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.
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.
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.