Ask most people what they think Star Wars is and they’ll likely respond with something along the lines of “movie franchise.” This statement is absolutely true and for most fans, the films will be the only stories they need to concern themselves with. Star Wars is, first and foremost, a set of films. That will never change.
However, for a kid like me who needed to absorb absolutely every little detail, the Expanded Universe was there to fill in the gaps. For those interested in exploring it, I have to warn you, the old EU is huge. There are literally hundreds of stories spanning multiple media formats (games, comics, books, etc.) Even though Lucasfilm declared the pre-2014 Expanded Universe non-canon, I still think it’s worth a look back on what made it so special.
“After Star Wars was released, it became apparent that my story—however many films it took to tell—was only one of thousands that could be told about the characters who inhabit its galaxy. But these were not stories that I was destined to tell. Instead, they would spring from the imagination of other writers, inspired by the glimpse of a galaxy that Star Wars provided.” –George Lucas
It could be argued that the old EU began with the novel pictured above. Splinter came out in 1978 before Empire was even conceived. As such, it is a bizarre read filled with Luke/Leia sexual tension (ick) and other oddities like Obi-wan possessing/controlling Luke during a duel with Vader. However, Foster had very little content to work with so I do not fault him for it.
Marvel Comics also had a hand in establishing the early expanded universe. Like Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, the authors of this series had little to work with, but they still managed to create enjoyable stories.
Contrary to what many movie-goers might assume, The Force Awakens is not the first story to explore what happened after Return of the Jedi. The Clone Wars era might have been off-limits to authors, but Lucas permitted the EU to continue the adventures of Han, Luke, and Leia after Episode VI.
In the early 90’s, interest in Star Wars was not quite what it was in previous decades. Thankfully, three books were released that renewed interest in the franchise once again. These novels are Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising, and The Last Command. Collectively, these stories are known as the Thrawn Trilogy.
Many consider these books to be the absolute best stories in the old EU and I can see why. These books feel like an official continuation of the saga and many fans considered them the unofficial VII, VIII, and IX of the series. It’s rumored that the fan interest in these books inspired Lucas to continue the film franchise. In fact, Coruscant (capital planet) got its name from Timothy Zahn so it’s clear that Lucas got some inspiration from this trilogy.
The EU only continued to build from there. In addition to the numerous stories after Jedi, there were plenty of other time periods to be explored. The prequels spawned countless games, books, and comics. We also had stories set thousands of years before the films – documenting the origins of the Republic, Jedi, and Sith.
Of course, no one could predict the figurative “Death Star” lurking in the shadows. This leads us to our next point.
When Disney acquired the Star Wars franchise in 2012 and announced there would be a new set of films set after Episode VI, many EU fans (including myself) wondered what the fate of our beloved stories would be. Would Disney adapt a book series like the Thrawn Trilogy? Would these films be new stories but still respect the stories that had come before?
We wouldn’t find out until April 2014 when it was announced that all old Expanded Universe content (sans the television show The Clone Wars) would be relabeled Legends – a.k.a non-canon.
I’m not going to lie, this announcement felt like a punch in the gut. The Expanded Universe was just as much Star Wars to me as the films were. The loss of beloved characters and stories was saddening and difficult for me to process. That being said, I came to terms with it quickly and I’ll explain why.
1. There was absolutely no way Lucasfilm could have created an original story in that cluttered timeline. Additionally, adapting an existing book would have been boring and expecting film-goers to follow story details from dozens of novels would have been unrealistic. A blank slate was the best approach.
2. The EU was always third-tier “C” canon (two steps below “G” film canon) that could be overridden by the films or tv shows. The Clone Wars rewrote EU details all the time. The Legends reset had the silver lining of eliminating the concept of canon tiers. All content post-April 2014 is considered as official as the films by Lucasfilm.
3. I kept trying to justify my continued reading of the old EU, but in truth I had long grown disillusioned with it. I felt that the post-ROTJ EU had lost its way. Too many authors with very little supervision led to a very messy universe with inconsistent quality.
4. This book:
I know, I know. It seems a bit ridiculous to say that one novel among hundreds could kill my interest in seeing more Legends stories, but this book left such a bad taste in my mouth (it was billed as the last big adventure for the elderly power trio). It was the culmination of all of the worst the EU embodied and it’s not how I wanted the Legends universe to end.
