Originally published on May 4, 2016.

We’ve all experienced the overwhelming joy of The Force Awakens by now, but Disney’s licensing opportunity has created another rewarding experience within the Star Wars universe. Through Marvel Comics, a new Star Wars canon is being built, one that is filling in the blanks between films and creating new characters and plot points that feel just as much a part of this saga as the ones we’ve known for the past 40 years. Smartly, Marvel has decided to keep their Star Wars output small, ensuring continuity and quality. Unlike other comic books and their film franchises, the Star Wars comic teams work directly with the teams working on the movies, video games, and novels to ensure that every Star Wars story matters and reflects the goals for the property. While several mini-series and one-shots have been released, Marvel Comics’ main series, Star Wars (Jason Aaron and various artists) and Star Wars-Darth Vader (Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca) are set immediately after the events of A New Hope and are where most of the significant developments are made. It is those two books that we’ll be focusing on this time around. Here are the 5 best additions Star Wars comics have made to the canon:

Luke Skywalker is no Jedi…yet.

John Cassaday (Marvel Comics)

John Cassaday (Marvel Comics)

The space between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back is rife with character development for Luke Skywalker. In Aaron’s series, Luke is still very much the whiny, insecure farm-boy we saw in Episode IV. Aaron plays up this factor for readers’ humor rather than their annoyance, and Luke’s moments of confidence as quickly snuffed out by his inexperience and the fact that, like Jon Snow, he knows nothing. Through this series we come to understand how Luke received his training prior to Yoda and we learn about his journey to discover as much Jedi knowledge as possible. More than just a character who finds himself stuck in awful situations, Luke is driven to uncover his legacy which makes his character evolution through the films all the more interesting.

He Got a lightsaber. She got a lightsaber. Everybody got lightsabers!

Stuart Immonen (Marvel Comics)

Stuart Immonen (Marvel Comics)

Before we saw The Force Awakens and discovered Finn is not a Jedi (?) but can still use a lightsaber, Aaron’s Star Wars also played with this idea. While we’ve seen other non-force users use lightsabers in the Star Wars canon (General Grievous), it’s typically been understood that they are solely weapons of the Jedi and non-force users would likey injure themselves in an attempt to use one. Well, when an EMP blast makes blasters useless, Han, Leia, and Chewie take up lightsabers and join Luke in an arena battle. There are few things cooler that seeing a Wookie dual-wield lightsabers. Even better, artist Stuart Immonen considers each characters fighting style and depicts their own unique use of the saber. Sure, it’s fan service but it’s one of the coolest moments in Star Wars comics.

That wizard is just a crazy old man.

Simone Bianchi (Marvel Comics)

Simone Bianchi (Marvel Comics)

If you’ve ever wanted to know what Obi-Wan Kenobi was up to in between the end of Episode III and the star of Episode IV, then look further than Jason Aaron’s Star Wars. One of the first arcs in this book focused on Luke Skywalker’s return to Tatooine and his discovery of Ben’s journal. The journal entries are told after each arc and explore how Kenobi spent his days as the galaxy’s last Jedi. Of course part of his responsibilities dealt with him watching over Luke, but the best parts of these stories focus on Ben’s struggle over whether to doing nothing or whether to involve himself in the troubles of the community that surrounds him. There’s an Unforgiven aspect to these stories that create more complexity to Kenobi than the films have ever had a chance to provide. You want your Obi-Wan spin-off? Well you’ve got it right here!

Congratulations! You’re the Father!

Salvador Larocca (Marvel Comics)

Salvador Larocca (Marvel Comics)

The first arc of the Kieron Gillen-penned Darth Vader series, sees Darth Vader’s search for the name of the pilot who destroyed the Death Star and put him on the hot seat with the Emperor. It is within this this series that Vader discovers that the Skywalker name did not end with him and that Palpatine lied to him about his children dying with Padme. This knowledge not only drives Vader to track down Luke, but also sets in motion his plans to usurp the Emperor. The power of knowledge and deceit drives the political thriller aspect of Darth Vader and deepens Vader’s struggle to convert his son to the dark side and his eventual fullment of the prophecy in Episode V and VI. Gillen’s Darth Vader is like Game of Thrones meets The Manchurian Candidate and it couldn’t provide a more carefully plotted examination of one of our most famous villains.

The Doctor is in.

Salvador Larocca (Marvel Comics)

Salvador Larocca (Marvel Comics)

Hands down, the best new character addition to the Star Wars universe via the comics is Doctor Aphra, a rogue archaeologist and collector of lost weapons who’s basically like a nega-Indiana Jones. She allies herself with Darth Vader early on in Gillen’s series and proves to be a formidable villain unlike any other we’ve seen so far in this galaxy partly because of her genius and partly because she contributes to a much needed gender balance within this universe. Her dark sense of humor, talkative nature, and sociopathic tendencies make her the perfect foil to Vader’s brooding silence and blunt responses. Aphra is instantly likeable, so much so that it’s almost easy to forget that she’s a villain…until she brutally kills someone. Aided by Triple Zero and BT-1 (sadistic versions of Threepio and R2-D2), Aphra is the character to watch in on the comics side of things. We may know they rest of these characters end-up, but Aphra is a wild card which makes her all the more fascinating.

Currently Collected Editions:

Star Wars vol. 1: Skywalker Strikes (#1-#6)

Star Wars vol. 2: Showdown on Smuggler’s Moon (#7-#12)

Star Wars- Darth Vader vol. 1: Vader (#1-#6)

Star Wars- Darth Vader vol. 2: Shadows and Secrets (#7-#12)

Star Wars- Vader Down (Star Wars #13-#14, Darth Vader #13-#15)

Happy reading and may the force be with you!

Featured Image: John Cassaday (Marvel Comics)