The whole “Star Wars Expanded Universe” thing.

So, last Friday, the official Star Wars website dropped this little bomb for anyone who might be paying attention:

StarWars.com: The Legendary Star Wars Expanded Universe Turns a New Page

The short version? All those novels, comics, games, and other licensed tie-in products released over the years and which have come to be known as the “Star Wars Expanded Universe” will not factor into the mix as production ramps up on the first of what we fans hope will be many new Star Wars adventures for the big (and small!) screen.

Um, okay? I mean, to me, this seemed like a foregone conclusion since…well…forever.

Going forward? The plan for new novels, comics, games, and so on is to keep everything “on the same page,” so to speak. As the announcement reads:

Now, with an exciting future filled with new cinematic installments of Star Wars, all aspects of Star Wars storytelling moving forward will be connected. Under Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy’s direction, the company for the first time ever has formed a story group to oversee and coordinate all Star Wars creative development.”

All of the older material will still be available, of course, and its status as “not canon” shouldn’t diminish any potential enjoyment to be gleaned by readers, players, and so on.

That’s right: None of it is “real.” Not even the Greatest Star Wars Book Ever.

darth-vadar-son

“I find this lack of canon disturbing.”
“Can I get more sprinkles?”

Anyway, I’m trying to figure out why anybody thinks this is “news.”

For years, there’s been a lot of information, misinformation, and misinterpretation with respect to Star Wars and what constitutes “canon” in that galaxy far, far away. There have been statements alleging that all of the expanded universe material is canon–meaning it “really happened.” On the other hand, George Lucas has said that he doesn’t read any of the books or comics, and considered all of that stuff “over there” with respect to the films. For reasons surpassing understanding, a hierarchy evolved placing the expanded universe material at various “levels of canon” in relation to the movies.

Confession: I never understood the hierarchy thing. To me, “canon” has always been something of a binary condition, much like being pregnant, circumcised, or a fan of Firefly: You either are, or you’re not.

To me, all of that singing and dancing about “levels” of canon seemed like a very complicated way of avoiding having to say what should be obvious: none of that “extra” material–no book, comic, computer game, role-playing game, or whatever–was “canon.” It did not and would not overtly influence the storytelling choices of the franchise’s primary platform: the films (and, later the Clone Wars TV series). Yes, there might be the occasional reference to a planet or character or something else relatively minor, but we were never going to see–for example–the events of Shadows of the Empire coming into play on screen, or driving events which would play out in later movies.

So, what does this new statement mean for Star Wars? Well, in a nutshell, all those years of stories set after Return of the Jedi are being set aside so as to give the makers of the new films the maximum degree of latitude to tell their stories. As for future novels, comics, and other stuff, according to the statement, we’re going to be seeing a “creatively aligned program of Star Wars storytelling.” Okay, but what’s that mean? In English? I mean, once again people are firing up the age-old debate: Is any of that stuff going to be “canon?”

The StarWars.com statement doesn’t come right out and say it. Of course, it doesn’t NOT say it either, but there’s really one measure worth worrying about: Will any of the new novels, comics, games, etc. influence the stories told in the films or television series? Will the director and writers of a future Star Wars movie be told that their story must conform to whatever backstory has been established in the new crop of novels, comics, and so on?

If the answer is “Yes,” then we’re talking about an unprecedented level of collaboration across multiple storytelling platforms, all with their own development life cycles, demands, and target audiences. I have absolutely no problem believing that such an effort will be undertaken to see that books, comics, games, and other tie-in material align with whatever is presented by future films and television series. On the other hand, I’m having a hard time believing that the producers of a feature film costing hundreds of millions of dollars will accept being “forced” to stay in step with the events of a novel or comic book read by a tiny fraction of their movie’s intended audience.

If the answer is “No,” then what we’re looking at is pretty much the same thing tie-in products and “expanded universe” material has always faced: It’s “official” in that it’s blessed by the licensed property owner (and they get a cut of whatever money’s made from it), but no one at a studio will be obligated to “obey” any of it.

I’ve yet to read the definitive answer to this question. Not that it should matter. Not really.

