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Star Wars Expanded Universe: The Early Days


The Star Wars Expanded Universe. Just typing those words takes me back. For the longest time, this was the go to for all Star Wars fans to learn about adventures that took place outside of the movies. I know what a lot of you might be thinking: supplements and spin-offs are nothing new. There have been loads of Star Trek and Doctor Who books and the Doctor Who audio dramas have been pretty successful too. However, they do not compare to the sheer magnitude of presence that the Star Wars EU had. The EU was a juggernaut with a life of its own, a self-sustaining entity that could survive even without additional Star Wars movies to breathe life into it. It was the first time that you truly needed to capitalize “Expanded Universe.” But like all great things, it had very humble beginnings.

General consensus seems to put the first entry of the Expanded Universe as a book called Splinter of the Mind’s Eye. The book was written by Alan Dean Foster, though he was ghostwriting under George Lucas’ name. There was allegedly talk of making it into a TV movie, but nothing ever came of that. The book itself is said to be solid, even providing a reason for Vader’s robotic hand before the prequels brought it to light. But it was also a little anachronistic for Star Wars, saying that data and technology was held on cassette tapes, this being written in the late 70s and that being the height of technology at the time.

In fact, a lot of the early EU books had that problem of being tied to Earth in some way. Many of the books made references to Earth and its wildlife rather than keeping the story in its own universe (or rather, galaxy far, far away). I haven’t actually read these older books, but I imagine this would be pretty distracting if I did. So for the most part, the EU consisted of some pretty self-contained and sporadic spin-offs that had very little canon and mythos to draw from, since there were only three movies at the time.

But then the EU was broken wide open by a game changer of the most unlikely sort: the West End Games Star Wars roleplaying game.

If, for some reason, you don’t know what a roleplaying game is, think Dungeons and Dragons and you’ve pretty much got it. And if you haven’t heard of Dungeons and Dragons, I have to wonder how you’re getting internet at that rock you live under. But I digress. The West End RPG got the ball rolling for the Expanded Universe as a whole by providing its own canon and mythos to the Star Wars universe. See, in order for the game to allow players to fully immerse themselves and create characters firmly rooted in the Star Wars universe, the RPG provided material to fill in the story gaps, providing locations, events, characters, and much more to help give the universe its own identity.

Shock of all shocks, it worked much better than anyone could have anticipated. For the longest time, this RPG was the information wellspring for Star Wars fans. Many Expanded Universe authors for years to come would use it as their go-to bible for building new lore, referencing these characters, events, and more. But it doesn’t stop there: the RPG invented the Star Wars version of the alphabet called the Aurabesh based on a few random symbols in Return of the Jedi. Since then, the Aurabesh was officially made canon in the Star Wars prequels and has been used in nearly every official Star Wars material. This piece of a niche market of gaming was recognized and elevated by Lucasfilm itself!

The avalanche had started and would only grow bigger from there, for this was only the first spark before the fire really got roaring…

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