Star Wars: Best of 2016

StarWars.com's writers discuss the highlights of a year that will be long-remembered.

If 2015 was the year that Star Wars took its first steps into a new era, 2016 was the year it took a giant leap. Star Wars Rebels reached new heights, Marvel continued its incredible run of critically-acclaimed series, and the first stand-alone Star Wars movie was released. It was a year of risks and experiments and surprises; in other words, it was a year very true to the spirit of Star Wars. Here are reflections by StarWars.com’s writers.

Star Wars Celebration 2016

Going Rogue and Meeting a New Rebels Villain at Star Wars Celebration

Star Wars Celebration Europe brought together fans from all over the world. Like every Celebration, there was no shortage of amazing exclusives to see and hear. Gwendoline Christie, Captain Phasma herself, hosted an incredible Rogue One panel that brought us Ben Mendelsohn marching out on stage in full Director Krennic regalia, a behind-the-scenes sizzle reel, and an exclusive trailer. As she came on stage, though, she called for a moment of silence to honor the victims of the attack in Nice, which had just happened, and I’ll never forget the emotional and rousing rendition of the French national anthem in that room. It was the first thing that weekend that made me cry.

The weekend was incredible and emotional enough, but then Dave Filoni brought Grand Admiral Thrawn to the world of Star Wars Rebels in one of the most Earth-shattering moments I’ve ever witnessed at a Celebration. The audience was gobsmacked, roaring to an almost immediate standing ovation. And then when it was announced that Timothy Zahn would be writing a Thrawn book? Just a massive reaction that you had to be in the room to truly feel and understand. Add to that stages hosted by Warwick Davis, David Collins, and Amy Ratcliffe, and things like live podcasts, behind-the-scenes panels, and thousands of the best fans ever, and you had one of the best celebrations of a galaxy far, far away that we’ve ever had. – Bryan Young

ahsoka-vs-vader

Ahsoka and Vader Clash in Star Wars Rebels‘ Classic Season Two

I know I’m supposed to pick a “best of” moment, but I really can’t pick just one. So I’m picking an episode. The Star Wars Rebels Season Two finale, “Twilight of the Apprentice,” is not only the best episode of the series to date, but I think it’s one of my favorite Star Wars stories ever. Season Two took its time in the build up to the finale, kind of like going up the biggest hill of a roller coaster with that clackclackclack of anticipation. You know something’s coming, but you don’t really feel it until the drop — and you feel that drop all the way down.

From the very beginning of the season, we knew Ahsoka and Vader were going to face off and we knew that Vader made it out alive. So what did that mean for Ahsoka? We didn’t know. I watched that entire episode clutching a pillow, sometimes crying, sometimes cheering, sometimes shouting at the TV for Ezra not to trust Maul — and it’s like that every time I watch the episode. Every single time. – Geek Girl Diva

ahsoka-cover-06-17-final

Star Wars Books Tell Untold Tales and Lead Into Rogue One

There’s been a lot of great reads out there in the world of Star Wars publishing, and a lot of them have focused in on stepping up and filling in some of those burning questions that aren’t answered in the films and television shows.

The novel Bloodline by Claudia Gray brought Princess Leia to the forefront as she has her political career come crashing down, only to start forging the seeds of the Resistance. Gray’s novel from Del Rey melds great characters, action, and political intrigue together as hidden forces tug at the levers that could pull the Senate apart, leaving it too divided to focus on a coming threat: the First Order. One scene that has stuck with me was set in the immediate aftermath of the political attack that sinks Leia’s candidacy for the position of First Senator. Senator Organa realizes that the bombshell revelation has not only cost her career, but also friendships as even her own aide, Korr Sella, feels betrayed enough to abandon her. Talk about intense!

Ahsoka, by E.K. Johnston, meanwhile, delivers a key chapter in the life of former Jedi Ahsoka Tano: switching from laying low after her exit in The Clone Wars to becoming Fulcrum, as seen in Star Wars Rebels. Johnston captures Ahsoka’s voice skillfully as she realizes that she can hide no longer from a growing Empire in this young adult novel from Disney–Lucasfilm Press. While there’s a lot of great scenes, I think my favorite is when Ahsoka faces off against an Inquisitor — with no lightsabers.

