this is the self-contained Luke Skywalker story set shortly after A New Hope as he is trying to get a handle on his Force abilities. This story was originally intended to be a part of the Legends Universe, but since it wasn’t released yet by the Canon announcement, it made the switch over to the Canon Universe.
Lords of the Sith – This is a “buddy comedy” (of sorts?) between Palpatine and Vader as they are stranded on the planet Ryloth, featuring Cham Syndulla, a returning character from The Clone Wars and Rebels.
Dark Disciple – This is a novelization of eight episode scripts from cancelled episodes of The Clone Wars TV series, which were written but never fully fleshed out before the show was canceled. It “stars” Quinlan Vos (a major Legends character who was briefly in The Clone Wars series) and Asajj Ventress (a major character from both Legends and The Clone Wars). Considered a high point of the new Canon novels at that point, the story is a romance novel set during the trials of war.
The Aftermath Trilogy: Aftermath; Aftermath: Life Debt; and Aftermath: Empire’s End – In my personal opinion, these are a few novels that aren’t contingent on the movies. These books take place shortly after Return of the Jedi, which is decades before the next movie, The Force Awakens, and features predominantly a cast solely its own. For that reason, many people didn’t like it as the first post RoTJ novel, but personally I have enjoyed them. These books describe the downfall of the Empire and the rise of the New Republic following the death of Palpatine.
Lost Stars: Here is the first of the oddballs I mentioned before. This is published as a YA novel, however at 550 pages, this far exceeds any YA novel before, even in the Legends era. And even though it is published as YA, this is one of the best Canon novels to date regardless of publishing category. The novel focuses on a pair of “star-crossed lovers” as they traverse through the Original Trilogy.
Battlefront: Twilight Company – A unique entry in the current Canon, since this is a tie-in novel to the recently released Battlefront video game. This follows a squad before, during, and after The Empire Strikes Back in an often gritty narrative.
The Force Awakens and Rogue One novelizations – These are just mostly straightforward novelizations of their respective movies.
Tales from a Galaxy Far, Far Away: Aliens – Volume 1 – This rather interesting entry is not really a novel but a collection of short stories based on the aliens seen in Maz Kanata’s castle during The Force Awakens. This book harkens back to the story collections in the Legends Universe like Tales of the Empire, Tales of the New Republic, and Tales of the Bounty Hunters. Fun little stories but often having no impact on anything. If you missed this one, you didn’t miss much.
Bloodline – Here is another entry that could be considered not hinged on a movie. It is a Leia centric story written by the same author of Lost Stars, Claudia Grey. It takes place six years before The Force Awakens and is partially about the formation of the Resistance.
Ahsoka – This is the other YA novel worth mentioning. This story tells part of Ahsoka’s tale between her time on The Clone Wars and her appearance on Rebels.
Catalyst – This is the tie-in novel for the movie Rogue One that fills in part of the back story of Orson Krennic and Galen Erso.
Thrawn – This is the newest novel to be released (as of this writing) based on the Legends character that has been resurrected into the Canon Universe within Rebels.
A Canon Overview
And there you have it. All of the novels in the Canon Universe. Currently, there is not much there (14 Canon vs over a 100 Legends) and most of them are hinged on the movies for a draw in. Even the most standalone of the group (the Aftermath trilogy) was touted as “find out what happens after Return of the Jedi”. These standalones also don’t really have a tent-pole feel to them. They do their job, which is to provide a through story of what is happening between the tent-poles films, but not much else in my opinion. They aren’t tent-poles in their own right.
Overall, the Canon Universe novels generally are all “pretty good” to “OK” in my opinion. Only Lost Stars really stands out as a fantastic read, but there is nothing truly abysmal up to this point. I wish they would up their game though. I’ll (gladly?) take some abysmal if they can give me something truly fantastic. Right now it feels like we are just wandering slowly down the middle of the road of mediocrity, swaying back and forth between “OK” and “pretty good.”