Star Wars needs an Expanded Universe

“I felt a great disturbance in the Force,” a shaken Obi-Wan Kenobi (Sir Alec Guinness) tells Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) during a pivotal scene in George Lucas’ original Star Wars. “As if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced.”

The stars align · The stars align · Actors Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford have all been spotted in London in the weeks leading up to the official production start date of J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars Episode VII.  - Photo courtesy of Lucasfilm

The stars align · Actors Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford have all been spotted in London in the weeks leading up to the official production start date of J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars Episode VII. – Photo courtesy of Lucasfilm

The wizened old Jedi was responding to the psychic aftershocks of the peaceful planet of Alderaan being annihilated by the Death Star, but he may as well have been referring to the fans’ reaction after Disney and Lucasfilm pulled a corporate Order 66 and purged the “Expanded Universe” books, comics and video games from the official continuity of the beloved sci-fi franchise. With the exception of the six films, the upcoming Disney-produced sequels and spin-offs, the now-cancelled Clone Wars animated series and the new Disney XD show Star Wars: Rebels, more than a quarter-century’s worth of storytelling set in a galaxy far, far away has now been demoted to little more than glorified fan-fiction.

The announcement means that many of the Star Wars properties we grew up with, from Timothy Zahn’s highly regarded Thrawn trilogy and Tom Veitch’s audacious Dark Empire comics to LucasArts’ extremely popular Knights of the Old Republic and The Force Unleashed video games, are no longer considered canon. Fans of the Expanded Universe -— or EU for short -— will now have to contend with a Star Wars sequel trilogy that’s unlikely to include Emperor Palpatine returning as a vengeful clone, Luke temporarily turning to the Dark Side and marrying the beautiful assassin Mara Jade, Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) siring Force-sensitive twins named Jacen and Jaina, Boba Fett surviving his tumble into the Great Pit of Carkoon and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) being crushed to death by a falling moon. On second thought, let’s be realistic: Han and Leia will in all likelihood still have little Jedi running around, and you’d have to be a scruffy-looking nerf-herder to bet against the return of everyone’s favorite Mandalorian bounty hunter.

So why jettison such a wealth of ready-made material? The thinking behind the decision was to allow Episode VII director J.J. Abrams and legendary screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan (The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark) as much creative freedom as possible to explore new storylines and characters without being beholden to decades of byzantine narrative restrictions, the kind that give DC and Marvel scribes four-colored nose bleeds.

The action also demonstrates Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy’s considerable media savvy. She timed the “clean slate” announcement to coincide perfectly with the revelation of the best-kept secret in Hollywood: the cast of Episode VII, which was disclosed on Tuesday after months of rampant speculation.

Though plot details remain scant at best, Episode VII is projected to meet its May start date. Principal photography will commence in London’s world-famous Pinewood Studios, the same facility that has housed multiple installments of the James Bond and Harry Potter franchises. The highlight of Kennedy’s announcement, however, was the news that Fisher, Ford and Hamill are all returning to the saga, even though their involvement was already something of a given, especially since Abrams hinted that Kasdan’s screenplay focuses largely on the characters from the original trilogy, with Ford in particular being promised a “gigantic” role. The “Big Three” will be joined by a bevy of talented veterans and newcomers, including Max von Sydow, Andy Serkis, Harry Potter’s Domhnall Gleeson, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver from HBO’s Girls, John Boyega from the British sci-fi comedy Attack the Block and Oscar Isaac, the breakout star of the Coen Brothers’ folk odyssey Inside Llewyn Davis.

As for the fate of the Expanded Universe, fans can take heart in the knowledge that it isn’t being discarded entirely. According to a statement recently released by Lucasfilm, the creative teams involved with each new project will be able to pick and choose elements from the EU to include in future works. For example, Clone Wars found ways to incorporate fan-favorite EU characters such as the rogue Jedi Knight Quinlan Vos, while the upcoming Rebels promises to feature the Imperial Security Bureau, the TIE Fighter manufacturer Sienar Fleet Systems and other organizations that were first introduced in the Star Wars role-playing games of the 1980s.

The old books, video games and comics, meanwhile, will be re-printed under the newly formed “Legends” banner, thus ensuring that future generations will not be denied the twisted genius of Grand Admiral Thrawn, the iconic, Sherlock Holmes-esque villain of the Zahn novels, although his piercing red eyes, azure complexion and sinister intelligence practically cry out for a big screen realization by the likes of Hugo Weaving, Jeremy Irons or Benedict Cumberbatch. Oh well. Maybe they’re saving him for Episode VIII.

Interestingly, the future of the revitalized franchise will begin not with movies or television but in the realm of literature, starting this September with Star Wars: A New Dawn by John Jackson Miller — a story that will serve as a formal introduction to several of the main characters from Rebels — and Star Wars: Tarkin by James Luceno, which charts the career path of the cold-blooded military commander so memorably portrayed by Peter Cushing in the original movie. Both Miller and Luceno are bestselling authors with longstanding ties to the fan community, and their books are being written with input from Kennedy and her story team. To paraphrase Master Yoda: Always in motion, the future of Star Wars is, and only the most capable hands are involved in shaping its destiny.


Landon McDonald is a graduate student studying public relations. His column, “The Reel Deal,” ran Thursdays.

