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A panel far, far away: 10 must-read canon comic books for every 'Star Wars' fan

Comic Books

A panel far, far away: 10 must-read canon comic books for every ‘Star Wars’ fan

The Force is strong with these books.

The Skywalker Saga is over. Marketed as the “end” of Star Wars, it’s understandable to be overcome with bitter-sweetness following The Rise of Skywalker –– especially given the divisive nature of the Star Wars fandom. A long, glorious era has truly come to an end, and it’s time to bid farewell to our most beloved characters…

… But is it really? We know that Disney is going to continue producing Star Wars films and TV series. Comic readers also know Marvel is still publishing a ton of rad comics — and they have since they reclaimed publishing rights in 2013. From the recent Star Wars: Target Vader to the incredible relaunch of the mainline Star Wars comic, there’s been little shortage of new, engaging, and universe-altering comics set within every era of the Star Wars canon. 

So, with the Skywalker Saga (not to mention The Mandalorian season one officially behind us), now seems like the perfect time for fans to dive into the array of amazing Star Wars comics that have come out over the last seven years. There’s a lot to choose from, and deciding where to begin is a daunting task. Luckily, I’ve read everything and I am here to be your sherpa across the mountainous terrain that is the Star Wars comic landscape.

10. Star Wars: Kanan- The Last Padawan (12-issue Maxi-Series)
Written by Greg Weisman
Art by Pepe Larraz

A panel far, far away: 10 must-read canon comic books for every 'Star Wars' fan

I really only cracked open Star Wars: Kanan – The Last Padawan because of my inner desire to read every series comic book in canon. As somebody who had not watched a single episode of Star Wars: Rebels (at the time), Kanan just wasn’t a character I cared about. After reading this series from writer Greg Weisman and House of X’s Pepe Larraz, however, I discovered a newfound urgency to immediately binge through Rebels for the first time.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve scoffed at the idea of Star Wars cartoons or praised them as the best additions to the universe , Star Wars: Kanan – The Last Padawan will stand out as an excellent series story. It offers an extensive and emotional backstory on the titular Kanan that exemplifies how traumatizing Order 66 was for young Padawans. As an added bonus, it’s chock-full of colorful side characters that would make any Star Wars story stand out. 

9. Star Wars: Target Vader (6-issue Miniseries)
Written by Robbie Thompson
Art by Marc Laming and Stefano Landini

A panel far, far away: 10 must-read canon comic books for every 'Star Wars' fan

When Disney acquired Star Wars, they wiped the canon clean by branding all non-film stories as Legends, thus eliminating a slew of characters from the universe. One such casualty was Beilert Valance, a mercenary cyborg with some truly serious issues. Beilert had made numerous appearances in the original Marvel Star Wars comics released after A New Hope and had developed devoted fans over the years. Disney initially brought Valance back into canon in 2018’s Star Wars: Han Solo – Imperial Cadet, but it wasn’t until Robbie Thompson and Stefano Landini’s Star Wars: Target Vader that Beilert assumed a leading role in a series story.

This 6-issue miniseries doesn’t rely as much on the general “coolness” of Beilert Valance as much as the reader might expect. Instead, this series humanizes Beilert in a series of flashbacks that detail his physical and emotional deterioration. These interspersed moments throughout the series establish Beilert as a surprisingly complicated character who never fully recovers from the emotional toll of being broken and reassembled by war. This story not only succeeds as a character study but also tells a gritty story that sees a group of mercenaries take on the Sith Lord himself, Darth Vader. Readers will meet a cast of characters ripped straight from the grimy underbelly of Star Wars as they’re taken along for a preposterous assassination attempt rife with multiple big surprises.

8. “The Last Flight of the Harbinger” (Star Wars #21-25)
Written by Jason Aaron
Art by Chris Eilopoulos, Mike Mayhew, and Jorge Molina

A panel far, far away: 10 must-read canon comic books for every 'Star Wars' fan

There’s no shortage of wonderful stories from the mainline Star Wars comic, but “The Last Flight of the Harbinger” is one of writer Jason Aaron’s absolute best. Eschewing the lighthearted and more hopeful tone of the opening arcs of the series, “The Last Flight of the Harbinger” embraces a darker, more damning perspective on the Galactic Civil War. That’s not to say the entirety of the five-issue arc is all doom and gloom, though. It strikes an excellent balance thanks to wonderfully playful moments between Luke, Leia, and Han that not only break up the more aggressive tone of the arc but provide for some very enjoyable, classic interactions between the original trio of heroes. 

