As May The Fourth approaches, we take a look back at the most influential tales from Star Wars Legends, and their lasting impact on the franchise today.
This year will mark the 45th anniversary of Star Wars, and the tenth anniversary of Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm. When the House of Mouse purchased the rights to George Lucas’ space opera juggernaut, the series had been coasting for a while, riding the ongoing success of The Clone Wars TV show and other media tie-ins. But after decades of storytelling that often contradicted itself, Disney made the hard—yet wise—decision to wipe the slate clean. The old “Expanded Universe” became known as “Star Wars Legends” and was shunted off to a separate timeline of sorts, allowing for a new canon to be written with only the films as a foundation.
That doesn’t mean that those older comics and novels no longer exist, however. Most are still in print today, even reprinted as a new “Essential Legends Collection” line, or can readily be found at used book stores. And their influence can still be felt today, as newer properties take inspiration from them or literally transplant their characters into fresh stories.
The impact they had can still be felt in modern Star Wars, and so, let’s take a look back at the five most influential installments of the Star Wars Legends library.
5) Darth Plagueis by James Luceno
Did you ever hear the tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise? If you’ve somehow dodged all the memes and wild fan theories that link back to this line from Revenge of the Sith, Plagueis was the Muun Sith Lord who trained Darth Sidious, aka Emperor Palpatine, and James Luceno’s 2012 novel elaborated on his story as teased in Episode III.
Despite the name, the novel is as much about the rise of Palpatine as it is about his master. It covers the decades leading up to the Prequels and leads directly into The Phantom Menace. But its biggest influence is, perhaps, suggesting that Palpatine and Plagueis may have created Anakin Skywalker through their powers of Force alchemy, or feeding theories that Supreme Leader Snoke of the Sequel Trilogy could, in some way, be Plagueis himself. For better or worse, fans speculated that the Sith Lord who mastered immortality could be the true villain of the new trilogy, and have kept this piece of Star Wars Legends lore alive.
4) Dark Empire by Tom Veitch & Cam Kennedy
Speaking of Sequel Trilogy speculation, early details about The Rise of Skywalker gave many fans hints that elements of the classic Dark Horse Comics series Star Wars: Dark Empire could be adapted into film—and this time, that speculation was actually somewhat true.
The original six-issue miniseries began in 1991, and was followed by Dark Forces II in 1994 and Empire’s End, a two-part epilogue, in 1995. Veitch and Kennedy showed the Rebels still in bitter conflict with the remnants of the Empire six years after Return of the Jedi. Luke discovers that somehow, Palpatine had returned… but this time we see how. The Sith Lord had developed clones of himself and transferred his consciousness into them before his supposed death, allowing him to return and wreak havoc—threatening the lives of Han and Leia’s infant twins, and drawing Luke closer to the Dark Side than ever.
Panned by many for the somewhat goofy nature of the cloning narrative, Dark Empire nonetheless remained relevant in its obscurity. It was the first in Dark Horse Comics’ series set in the Star Wars Legends sandbox and gained a place in many fans’ hearts, despite being retconned and glazed over in other stories. Like Plagueis, many fans drew from it when speculating that cloning could bring either Palpatine or Plagueis back in Episode IX. In a way, they were almost right, too, with Snoke ultimately being confirmed as a failed vessel for the revived Emperor.
3) The Jedi Academy Trilogy by Kevin J. Anderson
One cornerstone of the Star Wars Legends continuity was Luke Skywalker’s Jedi Academy on Yavin IV, established within the very temple where the Rebel Alliance staged their attack on the Death Star in A New Hope. Its alumni make up a large part of the Expanded Universe’s new crop of original characters, and many stories—including video games and comics—used it as a setting.
So, of course, the trilogy that introduced this school to the canon became inherently important. Beyond establishing the new Jedi training ground, it ushered in three pivotal characters: Exar Kun, an ancient Sith lord whose spirit returned to foil Luke’s efforts; Kyp Durron, a troubled potential Jedi who is manipulated by Kun; and Anakin Solo, Han and Leia’s youngest child, who was simultaneously introduced in Dark Empire II.
