The Stars Wars movies can only cover so much; it’s up to the books to do the rest. And there is still a huge amount of unexplored space to chart.
As Comic-Con International begins, EW has an exclusive preview about this fall’s full slate of “Journey to Star Wars: The Last Jedi” novels and storybooks that will contain hints about the upcoming sequel while also seeking to recruit new fans.
“It’s important to explore all areas of the Star Wars universe — the known and the unknown — because all stories matter,” says Andrew Sugerman, executive vice president of Disney’s publishing and digital media. “That’s the beauty of Star Wars. There’s one shared universe, so the films connect to the games, which connect to the books, which connect to the animation, and so on. A story told through publishing enriches the larger universe.”
Some of the most ambitious titles are YA books that reveal backstories for classic characters like Leia Organa and Luke Skywalker in their younger days while also containing details and motivations that will turn up in the new film (which will become obvious only after it opens Dec. 15).
With The Force Awakens, there were three decades for books to explore between its story and the events of Return of the Jedi. But the new film picks up right where the last one left off — with Rey returning Luke’s long-lost lightsaber, so there’s less room for connective narrative tissue.
“It’s just a different journey than last time,” says Michael Siglain, creative director of Lucasfilm Publishing. “There are still some Easter eggs in a couple of pieces that will make sense after seeing the film. But this one is more thematically tied to The Last Jedi.”
There won’t be books delving deep into the history or lineage of Rey or Finn. That’s still heavy-lifting for the movies to do. But the motivations of General Leia Organa and her exiled Jedi brother Luke? That’s open space for scribes.
For instance, the previous “Journey to The Force Awakens” book series had to avoid discussing Skywalker for the most part, preserving his mystery. Now that he has been found, a new collection of interlocked short stories will unlock parts of his past we don’t know.
The Legends of Luke Skywalker
“You know how Han Solo says, ‘It’s true, all of it’? Well, was it really?” Siglain says. This book by Ken Liu presents its stories as rumors circulating through the galaxy.
It’s a clever way to avoid tangling up canon while still delivering tales about the farmboy-turned-hero’s experiences between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens — and also showing what other denizens of the galaxy know about his true exploits.
“For kids coming out of that movie, for casual fans coming out of that movie, you hear about Luke Skywalker for that whole film, but you only see him for two seconds at the end. He doesn’t even say anything,” Siglain says. “This book is a book that goes into some of those stories that were told, some of those legends of Luke Skywalker. Are they true? Well, maybe. Maybe not.”
The book, which hits shelves on Oct. 31, has a structure similar to a cosmic version of The Canterbury Tales, with each traveler telling his or her story to the group over the course of their journey.
Did Luke Skywalker actually take down 20 AT-ATs in the Battle of Hoth? Was he just a charlatan who made up the story of his Death Star run? Is it possible he was at the Battle of Jakku chronicled in Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath novels?
“What are those stories that Rey has been hearing, that the rest of the galaxy has been hearing, and what has Luke been doing since then?” Siglain says. “The framing device for this is there are a bunch of kids on a cargo ship that’s traveling to the casino world of Canto Bight. Someone says something about Luke Skywalker, and they say, ‘Oh, he was just a myth. That’s just a legend.’ And others say, ‘No, no, no. I know a story about him.’”
Then Liu unspools six different stories, including a first-person account (told second-hand) about a flea-like alien who claimed to be on Luke’s shoulder during some critical history.
“It’s a mole-flea named Lugubrious Mote that is present during the time of Luke’s interactions with Jabba, including his battle with the Rancor and the fight on the sail barge,” Siglain says. “The mole-flea is not present in The Last Jedi, nor on the ship to Canto Bight, though he does help to illustrate Yoda’s point that ‘size matters not.’”
Leia: Princess of Alderaan
This YA novel about Leia Organa’s teenage years is being written by Claudia Gray, who explored the character’s middle age as a post-Return of the Jedi politician grappling with insurgency and the public revelation she is Darth Vader’s daughter in last year’s adult novel Bloodline.
While we see her in her much older years in The Last Jedi, which will feature Carrie Fisher’s last performance as the character, this book takes Star Wars fans back to when she was a teenager, not yet a revolutionary. It’s pretty far in the timeline from the events of the new film, but Sugerman says these stories still contain clues to the new story.
“As for exploring the ‘long time ago’ aspects, the past informs the future. There are still many unanswered questions, and we’re looking to fill in some, but not all, of those blanks,” he says.
Princess of Alderaan’s title also recalls the classic A Princess of Mars sci-fi novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs. While Gray’s book (out Sept. 1) won’t have much else in common with that 1917 book, it will reveal Leia’s rise to power by showing how she first became an agent for the Rebellion — not long before we see her escape with the stolen Death Star plans in Rogue One.
