Part of the challenge of writing fiction within a franchise is an author’s creation of original characters. For a franchise like Star Wars, original characters need to feel as real and relatable as the big names like Luke Skywalker, Leia Organa, Han Solo, and Lando Calrissian. Since the Expanded Universe was jettisoned in 2014, many authors have had a chance to make their mark on the new Star Wars canon, with stories and characters that they created in conjunction with the Lucasfilm Story Group. Here’s a rundown of the most memorable characters from recent novels and comic books.
Darth Vader: Dr. Aphra
Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca‘s Darth Vader comic series has maintained a tight focus on the sinister Sith Lord, as he vies for renewed favor with the Emperor in the wake of the disastrous Battle of Yavin from Episode IV: A New Hope. To rebuild his reputation, Vader must operate outside the jurisdiction of the Galactic Empire, as he seeks to establish private resources — namely, a personal army of battle droids. To that end, Vader turns to a young archaeologist named Aphra.
It goes without saying that if you’re looking for job security, you don’t want to be Darth Vader’s private contractor. Still, Aphra has an inner grit that helps her survive her line of work. She has no illusions about the fact that her usefulness to Vader determines her future. As a witty archaeologist, she has a distinct Indiana Jones vibe. She’s also an Asian character, adding to the growing diversity within Star Wars.
After becoming a prisoner of the Rebel Alliance during the Vader Down crossover, Aphra escapes during the Rebel Jail story. The final arc of the Darth Vader series, entitled End of Games, promises to show whether Aphra can continue to be an ally to Vader — or whether she is a liability that requires termination. Whatever her fate, Aphra is evidence that not even a Sith Lord can take on the entire galaxy alone.
Shattered Empire: Shara Bey
Shattered Empire, written by Greg Rucka and pencilled by both Marco Checchetto and Angel Unzueta, unexpectedly became one of my favorite comic books of all time. The mini-series’ protagonist is Shara Bey, an A-wing pilot in the Rebellion’s Green Squadron, who — alongside her husband, Sergeant Kes Dameron of Han Solo’s Pathfinders — represents an ordinary citizen taking up arms to defend what she believes is right. Her memorability stems not from the fact that she’s the mother of Black Leader Poe Dameron, but from her dedication to her friends and family.
Shara serves as a foil for the Skywalker twins, as she goes on rollicking missions with both Leia Organa and Luke Skywalker. The theme that drives Shattered Empire is loyalty, specifically Shara’s yearing to leave behind the Galactic Civil War. War destroys families in different ways, and Shara is determined not to be separated from her own family. Whatever your views on the morality of war, Shara’s adventures in Shattered Empire tie into the question of what a war is worth fighting for.
Twilight Company: Hazram Namir and Everi Chalis
Alexander Freed’s first full-length novel, Battlefront: Twilight Company, introduced a rarity in fiction: a male-and-female pair of protagonists who weren’t romantically linked. Sergeant Hazram Namir hails from the war-torn world of Crucival, and serves as a recruiter within the Rebellion’s Twilight Company. Everi Chalis, the so-called Grand Architect of the New Order, is the Imperial governor of Haidoral Prime who defects to the Rebellion after losing her planet to Twilight Company.
Over time, both Namir and Chalis find their roles shifting, particularly in the wake of the Rebellion’s defeat at the Battle of Hoth from Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. Namir becomes the commanding officer of Twilight Company, while Chalis serves as a consultant and de facto co-leader of the unit. Both characters are unique because their identities conflict with their roles: Namir isn’t politically knowledgeable and cares nothing for the Rebellion’s goals, while Chalis overestimates her importance to the Empire and erroneously believes that Darth Vader will come hunting for her.
Namir and Chalis thus form an odd partnership, as they are cut off from the rest of the Rebellion’s forces and target strategic Imperial locations across the galaxy. The gritty-and-grounded tone of the novel is one of its biggest strengths, which will probably evoke the theme of the upcoming film Rogue One. Regardless of whether you’re a fan of the Battlefront game series, Twilight Company is definitely worth a read.
Bloodline: Senator Ransolm Casterfo
Speaking of odd partnerships, Claudia Gray introduced one in her recent novel, Bloodline. Six years before Episode VII: The Force Awakens, Leia Organa is a leading New Republic senator and a member of the Populists, a political party that believes in self-governance for the New Republic’s member worlds. Gray partners Leia with Senator Ransolm Casterfo, a rising star within the Centrists, who believe that a central government should maintain law and order, as well as a stronger military. As a result, there’s endless bickering between the Populists and Centrists, which blatantly evokes the rancor of the current American political system and election season.
What makes Casterfo interesting is that even though his generation is too young to understand what life under the Empire was like, he believes in an Empire without Palpatine as its leader. In his mind, the only problem with the Empire was Palpatine’s corruption, a perspective that Leia sees as naïve. Despite their conflicting views, Leia and Casterfo establish a rapport — across party lines, no less — that enables them to unearth a conspiracy within the heart of the New Republic. The First Order is taking shape within the Centrists, and yet it’s surprising that Casterfo isn’t part of it.
One of the primary themes of Bloodline is generations. Leia fights to remain relevant to galactic affairs while wondering whether it’s time to resign from politics. Casterfo, as a political upstart, seeks to do what he believes is right, without being bogged down by the mire of politics. The bridge between Leia’s and Casterfo’s generations is one of the main attractions of Bloodline. (Along with, you know, a Vader-sized secret.)
A New Dawn and Aftermath: Admiral Rae Sloane
The final entry in this list is a character who has become a mainstay of the new Star Wars canon. When readers are introduced to her in John Jackson Miller‘s A New Dawn, Rae Sloane is a captain in the Imperial Navy and the interim commander of the Star Destroyer Ultimatum. As a member of the generation nicknamed the “New Imperials,” Sloane is a rare example of an Imperial officer who isn’t a white male. She serves the Empire because she believes in it, and while she isn’t adverse to furthering her own naval career, she has a palpable sense of honor — for an Imperial, at least.
Sloane proved so popular that she’s been featured in two short stories: “Orientation,” which details her career as a cadet, and “The Levers of Power,” which showcased her service at the Battle of Endor from Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. Since then, Sloane has become part of the main cast of Chuck Wendig‘s Aftermath Trilogy, which details the early beginnings of the Empire’s transformation into the First Order. In Aftermath, Sloane is seen reporting to a mysterious fleet admiral who, like all unnamed characters, will remain mysterious until his identity is revealed. Until then, the next installment, entitled Aftermath: Life Debt, will have to satisfy Star Wars fans wanting more of Sloane.