The franchises of Star Wars and Star Trek have perhaps the biggest sci-fi/fantasy fandoms of all time. When most people think of Star Wars, they think of the 2 rounds of trilogies, set in two specific eras (and perhaps the Clone Wars cartoon). When most people think of Star Trek, they think of the 12 movies and 5 TV series, set in 3 separate eras. While many franchises have novels (even the CSI franchise has a series of novels), it is the novels for the universes of Star Trek and Star Wars that are still going strong, even years after the original era’s stories have finished.
The Star Wars novels started in 1978 with Splinter of the Mind’s Eye. It is set between Star Wars: A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, which was still in production at the time. It was originally meant as a story for a low-budget sequel to Star Wars if the movie was not a success. Of course, A New Hope was a huge success, so George Lucas abandoned Splinter of the Mind’s Eye as a movie. As a result, Splinter became the first part of the now-expansive Expanded Universe, which are all the stories both before and after the official movies. Then three Han Solo novels were released 1979-80, and in 1983, three Lando Calrissian novels were released, set at around the same time after the events of A New Hope. Then the novels lay dormant for several years. But in 1991, Timothy Zahn released the first part of the Thawn trilogy, Heir to the Empire, set 5 years after the events of Return of the Jedi. A huge success, this would probably be considered the when official start of the Expanded Universe Novels. During the early to mid 1990s, many novels were set in the post-Jedi era, continuing the story of Luke, Leia, Han and so forth, while introducing new ones. During and following the prequel episodes, there were novels in three specific eras: the first is a series of books set in between the Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith, much of it during the Clone Wars (between Clones and Sith), the second is set in the far past, during an era called the Old Republic. Finally, set 40-plus years in the beyond Return of the Jedi, is the New Jedi Order. With so many ears of books going concurrently, and a new Star Wars movie in 2015, it would be no surprise if there are many more Star Wars novels to come.
The Star Trek novels had a rather interesting beginning. The very first Star Trek book was released in 1967 and called simply Star Trek, and was a collection of seven early episodes of Star Trek collected together as short stories. The first fictional story was a children’s novel called Mission to Horatius. It wasn’t until 1970 that the first novel for adults was released, called, Spock Must Die! For several years after that, there were no new stories. Finally in 1976, new Star Trek novels were ready to be released. The first was actually a collection of short stories, Star Trek: New Voyages, but the second was a novel called Spock, Messiah. In 1979, Star Trek: The Motion Picture was released, the publisher Pocket Books took over and began a series of novels with the original crew, which is still ongoing, and included novelizations of the movies. After Star Trek: Next Generation started in 1987, another series, focusing on the Next Generation era, was launched. Because Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager are all from the same era, many of the novels post-series features all three sets of characters and/or one book in a series would focus on one set and so forth, with much overlap. The Enterprise series, while not as successful, still has books in the series being released (the most recent being in June of 2013). There are several series of book set in the universe but not specifically related to a series, the most popular being Star Trek: New Frontier (started in 1997) and Star Trek: Vanguard (started in 2005). There have not been many new novels based on the world of the new Star Trek movie, other than novelizations of the movies and a young adult Starfleet Academy series, but hopefully in the future the series will be just as robust as the rest of the Star Trek series.
Perhaps the way to measure a franchise’s success is how many spin-off novels inhabit the world of the franchise. The novels expand the universe far beyond the original universe’s parameters. After all, if one were to want to read every single Star Wars related novel, and/or every single Star Trek novel, he or she would be satisfied for a very, very long time.