Are you trying to find a guide to reading Star Wars comic books online? You’ve come to the right place. And obviously -- Do. Or do not. There is no try.
Lucas Film just released the second teaser for Star Wars VII. My wife and I found ourselves tearing up as we watched it on her ipad, demonstrating that nostalgia is the only thing stronger than the Force. We are of the generation that first saw Star Wars in a theater in the 70’s. We remember a time before Star Wars existed and yet it has always been the background myth of our lives as we grew up. What Gilgamesh was to Mesopotamians or Siegfried and Brunhilde to Germans, Luke, Han and Leia are to us.
Timed with the release of the teaser, Marvel Comics has added a ton of Star Wars related comic books to their digital comics service Marvel Unlimited. These comic books span a period from the 90’s to the present in which Dark Horse Comics started spinning up stories from the Star Wars expanded mythology (many based on the books) that fill in gaps left by the movies as well as extending the storyline beyond Star Wars VI. In 2015, Disney, which owns both the Star Wars franchise as well as Marvel Comics, moved the Star Wars publication rights from Dark Horse Comics to Marvel Comics, which is apparently how these classic Dark Horse comics are now appearing online.
accessing the digital comics
If you want to know what happens in Star Wars after the battle of Endor (but before J. J. Abrams retcons over it) then this is your opportunity. You can even do it for free if you want. Go to the Marvel Unlimited website and enter the promotion code starwars to get one free month – though I’d recommend skipping this and getting an annual subscription for $69. Marvel Unlimited has a decent web interface, but the best way to use the service is with the iPad app.
(Scott Hanselman has a good but critical review of the service written in 2011 that deserves to be read. It’s worth mentioning, though, that the service as well as the UX have greatly improved over the past four years.)
Once you have your subscription your main problem is going to be seeing the trees for the forest. There are thousands of comics in the Marvel catalog and they tend to be listed in alphabetical order. This is sensible, but not particularly helpful if you want to read the continuing Star Wars saga in mythologically chronological order. Additionally, while Marvel is offering large chunks of the Star Wars graphic novel canon, there are pieces missing. This is an additional difficulty in trying to get the full story straight.
reading in the correct order
While there are lots of comics available through the subscription that are contemporaneous with the events in the movies, in this post I’m just going to try to help you to read the Star Wars comics being offered through Marvel Unlimited in the correct order starting just after the battle of Endor.
The first comic of the New Republic Era available is Star Wars: Boba Fett – Twin Engines of Destruction (1997) -- I’m using the titles as they are listed in the “browse” tab of the Marvel Unlimited app and including the year to highlight the difference between the chronology and the publication order. I’m also heavily indebted to Wookieepedia (you read it right) for all the correct timeline information.
The story picks up with what is known as the Thrawn Trilogy. In Marvel Unlimited, these are cataloged under three different series of about 5 comics each:
Star Wars: Heir to the Empire (1995 – 1996)
Star Wars: Dark Force Rising (1997)
Star Wars: The Last Command (1997 – 1998)
This leads us into the Dark Empire Trilogy in which the emperor turns out not to be as dead as he could be. Dark Horse’s first Dark Empire series is also in many ways what first made the Star Wars comics attractive as a vector for transmitting expanded universe stories. A few comics slip in between Dark Empire II and Empire’s End of which only the Boba Fett story is currently available on MU.
Star Wars: Dark Empire (1991 – 1992)
Star Wars: Dark Empire II (1994 – 1995)
Star Wars: Boba Fett – Agent of Doom (2000)
Star Wars: Empire’s End (1995)
Boba Fett grew as a character mainly because he had an awesome costume and fans just wanted to see more of it. The same could be said of the main character in the next two series. Crimson Empire follows the exploits of one of Emperor Palpatine’s elite bodyguards.
Star Wars: Crimson Empire (1997)
Star Wars: Crimson Empire II – Council of Blood (1998-1999)
The Chewbacca series (2000) is a commemorative four issue run with stories told by Chewbacca’s friends because he is dead at this point in the Star Wars chronology (::sniff::) which will be overwritten by J. J. Abrams faster than you can unsay “Kaaahhhhhn” as J. J. retcons the expanded Star Wars universe.
At this point we leap a century forward and get into the Star Wars: Legacy comics where we follow the adventures of Cade Skywalker, Ania Solo and lots of other people with familiar-but-not-quite-right sounding names. MU lists three collections in the browse tab.
Star Wars Legacy (2006-2010) – 50 issues!
Star Wars: Legacy – War (2010 – 2011) – six issues
Star Wars: Legacy (2013 – 2014) [aka Star Wars: Legacy II] – 18 issues
then what … ?
And that’s as far as it goes for now. If you need more to read, you can go back in time and start pounding the 55 issues of Knights of the Old Republic digital comics which will provide the Jedi back story from thousands of years before the movies. On the other hand, you might also want to branch out and see what else MU has to offer. Here’s some other books on Marvel Unlimited that I would highly recommend.
Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD #1 (1968)
This single issue written and illustrated by legend Jim Steranko changed the game in comic books. Even as pop art was bringing high art low, Steranko lifted the comic book genre and opened the possibility to start considering comics an art form – or as we prefer to say today, start considering “graphic novels” an art form.