10 replies
  1. vin b
    vin b says:

    Its not like they havent done this before. Does anyone still think the ewok movies should stay canon? or what about the stupid droids cartoon? (the one from the ’80s)

    Just let it go

    • Rex
      Rex says:

      How do you compare one or two lousy spin off movies (which aren’t canon anyway) with the entire EU spanning 4000 years and more, with heaps of memorable characters and locations?

  2. Nicholas Marshall
    Nicholas Marshall says:

    hmm lets see here.. the novels and EU kept star wars alive for lucas to return to and screw up.. and now disney have decided to get rid of it. might i add in the middle of a cliffhanger at the end of crucible that was supposed to continue in the sword of the jedi trilogy.. just leaving us that read the books there forever unknowing where it was headed.. YUP GREAT BUSINESS MOVE!!! :grumbles:

  3. DarthDisney
    DarthDisney says:

    The EU was acting like a engorged tick on the movie universe, and as such it needed to be pushed out. Why not just the books that sucked? Because they had tied everything so closely together that it was impossible.

    The idiotic origin story of the Jedi, every single Moesta and Anderson book, tons of comics, and some of the poorly written games just ruined the universe.

    Will it get better? We don’t know yet, but what we do know is that Disney is paying attention to what we DO like, and I have no doubt they will bring in some of the old republic stories, and some of the great stories.

    Either way, Lucas had too many yes men ruining the universe, and this is the best way to go forward.

  4. Rex
    Rex says:

    I call this Firefly syndrome. Take a great story (stories, in this case) and kill it just because. I don’t see why they need to bother about KOTOR – how does that storyline set 4000 years before the movies affect anything going forward?

    • vin b
      vin b says:

      KOTOR officially gives origins and meanings to things like the colors of lightsaber crystals; something the movies have never done.

      While the characters and such in KOTOR are largely irrelevent due to the amount of time that passes, the problem is KOTOR establishes a great deal of science and origin points for objects and lore that are simply not going to be held to accountable standards in the new films.

      Quite frankly KOTOR already makes the original movies difficult to explain. Why is it that 4000 years ago people knew how to make armor that can stop a lightsaber blade but than suddenly everyone forgot how?

      There’s just a lot of little details that make the KOTOR version of star wars very game friendly, but have never really fit with the movies, not even the originals.

      • Rex
        Rex says:

        A lot of knowledge was lost forever with Order 66 and the destruction of the Jedi Temple. In ‘A New Hope’, Han Solo dismisses the Jedi as following a hokey religion – that’s how obscure they had become by then. The Republic was already in decline by the time of the Clone Wars, the KOTOR storyline is set during a time of greater strength and stability by contrast.

  5. Florence
    Florence says:

    I have to ask, where have they confirmed that this is what they mean, because I’ve seen 10 different people have 30 different interpretations about what their changes mean.

    I hear people claiming that they’re purging the entire EU, that they’re purging the post-RotJ EU, that they’re going to establish some EU things as canon and others as not.

    Honestly, I don’t even know which one is accurate, if any. The actual statement they made seems incredibly vague, which is probably why people have drawn so many contradictory conclusions from it.

    The only specific thing I think them recalling is that, as this article points out, they’re still free to draw on the EU for new stories… but what does that really mean?

    I’m also highly suspicious of the idea that they would declare KotOR (and by extension, TOR) non-canonical as that would be an absurdly idiotic business move. It would be like Blizzard declaring WoW non-canonical.

    … sure, as a fan of the RTS Warcraft games and not the MMO, I’d enjoy that, but it would be a TERRIBLE business movie.

    I’m not saying that’s NOT what they’re doing, but I wish they would clarify it. If that IS what they’re doing, then I think I’m pretty much done with new Star Wars, and I’ll just stick to my old EU and to the Saga Edition roleplaying games, as that would be a clear indicator that Disney has no idea what its doing.

    Especially given that KotOR/TOR have little to no actual bearing on their ability to tell a story set in the post-RotJ era, unless they plan to rewrite the entire lore and mythos of the Star Wars universe from square 1… which would, again, be incredibly idiotic of them.

    At any rate, they better be prepared to lose a LOT of fans if they plan to uproot the ENTIRE EU for the sake of three movies.

    I don’t mind if they just plan on tidying things up. I mean, its no secret that the EU has become a touch convoluted and not exactly friendly to new-comers, but there’s no reason to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Just do a little trimming, clarify some contradictions… clear away what non-RotJ canon you need to give yourself some room to tell a story, but try to keep what you can relatively intact. Even if the stories change, keep familiar concepts and characters.

    I honestly don’t care if they wipe ALL the stories of the post-RotJ EU, so long as they keep as many concepts and characters as they can. Keep Mara Jade, Jaina Solo, Kyle Katarn, the New Republic, the New Jedi Order, the Imperial Remnant. If you have to retell the stories about them, fine, do that, just don’t toss out beloved characters and concepts simply for the sake of a clean slate.

    Hell, they could even adapt these for the movies. I know they said the movies won’t be based on existing stories, but that doesn’t mean they can’t use the movies to tell a NEW story about a Yuuzhan Vong invasion, or about Grand Admiral Thrawn (the Thrawn Trilogy is already full of plot holes due to the prequel trilogy anyway, his story could do with a reboot), or if Daisy Ridley’s character really is Jaina Solo, then you could even tell a new story involving Jacen’s fall to the dark side… maybe make it less depressing somehow. Or simply adapt some elements of those stories for a new story. Just don’t toss out everything the fans love.

    Oh and please don’t let Boba die in the sarlacc pit. That’s just a sad death for such an awesome character.

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