6 Star Wars Products You Should Check Out Instead Of The Force Awakens

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Well, the second Star Wars trailer is out. I’ve made no secret that I have no excitement for this movie, despite my lifelong Star Wars fandom. I wish I could be looking forward to it with the same hope I once anticipated The Phantom Menace with, but the intervening fifteen years has taught me to stop trying to kick the football every time Lucasfilm holds it out.

The Internet does not agree with me; like middle school girls at a Justin Bieber concert, the Internet is collectively shrieking over this almost inevitably heartless money grab of a film. I’ve already detailed at length why we Star Wars fans need to stop trying to kick the football. There’s just no way the heavily corporatized Disney is going to produce a Star Wars film with the bold creativity really needed to bring the Force back. Instead we’re going to see a Star Wars Greatest Hits Tour where the most popular Star Wars memes are trotted out like show ponies for a couple hours at a time. But I bow to popular demand; here’s the second trailer for Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens.

Whoops, my mistake. This is a clip from Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein, in which Dr. Frankenstein sews up a monster out of once-living parts, spends a few bucks to dress it up, and then has it dance around in front of an audience. Not the same thing at all.

Here’s the actual trailer:

Some new shots of newbies we’ve already seen, a quick look at someone being handed a lightsaber, and Harrison Ford being old. Yawn.

Look, I like writing about what I like in Star Wars about ten times more than I do writing about what I feel is wrong with it, so let me say this as quickly and as bluntly as I can and we can get to some good stuff: when Disney says that this is the authoritative, decisive, or otherwise “real” continuation of the Star Wars saga, they are wrong. Literally, they are wrong. They are wrong like George Lucas is wrong when he insists that his latest remastered Special Edition of the Original Trilogy is the “real” Original Trilogy. Because there was a time when creators were making this stuff with heart and with love, when writers were drinking close to the source of the stream, when the rewards were anything but guaranteed (“You’re crazy. Star Wars is dead!“) but they pushed on because the story meant something.

If you hear those familiar John Williams motifs in this trailer and find the old excitement welling up inside you like an old YT-1300 freighter sputtering to life, there are stories and materials out there that are way more worth your time.

1) The Thrawn Trilogy

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First things first: Outside of Darth Vader himself, Grand Admiral Thrawn is the best villain in all of Star Wars. Head and shoulders. General Grievous isn’t fit to polish his Star Destroyer Chimaera. His tactical genius, drawn from studying the artistic tastes of his military opponents, is just as terrifying as any Dark Side threat. And scenes with him are just fascinating – he’s the opposite of unbridled rage, a cool-headed and calculating military man who enjoys art and respects his enemies.

"For my next move, I think I'll crush everything and everyone you ever loved."

“For my next move, I think I’ll crush everything and everyone you ever loved.”

(Picture by GoblinWhirlwind. Source)

There’s a lot more to these books than just Thrawn, though. Taking place 5 years after Return of the Jedi, we see Han and Leia’s marriage, their kids, and Luke Skywalker meets Mara Jade, the beautiful criminal who is out to kill him. Jade is one of the most critical and riveting post-Jedi characters in the Star Wars canon.

Basically, this is the one true post-Jedi trilogy.

2) Shadows of the Empire

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In 1996, following the success of Zahn’s New York Times Bestselling Heir to the Empire novel trilogy, Lucasfilm decided to test the waters of their aging Star Wars IP by releasing a multimedia project around an original story. Taking place in between The Empire Strike Back and Return of the Jedi, Shadows of the Empire would revolve around Princess Leia’s search for Han Solo, still frozen in carbonite, and the Black Sun criminal empire. There were comic books, trading cards, and even a pretty freaking good novel by Steve Perry.

Though I do highly recommend the novel, I’d be remiss if I didn’t draw your attention to the classic Nintendo 64 game. This game was on the forefront of a new age of fantastic Star Wars software. It inspired Factor 5’s beloved Star Wars: Rogue Squadron series – and that’s just based off the first level. The game’s got running-and-gunning, it’s got turret-shooting, it’s got jetpacking, fighting an AT-ST, piloting a Corellian freighter around an intense space battle (or an X-Wing, a TIE Fighter, or even the Millennium Falcon if you have the codes)…basically everything you could have wanted out of a Star Wars game up until that time. Other Star Wars games since have had tighter focus on game genres represented here, and even done them better, but no other game has been the complete package like this one has. Dust off your N64 or snap up an emulator and check this out.