And recently released, the Rogue One lead-in novel from Del Rey, Catalyst, by James Luceno serves as a keen look at the characters and relationships that drive the plot of the film. Scientist Galen Erso is caught between powerful figures: his friend, the ambitious and manipulative Orson Krennic, and his wife (and Jyn’s mother), Lyra Erso, who is piecing together the bigger picture. Krennic’s a master at lining up shots against his enemies and rivals, and while he manages to keep Tarkin out of the picture, his menacing showdown with Lyra near the climax of this thriller sets the stage for a final game of cat and mouse. – James Floyd

The Star Wars Show

Enter The Star Wars Show!

One of the best things about being a Star Wars fan is the community. There’s no shortage of websites, boards, podcasts, or video series that celebrate anything from the latest movie trailer to the most arcane story detail imaginable. Part of the Star Wars magic is making fans feel like they’re part of the magic, and that’s something Star Wars has excelled at since its very beginnings. This past year was no different, as the launching of The Star Wars Show gave hosts Andi Gutierrez and Peter Townley a fun and entertaining platform to provide fans behind-the-scenes access with insightful chats, including talks with Pablo Hidalgo, Dave Filoni, and other Star Wars movers and shakers. (And really, check out the Holiday Special if you haven’t seen it already.) Similarly, Rebels Recon remained a must-visit destination for breaking down each Rebels episode (who wasn’t feverishly refreshing their browsers after Twilight of the Apprentice aired?). And, to toot our own Ewok war horn here at StarWars.com, we continued to generate in-depth interviews (see the latest, with the legendary Doug Chiang discussing Rogue One), quizzes, guest posts, debate pieces, editorials, and a variety of articles that covered every aspect of the galaxy far, far away.

As the Star Wars community continues to grow, so do the avenues available to deepen the experience of being a fan — and it might be the best time ever to be one. – Michael Moreci

Rey

Rey Changes the Fandom Landscape

The release of The Force Awakens ignited the fire of Star Wars fandom and made it burn even brighter. A new film meant the ranks of fandom would probably expand, but the world truly seemed to love The Force Awakens — and many of us got to experience the joy of being alongside friends and relatives as they took their first steps into a larger world. Maybe its biggest impact was that fans new and old connected to Episode VII’s lead character, Rey. In her, I saw a sense of optimism and determination that I remembered when I needed to get through trying times. I wasn’t alone in relating to her. Rey costumes became the star of the convention scene and Halloween this year, with all ages and genders stepping into her scavenger gear. I regularly spot young girls dressed as Rey at Disneyland, and they are always excited to tell me about why she’s their favorite character. They like her for her fight moves, her bravery, and her hair — but especially that she wields a lightsaber. They see themselves in her, and I get it, because so do I. Rey’s led the charge into this new era of Star Wars, and I’m following wherever she goes — and so are thousands of other fans. – Amy Ratcliffe

freemaker-adventures

More Star Wars for Younglings

This year was a great one for young Star Wars fans (or those of us who still unashamedly enjoy stuff meant for kids). Star Wars targeted honest-to-goodness kids in a big way this year, and it was grand. Just ask my little Padawans. Not only did Star Wars Rebels come back for a thrilling third season (with Thrawn!), but we were also treated to the insanely fun new LEGO Star Wars: The Freemaker Adventures. It’s hard to believe that a majority of the toys and action figures for The Force Awakens came out at the beginning of this year, and with Rogue One merch on shelves now, 2016 will go down as the year that brought a tidal wave of Rey and Jyn Erso toys into my home. And since they were just the frosting on top of a delicious cake of Galactic Heroes toys, Nerf weapons, and Hot Wheels vehicles, it was a good year for toys. Not to mention games and books. Between the surprisingly deep LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens video game, Landry Q. Walker’s wildly entertaining Aliens book of tales, and E.K. Johnston’s long-awaited Ahsoka novel, young fans were kept busily immersed in our favorite galaxy for much of the year. And that’s the heartwarming memory I’ll take away from this year. – Jamie Greene

