Revisit some weird '70s and '80s books -- remember the Hoojibs? -- that stand the test of time.
I love children’s picture books. That’s not a confession so much as it’s a statement of fact. I love them so much that I originally started blogging as a way to write about some of the amazing books I was reading to my kids every night. I’ve written extensively about picture books on numerous sites, and I’ve interviewed most of my favorite authors and illustrators (including quite a few legends) about what drives them creatively. And now here I am, talking about Star Wars books to you. I can’t deny it: I’m spreading the gospel of children’s literature as far and as wide as possible. And I love it.
I’m also a collector of vintage (1977-1985ish) Star Wars stuff, and these two passions intersect in a wonderful place. It’s true that Disney Publishing and Del Rey are putting out some phenomenally good books at the moment (including some amazing YA and kids’ books), but that’s hardly a new development. Books have always been a huge part of Star Wars. It’s true today, and it was true back when the original trilogy was brand new.
However, the biggest difference is that back then -- especially in the years before The Empire Strikes Back -- authors were flying blind. They had no idea where the story was going, and they had no idea what the true connections among the characters were. Best of all, though, is that there wasn’t anyone responsible for ensuring a single, cohesive, and consistent storyline. In short, there was no set continuity.
I say “best of all” because this almost complete lack of continuity from 1977-1983 led to some truly bizarre stories that remain some of the most “out there” stuff Star Wars has ever seen. And, believe me, it’s awesome. It’s most notably evident in the original Marvel comics run, which is notorious for its off-the-rails stories, but many children’s books of that era feature the same aimless, experimental storytelling…and it is glorious.
There are huge, gaping inconsistencies between books, and many of them contradict one another. But, honestly, who cares? We certainly didn’t in the late '70s and early '80s, and most kids today don’t either. I know mine don’t. Therefore, let’s all dig in to some incredible kids’ books from a “simpler” time.
In an effort to narrow down the extensive backlist, the following books all meet these three (somewhat arbitrary) criteria:
1. It is a children’s picture book.
2. It was published between 1977 and 1985.
3. It is an original story.
This obviously limits the pool of available books, but that’s kind of the point. These books may be pushing 35 years old, but they’ve got legs. I’m willing to bet your kids (or the kid in you) will love them.
These are vintage picture books that are definitely worth picking up if you happen to come across them. So if you see these books at a used book store, at a thrift store, in a box at Grandma’s house, or online -- consider adding them to your collection. You won’t be disappointed.
1. The Maverick Moon (1979; by Eleanor Ehrhardt, illustrated by Walter Wright)
Of all of these books, The Maverick Moon probably enters the most uncharted waters and takes the most risks. It takes place after the events of A New Hope, but Luke is now a student at the New Academy for Space Pilots, and he and his classmates are known as the Planetary Pioneers. I’m totally serious. This is amazing.
Princess Leia chooses a terrible time to visit Luke since, while she’s there, they discover a moon that was blasted from its orbit and is currently “on a collision course -- traveling at well beyond light speed”! I’d say they were toast, but Luke -- ever the hero -- hops into his “old fighter plane” (i.e., his X-wing) to blast it with Zukonium rays. Yep.
Luke grabs Artoo, hops into the cockpit, and then hears Ben’s voice telling him to trust in the Force. “Ben had trained Luke to use a special power called the Force. Luke had almost forgotten that.” This is an actual quote. What are they teaching at this New Academy for Space Pilots?
The mission goes as expected, Luke saves the day, and Leia gives him a medal of honor. Because apparently she just happens to carry medals with her wherever she travels.
2. The Mystery of the Rebellious Robot (1979; by Eleanor Ehrhardt, illustrated by Mark Corcoran)
Here’s a perfect example of how all over the place these books were. The Mystery of the Rebellious Robot came out the same year as The Maverick Moon and was even written by the same person, but there are huge inconsistencies between them.
The book takes place at the same unspecified time after A New Hope but focuses on Han and Chewie. Artoo is on board the Millennium Falcon with them (not at the New Academy for Space Pilots with Luke) and suddenly goes haywire and kidnaps the ship. Han puts out a distress call to Luke on Tatooine (who’s also not at the New Academy for Space Pilots, forgetting all about the Force).
Turns out there have been a lot of mechanical mishaps around Tatooine, and C-3PO is soon put out of commission. After a bit of sleuthing, the blame falls on Jawas -- “the subhuman inhabitants of Tatooine,” which I don’t think is a fair depiction at all. The Jawas were cleverly trying to build some planned obsolescence into the goods they were selling. Basically, they were ensuring a little job security.