Marvel 1602 (2002-2003)
While there have been many takes on alternate Marvel timelines, Neil Gaiman’s turn with these eight issues is one of the most interesting. He imagines the classic Marvel heroes finding their place in 17th century Europe.
In the 70’s, Marvel experimented with making Erich von Daniken’s Chariots of the Gods the basis for a comic book and had mixed success. Decades later, Neil Gaiman came along and wrote a seven issue series based on the earlier work to create an amazing story of aliens turning ancient humans into super heroes for their own mysterious purpose. The aliens in question, by the way, happen to be the Celestials who are part of the back story for James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy movie. See – everything ties together in the Marvel universe.
Guardians of the Galaxy (2008)
The comics are as good as the movie. There are a few more characters and the ones you know are slightly different. Rocket and Groot are the same, though. This run of the comics basically revives a bunch of Silver Age characters, modernizes them and throws them together to amazing effect.
Annihilation: Conquest – Starlord (2007)
But if you want to do it right and find out how Peter Quill aka Starlord first meets Rocket, Groot and Bug (who’s Bug you ask?) then you might want to also read the four issues of Annihilation: Conquest – Starlord which is just a part of the much bigger Marvel space event called Annihilation: Conquest. Really, all of Annihilation: Conquest is worth reading because then you’ll get to know more about Quasar, Ronan the Accuser, the Heralds of Galactus, and the Nova Corps.
Annihilation (2006 – 2007)
But if you really really want to do it right, then you’ll read the Annihilation comic event before you read either Annihilation: Conquest or Guardians of the Galaxy. This is where Peter Quill first gets retconned into the contemporary world. In the case that you are fully committing to the effort, the correct order for reading most of the back story for the Guardians movie would be:
Annihilation Prologue (2006), Annihilation (2006 – 2007), Annihilation: Quasar / Annihilation: Nova / Annihilation: Ronan / Annihilation: Silver Surfer / Annihilation: Super Skrull [these are all overlapping series], Annihilation: Conquest Prologue (2007), Annihilation: Conquest (2007), Annihilation: Conquest – Quasar / Annihilation: Conquest – Starlord / Annihilation: Conquest – Wraith / Annihilation: Conquest – Heralds of Galactus, Guardians of the Galaxy (2008), The Thanos Imperative: Ignition (2010), The Thanos Imperative (2010), The Thanos Imperative: Devastation (2010).
It’s totally worth it.
Agents of Atlas (2006 -- 2007)
Agents of Atlas, like Guardians of the Galaxy, is an instance of Marvel retconning characters that were abandoned in the 50’s and brought together for a series in the 00’s. Interestingly, this is the second time they have been retconned. The first time was in a What If? one-off from the 70’s. FBI agent Jimmy Woo leads a rag-tag team of super-powered beings against the nefarious criminal organization known as the Atlas Foundation. His team includes Namora of Atlantis, the goddess Venus, Marvel Boy the Uranian, Gorilla Man and M-11 the robot. Chronologically in the Marvel universe, Jimmy Woo’s team is actually considered the original Avengers formed to rescue President Dwight Eisenhower from the clutches of Atlas and then later mysteriously disbanded. This series of six issues from 2006 uncovers what really happened to the team. Another series of 11 issues of Agents of Atlas was released in 2009, which was followed up in 2010 by a five issue series simply titled Atlas.
Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E.
A twelve issue S.H.I.E.L.D. parody written by comic legend Warren Ellis and beautifully drawn by Stuart Immonen. Super powered heroes discover that they aren’t working for the good guys after all, but that their organization are actually the baddies. They decide to do something about it. Ellis said of the series, “It's an absolute distillation of the superhero genre. No plot lines, characters, emotions, nothing whatsoever. It's people posing in the street for no good reason.”
Runaways (2003 -- 2004)
Misfit, middle-class teenagers discover that their parents really are evil after all when they accidentally witness them performing a human sacrifice to Elder Gods. They also come to discover that, like their super-villain parents, they possess super powers.
Journey Into Mystery (2011)
The god of mischief Loki is dead but a young boy appears claiming to be Loki reborn. He struggles however because, being Loki, everybody hates him and nobody trusts him. Written by Kieron Gillen, this is the story of how Loki attempts to redeem himself. It is by turns hilarious and heart breaking. Start with issue #622 if you can and try to at least get to issue #645 which wraps up the Loki story.
Secret Avengers #20 (2010)
The entire Secret Avengers series is great. I would especially recommend that you read issue #20 which follows a single storyline in the life of Natalia Romanov, aka Black Widow.
Marvel Zombies (2005-2006)
Marvel Unlimited gives you every variation on Marvel zombies you could possibly want, from the original series to the five follow ups to Marvel Zombies Christmas Carol to Marvel Zombies vs. Marvel Apes. I recommend at least having a taste of the first five issue run.
Secret Warriors (2008 -- 2011)
In the first comic of this 28 issue run, Nick Fury of S.H.I.E.L.D. discovers that for his entire career, his arch enemy Hydra (“Hail Hydra!”) has been secretly controlling S.H.I.E.L.D. itself. The last 60 years of secret wars have been a farce scripted by the Nazi Baron Strucker. (This is actually the basis for the storyline in the film Winter Soldier as well as the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV series.) But Nick doesn’t give up. Instead, he pulls together a team to take Hydra down once and for all.