5. We’re getting official film continuations of the Star Wars Trilogy. No, seriously. New. Films. My inner child can’t wait for December. That made coping so much easier.
Anyway, the point of this blog entry wasn’t to rag on the old EU’s failings, so the reasons above are all I’ll say about what disappointed me.
I know this post is getting rather lengthy, so I’ll keep the next segment brief. I’d like to cover the concepts and characters I really liked in the old EU.
Mara Jade (Skywalker)
Anyone even remotely familiar with the Expanded Universe knows about Mara. She’s easily one of the most popular characters. This fiery redhead debuted in aforementioned Thrawn Trilogy.
Mara was the Emperor’s Hand, an elite assassin usually reserved for high-profile targets that Palpatine wanted dead. She was trained in the Force and deadly with her lightsaber, blaster, or really any weapon she got her hands on.
When Palpatine was betrayed by Vader, he mentally commanded her to eliminate Luke Skywalker. Although she tried to kill him several times, their relationship eventually turned friendly, then romantic. Luke and Mara had a happy marriage that resulted in a son, Ben Skywalker.
Grand Admiral Thrawn (Mitth’raw’nuruodo)
Like Mara, Thrawn was introduced in Zahn’s trilogy (named after the character, of course.) A member of the enigmatic Chiss species, Thrawn impressed Darth Sidious enough to be permitted to rise through the ranks of the xenophobic, human-centric Imperial Military.
Although the idea seems a little silly now, Thrawn was brilliant enough to be able to deduce a species’ military weaknesses by studying their art. Thrawn gave the fledgling New Republic a run for their money when he reappeared to command the Imperial Remnant.
Unlike Vader or Palpatine, Thrawn would not execute an underling for failure if they demonstrated true creative thinking and learned from their mistakes. Because of this, the morale in his fleet was very strong.
In the end, this fearsome mastermind only lost because he was stabbed by his bodyguard, Rukh.
The Old Republic Era
One of my absolute favorite eras in the EU, the Old Republic timeline occurred thousands of years before the films. While the Tales of the Jedi comics were the earliest ventures into this time period, it didn’t gain true widespread recognition until the much-beloved Knights of the Old Republic game released.
This era is famous for its vast Sith Empires, armored Jedi Knights, ancient Force mysteries, and precursor races like the Rakata. It also introduced characters like Exar Kun, Nomi Sunrider, Revan, Malak, Bastila Shan, and countless other legendary figures.
Jedi Apprentice Books
Published by Scholastic, these youth-oriented novels have given me some of my fondest Star Wars memories. These books explored the budding relationship between a very young Obi-Wan Kenobi and his new master Qui-Gon Jinn.
Despite being targeted at kids, these stories dealt with some very adult topics like loss of identity, war’s effects on children, and the death of loved ones. Of all the Legends stories concerning Kenobi and Jinn, I would love to see at least some of the details in these books recanonized.
Bizarre and Unique Force Abilities
This is a very huge topic, so I won’t go crazy. The old EU had a lot of cool light and dark Force powers that we never saw in the films. One of my favorites was tutaminis – the ability to absorb energy (including lightsaber blades) with a bare hand.
“More important, the old concept of what is canon and what isn’t is gone, and from this point forward our stories and characters all exist in the same universe.” –Dave Filoni
The decision to declare all of Legends non-canon ruffled a lot of feathers. Many fans were upset that the stories they’d grown up with were no longer being continued. (It also spawned a lot of Fan Dumb, but I’d really rather not go into that).
I’ve really enjoyed the new canon so far. I’ve seen a lot of Legends fans accuse these new novels of “playing it safe” and that’s a fair assessment. But I think that’s also a good thing. We’ve seen what happens when you let multiple authors go off on their own within an established universe. So far the Story Group has done a good job of keeping things fairly consistent.
It’s important to note that Lucasfilm stated Legends material would remain a resource for authors and directors to draw from. We’ve already seen character names, species, technology, and entire planets make their way into the new canon. It’s thrilling for me because I recognize these elements immediately.
So there it is. We’ve got a clean slate and a new film this December and I couldn’t be more excited. It’s important to remember what Zahn said. A good Star Wars story is a good Star Wars story regardless of canonicity. Lucasfilm didn’t come to our homes and burn our copies of old Legends stories. They’ll remain as long as we continue to remember and admire them.
Thanks for reading!
“But… It was so artistically done.”