force-awakens-3d-3-sm

The Force Awakens Leads a Rathtar-Like Charge of Home Video Releases

The days when fans had to wait half a decade for the latest Star Wars epic to land on home video are long gone. Just 110 days passed between the cinematic release of The Force Awakens and its first landing in homes across the planet. As befits the biggest film of all time in North America, it was released in a variety of different packages. Target gave us their combo pack which contained exclusive content not found anywhere else, while the Walmart exclusive gave away a Topps Galactic Connexions disc. Best Buy released an attractive steel book and Disney Store’s Blu-ray combo included a limited edition lithograph. But there was more Force Awakens goodness to come: this fall saw the arrival of the 3D Collector’s Edition. The set contains the film’s original theatrical release on 3D Blu-ray, Blu-ray, Digital HD, and DVD, as well as being loaded with deleted scenes, interviews, and a new commentary from director J.J. Abrams. For fans of the saga it’s a golden era with fresh content arriving at a dizzying pace and collectors of home video releases have some real treats to track down. There was even more great Star Wars to bring home this year, however, and for fans of all-ages. LEGO Star Wars: Droid Tales, The Freemaker Adventures, and Star Wars Rebels have all hit home video this year with new releases. And to think, next year we’ll be watching Rogue One in the comfort of our own homes. – Mark Newbold

Darth Vader

Villains Rule in Star Wars Comics

2016 proved to be the year of the big bad in Star Wars comics. Most notable was the conclusion of the Stan Lee Excelsior-award winning Darth Vader by Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larocca. Gillen and Larocca had a daunting task: character progression for (arguably) one of the most important villains in popular culture while keeping the climax of Return of the Jedi intact. In other words, only Luke has an <ahem> hand in Vader’s redemption, so how do you show growth in the main character? To put it simply, you hire Gillen and Larocca.

Vader wasn’t the only baddie to make a splash. Grakkus the Hutt left a mark in the pages of Charles Soule and Phil Noto’s Poe Dameron, and whether it’s because we first saw him buffed out in Jason Aaron’s Star Wars, or because we can’t get enough of those slimy, worm-ridden Hutts, he proved to be an excellent adversary for the best pilot in the galaxy. Aaron’s aforementioned Star Wars brought a new brand of stormtrooper, the Scar Squadron, led by lightsaber-wielding Seargent Kreel. This fearsome group is real trouble for the trio of Han Solo, Princess Leia, and Luke Skywalker, with obstacles around every corner. With each new issue, the Star Wars titles continued to show us why the best villains are featured in a galaxy far, far away. Plus, Doctor Aphra (not quite a villain, but not really hero) has stepped out into her own ongoing series — maybe the biggest Star Wars comics news of the year, and deservedly so. Of all Marvel’s many contributions to Star Wars thus far, she might be the greatest. – Dan Zehr

jyn-erso-battlefront

Advances in Technology Change What a Star Wars Video Game Can Be

2016 was a great year for Star Wars games. LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens allowed us to relive all our favorite movie scenes from the film with developer Traveler’s Tales typically adorable and witty take. While the LEGO Star Wars franchise is several releases deep, the established formula nonetheless continues to please, with gorgeous looking environments that can’t help but make you want to bust out the LEGO toys the second you’re done playing.

VR also came onto the scene in a big way in 2016 with the landmark Rogue One: X-Wing VR Mission, which gets you closer than ever before to the ships and world of Star Wars. Piloting an X-Wing in this manner feels immersive in a way not previously thought possible. Honestly, unless you’ve tried it, there’s no way to really fully understand just how enveloping and life-like these games can feel. If the technology continues to be developed and supported, then fans will find themselves living in the Star Wars universe on a whole other level.