But perhaps most important of all, the trilogy cemented Anderson’s name in the Star Wars Legend canon. He would go on to pen many other tales in the series, including the Dark Horse series Tales of the Jedi (featuring Exar Kun in his prime), and the Young Jedi Knights series for young adults, with his wife Rebecca Moesta. This series featured the exploits of Jacen and Jaina Solo, Han and Leia’s twins, who would become the leads of the franchise in its next major arcs. Perhaps thanks in part to his success in Star Wars, Anderson went on to work with Brian Herbert on continuing Frank Herbert’s Dune series.
2) Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game by West End Games
Surprisingly, the oldest book on this list isn’t a novel or comic, but a roleplaying game. Without Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game from West End Games, it’s possible that Star Wars Legends wouldn’t have ever existed.
Years before the novels and Dark Horse comics began, West End Games took up the torch from Lucas himself and started expanding the universe. From 1987 to 1998, through over 100 publications, the RPG enabled players to forge their own tales in a galaxy far, far away. Its sourcebooks officially named many characters, vehicles, and even alien species for the first time, solidifying concepts Lucas introduced but never codified.
The game itself is a simple roleplaying game centred on rolling d6 dice, but it kept the franchise alive by inspiring players, codifying concepts that Lucas had presented in the films, and by expanding on his foundation by introducing all-new creations like the Interdictor-class Star Destroyer. When Timothy Zahn was hired to write the first books of what would become Star Wars Legends, he was instructed to do so in keeping with the lore that West End Games laid down.
Wizards of the Coast eventually took over the license and replaced the line with a d20-based system more in keeping with Dungeons & Dragons, and eventually passed it on to Fantasy Flight Games in 2011. However, the additions brought by the original game remain inextricable from the series’ core, even after the Disney acquisition. (And you can still play it, as Fantasy Flight Games reprinted the core rule book and sourcebook in an anniversary package back in 2018.)
1) The Thrawn Trilogy by Timothy Zahn
But, of course, it is the first works of the official Star Wars Legends continuity that had the biggest impact of all. Timothy Zahn planted a flag with the Thrawn Trilogy, opening a whole new sandbox for a whole new generation of authors and fans. Like no other example in the Expanded Universe, this arc truly felt like an official “sequel trilogy” worthy of the big screen.
Five years after the battle of Yavin, Luke struggles with the burden of being the last remaining Jedi and the possibility of raising a new generation, while Han and Leia prepare for the arrival of their twins. But a specter of the Empire returns to threaten the fledgling New Republic: Grand Admiral Thrawn, a mysterious blue-skinned officer who returns from deep space for revenge. Armed with a unique species of animal that can block the Force, and allied with the mad clone of a dead Jedi Master, Thrawn pushes the heroes to the brink.
Zahn navigated all of Star Wars‘ many faces deftly through Star Wars Legends’ foundational work, sometimes with more storytelling skill and nuance than the Maker himself. All the best faces of the franchise are present, from the struggle between Force users, to smuggler rings, to political intrigue. Most of his original characters went on to become major faces of this continuity, like Mara Jade—Palpatine’s secret assassin, who went on to marry Luke. Thrawn himself proved such a popular and powerful character that he’s been adapted into the new continuity via Star Wars Rebels, and is largely speculated to reappear in the upcoming live-action Ahsoka series.
But it’s no exaggeration that Star Wars Legends, or any substantial publishing effort set in this IP, would not exist without Heir to the Empire and the Thrawn trilogy. Its monumental success and standing on the New York Times Bestseller list helped prove the demand for more Star Wars stories, allowing for the larger Expanded Universe to form.
Today, these works remain amongst the most influential and dear to readers’ hearts, even if they have been set aside for a new official continuity. Canon or not, any fan would still be wise to check them out today, if nothing else from Star Wars Legends.