Chewie ultimately saves the day, and guess what? Leia gives him a medal for his efforts. She must’ve gotten a deal on a bulk order of medals; she certainly doles them out at the drop of a hat.
3. Planet of the Hoojibs (1983; by David Michelinie, illustrated by Greg Winters)
Because Hoojibs. That’s really all I need to say. This book may be an adaptation of a Marvel comic, but it still fits my criteria. And it’s one of the absolutely amazing read-along book and records that formed an indelible part of my childhood.
“You can read along with me in your book. You will know it is time to turn the page when you hear R2-D2 beep like this.” Man, that never gets old.
Leia is leading a Rebel mission to find a new base planet when they stumble upon Arbra, home of the adorable Hoojibs. She helps them fight off a vicious Slivilith (say that three times fast), and the Rebels have new adorable allies.
At a time when the Ewoks were making a mint in merchandising, the Hoojibs -- small, rodent-like, bat-like creatures that feed on energy -- must’ve seemed like a great idea. And honestly? They are really cute. I’d love to have a Hoojib action figure.
4. The Star Wars Book About Flight (1983; by Caroline Barnes, illustrated by Michael Nicastre)
This one’s kind of a cheat, I confess, but it’s totally worth it. It’s a picture book, but it’s technically nonfiction. This little book focuses on the history of flight but keeps referencing the Millennium Falcon, so we’re all good.
I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this book to anyone who’s interested in teaching their kids about spaceflight, but as a cool artifact of the early '80s, it’s amazing. It touches on the Wright brothers, airplanes during World War I and II, the Concorde, the Mercury and Gemini programs, and the Viking landers.
But beyond that? “The space shuttle is a whole new way of space travel. . . . The Columbia space shuttle was first launched in 1981. It has gone on several test missions and will soon be replaced by another space shuttle, the Challenger. Eventually the shuttle will carry people and supplies between Earth and orbiting space stations every day!”
I love this little book so much.
5. Droid World (1983; from a story by Archie Goodwin; illustrated by Dick Foes)
If I had to pick a highlight of these early days picture books, it’d be Droid World. Not because it has the best story. Not because it has the best art. Rather, it’d be for a completely subjective reason. I have such a soft spot for this book, and it holds a special place in my heart. I’ve written about the read-along series before, and I may be guilty of holding a torch for Kligson, but I’ve probably listened to and read Droid World hundreds of times.
The story centers on a mission Luke undertakes to seek help from “an electronics genius named Kligson,” despite the warning that “he lives all alone on a place called Droid World. But the man is a bit strange. Downright weird, if you ask me.” Turns out that Kligson is (spoiler!) a cyborg and really just misunderstood.
Like Planet of the Hoojibs, Droid World is an adaptation of a Marvel comic that Jymn Magon thankfully brought to record players everywhere. (I recently chatted with Jymn about, among many other topics, the phenomenally awesome read-along book and records that he spearheaded.)
6. How the Ewoks Saved the Trees: An Old Ewok Legend (1984; by James Howe, illustrated by Walter Velez)
I have to admit. I’m a sucker for myths and legends attributed to fictional cultures or civilizations. So this book, which is billed as “an old Ewok legend,” is right up my alley. Plus, it’s written by James Howe, who also wrote the fantastic Bunnicula series. Win-win!
The subtitle is a bit of a misnomer, though, since the story is about Wicket and Princess Kneesaa, so in the Star Wars mythos, it’s neither old nor a legend. Nevertheless, it’s still a fun read from the era, and it’s the longest book of the bunch.
The story centers on an adventure Wicket and Kneesaa have in the woods when they happen upon a pair of Phlogs -- giants from the land of Simoom on the other side of the Endor moon. If you’re a fan of Ewoks or the under-appreciated animated Ewoks show from the mid-'80s, then there’s a lot to love here.
In fact, there’s a lot to love with all of these books. And we’re just scratching the surface. What do you think? Did we forget any classic original picture books from the era? Would you like a deeper dive into these books? Are you ready to explore the wild and wonderful backlist of Star Wars children’s books?
Jamie is a publishing/book nerd who makes a living by wrangling words together into some sense of coherence. He’s also a contributor to GeekDad and runs The Roarbots, where he focuses on awesome geeky stuff that happens to be kid-friendly. On top of that, he cohosts The Great Big Beautiful Podcast, which celebrates geek culture by talking to people who create it. With two little ones and a vast Star Wars collection at home, he’s done the unthinkable: allowed them full access to most of his treasure from the past 30 years, opening and playing with whatever they want (pre-1983 items excluded).