What truly sets this story apart, however, is it’s focus on the infamous SCAR Squadron. I’ll get into more detail about the allure of SCAR Squadron later, but it’s in this five-issue story that readers really get an intimate look. Seeing what makes this special forces crew really tick makes them feel even more intimidating and vile. Combine this deep dive into new characters and the the nail-biting liberation of Tureen IV, and you get a story that readers won’t soon forget. 

7. “Unspeakable Rebel Superweapon” (Star Wars: Doctor Aphra #32-36)
Written by Simon Spurrier
Art by Cris Bolson, Andrea Broccardo, Wilton Santos, and Caspar Wjingaard

A panel far, far away: 10 must-read canon comic books for every 'Star Wars' fan

I have long championed Doctor Chelli Aphra as one of the best additions to canon in the last seven years. If you’re not already familiar with the rogue archaeologist, you’ve been missing out on the most dynamic and conflicted character in all of Star Wars. Originally created during Kieron Gillen’s legendary Star Wars: Darth Vader comic, Doctor Aphra is essentially Star Wars’ answer to Indiana Jones — ya know, if Indiana Jones only cared about himself and/or getting paid. While every Doctor Aphra story is worthy of love, perhaps none are as exemplary of her character as “Unspeakable Rebel Superweapon.”

Doctor Aphra has a rich history despite her relatively short time in the canon, and yet it’s this story by Simon Spurrier shows Doctor Aphra at her most conflicted while being deeply intertwined in the unseen spy war that raged between the Empire and the Rebel Alliance. Furthering Rogue One’s notion that Rebel forces sometimes resorted to less-than-savory tactics, this story shows how far the Rebels were prepared to go to defeat the Empire, including a plan to kill the Emperor that would wipe out a city in the process. Throw in a deeply emotional romantic tryst between Aphra and the Imperial turncoat Magna Tolvan, and you’ve got an all-time classic Star Wars story.

6. Star Wars: Lando (5-issue Miniseries)
Written by Charles Soule
Art by Alex Maleev

A panel far, far away: 10 must-read canon comic books for every 'Star Wars' fan

Star Wars: Lando boasts a creative duo that is every die-hard comic book fan’s dream, with Charles Soule writing the script and Alex Maleev on art. Soule has become a mainstay since, having penned Star Wars: Poe Dameron, Star Wars: Darth Vader (volume two), and Star Wars: The Rise of Kylo Ren in addition to helming the recent Star Wars relaunch. It’s his initial story, however, that proved just how much Soule understands the essence of the series. 

Particularly in this run, Soule effortlessly captures the tone of Lando Calrissian while Maleev expertly depicts his mannerisms and the gritty locales he often finds himself in. With just the right amount of weirdness, Soule and Maleev craft a dark and deeply satisfying tale that sees Lando cross paths with the Emperor himself as he (foolishly) attempts to rob the Sith Lord. The real standout is the subplot of this series, which depicts the emotionally gripping downfall of Lando’s cyborg companion, Lobot. If you thought the death of L3 was devastating for Lando, just wait until you read this. 

5. “The Ashes of Jedha” (Star Wars #38-43)
Written by Kieron Gillen
Art by Salvador Larroca

A panel far, far away: 10 must-read canon comic books for every 'Star Wars' fan

Kieron Gillen made his mainline Star Wars debut with the “Ashes of Jedha,” and what a phenomenal debut it turned out to be. Not only does Gillen plant the seeds for the major plot points of his stellar Star Wars run, but he explores the physical and psychological devastation caused by the destruction of Jedha at the hands of the Empire. Once the home of the Jedi’s last remaining holy sacraments, the Jedha that Gillen shows readers is a violent, hellish landscape where inhabitants can barely fight off the Imperials plundering what remains of their home. The Partisans — the militia seen in Rogue One — bear the mental scars of the Empire’s destruction, waging a vicious, guerrilla-style war against the Empire that makes the reader question the sanity of these survivors. 

The tour of post-Death Star Jedha is shocking, but it’s Gillen’s exploration of Luke Skywalker’s maturation as a Jedi and Han Solo’s leadership capabilities that establish this story as a classic. Skywalker enters the story still naive to the sheer power of the Force but emerges with newfound respect of this power he so effortlessly wields. Solo, on the other hand, showcases why he quickly ascended to the rank of General during the massive Battle of Jedha. Solo leads the Rebels to a sweeping victory as they halt the Empire’s massive Jedha mining operation during a spectacular battle sequence. This is one of the few battles depicted in the comics that truly feels massive in scope and it helps make “Ashes of Jedha” one of the best stories in all of Star Wars. 

4. “Rebel Jail” (Star Wars #16-19 and Star Wars Annual #2)
Written by Jason Aaron
Art Mike Mayhew, Angel Unzuenta, and Leinel Francis Yu

A panel far, far away: 10 must-read canon comic books for every 'Star Wars' fan

If you can’t tell yet, Jason Aaron’s impact on the Star Wars canon is insanely underrated, and “Rebel Jail” is no exception. This five-issue story is a shockingly violent and dark turn for Star Wars that piles up bodies while exploring the depravity war inspires in men. Leia and Sana Starros (Han Solo’s ex-wife) travel to the secluded Sunspot prison, an aptly named penitentiary that is uncomfortably close to a massive sun, to finally punish Doctor Aphra for her crimes against the Rebellion. During the attempted imprisonment, however, the station comes under attack from a mysterious villain who aligns with neither the Empire or the Rebellion. 

What unfolds is a tragic story that focuses on one of Leia’s greatest failures, not only adding even more depth to her character but highlighting the very real toll the galactic war takes on the ground soldiers. I won’t spoil anything for those who haven’t read it, but the deeply personal connection between Leia and the mystery attacker is genuinely haunting and will make readers re-examine Princess Leia’s role in the conflict. Aaron also does a fantastic job adding more depth and complexity to Sana Starros and Doctor Aphra, who share a handful of tense moments that hint at their storied past together.

As if a deeply affecting, character-driven story wasn’t enough, it’s during “Rebel Jail” that Aaron introduces possibly his best creation to Star Wars canon — SCAR Squadron. If you’re a series purist, the site of a measly Stormtrooper wielding a lightsaber might send you careening into a maelstrom of unrepentant “fan” rage. If you’re more open-minded, you’ll be able to enjoy the brilliance of SCAR Squadron, an Imperial black-ops squad of commando Stormtroopers led by the lightsaber-wielding Sergeant Kreel. While SCAR Squadron plays an extremely minor role in this story, their small introduction is a hugely important moment for true fans. Oh, and Han Solo actually herds Nerfs at one point in this arc, so that’s neat!

A panel far, far away: 10 must-read canon comic books for every 'Star Wars' fan

3. “Fortress Vader” (Star Wars: Darth Vader vol. 2 19-25)
Written by Charles Soule
Art by Gisueppe Camuncoli

I mentioned earlier that Charles Soule has become a Star Wars comics mainstay lately, but, in reality, it’s his run on Star Wars: Darth Vader that cemented him as a bona fide maestro. While this entire volume is worthy of the highest praise, it’s the concluding “Fortress Vader” arc that is a true must-read for fans. Soule explores Darth Vader’s immediate ascension to Sith Lord following the events of Revenge of the Sith, and what results is an expansive story that establishes an incredible amount of new lore while showing readers a side of Vader never before seen. 

Remember Vader’s Castle in Rogue One? Soule explains the origin of that in “Fortress Vader.” Remember the mask Lando discovers in Star Wars: Lando (number six on this list)? Soule explains the importance of that in “Fortress Vader.” Remember the world between worlds mentioned in Star Wars: Rebels? Soule explores that in “Fortress Vader.” It’s not an understatement to say that this could easily be the most informative Star Wars comic to date. 

