When Marvel re-acquired the license to create new Star Wars comics in 2015, they quickly launched a core group of series chronicling the adventures happening long ago in everyone’s favorite far away galaxy. As an added bonus, for the first time, following two decades of Dark Horse holding the license to make Star Wars comics (which, in turn, followed Marvel’s initial licensing of the characters back in the 70s), these stories would be considered canon, “official” continuations of the overall narrative depicted in the films & TV shows. Since then, the assorted Marvel Star Wars comic book series have been relaunched, renewed, and built out into their own little sub-universe of comic books. Now, as fans wait patiently for the next Disney+ series to launch and the next movie to start filming, it’s the perfect time to give the Star Wars comic book universe a chance.
But with so many different books out there, it’s not always clear where to start or what might suit your tastes. To help, here’s a brief rundown of each current series, when it takes place, what it’s about, what creators are involved, to help guide your journey. May the Force be with you!
The continuing adventures of the main characters from the Original Trilogy.
In the time between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.
Written by Charles Soule with art by Jesus Saiz (issues #1-6), Ramon Rosanas (#7-8, 12) and Jan Bazaldua (#9-11)
In as much as there is a flagship Star Wars title, this is it. Picking up immediately after Empire Strikes Back ends, this series chronicles the main “happenings” in the time between Episodes V and VI: Luke mourning a loss of innocence (and his hand) in the wake of his encounter with Darth Vader; Leia mourning the loss of Han Solo to the bounty hunter Boba Fett; and Lando trying to make amends (and a profit…) in the wake of his betrayal of Han on Cloud City. All while the Rebellion attempts to regroup in the wake of their defeat on Hoth, as they are hounded by a protege of the deceased Grand Moff Tarkin.
In addition to the main movie characters, this book also features the Pathfinders, an elite group of Rebel Special Forces troops, which includes pilot Shara Bey, the mother of Sequel Trilogy character Poe Dameron (Poe’s father, Kes, also features in the series), as well as Lobot, Lando’s cybernetic associate from Cloud City. Most recently, an extended story arc involving the Pathfinders attempting to create a new communications code for the Rebellion that left Shara Bey trapped aboard a Star Destroyer. Though this was interrupted by the events of the larger “War of the Bounty Hunters” crossover event, the use of original comic book and relatively minor movie characters gives the cast some added depth.
With Charles Soule functioning as the de facto “showrunner” of the Star Wars imprint, if you’re going to read just one Star Wars book in an effort to capture the feel of the movies and/or stay abreast of the “important happenings,” this would be the one. The art is clear & straightforward, the stories capture the adventure serial vibes of the films, and all the (non-encased in carbonite) main characters are regular fixtures. Of particular note is Soule’s work with Lando, as the former smuggler & baron administrator struggles to find his place amongst the idealistic Rebels.
Darth Vader, wracked by the events of The Empire Strikes Back and questioning his loyalty to the Emperor in the face of his son’s rejection, rebuilds himself, physically and mentally.
After The Empire Strikes Back.
Greg Pak writes, with Raffaele Ienco serving as the principal artist (Guiu Vilanova fills in on issue #12-13).
Villain-led books often struggle, but all of Marvel’s solo Darth Vader titles (this is the third volume, with the first two were written by Kieron Gillen & Charles Soule) have been standouts. Greg Pak presents Vader not as a heroic figure but still as the hero of his own story, with a supporting cast and Rogues Gallery all his own (that the Emperor is both enemy & ally throughout the series speaks to the twisted relationship between the two Dark Lords of the Sith), putting Vader into situations that allow readers to root for him despite the fact that, at the end of the day, he wants to wipe out our beloved heroes. The art from Raffaele Ienco can be a little stiff at times, but he does an effective job of wringing emotion out of the perpetually-masked Vader, and both Ienco & Pak consistently combine to insert over-the-top, made-for-comics moments into their stories, such as when Vader & Palpatine each take control of a giant space monster and use them as proxies in a Dark Side Kaiju fight.
Pak also does a masterful job of picking up different elements from both the Prequel and Sequel Trilogies to advance his stories. Currently, Ochi of Bestoon, the Sith hunter whose bones (and weird Sith dagger-map) Rey and company found in the desert in Rise of Skywalker, functions as Vader’s de facto sidekick in the series, giving the Dark Lord someone to bounce dialogue off and react to his over-the-top actions, and he is a delight. Similarly, Pak has utilised things like Amidala’s handmaidens, the planet Exegol and Palpatine’s various contingency plans, doing his best to make lemonade out of some of the more lemon-y bits of the Star Wars Prequels and Sequels.
Darth Vader is consistently the line’s best book, combining searing character introspection with big, over-the-top comic book moments. Despite knowing where this story ultimately ends, each issue still leaves readers wondering what’s going to happen next, in the best possible way.
Rogue archaeologist Doctor Chelli Aphra and friends hunt for treasure and the next big payday!
Between Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.
Written by Alyssa Wong, with pencils from Marika Cresta (issues #1-5), Ray-Anthony Height & Robert Gill (#6, #10), and Minkyu Jung (#7-9, #11+), and inks by Marika Cresta (issues #1-5) and Victor Olazaba (issue #6+).
