I was not a tremendous Star Wars fan at the time. I’d seen the movies, and liked them, and had started a long flirtation with TIE Fighter, from afar. (I wouldn’t actually own TIE Fighter for a year or two yet.) But, soon, I was diving down the womprat burrow, absorbing the Expanded Universe about as quickly as I could get it. After X-Wing came Tales of the Bounty Hunters, because of Boba Fett, mainly. Then, of course, Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy, which I feel secure in saying are probably the best Star Wars books to date, despite being amongst the earliest.
Character names and histories. Ship designs. Weaponry. Places and creatures. All that the Star Wars films promised in their set design and teeming masses of alien life, the Expanded Universe delivered. In many ways, I think, the Expanded Universe is what made me love Star Wars. I’ve never counted the movies amongst my absolute favorites, as films - well, at least not since I started being honest about it. It was always the universe they inhabited which drew me in.
If you aren’t prone to following these things, Disney finally announced their plans for the Expanded Universe last Friday - or, in a manner of speaking, the lack thereof. They’re throwing it out - novels, games, comics, sourcebooks - and bringing Star Wars back to square one, mostly. The movies still count. The Clone Wars animated series still counts. I’m unclear if The Force Unleashed, which was touted at its release as sanctioned canon, still counts.
But, everything else? Fiction. Didn’t really happen. Or, rather, didn’t really happen even more than the movies didn’t really happen.
The EU was always soft canon, anyway; readers knew that their favorite novels could be (and sometimes were) contradicted by the movies eventually, and that film would always be truer than the written word. But, if you were a Star Wars fan, the EU was taken as true until proven otherwise, in contrast to other expansive franchises like Star Trek, where the novels and other peripheral material are treated as non-canon from the start by most everyone. But, the allure of the Star Wars EU was always that it developed, hurtling forward into the future, and exploring the characters that defeated the Death Stars long after the Emperor was dead; it dealt with the difficulty of filling the power vacuum left by the Empire, and, eventually, with raising a family, with aging, and with what happens if a Hutt built a giant lightsaber/superlaser . . . uh . . . thing.
Okay, they weren’t all winners.
The first decade or so of the Expanded Universe - really, up to the release of the prequel movies - those were, and still are, my Star Wars. I got out before the Yuuzhan Vong invasion and the huge New Jedi Order maxiseries of nineteen novels that went with it, but read nearly everything up to that point. Even after I’d stopped keeping up with current releases, I still went on to play in that sandbox through video games and, more importantly to me personally, the tabletop RPGs that sourced considerably from EU material. And, I love my Star Wars even now.
Which is all to say, I think this is exactly what Disney needs to do.
There are a few easy reasons for why this is a good idea. One of them is that, simply put, a lot of the EU isn’t that good. The ideas might be neat enough to make the universe expand in a pleasant way, but the execution is often lacking. It’s been so long since I’ve read a Star Wars novel that my perception of which are good and which are bad is flimsy at best. I remember really enjoying Kevin J. Anderson’s Jedi Academy trilogy but have recently found it to be largely reviled by readers who weren’t young enough to just go, “Wow! Jedi!”
And, even if it was all great, the size of it is just intractable, if Disney wants to revitalize the property. Especially once the New Jedi Order began, the books became excessively interlinked. They already built on each other a lot, but not so sweepingly. This argument feels flimsy at best, in this case, since Disney intends to release six books a year and treat them all as hard canon. That’s unambiguous, but hazardous. If you’re a comic reader (and I’m guessing a lot of the readers here are, for some reason), you know the pitfalls of this approach. Search your feelings; you know it to be true.
But, more than that, I think, the Expanded Universe was predicated on the thought that the Universe is finite. Until recently, that was true of Star Wars. For a long time, when the EU was really getting going, it looked unlikely that any new Star Wars movies would materialize, much less TV shows. Once again, when the prequels were done, the necessary, obvious hole had been patched. There was no necessity for Episodes VII - IX, and Lucas didn’t seem that interested in making them. I don’t think that really upset anybody at that point, though.
Thanks to Disney, though, the mainline Star Wars Universe is infinite. Perhaps their lofty plans for the franchise, moving forward with new movies forever, are overly ambitious, but in the age of the Avengers films, I’m not ready to call anything like that foolhardy - certainly not with a property that will automatically attract the kind of ticket sales Star Wars will. And, there’s nothing saying that they won’t adapt select pieces of the Expanded Universe into their new continuity. Lucasfilm could take critical lessons from Marvel Studios on this point.
The secondary major function that the Expanded Universe served was to bring creators in other than Lucas and his immediate collaborators. But, once again, Disney’s current ownership may take care of that. Though JJ Abrams is attached for the time being, conventional wisdom - along with the example set by Marvel’s films - is that they’ll likely employ many filmmakers and other creatives to contribute to the property over the foreseeable future.
It may not be my Star Wars, but I think I can live with that.