Fish and Cherries Productions

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Star Wars Expanded Universe: To Days Gone By


So in the early years of the decade, the first high profile shake-up to Star Wars in ages happened. Lucas sold the rights to Disney for billions and we were getting a whole new trilogy. Calling people hyped was an understatement, especially since for the first time in about fifteen years, we were moving past the prequels into a new era. But that left one big question, what was going to happen to the Expanded Universe? What was to become of all those stories, now that the film series was moving into the future? Well, Disney had a solution for that…

You may have noticed that every so often in my retrospective, I’ve referred to this whole thing as “the old Expanded Universe.” Well, there’s a reason for that: Disney wiped the slate clean and declared the whole thing non-canon, starting their own Expanded Universe. This proved…






…controversial. As with DC’s New 52 reboot, the idea that all the stories we had been reading for many years suddenly didn’t count was a bitter pill to swallow, as I illustrated in my very first article. However, unlike last time, I’m not actually opposed to it in this case. Torches and pitchforks down, everyone. If you take a step back with me, I’d love to explain my reasoning.

You see, the big problem with DC doing it was because they were shucking their 70 years of legacy to boost sales and try being angsty and hip for a younger audience. With Disney and Star Wars, it’s a different story. They’re the new masters and trailblazers with their own vision of where to take the story. By keeping the old Expanded Universe, they’re restricted to a set path of stories and no one wants that. When a kid goes into a gorgeous sandbox, they want their opportunity to dig their own holes, not be forced into playing in all the ones the kids before them dug.

Besides, as great as the Thrawn Trilogy was, the window of opportunity to make those movies has long since passed. That series took place about five years after Return of the Jedi. Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford, bless them all, couldn’t pass for being in their late twenties at a convention for the blind. I suppose you could recast them, but that would just be heresy. You can do that with James Bond because that’s in the nature of the franchise and I can even understand getting different voices for the video games. But not calling them back for a future movie where their characters play a big role just feels… wrong. I’ve always had a saying that if C-3PO wasn’t being voiced by Anthony Daniels, it wasn’t a real Star Wars product, so I guess that kind of bleeds over into this.

Now some could argue that enough time has passed that you could say that those stories happened and build off of that. But in order for it to build off of some of the Expanded Universe, you would have to acknowledge that all of the Expanded Universe happened. Otherwise, they’d have to make a patchwork history where some stuff happened and some stuff didn’t and unless they released a bible saying what was cut and what wasn’t, it would be a mess. Apart from being really disrespectful to the writers who were deemed unworthy (though some really were), it’s one of the big reasons why DC’s New 52 relaunch didn’t work as well. They were never clear on what they kept in continuity and what they didn’t, sometimes changing their minds on a whim. The only way to do this was keep everything or keep nothing. Otherwise, it’s like you’re playing God and deciding who walks through the pearly gates and who doesn’t. Besides, there was no way that Disney would have signed off on making the Yuuzhan Vong series into movies.

That said, the old Expanded Universe isn’t completely irrelevant anymore. People and things that were introduced in those stories have been brought into the fold in more current Expanded Universe media. It’s not just names or places, but whole concepts too. A recent episode of the television series Rebels featured an Interdictor Cruiser that could pull ships out of hyperspace with a gravity well generator, something that was introduced in Zahn’s books. Even Grand Admiral Thrawn’s species was recently canonized in an official mobile game. The reason it doesn’t bother me when they do this is, well, that’s how the Expanded Universe always worked.

George Lucas fully stressed that he didn’t consider the Expanded Universe canon back in the day, making it sort of fanfiction on a pedestal. He would canonize things if he liked them, but he never held himself to the Expanded Universe canon and even overwrote some of the facts in his movies. One of the book series introduced us to the scientist who designed the Death Star, but it’s shown in Attack of the Clones that the Geonosians came up with the plans. That sort of thing continued into the Clone Wars series. Circumstances of characters’ deaths and survival were overwritten from what they were in EU materials and even things like the entire Mandalorian culture was rewritten to be something completely different. That last move in particular is what caused Karen Traviss to quit working on Star Wars books, as it meant that the entire body of her work had been written out of existence. Suffice to say, I did not mourn her departure.

All of this, however, is overlooking one important fact in the matter. I talked a good deal about the good stories that came out of it, but here’s the thing: a lot of the Expanded Universe stuff wasn’t that great. I mentioned way back in the first part of this retrospective that there was a lot of stuff that felt out of place with Star Wars. Well, that trend continued, but it got a lot more, for lack of a better term, “fanfic-y.” I remember a Star Wars book series from when I was younger concerning the Emperor having a three-eyed son. I liked it a lot back then, but looking back it feels weird and nonsensical. It doesn’t stop there; in later books, they came up with some out-there concepts like the lightsaber whip and, I kid you not, Force time travel. I’m sorry, those are too stupid for words. But hey, it’s part of the Expanded Universe canon, so we can’t ignore them.

That, right there, sums up why the old Expanded Universe had to go: there was no unifying vision. Lucas had a vague say in what was and wasn’t okay, but there was way too much opportunity for the writers to go off the rails. Now, Disney is at the reigns and they are fully aware of what direction they want to go, so the writers have clear boundaries and the different stories have a more unified feel and tone. It also allows them to better separate the wheat from the chaff and put out books of more consistent quality, though I’m told a few bad books got through.

As for the old Expanded Universe, the way they wrote it off is interesting and also leaves the door wide open for including elements back into the fold if need be. All of the stories now exist under the official banner of “Legends,” basically making them the equivalent of tales and rumors that people whisper in taverns and around campfires. There may have been a Mara Jade and she may have worked with the Empire during the war, but everything else is speculation and hearsay. And, to be honest, I kind of like this approach. A lot of the old EU makes a lot more sense when you put it in this light. A lone Jedi pulling a Star Destroyer out of orbit with the Force alone? Kessel being a desolate prison planet with no atmosphere where giant spiders live in the spice mines? A secret Imperial lab in the center of a black hole cluster that’s developing a starfighter that can blow up a solar system? Those totally sound like tall tales told in the trenches or over a bottle of Trandoshan whiskey.

That said, I know that quite a few people won’t really be on board with it and it’s understandable. They’ve grown up with these stories and developed an attachment with them, so the idea of them being written off like that can feel like a personal insult. There was even a bit of controversy over the fate of Quinlan Vos’ master in the book Dark Disciple. Apparently, he was a big presence in the old EU, so to have him retroactively killed off like that cheesed fans of his stories in a really big way. I’d be lying if I said I was above it all myself. The Kessel I knew was a potato-shaped rock hanging in space, so when I saw it as a round, brown planet with an atmosphere in Rebels, it just felt wrong, like I was suddenly asked to accept that the sky is orange.

But when all is said and done, I’d like to leave the dissenters with one hypothetical question. Let’s say you got your hands on the rights to Star Wars and had the opportunity to make your own movies. Would you want to be bound by a specific canon that was written out beforehand, where any deviation could be seen as favoring one author’s work over another’s? Or would you want to be able to blaze your own trail among the stars in that galaxy far, far away, leaving your own imprint and telling your own stories? I leave that answer up to you.

Just remember, the Force will be with you. Always.


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