Beyond the movies: 10 essential 'Star Wars' comics

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

There’s been a lot of comings and goings in the world of Star Wars over the week of May the 4th.

The final chapter of the Skywalker Saga "The Rise of Skywalker" debuted on Disney Plus along with the series finale of "Star Wars: The Clone Wars."

But the breakout hit streaming series "The Mandalorian" is coming back for additional seasons and Tuesday we learned Taika Waititi will write and direct a new feature film.

If Waititi is looking for new corners of the galaxy far, far away to explore, the world of Star Wars comic books offer a treasure trove of potential stories.

Jaxxon might not be ready for a big-screen solo project, but another character original to comics - Doctor Aphra - represents intriguing possibilities.

So here Newsarama’s look at the ten best Star Wars comic book adventures…

Eight for Aduba-3

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

This is the second original Star Wars comic following the conclusion of Marvel's adaptation of the first movie and, boy, does it show.

Essentially a rip-off of The Seven Samurai (or The Magnificent Seven, depending on your tastes) with Han and Chewie teaming up with such characters as aging Jedi Knight Don-Wan Kihotay (Say it out loud, you'll get it) and a giant green rabbit called Jaxxon, this is a story that takes the sillier, pulpier aspects of what George Lucas came up with and ran with them... maybe even a little too far.

If you're a hardcore fan of the mythology, this is likely to drive you crazy, but for everyone else, this is a surprisingly fun story that deserves more credit than it gets.

The Newspaper Strips

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

It makes sense that Star Wars would shine as a newspaper strip, in a weird way; considering its influences include Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers, it almost feels like a family business.

But with Archie Goodwin and Al Williamson at the helm, the strips felt as authentic to their format as they did to the movies that spawned them, expanding the universe to include new characters, new adventures and the kind of art that classic comics are made of. Collected in three trades by Dark Horse years later, these are definitely worth checking out.

To Take the Tarkin

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

For those who care about such things, this multi-issue storyline from Marvel's 1980s ongoing series, set in the period between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of The Jedi, may have a strong claim to being the best of the early Star Wars comic books.

With art by the unstoppable team of Walt Simonson and Tom Palmer and a script by David Micheline (Underrated now, perhaps, but his work on this and Marvel's Indiana Jones title are as good as it gets), this story about the attempt to build a weapon that out-Death Stars the Death Star didn't just "get" Star Wars, it got it so well that it does Return of The Jedi far, far better than the movie itself.

Check for yourself if you're doubtful; you'll be glad you did.

The New Empire

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

Seemingly at a loss for where to go after Return of The Jedi apparently wrapped up up that whole "War" aspect of Star Wars, writer Jo Duffy decided to do what appears, in retrospect, fairly obvious but felt revolutionary at the time: Replace the Empire with new bad guys called the Nagai.

While the majority of this new threat were more bluster than blaster, they did include the Dark Lady Lumiya, a new villain who harkened back to Darth Vader by being an Imperial spy and one-time ally of Luke Skywalker who'd been left for dead on a mission before being turned into an unstoppable cyborg and mistress of the Dark Side.

The series was cancelled before this story really turned into anything, but it remains some of the greatest build-up the original Marvel series had ever seen.

Dark Empire

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

At the time of the creation of this limited series by Tom Veitch and Cam Kennedy - originally announced as a Marvel project, before moving to Dark Horse as Lucasfilm switched licensing agreements between publishers - the idea of making Star Wars a going concern seemed unlikely at best; the movie series had finished years ago, and the characters were living happily ever after... or so everyone thought.

All it took was Veitch's simple, but note-perfect story (essentially, what if Luke goes over to the Dark Side, tempted by an Emperor who wasn't as dead as everyone thought?) and Kennedy's luscious illustrations, and Star Wars lived again, with a comic that was as good as it'd ever been.


(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

Years before the movies resurrected the smoothest man in the galaxy, Charles Soule and Alex Maleev brought Mr. Calrissian — and Lobot, his right-hand cyborg, given more character than he’d been allowed in The Empire Strikes Back — back for an unexpected story that is part heist story, part supernatural thriller that wasn’t what anyone expected, but was what everyone needed to help Lando find his groove again.

It didn’t just find Lando’s groove, however, but helped the character (and the property as a whole) find an unexpected edge that made the galaxy feel a little larger as a result.

Knights of the Old Republic

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

The return of Star Wars to comic books coincided with the full-scale unfolding of Star Wars from "three movies and some other stuff" to "The Expanded Universe." As a result, stories and series started appearing set in different eras, with all-new characters whose fates were open to question and not tied to any mass-media exploitation.

One of the best of these was Knights of the Old Republic, a series set thousands of years before the six movies that followed the adventures of Zayne Carrick, a trainee Jedi who was framed for the murder of other Jedi by his mentors, and has to find a way to clear his name, find out what's going on, and not get killed while doing so. John Jackson Miller's writing fit easily into the derring-do with a side order of comedy aesthetic of the movies while also breaking new ground, making this 50-issue series easy to get into even if you've never seen the movies (or played the game of the same name).


(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

And speaking of stories set far away from the original movies, Legacy another 50 issue series by John Ostrander and Jan Duursema moved the action to more than a century after Return of The Jedi, with our hero being a former Jedi who's abandoned the Order for life as a Han Solo-esque smuggler and rogue.

Problem is, he's a descendant of Luke Skywalker, which pretty much means that it's part of the family business to deal with the threat posed by the Sith Emperor, who has decided that it'd be a great idea to try and take over the galaxy. Grittier and messier than the movies, this nonetheless managed to "feel" like Star Wars throughout, with stakes that at times somehow seem

Vader Down

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

The first meeting between the heroes of the Rebel Alliance and Darth Vader since the events of the original Star Wars movie — not to mention, the first crossover between Marvel’s two ongoing Star Wars comics — had to be a big deal, and the events of this six-part story lived up to the hype: Readers got to see Darth Vader unbound; Luke, Leia, and Han face to face with Doctor Chelli Lona Aphra for the first time; and C-3PO’s evil twin 0-0-0 fool everybody for long enough to make you wonder just what Anthony Daniels would sound like if he was playing a psychopathic droid.

If there was going to be a comic book storyline that needed to be adapted into a live action movie, it was this one.

Hope Dies

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

If there was a mystery hidden between the first two Star Wars movies, it was the reason things went from the triumphant end of the 1977 original to the broken, desperate Rebel Alliance at the start of 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back.

What happened to bring the good guys so low between movies? Kieron Gillen’s run on Marvel’s main series took that question as its starting point, and delivered this dark, brutal storyline in response.

Just when things looked like they might be going well for Leia and her Rebellion, an unexpected betrayal by a trusted ally devastates the Alliance and makes it seem as if all hope for the galaxy might be lost. (Don’t worry; everything turned out okay in the end. You’ve seen Return of the Jedi, right?)

Originally published on Newsarama.

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Graeme McMillan
Staff Writer, Popverse

Popverse staff writer Graeme McMillan (he/him) has been writing about comics, culture, and comics culture on the internet for close to two decades at this point, which is terrifying to admit. His work has appeared in The Hollywood Reporter, Wired, Polygon, Inverse, Time Magazine, and the Los Angeles Times, and he also co-hosts the Wait What podcast three times a month and writes the Comics, FYI newsletter. He completely understands if you have problems understanding his accent.