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The Collapse of the Star Wars Expanded Universe

“I am altering the deal. Pray I don’t alter it any further.”

Darth Vader to Lando in The Empire Strikes Back or Kathleen Kennedy, in a recent press release scuttling the Expanded Universe as we know it? I suppose only time will tell.

Heir To The Empire (cover)For those not aware, the Star Wars universe—and the stories in Episodes I-VI—were continued in novel form beginning with Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire in 1991. Introducing a slew of new characters and worlds, including Coruscant, Heir to the Empire was groundbreaking at the time of publication. It was not fanfic. This was not a “Tales of…” type of book. There was no alternate universe or diverging timeline. This was WHAT HAPPENED NEXT.

Now, it appears, things have changed.

The mouse appears to have spoken. Only the movies and Star Wars: The Clone Wars are canon. Everything else…isn’t. As a reader of the Star Wars EU for 23 years, I’m devastated. I’m firmly in the “this didn’t have to happen” camp.

I’ve traded countless emails with fellow Star Wars fans about this exact topic. It was my greatest fear when I heard that Disney was now in control, and new movies were coming soon. Don’t get me wrong—I desperately want more Star Wars films. More television shows. Comics. Novels. The more Star Wars the better. But to adhere to a “this is not canon” policy will certainly alienate the hardcore fan base which has spent a considerable amount of time—and money—to stay abreast of what has been happening an a galaxy far far away.

Some will say that I’m jumping the gun. That the press release clearly states that “while the universe is changing, it is not being discarded” and “[c]reators of new Star Wars entertainment have full access to the rich content of the Expanded Universe.” That’s all well and good. And I hope to one day see Talon Karrde and Mara Jade and any number of other wonderful characters on the silver screen (or my TV). But I won’t hold my breath. Storytellers want to tell their stories, even if they are playing in someone else’s sandbox.

Retcons in genre work are nothing new. Comics, in particular, have always chucked out the pieces of continuity that a writer didn’t care for in favor of something new. Entire universes have been rebooted. But rarely has the level of quality been so high as that on display in the EU novels.

The Last Command (cover)Sure, there have been some real stinkers. Some throwaways. Some books that have even made me shudder. But the core novels—particularly Zahn’s “Thrawn Trilogy” and other early EU works—did Lucas’ vision justice. They expanded and, in many cases, improved upon the original works. Layers of character development, history, minutiae that can’t be handled appropriately in 120 minutes of screen time, will now all be something to be “drawn upon” at will, rather than used to build new stories.

And make no mistake—Disney could make as many movies as they wanted without throwing out the EU canon. Some simple backstory during the opening scroll of Episode VII and those Star Wars fans that haven’t read the EU could be up to speed. “These are the kids. These are the parents. There was a huge war. People died. Now here we are.” It would be simple. But I think the fear is that it wouldn’t be clean.

Lucas has never explicitly stated that the EU was canon. I’ll give Disney that. And he’s had no problem rubber stamping arcs of the clone wars that have wreaked havoc with EU continuity. The handling of the Mandalorians and clone troopers, who were fleshed out by Karen Traviss in such a detailed and reverent manner, was altered to the point that Traviss felt the need to quit writing for the EU. So I’m not shocked by this latest development. But I am saddened. I think some very real story potential has been squandered.

I’m sure I’ll love the new movies. And I’m sure that sooner or later, characters from the EU will make their way into the official canon. But right now I’m just bummed out that so much creative work has been sacrificed on the alter of “new ideas.” A body of work that has had so much meaning was rendered meaningless, and that stings.

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7 Comments

  1. Robert says:

    Blame Abrams! If anyone can take great content and completely piss all over it like a territorial cat it is Michael Bay. Abrams is a very close 2nd.

    You had to know this was coming when the great mouse executive decided to cop out and put Abrams in charge of Star Wars after he’s been helming the return of Star Trek. Is he the only space geek on the planet capable of making good movies?

    Disney has done a great job with letting Marvel put people who care about the fans and the franchise in charge (while also being notoriously cheap about it). It’s a shame they think Star Wars is too big of a cash cow to take that same kind of gamble.

  2. I’m a big EU fan too, and to be honest, the most hurtful part of the announcement is that it means Star Wars VII – IX won’t be based on the Thrawn trilogy :/

    Thing is, canon or not, I still love the stories, still love the worlds, still love reading the characters, still love the adventures, and still love the enjoyment I got out of reading them. Them being canon or not doesn’t really affect that for me. It’s obviously not the same for everyone, I’ve seen some people rage-quit Star Wars because of the announcement, but that’s all the announcement really means to me.

  3. Zack (@perch15) says:

    I tend to agree with both of the comments thus far. I think Abrams didn’t want to be “hemmed in” and I suspect there are licensing/royalty issues here as well. That being said, I think it is a shame that Disney is basically pulling a “buy this not that” on a fanbase that has stuck with this stuff for 23 years. I find the announcement more than a bit condescending. I think giving Star Wars the Marvel treatment would’ve worked. Honestly, I wish Guillermo Del Toro was talked into taking the reigns. Or Edgar Wright. Reading Abrams’ interviews, I don’t see the love of the material I see from those other two.

    As far as the storylines go, I get that they still exist for my enjoyment, but the “well, that didn’t really happen” statement definitely takes some of the weight away. I want Thrawn to count. I want the Vong to count. I want Tahiri and Mara to exist. I want to see Wedge and Corran. I honestly believe that Disney took a lazy tack on this. It is simply easier for them to scuttle the EU than it is to work within its confines. And that bothers me. Not enough to swear off Star Wars, but there will always be a lingering “what if…”

    Basically, I’m worried that they’re using the DC cinematic model sans a Nolan-esque auteur.

  4. act1856 says:

    I’ve read almost all the EU books, and several of the graphic novels… without ever really liking them. So, I hate to say it, but this might not be a bad thing. Plus anything that makes it like the Vong never happened sounds great to me. I guess that means I’m on board.

  5. I hate to say this, but I’m not sure why you’re surprised, or that it’s fair to blame Disney. Lucas has all along had the mentality that the EU is great for the fanboys, but that he couldn’t bothered to keep track of what his writers were doing with his universe. In the prequel trilogy, he took the name Coruscant from the Zahn books, but that was about it — big chunks of the EU/Zahn continuity were completely overwritten, often for no real reason. Karen Traviss’ later experience, as you note, was similar. Disney appears to be more or less continuing this model, just being a little more explicit about it.

    • Zack Matzo (@perch15) says:

      I’m not surprised. Just bummed out. And I think the delivery was poor. As an adult and a lawyer I get the reasons behind the decision. As a “fanboy,” I’m just bummed that I’m probably not going to get to see some of my favorite Star Wars stories jump from book to film.

  6. Ben says:

    Disney is still finding ways to use the EU materiel, like how admiral thrawn has emerged in the animated series “Star wars:Rebels”

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