“This is where she started,” Siglain says, noting that it’s also about her friends and relationships to her parents — a sci-fi adventure, but also a coming-of-age story. “It’s still a YA novel, so it’s still her going against her parents who are trying to protect her.”
He also assures fans “there’s a very strong connection to some things from The Last Jedi, which, again, once you see the film will make sense.”
It’s set on the eve of her 16th birthday. “She’s realizing that there is more to the galaxy and to her life than what’s going on. And she’s at a point where her parents just being secretive,” Siglain says, referring to her adopted parents Breha and Bail Organa (played by Jimmy Smits in the films).
“She decides to become involved in the fight against the Empire, regardless of what her parents think. As a parent, what situation does that put you in? Do you want your daughter to fight for what is right, or are you trying to just protect her so she doesn’t get hurt? And as a 16-year-old, do you really know as much as you think?”
All kids rebel against their parents at some point, but they don’t always join a Rebellion.
One word. One name.
Delilah S. Dawson’s new novel (out Sept. 1) will go beneath the chrome armor of The First Order’s most merciless Stormtrooper.
“You have a very mysterious character,” Siglain says. “You don’t know who this person is. You don’t know what her background is. All you see is that expressionless mask. And so the thought was, well, what if we could shed some light onto who she is. She does have a secret in her past that she guards. And when that secret is threatened to be revealed, what will she do to keep that secret hidden?
It’s a difficult thing to tell a whole story around a villain, but Phasma doesn’t hold back on the character’s cruelty. Think of it as a galactic House of Cards, where you’re simultaneously rooting for the main characters and despising them.
“She is a ruthless and a cunning character. This takes that to the next level,” Siglain says. “You will be afraid of this character. You will know why she is a captain in the First Order.”
Marvel is publishing a separate miniseries comic called Captain Phasma that will reveal how Gwendoline Christie’s character escaped the trash compactor on Starkiller Base before it was destroyed in The Force Awakens. But Dawson’s novel, like the Leia book, will go back much further to the character’s origin as a young girl.
This novel will “show how she got off the planet that she was on initially and came to the First Order and what did she have to do to get there and what will she do to protect her secrets,” Siglain says. “It cuts between the present and the past and shows her as this fearsome warrior on this brutal world that she was on. The First Order comes to that planet, and she sees a great opportunity when they arrive.”
Maybe we’ll finally learn her full name, too.
This collection of four short stories will focus on creatures from the glamorous casino world of Canto Bight, described as the galactic version of Monaco. The book, which hits stores on Dec. 5, will be written by Saladin Ahmed, Rae Carson, Mira Grant, and John Jackson Miller.
“It’s a city filled with opportunity. There are very high stakes in this city,” Siglain says. “You’re going to follow four different aliens who will lead you through some of the gambling parlors and the racetracks and, you know, just this beautiful, lush city that’s as far from the Episode IV cantina as you can get. This is Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous for Star Wars. But looks can certainly be deceiving, and everything isn’t always as beautiful as it seems.”
The writers, editors and Lucasfilm story group went through images of the creatures from Neal Scanlan’s creature shop for The Last Jedi and picked curious beings they thought might have interesting stories to tell.
“The effects team had a lot of ideas about the characters that they were creating, even just some of the background aliens. ‘I think this is his backstory or this is her backstory.’ And we’ve been able to take those and run with them. We looked at this as Casablanca and Rick’s Café by way of Monte Carlo.”
Star Wars Made Easy
This one won’t tell lifelong Star Wars watchers anything they don’t already know, but Lucasfilm hopes it will mint more such fans.
With the eighth film in the saga, a stand-alone spin-off, and two animated TV shows (not to mention all the books and comics), the sheer volume of Star Wars lore might be intimidating to newcomers.
This guide by former EW writer Christian Blauvelt is meant as a primer for little kids (or adults who peaced-out on this article around the time we wrote, “Did Luke Skywalker actually take down 20 AT-ATs in the Battle of Hoth ?”)
“Star Wars is supposed to be for everyone. It should be for everyone,” Siglain said. “We want to make sure that we do have books out there that can be given to, kids, tweens, teenagers, adults, older fans, new fans, that show they will find something for them.”
Siglain says the idea for the book came from a personal experience: turning his wife into a Star Wars obsessive like himself. “Years ago, I went to a bookstore, and I was looking for a book to give to my wife to kind of get her up to speed,” he said. “She had seen all the movies and stuff, but she didn’t know all of the lore, and some of it could be confusing. What was from Episode II, what was from Episode III?”
He said Lucasfilm needed a book that core fans could give to a casual fan to draw them deeper into the universe.
“If you don’t know the difference between a Jawa and a Jedi, is there a book that can very simply walk you through the franchise and tell you, ‘Okay, this is Star Wars, this is Empire, this is Jedi, here are the prequels, this is what Rogue One is,” Siglain said. “This book does that. It’s our Star Wars 101. It’s our Star Wars for Dummies.”