If you're feeling overwhelmed and just want a list of ships you should consider, read below! I'll suggest expansions which have at least one strong option that's useful in several lists. Beyond that, I'll group the recommendations so you can create competitive (although probably not top-tier) squads that'll give you a fighting chance against most opponents. I try to avoid duplicate expansions. The recommendations are roughly in descending order based on my opinion.
I'll assume you can proxy or borrow upgrade cards, but you need to own the ships and the ship bases. Most public play groups let you to proxy or borrow upgrade cards in casual games (be sure to ask first!). You can use a squad builder like this or this and print out the list. Some casual groups may ban the use of proxies, but you can probably have fun with almost any list in these groups. Regardless, try to match the strength of your list to the strength of your group's lists.
If you play against people with large collections without proxies, things get more complicated. You should take a look at the Beginner's Guide to Budget Lists Without Proxies.
I recommend getting both the Original (Red) Core Set and the Force Awakens (Blue) Core Set just for the full set of dice and the extra range ruler (cut one into a range 1 and range 2 ruler). On the other hand, you might want to get only one of these when you're first starting out so you can spend more of your money on other ships.
If you only buy one, I'd suggest the Blue Core Set for the updated damage deck alone.
Rebel ships tend to be more consistent and plug-and-play. Look at 2a) and 2b) if you want small ships, 3) if you want the Millennium Falcon, and 4) if you want the Ghost from Star Wars Rebels.
1) I strongly suggest the Blue Core Set for Poe Dameron.
2a) Get 1-2 of these small ship expansions: Rebel Aces (Keyan Farlander), K-Wing (Miranda Doni), ARC-170 (Norra Wexley), Heroes of the Resistance (Nien Nunb, premium Poe), E-Wing (Corran Horn), second ARC-170 (Shara Bey, Braylen Stramm).
2b) Pick up a blocker/support ship: Rebel Aces (blocker A-Wing), Red Core Set (Biggs Darklighter), Y-Wing (stress control or consistent damage), Z-95 (blocker), A-Wing (blocker)
3) Or grab one of these large ship expansions: Heroes of the Resistance (Rey), Millennium Falcon (Han Solo or Chewbacca).
4) Or grab the Ghost. It's best paired with Biggs Darklighter from the Red Core Set.
Imperials are known for their strong aces, but they're hard to fly. Pair them with a forgiving option in 2a) to ease the learning curve. If you want to fly a TIE swarm, 3) will give you enough ships to do it.
1) I slightly prefer the Red Core Set for the ships (generic TIE Fighters), but I prefer the Blue Core Set for the updated damage deck if you're using aces.
2a) Get either Imperial Veterans + TIE Defender (use the TIE/x7 title), or the VT-49 Decimator (any Pilot, use Gunner and Darth Vader) as your forgiving ships.
2b) Pair it with one of these aces: TIE Interceptor (Soontir Fel), Inquisitor's TIE (The Inquisitor), TIE Phantom (Whisper), or Imperial Aces (Carnor Jax).
3) Or if you want to fly a TIE swarm, get the Red Core Set, Blue Core Set, TIE Fighter (Howlrunner), and TIE/fo Fighter.
Overall, I don't suggest starting with Scum as your first faction. Scum doesn't have a lot of good small ships, so it's the faction of big ships and crazy combos. If you want to run two big ships, look at 2). If you want to run three mixed small/large ships, look at 3).
1) I prefer the Blue Core Set for the new damage deck (no Scum ships in either Core Set). I do not suggest the Most Wanted expansion at this point; it's not really cost-efficient until you build out your collection.
2) Get 2 of these ships: Punishing One (Dengar, Manaroo), Shadow Caster (Asajj Ventress), IG-2000 (IG-88B), Hound's Tooth (Bossk), second IG-2000 (IG-88C)
3) Or get 3 of these ships: Protectorate Starfighter (Fenn Rau), Punishing One (generic, Manaroo), Hound's Tooth (generic), Mist Hunter (generic, Zuckuss, 4-LOM), second Protectorate Starfighter (Old Teroch), second Punishing One (generic)
Weak ships to avoid (for now)
It's hard to go wrong by just buying ships you like, but there are a few ships which have no good use right now. If you care about the effectiveness of the ships you buy, I'd suggest avoiding these until you need their upgrade cards. Keep in mind the designers will probably release buffs to these ships at some point.
- TIE Punisher
- Slave 1 (Imperial; you can get this with Most Wanted for the Scum pilots)
- Kihraxz Fighter
What about epic ships?
Since you can't fly the epic ships in normal games, they're not cost-effective when you're just starting out. I don't recommend them until you begin collecting upgrade cards.