Likewise, 2016 also saw awesome support for the great games released in the previous years. The mobile Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes continues to see new content on a regular cadence, giving players access to more and more characters. There was the Star Wars: The Old Republic – Knights of the Eternal Throne expansion and THAT trailer. The real powerhouse of the year, though, was Star Wars Battlefront, which has consistently seen downloadable content that vastly expanded its portrayal of the Star Wars universe. Indeed, Battlefront consistently hit release dates throughout 2016 that gave players reason to come back again and again, making it easy to forget it wasn’t actually released this year.

The original game launched with several playable characters, but 2016 added fan favorites such as the bounty hunter Dengar and the lovable scoundrel Lando Calrissian, as well as new playable environments such as Bespin and Jabba’s Palace on Tatooine. Seeing these environments in the films is as enchanting as ever, but getting to pound down the halls of Cloud City or get eaten by a rancor in the dingy dungeons of Jabba’s Palace gives players a chance to explore and experience them as places rather than just scenes.

This release cadence culminated right before the year’s end with the anticipated release of Rogue One, which introduced the new Scarif expansion to Battlefront, giving players the chance to experience the weapons, vehicles, and heroes of the film through the visceral combat of this fantastic first-person shooter. If after watching the newest film you find yourself dreaming of wielding a blaster and taking on the Empire — or wielding the iron first of the Emperor as a stormtrooper — then there’s no better game past-or-present to turn to than Star Wars Battlefront. – Anthony Gallegos

rogue-one-recon-02

ILMxLAB’s Dazzling VR Experiences

The world building of Star Wars got a virtual upgrade this year with a host of truly immersive experiences that put fans at the helm of an X-wing, at the heart of the Rebellion, and in league with the Jedi. The creative minds at ILMxLAB are using cutting-edge VR technology to catch up with the imaginations of kids (and adults) who spent years fantasizing about being a part of the Star Wars universe. Mixed reality components, like a headset for 360-degree views and handheld controllers, complete the feeling of holding a lightsaber to deflect blaster fire. Initial forays — Jakku Spy and Trials on Tatooine — turned living rooms into the twin sand planets with astromech droids to serve as their guides, but the latest, Rogue One: Recon, is a complete departure that puts fans in the helmet of an X-wing pilot. One minute you’re hurtling through space on a routine scouting mission with the Rebels, the next the whole thing goes sideways and you’re battling the Empire, swooping beneath a Star Destroyer, and catching a glimpse of the dreaded Death Star. Narrative storytelling and interactive gaming gain a fresh emotional intensity exploring this part of the saga, falling in the timeline just before Rogue One. Next up, screenwriter David Goyer will collaborate with ILMxLAB for a 360-experience centered around Darth Vader, which promises to once again stretch the bounds of interactive storytelling. Just keep reminding yourself: I am one with the Force. The Force is with me. – Kristin Baver

Star Wars: Rogue One L to R: Actors Riz Ahmed, Diego Luna, Felicity Jones, Jiang Wen and Donnie Yen Photo Credit: Jonathan Olley ©Lucasfilm 2016

Rogue One, the First Star Wars Stand-Alone Movie, Arrives

I had the honor of interviewing Gareth Edwards early on in the production of what would become Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. While talking to him, it was clear to me that he loved Star Wars (he even went to Lars homestead set from the original Star Wars for his 30th birthday) and that he knew what made it great. But it was his view of how to make a Star Wars movie that made me really excited. Edwards clearly believed in pushing things forward and taking chances while remaining true to what Star Wars is at its core. Without spoiling Rogue One, I think that’s why the film is so successful.

It’s a Star Wars film through and through, but it’s a new kind of Star Wars film. It’s a down-in-the-trenches war movie and it’s gritty. Yet it’s not empty grit, and the threat of violence is not there for kicks. These are people fighting for something, which we understand from frame one. And still, there’s a real sense of fun and humor and rising to meet life’s challenges, no matter the cost — an emotional backbone that the best Star Wars stories always have. The designs blend new ships and creatures and villains with the old, and the visual effects are a leap in what we thought was possible. Even the concept of a Star Wars movie outside the Skywalker saga was a risk. All of this is what makes Star Wars what it is, and Rogue One is an exceptional addition to that legacy. – Dan Brooks

What were your Star Wars highlights for 2016? Let us know in the comments below!

TAGS: