Lucasfilm and Disney might have reset the Expanded Universe (that giant collection of novels, comic books, short stories, and videogames) in 2014, but it hasn’t been until this past September that the 30-year gap in between Episode VI: Return of the Jedi and Episode VII: The Force Awakens was started to be filled in. Officially called “Journey to The Force Awakens,” the initiative has, thus far, comprised five books, one comic series, five short stories, and two videogames, with much more already scheduled to be on the way once the film releases on December 18.

That’s a lot of time – not to mention money – to devote to that galaxy far, far away, and we understand that not many of you will have either the resources or the desire to make the investment. That’s why we’ve done it for you.

Below is a complete breakdown of everything that’s been published by Lucasfilm in its efforts to build up to the paradigm-changer that is Episode VII, which has ranged from the more subtle (hinting at storylines that eventually come to fruition in the sequel trilogy) to the more direct (introducing characters that will appear, even if only in the background, in the new movie). And don’t worry — we most certainly don’t venture into spoiler territory in our summary of the changes that have affected everyone’s favorite galaxy across the past three decades.

The breakdown

Perhaps taking a cue from its sister company, Marvel Studios, “Journey to The Force Awakens“ has been broken up into several phases, with the first having started on September 4 (that’s Force Friday, if you’ll recall) and ending on December 1. This has been, by far, the biggest chunk of the publishing program, and it’s beneficial to do just a quick overview of what’s already out there and where all our information is coming from.

Star Wars Shattered Empire cover Star Wars: The Complete Guide to The Force Awakens’ Backstory

Shattered Empire
Format: Four-issue comic book miniseries
Timeframe: Three months after the original trilogy
Release date: 09.09.15 – 10.21.15

Shattered Empire follows A-wing fighter pilot Shara Bey, the mother of young Poe Dameron (one of the three new leads in The Force Awakens), as she fights in the Battle of Endor up until she musters out of the service three months later to return home to her family. During that time, she has key encounters with all the main characters from the original trilogy in which she helps run diplomatic missions that lead to the formation of the New Republic and, even, helps Luke Skywalker make preparations for the re-starting of the Jedi Order.

aftermath complete guide to the force awakens backstory Star Wars: The Complete Guide to The Force Awakens’ Backstory

Aftermath
Format: Novel
Timeframe: Six months after the original trilogy
Release date: 09.04.15

In an attempt to right the sinking Imperial ship and plot out a new future, several high-ranking Imperials – ranging from an admiral to one of Emperor Palpatine’s personal advisors – hold a summit on the distant jungle planet of Akiva. The just-formed New Republic, however, is tipped off about the plot and moves to either capture or eliminate the Empire’s leftover leadership.

In “interludes” set on several different planets all across the galaxy (including audience’s very first glimpse at Jakku), readers learn what the overall response to the Emperor’s death is – along with getting some hints at new factions and conflicts that will arise in the years to come.

uprising complete guide to the force awakens backstory Star Wars: The Complete Guide to The Force Awakens’ Backstory

Uprising
Format: Mobile game
Timeframe: Six months after the original trilogy
Release date: 09.10.15

Using one of Aftermath‘s interludes as its starting-off point, Uprising is set in the Anoat sector (home to Hoth, Bespin, and Burnin Konn) and tells of how its Imperial governor, Adelhard, attempts to erect an Iron Blockade and keep the events of the greater galaxy out. Players create their characters, join up with other users, and attempt to liberate the sector from tyranny.

The free-to-play game’s developer, Kabam, has said that it has enough material to seed throughout the experience to potentially cover the entire 30-year period leading up to Episode VII, depending on audience demand.

lost stars complete guide to the force awakens backstory Star Wars: The Complete Guide to The Force Awakens’ Backstory

Lost Stars
Format: Young adult novel
Timeframe: One year after the original trilogy
Release date: 09.04.15

Lost Stars is a unique title in the Star Wars canon: it starts 11 years before Episode IV: A New Hope, runs all the way through the entirety of the original trilogy, and finally ends one year after Return of the Jedi. The story revolves around two young, optimistic, and promising Imperial cadets, Thane Kyrell and Ciena Ree, as their relationship grows from friendship to rivalry to romance. Along the way, as they learn the brutal truth of Palpatine’s New Order, one defects and joins the Rebel Alliance, making them enemies as well as lovers.

Their stories converge at the Battle of Jakku, the final conflict of the Galactic Civil War.

battlefront complete guide to the force awakens backstory Star Wars: The Complete Guide to The Force Awakens’ Backstory

Battlefront
Format: Console/PC videogame
Timeframe: One year after the original trilogy
Release date: 11.17.15

Although the main game is firmly rooted in the original trilogy, Battlefront’s first piece of downloadable content takes place during the Battle of Jakku, one year after Return of the Jedi. Since the title doesn’t have a single-player campaign mode, Jakku serves more as the background for multiplayer action instead of providing an actual narrative, but there are still one or two hints dropped about this new section of the Star Wars mythos.

Star Wars The Perfect Weapon Star Wars: The Complete Guide to The Force Awakens’ Backstory

“The Perfect Weapon”
Format: Short story
Timeframe: Shortly before The Force Awakens
Release date: 11.24.15

Each of the “Journey to The Force Awakens” short stories – currently only available as eshorts at Amazon – focuses on one specific background character from the upcoming film and provides a backstory for him or her. In some cases, specific details relevant to Episode VII are included; in most, however, the events are simply extra adventures meant to provide some depth to what are really only extras in the movie.

In “The Perfect Weapon,” readers are introduced to Bazine Netal, who has essentially taken up Boba Fett’s mantle as the greatest – and most dangerous – mercenary the galaxy has ever seen.

crimson corsair complete guide to the force awakens backstory Star Wars: The Complete Guide to The Force Awakens’ Backstory

“The Crimson Corsair and the Lost Treasure of Count Dooku”
Format: Short story
Timeframe: Shortly before The Force Awakens
Release date: 11.30.15

Sidon Ithano, nicknamed the Crimson Corsair, and his motley crew of pirates aboard the Meson Martinet race to retrieve the long-lost treasure of Count Dooku, which has suddenly appeared on the desert planet of Ponemah.

(This short is a direct sequel to Star Wars: The Clone Wars’s sixth and final season, making this a must-read for that show’s fans.)

the face of evil complete guide to the force awakens backstory Star Wars: The Complete Guide to The Force Awakens’ Backstory

“The Face of Evil”
Format: Short story
Timeframe: Shortly before The Force Awakens
Release date: 11.30.15

Ryn Biggleston, a notorious thief, seeks refuge at Maz Kanata’s castle on the forest planet of Takodana, where she crosses paths with the Dr. Frankenstein-esque pair of Frigosian cryptosurgeons named Laparo and Thromba. (Laparo, Thromba, Maz, and her castle all make an appearance in Force Awakens, for all those unaware.)

all creatures great and small complete guide to the force awakens backstory Star Wars: The Complete Guide to The Force Awakens’ Backstory

“All Creatures, Great and Small”
Format: Short story
Timeframe: Shortly before The Force Awakens
Release date: 11.30.15

Bobbajo, a member of the mysterious Nu-Cosian species, visits the remote village of Reestkii on Jaaku, which is located over 400 kilometers away from Niima Outpost, the “only settlement on the planet worth noting.” The tale reveals why many Jakkuans refer to him as either the Storyteller or the Crittermonger.

high noon jakku complete guide to the force awakens backstory Star Wars: The Complete Guide to The Force Awakens’ Backstory

“High Noon on Jakku”
Format: Short story
Timeframe: Shortly before The Force Awakens
Release date: 11.30.15

Zuvio, the no-nonsense constable of Niima Outpost, has to solve a bank heist – and survive a gunslinging showdown in the Jakku desert.

smugglers run complete guide to the force awakens backstory Star Wars: The Complete Guide to The Force Awakens’ Backstory

Smuggler’s Run: A Han Solo & Chewbacca Adventure
Format: Young adult novel
Timeframe: Shortly before The Force Awakens
Release date: 09.04.15

In the present day, some 30 years after Return of the Jedi, an old and grizzled Han Solo sits in a bar and regales a gang of young mercs with a story about the Millennium Falcon, which they hope to apprehend for some type of illicit job or another.

In the flashback of his story, we jump to the immediate aftermath of A New Hope, where we see Han Solo and Chewbacca be convinced by Princess Leia Organa to do another job for the Rebel Alliance: locate and rescue Lieutenant Caluan Ematt, the commanding officer of a special recon unit called the Shrikes, before he is captured by the Imperial Security Bureau.

the weapon of a jedi complete guide to the force awakens backstory Star Wars: The Complete Guide to The Force Awakens’ Backstory

The Weapon of a Jedi: A Luke Skywalker Adventure
Format: Young adult novel
Timeframe: Shortly before The Force Awakens
Release date: 09.04.15

At the Resistance’s base, a young X-wing pilot endures the boring job of inventorying the astromech droids stationed there when she encounters C-3PO, who is only too happy to recount an early adventure of the legendary Luke Skywalker.

The story is set several months after A New Hope and follows Luke as he locates and trains at a long-lost Jedi temple, where he is forced to use his lightsaber in combat for the very first time against Imperial agents that have tracked him there and a mysterious, dangerous scavenger named Sarco Plank (who also, it just so happens, is a background character in The Force Awakens).

moving target complete guide to the force awakens backstory Star Wars: The Complete Guide to The Force Awakens’ Backstory

Moving Target: A Princess Leia Adventure
Format: Young adult novel
Timeframe: Immediately before The Force Awakens
Release date: 09.04.15

PZ-4CO, General Leia Organa’s personal protocol droid, is interviewing the princess for her memoirs, which are being published for the benefit of the Resistance (and the rest of the galaxy, of course). Leia tells the important story of how she and Lieutenant Ematt conceived of a plan to distract the Empire from learning of the Rebel fleet’s preparations for the imminent Battle of Endor (placing the action just before Return of the Jedi, of course), but then cuts off the interview when Ematt – now a major and one of the key leaders of the Resistance – arrives to tell Leia that her protégé, Poe Dameron, has arrived at Jakku.

Which “Journey” to take?

Let’s go out on a limb and say you either can’t or just won’t purchase all 13 “Journey to The Force Awakens” titles, but you’re interested in partaking in just one or two before the film drops. That’s easy — the novel Aftermath, despite the controversy over its unusual writing style, is, by far, the singularly most important piece of the post-original trilogy time period thus far; not only does it contain the biggest cross-section of story beats and the most overall clues to Force Awakens, it also has the most crossover with the rest of the “Journey” releases (most obviously Uprising).

A close second would have to be Shattered Empire; although a quick read (as is the case with any comic book), it hits a wide array of salient plot points, and it features all of the principal characters from the original films, unlike any of the other “Journey” installments. (Though, in terms of pure writing, it’s hard to beat Smuggler’s Run, which is the closest to pure gold that “Journey to The Force Awakens” gets.)

battlefront gameplay complete guide to the force awakens backstory Star Wars: The Complete Guide to The Force Awakens’ Backstory

The ones to steer clear from, purely in terms of continuity (and certainly not in terms of construction or quality), are the two videogames. Battlefront’s Battle of Jakku DLC is multiplayer-only, meaning that the only story is just setup for the online carnage. And while Uprising is set right in the thick of “Journey to Force Awakens,” it’s more concerned – and rightly so – with the Anoat sector than with the overall state of galactic affairs, making the time-invested-to-narrative-payout ratio rather high for a limited return.

In terms of the printed content, the last four short stories are all rather poorly written and feel somewhat underdeveloped (which stands in stark contrast to the first short, “The Perfect Weapon”). Although only two or three dollars per pop, they still come across as not quite delivering their money’s worth.

Next: Beyond Return of the Jedi

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