So let’s talk about the EU.
On April 24th, 2014, Lucasfilm announced that the Expanded Universe (EU) of Star Wars would not be viewed as canon going forward. For those that may be unaware, the Expanded Universe consists of all Star Wars media outside of the films and the two most recent television shows, The Clone Wars and Rebels. At the same time of the announcement, it was declared that all future books and comics would be considered canon, and that authors would be working closely with the newly formed Lucasfilm Story Group to ensure that everything formed a cohesive whole. The old material would be rebranded under the “Legends” banner.
Initial reaction to this decision was, shall we say, not entirely positive.
While the Expanded Universe has existed since the 1970s, with Marvel Comics’ original Star Wars run and the release of Alan Dean Foster’s novel Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, the modern Expanded Universe came into being in 1991 with the release of Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire and Dark Horse Comics’ limited series Dark Empire. These works are not only regarded as classics within the Expanded Universe, but played a crucial role in getting Star Wars back into the public’s consciousness after the release of Return of the Jedi eight years previously. In the years that followed many more novels and comics were released, covering thousands of years and starring characters both introduced in the films and in the ancillary materials. Han and Leia had kids, Luke got married, Chewbacca died (15 year old, non-canon spoiler alert, I guess), and even the most secondary characters in the films got backstories. The endgame is that people read all this material and got invested. In April 2014, it all came to an end.
I understand the initial outrage and disappointment that came with the announcement. Since 1991, over 100 novels were released, along with more than 750 issues of comics. People read these with the expectation that they would be considered canon, that they happened within the Star Wars universe. The announcement of the new canon turned that belief on its head. One of my first Star Wars books was a reference guide called The New Essential Guide to Characters. Of the characters who received a full entry in that book, over 50 of them were EU characters, while most entries for movie characters contained information from the Expanded Universe. I mentioned in my previous post that a lot of my initial reading was to learn about the Star Wars universe. If that had remained my main reason for reading Star Wars books, I would have been furious at the announcement. All that time and money invested, and now the information was no longer relevant? I’d have felt cheated. Many others actually did. Comments on the franchise’s official Facebook page were far more negative than positive. At the time of the announcement, emotions were running high, and for good reason.
By the time of the announcement, I was no longer reading Star Wars books to learn about the galaxy; I was reading them because I enjoyed them. The EU contained quests for revenge, epic battles, daring heists, tales of love and loss. That’s not to say that every entry into the EU was golden: I particularly recall one mid-90s novel called The Crystal Star that received a lot of flak from fans, even more than a decade after its release. Even latter-day entries into the EU, the ones released while I began to delve in, were plagued by what some called inconsistent characterization, questionable decisions by writers, and occasional overreliance on tropes. But even subpar entries had their merits, and I don’t think I can say there was ever a work in the Expanded Universe that I didn’t enjoy at all. When it became known that the Expanded Universe was no more, it was not anger I felt, but more sadness and disappointment that these stories, which had given me so much pleasure, simply didn’t matter as much as they used to.
Despite my disappointment then and even now, I don’t doubt that this was the right call to make. Ever since the sequel trilogy was announced, the writing was on the wall for the EU. There were those of the opinion that the films could be made without stepping on the toes of the Expanded Universe, and fit in to form a cohesive whole. At its best, this was wishful thinking. One of the things that many enjoyed about the Expanded Universe was its breadth: there were novels that covered up to 45 years after the events of A New Hope, and comics that took place closer to 130 years after. That’s an awful lot of material that the crew behind the sequel trilogy would need to navigate around, and frankly, I don’t think it’s fair to hold them to such a standard. The films have always been held on a higher level of canon than the Expanded Universe, and in years past the films have been totally willing to disregard the EU when it suited them (a notable example would be the changing history of Boba Fett). Even The Clone Wars CGI series overwrote existing EU material for that timeframe, and Dave Filoni, supervising director of The Clone Wars, made an effort to work in the EU whenever he could (the biggest example being the inclusion of Asajj Ventress).