Also, rebel-for-hire Dash Rendar, for a Han Solo stand-in, is pretty awesome in his own right.

Seen here debating taxation of trade routes

Seen here debating taxation of trade routes

(Image source)

3) Rogue Squadron

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One morning in 1995, writer Michael A. Stackpoke awoke with a startling thought: “Why don’t I create the most popular Star Wars sub-franchise since the original movies?”

Okay, maybe he didn’t come up with it quite that way; still, that’s totally what he did. Beginning with a series of comic books, and moving into a successful series of novels, Stackpole made “Rogue Squadron” a wildly popular name in the Star Wars universe. Previously only fleetingly glimpsed during the movies’ large-scale battles, Stackpole gave names and faces to the brave pilots still fighting the good fight following Return of the Jedi‘s Battle of Endor. He also fleshed out Luke Skywalker’s pilot comrade, Wedge Antilles, and created the enduring character and future Jedi Corran Horn.

"A Jedi's strength flows form the Force...and also a little bit his man-bun."

“A Jedi’s strength flows form the Force…and also a little bit his man-bun.”

4) Dark Empire

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Something about the art in this book always stuns me. There’s a weird power to it for me. It’s something about the color and the level of detail. Things don’t look exactly like they did in the movies, and are subtly re-interpreted to pop on the comic page. The use of color is emotional rather than realistic.

Jedi Level 50 Jedi Master Luke Skywalker battles some Level 20 monsters outside of a town he's already passed

Luke Skywalker is officially sick of the AT-ATs’ shit.

It’s just one of the many “special effects” of Star Wars brought to the comic page. Besides Cam Kennedy’s brain-staining visuals, you have Tom Veitch (the guy whose friends told him, when he said he was working on this project, “Star Wars is dead!”) pitting the classic crew against some old foes and the awesome World Devastators. If you want to know if Star Wars can work in comic book form, or you’ve finished Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy and you’d like to see what happened soon after, definitely pick this up.

5) The Hidden Fortress

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Alright, so you’re probably not going to see many stormtroopers or space battles in this movie, but no Star Wars fan’s education is complete without seeing an Akira Kurosawa film or three. The Hidden Fortress is probably the best known of George Lucas’ Kurosawa influences. The beginning of the very first Star Wars movie, especially, is heavily influenced. Lucas adopted Hidden Fortress‘s method of introducing the viewer to big events through two of the lowest of its people, substituting Kurosawa’s bickering peasants for two droids. Although sadly, C-3P0 never called R2-D2 a “shitworm.”

Other influences also remain, such as the tomboyish princess. If you’re interesting in consuming more Star Wars-style stories in a different universe, Kurosawa is your man.

"We're doomed, shitworm!"

“This is all your fault, shitworm!”

6) The New Jedi Order

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This is it. When The Force Awakens comes out this year, it will be directly contradicting a whole host of expanded Star Wars content, but none so directly as Del Ray’s bestselling series of novels, which are set in the same time frame. No sooner has the New Republic signed a treaty with the remnants of the Empire, finally bringing about peace, the alien Yuuzhan Vong attack and threaten the entire galaxy.

I can’t sing this one’s praises like the others, as I myself have not yet voyaged this far into the series (I’ve got “only” 26 post-Jedi Star Wars novels under my belt so far). I know that the series is well-loved by many Star Wars fans and has great ratings on amazon. Most excitingly, though, I understand writers R.A. “Drizzt” Salvatore, Stackpole, James Luceno and others decided to take some big risks in this series, even daring to generate controversy among the passionate Star Wars fanbase. Something you decidedly won’t see in The Force Awakens. I’m excited to begin.

Hell yes, let the next chapter begin!

Hell yes, let the next chapter begin!

As I wrap this up, I’m feeling pretty jazzed. Like I said, I enjoy writing about what I love in Star Wars way more than dissecting what I feel is wrong with it. But when the new Star Wars movie opens, I plan to be curled up on the couch, checking out an original and daring future for my favorite characters, instead of a tired Now That’s What I Call Star Wars rehash. I hope that, even if you’re swept up in the excitement and don’t want to miss out, that on the way back from the theater you’ll stop by a bookstore and join me.

2 thoughts on “6 Star Wars Products You Should Check Out Instead Of The Force Awakens”

  1. Jason says:

    Now we need the list of 6 to avoid (and not the prequels and the sequels)

    1. David says:

      Yeah, but when it comes to the Expanded Universe there’s really nothing I would explicitly recommend not reading. What about a list of some of the only good things to come out of the prequel timeframe?

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