With the release of The Force Awakens, not only has Star Wars firmly returned to theaters in its rightful place as a record breaking, box office crushing juggernaut, but it has also firmly put to rest thirty years of storytelling. For Star Wars fanatics like me, back in the dark times, we only had books, video games and comics to keep us going. the Star Wars expanded universe was the result of roughly thirty years of work by countless authors and developers who created some of the best stories in the Star Wars canon. When Disney bought Lucasfilm, they decided to retire that Expanded Universe (EU) to create a new Star Wars canon, one in which every new book, comic, movie, and video game will count as part of the established canon. So as part of our Star Wars: The Force Awakens review series, I’ve decided to focus on what we Star Wars fans had, what we have now, and what we can look forward to in our new bright future. The Force Awakens not only honors the old EU but builds a new one in it’s place full of potential.
Honoring the Old.
One thing that the new canon was never going to be able to do was integrate the entire expanded universe into the new films, mainly because each author was encouraged to write their books as if they were making their own Star Wars movie. Trying to chisel a character wholesale out of a story would be inadvisable at best, and would bring downright fan outrage at worst. I can only imagine the fury it would have inspired if they had ripped a beloved character like Grand Admiral Thrawn out of the novels he starred in and gave him some other backstory and context. Thrawn needs to be chilling out on the Chimera with a Ysalamir in his lap and crazy Joruus C’baoth shooting lightning everywhere. (If you know what all those things are without looking them up on wookiepedia, congratulations!) If anyone tried to yank Thrawn out and shoehorn him into the First Order with General Hux, fans would have gone berserk.
Instead I feel the filmmakers took a wonderful, nuanced approach to honoring the ideas of the Expanded Universe while having the same autonomy EU authors themselves had. First off, the First Order is basically the Imperial Remnant of the Expanded Universe with the crucial edition of Force powered upper management. It never quite felt right having the Empire running around without someone in a black robe croaking orders. Not to mention that both groups use the same tired strategy: build a planet destroyer. I personally love it: whenever the Empire gets enough people together it’s, “Let’s build a Death Star again!” And if any hardcore Star Wars fan complains that all the new movie did was make a new Death Star, may I point out the Sun Crusher, Darksaber, the World Devastators, the Star Forge, the Galaxy Gun, or any of the three Death Stars that were canon before the EU was retired?
The other major complaint from the fans is the loss of the Solo twins. For those of us in the right age group to read Young Jedi Knights Jacen and Jaina Solo were the best friends we could have. Though when you think about it, what did we lose? A son of Han Solo who fell to the dark side and his sister, an amazing mechanic with a strong connection to the force. Did we really lose those people, or did we just get different names for them? I would contend what we really lost was the potential anger and disappointment at seeing Jaina and Jacen as we didn’t imagine them. Now it’s anyone’s best guess who Rey’s parents are, but I think that the young generation characters we knew and loved are still around, in new alternate versions.
Embracing the New
On the other hand it’s a good thing that certain aspects of the EU have been put to rest. As Lucasfilm was an independent production company for so long it behooved them to put out as many things as possible, and not all of them were the greatest. I don’t think there’s a lot of people bemoaning the loss of Medstar I: Battle Surgeons and its sequel Medstar II: Jedi Healer. These are actual books about combat medics during the Clone Wars and they are about as interesting as it sounds, two whole books filled with sci fi medical terminology. These books were both clearly put out to help finance ad revenue for Episode III. On this same note, because they were cranking out so many things before they had to come up with a complicated canon structure to determine which things won when they contradicted and it was bonkers.
There were several different levels of this but the most important thing is whatever deranged thing that came out of George Lucas’ mouth was the new canon. For instance, this got extremely bad when George would go on interview shows and people would think it was cute to ask George Lucas Star Wars trivia, not realizing that only did he not know the answers but whatever he made up became canon. At Star Wars Celebration V, Jon Stewart interviewed George and asked him what Obi-Wan Kenobi’s home planet was; George jokingly replied ‘Stewjon’. For years everything had listed Obi-Wan has having been born on Coruscant, but as soon as he said that everything from websites to action figures had to list ‘Stewjon’ as his home planet. A year before, George had been on Conan O’brien’s show and was asked what Admiral (“Don’t’ try to frighten us with your sorcerer’s ways, Lord Vader”) Motti’s name was. Again George didn’t know, so he just said “Conan Antonio Motti.” Which once again, immediately became canon.
That can’t happen anymore, if George wants to go on tv and say that Luke’s first Jedi apprentice was an Ewok, it’s just a joke! And oddly enough, now that everything counts we seem to be getting really interesting book ideas. We never had a whole comic series following Darth Vader before. We never had a YA novel about two young pilots in love separated by the Galactic Civil War. Not to mention that now we have all the possibilities brought on by The Force Awakens. Who knows? James Bond-esque Poe Dameron novels? Maz Kanata and Yoda in school together? The possibilities are endless!
Awaiting an Awakening
And the thing of it is, none of it is going away, it’s all sitting there, waiting to be mined for ideas whenever the time is right. For right now the Lucasfilm story group is happy to be making totally original films, but once Rey has had her adventures with Finn and Poe, there’s no telling what might happen. Certainly when Lucasfilm finishes Episode IX and looks for new ideas to continue the story they’ll peak into the old EU and see what they can find. Perhaps one day the Yuuzhan Vong will come to terrorize our movie screens. Maybe Mara Jade will come into Luke’s life a little later than expected, or a resurrected Darth Revan. The ideas are out there, and at some point they’ll have to take a peek. Maybe they won’t use anything right now, but someday those stories will seem awfully appealing. In the meantime go read Death Troopers it’s a Star Wars horror novel with a shipload of Zombie Stormtroopers. It’s goofy and awesome at the same time.
Part 1 of a series about our various thoughts and feels on The Force Awakens. You can continue the series here.