Embedded inside the heaps of lore established in this story is a deeply emotional journey that shows Vader evolve — or devolve, depending on your perspective — into the Darth Vader audiences met in 1977. It’s this arc that shows the true machinations behind Vader’s downfall, and it might even do a better job of establishing Anakin Skywalker’s love for Padme than the prequel trilogy did. Simultaneously, however, Vader’s pursuit of Sith mastery in these seven issues makes him all the more intimidating and villainous. Soule exemplifies the never-ending conflict and duality of Vader in this unforgettable story that every true fan should read. 

2. Star Wars: Darth Vader #1-25
Written by Kieron Gillen
Art by Salvador Larroca

A panel far, far away: 10 must-read canon comic books for every 'Star Wars' fan

I am kind of cheating here by including the entirety of Kieron Gillen’s Star Wars: Darth Vader run on this list, but I simply couldn’t pick just one arc to highlight here because it is amazing from issue one all the way to #25. Gillen establishes an entirely new mythos surrounding the Dark Lord of the Sith all the while introducing an incredible new cast of characters, including Doctor Aphra, Triple Zero, BT-1, and Black Krrsantan. Coinciding directly with Jason Aaron’s mainline Star Wars comic, Gillen explored the darker side of the force in 25 incredible issues that truly established a new precedent for what licensed comics can do with established characters.

Where do I even start? The introduction of Doctor Aphra? The turbulent relationship between Vader and the Emperor? The discovery of the Astarte twins? His pursuit of Luke Skywalker? The War on Shu-Torun? I can’t get into too many details without spoiling things for those who may not have read this impeccable run, but I can guarantee anyone who takes the time to read this series will be absolutely blown away by the breadth of storytelling. If anything, most fans will come away from this series bewildered as to why this was never used for fodder as a new Star Wars film. With the exception of maybe George Lucas, nobody grasps the intricacies of Vader the way Gillen does, and this series proves that. There’s not much more I can say — just read these books.

1.”Vader Down” (Star Wars: Vader Down 1, Star Wars: Darth Vader vol. 1 13-15, Star Wars 13 & 14 )
Written by Jason Aaron and Kieron Gillen
Art by Mike Deodato Jr. and Salvador Larroca

A panel far, far away: 10 must-read canon comic books for every 'Star Wars' fan

If you’re already a fan of Star Wars comics, you had to know “Vader Down” was coming in at No. 1 by a Hosnian mile. Even if you’re unfamiliar with the series’ comics, you’ve undoubtedly heard secondhand summaries of this crossover event from other fans or seen the infamous “surrounded by dead men” panel. Regardless of your familiarity with this title, it is absolutely worthy of every bit of hype and praise it has received since it was released in 2015. The story is simple enough: Darth Vader is shot out of the sky by a certain force wielding Rebel pilot and he must face the might of the Rebel army as they scramble to take him out. You thought Vader’s moment in Rogue One was awesome? Think again, because it’s actually “Vader Down” that boasts Vader’s most badass moment: when he takes out an entire battalion of Rebels without even breaking a sweat.

The six-part series brings almost every major character into play for an all-out slugfest that eclipses some of the conflicts shown in film and TV. Han Solo squares off with Doctor Aphra. Chewbacca goes paw-to-paw with Black Krssantan. Princess Leia comes face-to-mask with Vader. C-3PO and R2-D2 even run into their dark counterparts, BT-1 and Triple Zero. This may have been the first of many interactions between this diverse array of characters, but it still remains the best as it emphasizes what makes each and every character so beloved. 

Aside from its character and narrative achievements, “Vader Down” set the precedent for Star Wars comic crossover events and showed just how grand these stories could be despite being “just comics.” While Jason Aaron’s Star Wars was met with fanfare and record-breaking sales, it was “Vader Down” that legitimized the Star Wars comics as a legitimate avenue for truly spectacular Star Wars stories.

 There’s still so many more amazing comics from the series. Honorable mentions include Star Wars Special: C-3PO #1, Star Wars: Beckett #1, Star Wars: Age of Resistance – Rose Tico #1, and Star Wars: Poe Dameron.

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