Arguably the breakout character of modern Star Wars comics, Doctor Aphra debuted in the first Darth Vader series (serving a similar role to the one now played by Ochii of Bestoon in the current Vader title) and quickly took fandom by storm, earning her own series. In many ways, she is a mashup of two beloved Harrison Ford characters: professionally, she is a essentially a sci-fi Indiana Jones, with a similar knack for getting out of (and into) tight spots, and morally, she represents a dark mirror version of Han Solo, one who never steered towards altruism in the wake of his experiences with the Rebellion and instead continued to operate in the seedier underbellies of the galaxy.
Doctor Aphra is also a series that explores the wider reaches of the Star Wars galaxy, featuring the rich and powerful Tagge family (a creation of Marvel’s original Star Wars comic) and Sana Starros (Aphra’s former girlfriend and pseudo-wife of Han Solo introduced in the first modern Star Wars volume) alongside a cast of new supporting characters.
Snarky & witty, Doctor Aphra is for everyone for whom Han Solo was their favorite character in the original Star Wars film, and who enjoys stories which play in the grayer areas of the Star Wars universe without losing the sense of fun that makes Star Wars, Star Wars.
The cybernetic Valance the Hunter protects the heir to a pair of criminal syndicates while trying to make his way in the galaxy.
The series has a penchant for flashbacks, especially early in its run, but it generally takes place in the Original Trilogy era, with its “present” set after The Empire Strikes Back.
Ethan Sacks writes with art by Paolo Villanelli.
A Star Wars riff on the Lone Wolf and Cub trope of “grizzled tough guy protects plucky young child,” the most interesting thing about this series is the circumstances surrounding its main character, Valance the Hunter. A former Imperial soldier with cybernetic enhancements and one of the standout original creations of the original 70s era Star Wars comic book, Valance was “canonized” and made an official part of the Star Wars universe (despite most of those original issues being considered non-canonical “Legends” these days). In his original appearances, he succeeded as a character by serving as a twisted reflection of both Luke and Vader while getting to experience a finite character arc. Separated from all of that in this book, he functions as little more than a generic tough guy character. It’s the kind of thing that’s been done elsewhere, and done better.
It also doesn’t help that the art in the book, while consistent, is also underwhelming, with figures often coming across as scratchy and almost unfinished, while the action is crowded and hard to follow. There is some charm in seeing fan favorite bounty hunters like Boba Fett and Bossk get put into the mix, and the basic premise is a classic for a reason, but it’s not yet enough to carry the series.
Mostly for completists only (or big fans of the original Star Wars comic); the main character struggles to stand out while the stories play in the same sort of arena as Doctor Aphra, but with much less fun & verve.
The Jedi of the High Republic helping tame the frontier of the Outer Rim!
A longer time ago, in a galaxy just as far away (ie about two hundred years before The Phantom Menace).
Written by Cavan Scott, with pencils by Ario Andindito (issues #1-5, 8+) and Georges Jeantty (issues #6-7) and inks by Mark Morales (issues #1-5) and Karl Story (issues #6-7).
The High Republic comic book is but one branch of a larger LucasFilm publishing initiative, with the goal of exploring a whole new time period in the Star Wars universe across multiple storytelling formats. It is a time which finds the Jedi at the height of their powers amidst a burgeoning Republic stretching its borders, even as threats emerge on the frontier. Thankfully, the comic book can be read independently of the rest of the initiative, making it a great entry point for anyone wishing to dip their toes into either the High Republic era or Star Wars comics or branch out a bit from their usual Star Wars reading.
Cavan Scott manages to strike the right balance between elements familiar and comforting (lightsabers, the Force, sweeping action adventure) and the new (different ships, technologies, and attitudes of the original setting). This balance comes in the form of Keeve Trennis, the POV and audience surrogate character who attains the rank of Jedi Knight as the series opens. Keeve isn’t always the most interesting character on the page (it’s tough to beat a one-armed Trandoshan Jedi in that regard), but she’s interesting enough, and her journey helps keep the series grounded amidst some of the more unfamiliar trappings. Series artist Ario Anindito’s work is similarly effective, not always the flashiest but easy to follow with a style that gives a tinge of animation to the look of the book.
Set within a fun and promising new era of Star Wars storytelling that manages to keep readers grounded amidst the unfamiliar setting & new characters, The High Republic is a great entry point for new readers looking to check out a Star Wars comic.
The carbonite-encased Han Solo has been stolen from Boba Fett, triggering a war amongst the galaxy’s best bounty hunters.
Immediately after The Empire Strikes Back.
Charles Soule writes, Luke Ross draws.
War of the Bounty Hunters is a five issue miniseries that forms the narrative spine of the crossover of the same name. That crossover, which weaves its way in and out of all the contemporary Star Wars comics (ie everything but The High Republic) as well as a series of tie-in one-shots, asks the question: what if Boba Fett lost ownership of the captive Han Solo for a time before he successfully delivered him to Jabba the Hutt? It then proceeds to answer it, mostly via a lot of high-octane encounters between various fan-favorite bounty hunters, as the name suggests.
As crossovers go, the straight-foward premise keeps it from being too intrusive on the other series’ business (with the exception of Darth Vader, it’s not hard for most of the series to come up with rationale for the characters to decide to get involved in the war for Han Solo), and it’s fun to see it play around with some of the plotlines & characters left dangling by the underrated Solo film. But if it sounds like the crossover is playing around in territory well-trod by a few of the other series, well, that’s not wrong.
Fans of the “bounty hunters” corner of the Star Wars Universe (and there’s plenty of ‘em) will find lots to like here, and the relatively straightforward premise makes it a cheap buy-in for the curious, even if the central premise of the story is being stretched very, very thin.