I had a bit of a surprise when I saw this article on Topless Robot. The slightly hipsterish sounding “Star Wars Holiday Special Life Day Celebration” included a shrine to the end of the Expanded Universe (because why not?), and there was, seemingly, my Jaxxon picture adorning a candle. In order to tell my wife about this I had to explain what the Holiday Special was, explain what The Expanded Universe was, (and how that particular universe had come to an end, even though it never actually existed), and explain that Han Solo once hung around with a six foot green humanoid gunslinging rabbit. When you talk about this sort of stuff to non nerds, it sounds really fucking goofy.
Even as a massive Star Wars obsessive I was never that bothered about the Expanded Universe. Well apart from The Marvel Comics. And The Clone Wars, obviously. And the Dark Forces/Jedi Knight games were pretty dope. And the NPR radio drama. And Knights of The Old Republic. And X-Wing. And TIE Fighter. And West End Games’ Star Wars Role Playing Game. Actually, as an EU refusenik, I’m like one of those “vegetarians” who eat fish.
We pick the stuff we like and and happily disregard the rest. Well, some of us do. Some fans will wallow in everything. each individual fiction as “real” as the next, while others will be militant “movies only” fans (and often, “Original Trilogy only”, but let’s not go there).
The repository of all this gloriously sprawling hot mess of story/history/made up space nonsense is Wookieepedia, which chronicles everything from The Darker to Luke Skywalker’s Dog. No detail is too obscure or too stupid although not every fiction was deemed to have the same reality, however, and entries were segregated into levels of canon, a scale of importance from the movies at the top (G-Level, for George, obv) to forgotten ephemera like Yoda Stories at the bottom.
That’s changed now, of course. Since Disney bought Lucasfilm and announced that they would be making more movies, they’ve had to take the necessary step of getting rid of the existing Expanded Universe. It makes sense, if you’re making films that you want to be huge, big budget mainstream successes, the last thing you want to be telling people before they walk into the cinema is that they need to read four million spin off novels in order to get caught up.
Much of the architecture of the Galaxy Far Far Away has persisted, of course. Names of planets, alien races and corporations that never appeared in the films, many created for West End Games’ RPG, have been happily used as a resource by writers on The Clone Wars, Rebels and the first novels and comics under the new regime. Even though Trioculus isn’t there any more, don’t look for him, Twi’leks are still called Twi’leks, even though nobody can decide on the correct pronunciation.
Many fans predictably lost their minds about the announcement*, and it’s easy to see why. In reading a novel you become much more invested in the characters, especially if those characters have been created specifically for those books. I checked out of the post Jedi books round about the time when Han and Leia’s kids were babies and were getting stolen as often as The Death Star plans**, but I understand those characters grew up and were given greater leeway and room for development than their seniors, who would be required to remain as close as possible to the way they appeared onscreen all those years ago.
The novels never did it for me, though. They didn’t capture the feel of the movies, which were always about speed, noise and cool looking shit (naturally I gravitated to video games and The Clone Wars). So, not being invested in those particular stories, I didn’t care too much that they were no longer canon (at any level). The idea that some stories are more “real” than others, whilst they all remain fictional, is ridiculous, of course, but it’s brilliantly ridiculous.
As a child of the 70s, having grown up with the Marvel Comics series, I was used to the idea of stories being disregarded. When I saw The Empire Strikes Back in 1980, I may have genuinely wondered why Darth Vader and Luke never referenced the fact that they had already run into each other on the planet Monastery. I was dismayed that Kenner never produced action figures of Baron Tagge, Dani or Valance. But it soon became apparent that these stories weren’t quite happening in the same universe. One of the greatest moments in that series is the two parter Resurrection of Evil/To Take The Tarkin. Luke and Leia are searching for a location for the new rebel base, while Lando and Chewie are looking for Boba Fett and the frozen Han Solo, and they are all recalled back to the fleet to deal with a new threat from the Empire – a newly constructed, sort of but not quite Death Star. The doomy mood of the story completely fits into the atmosphere of the end of Empire and the beginning of Jedi, and it features a brilliant solution to the problem of Luke and Vader encountering each other without actually being able to come face to face.
However, this story can’t happen within continuity. Not because it contradicts anything in the films, but because, by taking away the novelty (such as it was) of resurrecting The Death Star, it muddies the clear, direct storyline we see in the trilogy. That also goes for Luke and Vader’s “showdown” prior to Empire, and the ridiculous back and forth of Han’s debt to Jabba The Hut(t). Ultimately the spin offs never affected the films*** and I can’t see that situation changing, although with the creation of the “Story Group” there may be fewer contradictions from now on.
Lucasfilm’s announcement also suggested they wanted to discourage the use of the term Expanded Universe. Everything going forward is either “Legends” (the mountains of old stories in books, comics and games) or Canon, (the original films, and everything to be produced from now on, whether it be the new films, TV series and forthcoming spin offs).
Even though there were a few things that were rumoured to have had George Lucas glance in their direction (Shadows Of The Empire, The Force Unleashed, Caravan of Courage etc), the Expanded Universe literally meant everything Star Wars that wasn’t the movies. So, essentially, everything that Lucas hadn’t had a direct hand in creating. That trend was bucked when The Clone Wars TV Series was created, and between 2008 and 2014, Lucas would drive story development and produce the whole thing. Clone Wars, while being a spin off, was generally considered to be canon rather than EU.
So, stop me if you can see where I’m going with this, going forward into an era where the creator of the Star Wars Saga is no longer involved in any stories, surely everything we’ll see from now on can be considered Expanded Universe. That includes Rebels, the new books and comics and, yes, The Force Awakens. I’m fine with that, really, as even when Lucas was talking about the notional episodes 7, 8 and 9, he was extremely vague and non committal. For the past decade or so, he’s been denying they were ever even on the cards so it’s clear his heart was never in it. He completed the story he set out to tell and now he’s left his universe to be expanded ad infinitum.
* Ziro The Hutt is canon but Grand Admiral Thrawn isn’t? Travesty! Actually Ziro is way better than Thrawn. He’s a giant purple slug with a ridiculous voice and mother issues, who pretended to be in love with a… well, whatever Sy Snootles is.
**This is an EU joke