Assaj Ventress, as she appeared in her big comic debut, 2003 Clone Wars Series, and in the CGI series.
The point is, even someone aware and sympathetic to the existing Expanded Universe couldn’t execute his creative vision without overriding it. As opposed to constantly attempting to fix problems by retconning them, Lucasfilm decided to just take the full measure and state that the new films would not be held to the existing EU. Honestly, I kind of see it like ripping off a Band-Aid: there’s some shock and pain now, but it’s better than constantly seeing the existing lore get slowly chipped away at, until it’s eventually whittled down to nothing.
Besides all that, there are a few reasons to be excited. At the time of the initial announcement, Lucasfilm said that creative forces behind works in the new canon would be free to bring in elements from the old Expanded Universe, and this has already begun to happen. Tarkin, the second novel from the new canon, featured Armand Isard and Admiral Screed, two Imperial officers who existed in the EU. The first issue of “Kanan: The Last Padawan” featured an oblique reference to the events of Shatterpoint, a 2003 novel by Matthew Stover. The next novel scheduled to be released, Dark Disciple, stars Quinlan Vos and Asajj Ventress, two characters who, despite appearing in The Clone Wars, originated in the Expanded Universe. To me, at least, it seems like the powers that be are doing a pretty good job in making sure the old EU is brought in when it can be. Beyond all this, there’s a lot of material that isn’t going to be expressly overwritten for a long time. One of my favorite pieces of Star Wars media is the 2003 game “Knights of the Old Republic,” which takes place about 4000 years before the events of the movies. I’d frankly be amazed if anything released in the new canon contradicted the events of that game, and so long as nothing comes along that does so, I’m gonna keep on viewing it as canon, even if it is now part of the Legends timeline.
I get the sadness, disappointment, and anger that accompanied the initial announcement. I really do. But there’s a lot to be excited for nowadays. Marvel’s comics are off to a promising start, I’ve enjoyed all of the books from the new canon I’ve read so far, and that’s not to mention the new movies. I, for one, am willing to sacrifice the EU’s status as canon, if it means we get new live-action films. If you don’t, well, hey, that’s your prerogative. The Legends continuity forms a fairly cohesive whole, and if you want to view that as the canon universe and the new one as non-canon, go right ahead. Lucasfilm has not closed the door on new material for the Legends timeline, so it may even continue to grow. If it does, I’ll gladly buy whatever they put out and enjoy it just like old times. But for now, I’m content to let the EU go. I still have all those novels and comics on my shelf, and I can still read and enjoy them like I used to. There’s plenty still coming out to get me excited, and, in the end, these old stories are just slightly more fictional than they used to be.
-All this stuff here is, in the end, mostly my opinions on the matter. Other people may feel differently, and I don’t begrudge them that.
-I touched on it briefly earlier, but the way the canon worked before the announcement of the new one is pretty fascinating. The endgame is, there were multiple levels of canon, so that some things were more canon than others (movies superseding the TV shows superseding the current novels and comics superseding old material from the 1970s and 80s). Definitely a good thing that Lucasfilm is taking care now to make sure everything is on the same level of canon. I highly recommend checking out the Wookieepedia page on canon, if you’re interested.
-I know I was talking about the EU as a whole for most of this, but I can’t stress enough that there will be some pieces of it that I won’t miss at all. Dark Empire is one of those, actually. The story deals with the resurrection of Palpatine and I really think that cheapens Vader’s sacrifice and redemption.
-That last image there was originally a poster given out by Dark Horse, featuring over 100 different characters from their comics. Done by Tsuneo Sanda, it mimics a similar piece that he did featuring film characters. It’s not a perfect cross-section, featuring mainly comic characters, but it offers a pretty fitting tribute. I think I may have one lying around somewhere; I oughta try to track it down.