Imagine yourself entering a new restaurant in town, having heard good things about the opening night from your friends. As you mull over the menu, the waiters present to you, on a trolley the length of the Millennium Bridge, a smorgasbord of cuisine so varied, colourful, wild and exciting that it makes your mouth water. The recipes and dishes seem to be endless… until, as you are reaching for your selection, the maître d’ elects to place a rubbish bin at the end of the line and shove everything into it.
This is how I felt upon discovering that the Star Wars Expanded Universe was no longer considered to be canon within the Star Wars story. Everything I had read and watched from books, comics and games throughout my childhood and adolescence had been rendered meaningless. The money that my parents had spent buying for me information sources like Star Wars: The New Essential Guide to Alien Species and Star Wars: The New Essential Guide to Vehicles and Vessels, games such as Star Wars: Empire at War (and its expansion pack, Forces of Corruption, which I still play now and then) or Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast and the books such as Death Troopers and Darth Bane: Path of Destruction had been in vain.
(Thinking about it now as a cynical teenager, of course my fascination with the Expanded Universe had all been in vain. None of the information presented in guides was really going to help me in life. All those video games were great ways to unwind after school but they were also major distractions. My parents were not pleased to see that I would rather concentrate on Battlefront (the originals, I should add) than run around in the sunlight in summer; looking back on it, maybe I should have just gone outside.)
The universe created by George Lucas in the original Star Wars films has been the inspiration for thirty-five years of storytelling, art and more. The Expanded Universe, as it became known, never contradicted the work of Lucas, agreeing with his developers that his productions were “the immovable objects of Star Wars history, the characters and events to which all other tales must align.” His word was divine when it came to everything to do with Star Wars, no matter how fans felt about Greedo shooting first or midi-chlorians. A careful guide to canon was established, known as the Holocron, in order for fans to distinguish between what was genuine Star Wars story and what was the mad scribblings of a fan like me: G-canon, for example, was the incontrovertible word of George Lucas, whereas C-canon was everything to do with the Expanded Universe.
In 2014, C-Canon was violently shaken up. Lucasfilm announced that the Expanded Universe should no longer be considered part of the Star Wars story, “in order to give maximum creative freedom to the filmmakers and also preserve an element of surprise and discovery for the audience”. Disney also shut down LucasArts, responsible for several Star Wars video games, soon after purchasing it. The new films, the first of which will be released in days, will tell a wholly different story to that vast timeline carved painstakingly by numerous authors over decades. Graciously the directors let us keep the Expanded Universe as ‘Legends’, tales inspired by the original films. The old stories will remain in print and games will continue to be sold due to demand.
I have to admit that it made sense for Lucasfilm to give their films’ writers some breathing space. Without the room to be creative, they would be reproducing the work of Expanded Universe writers, under pressure to replicate the story exactly without omitting fan favourite characters. Should they tell the stories of the Thrawn trilogy, the Yuuzhan Vong invasion, or something else? And what would happen if they left your favourite character out or mangled the plot to fit a two-hour screentime? Fans of the Harry Potter books will empathise…
But another sense, thirty-five years of creativity became fan fiction. Sophisticated, high-brow, illustrated, intelligent fan fiction, but fan fiction nonetheless. Yes, I grant that the Expanded Universe has had its fair share of peculiar stories that have done more embarrassment than good to the whole saga – Plif the Hoojib, an Ewok Jedi, the spirit of IG-88 in control of the Death Star II, to name a few – but it has also been host to some splendid stories, creating hugely popular characters outside of the films. Now, none of it counts toward the story of Star Wars. George Lucas often said that he never paid attention to the Expanded Universe. He had made his films – the rest of it was a parallel universe. Now it really is a parallel universe.
Nonetheless, letting all this good talent and creative work go to waste would be a huge mistake. Though the stories they tell don’t ‘count’ in the main narrative, that’s not to say that they don’t tell good stories. The Star Wars Expanded Universe is still a thrilling world with something for everyone and should stay available to everyone for as long as there is interest in Star Wars. So I implore fans new and old to continue reading the old novels. They might not be coherent with the new tales of Fin, Rey and Kylo Ren but there is good writing to be found in the novels; excellent artwork by award-winning artists for the comics and guidebooks; and entertainment in the games.
Deciding to write a new timeline was regrettable but understandable; abandoning the Expanded Universe would be unthinkable.
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