Seems like a reasonable enough stance to take, right? Who cares if it’s “canon” or not? Just enjoy the stuff and try not to get wrapped around the axle. That’s my take, but there apparently are some fan circles in which this sort of attitude can get you strung up by your nut sack, your lightsaber just out of reach as you hear the sounds of the Wampa making its way up the tunnel.

Shit, people. Take a breath. Relax a little.

I can’t speak for anybody else, but I never saw the vast library of supplemental Star Wars material as anything other than just that: “supplemental material.” They’re additional stories featuring favorite characters, just as the hundreds of Star Trek novels and comics provide extra adventures for that “universe.” In the case of Trek, it’s always been known that the “canon” consists of the television series and films; no books, comics, games, or whatever. That’s it, plain and simple. No “levels,” degrees, concentric circles; none of that noise. No muss, no fuss, and this “decree” from the studio didn’t stop me from enjoying any of that material.

So, too, is and was the case with Star Wars.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read and reread Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, the first “original” novel set in the Star Wars universe, which was released way back in 1978. Sure, that whole “Luke’s crush on Leia” thing is a bit weird now, given how events eventually played out on screen, but it’s still a classic tale that’s a decent standalone story in its own right. I remember how excited I was to buy Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire in 1991, and later that same year the inaugural issue of Dark Horse’s Dark Empire, which was to be the first in a long line of Star Wars comics tales which have continued to the present day. One of my favorite comic efforts was the set of Crimson Empire miniseries. Ditto novels like Brian Daley’s Han Solo trilogy or the early books in the X-Wing series.

The fact that all of this material won’t be considered “canon” (and never was, to be honest) doesn’t lessen my enjoyment of the stories. I feel the same way about a whole bunch of Star Trek novels and comics, several of which have since been contradicted by films or TV episodes produced after their initial publication. Such contradictions and “overwriting” is part and parcel of enjoying any sort of media tie-in stories. It’s not all that different from the way DC or Marvel reboot their continuities/characters every so often. These new versions don’t detract from the stories I read as a kid, do they?

Hell, even real life can do that to favorite stories if we wait around long enough. The War of the Worlds is still a classic science fiction novel, despite our now knowing that there are no aliens on Mars waiting to invade us. Raise the Titanic! isn’t any less a fun action thriller, despite its depicting a Titanic that sank in one piece because the book was published a decade before Robert Ballard discovered that the ship really had broken in two.

But hey! Back to Star Wars.

I’ve never been bothered by the whole canon/not canon thing. As someone who works in the tie-in field, I’m used to that sort of thing. Instead, my main questions regarding this new direction are focused more on the level of creative freedom writers and artists working on such material can expect to enjoy. Will certain storylines or characters be deemed “off limits” to novel or comics writers, because those sorts of things will be kept under wraps or otherwise reserved for future film efforts? This also is “part of the job” when it comes to creating tie-in material, as anyone who does it will tell you. It’s just the nature of the beast when it comes to this sort of thing.

That said, if the relationship between a property owner and its licensees is strong, it makes things easier when it comes to developing material for books, comics, games, what have you. Star Wars has always had one of those strong relationships with its various licensees, so I think we’ll be fine in that front, as it seems that now there will be an even greater push for an overall coordination of all those various efforts. I’m down with that.

I just don’t expect my “Han and Chewie Go To White Castle” Star Wars novel to ever be considered canon.

Assuming I ever get to write a “Han and Chewie Go To White Castle” Star Wars novel.

(Now you know why the editors at Del Rey never return my calls.)

So, come on, folks: Who’s got opinions or concerns with all of this? It’s no big deal, right? What am I missing?

9 thoughts on “The whole “Star Wars Expanded Universe” thing.

  1. So wait…are you trying to tell me that when Paramount finally gets around to returning to the ‘Prime” universe and catching up on important 24th century stuff that the USS Titan might not actually be Luna-class?

    While I’m far from being Star Wars #1 fan, I do feel for their fandom right now. For anyone invested in those stories, it’s a huge blow to have to redefine that narrative reality. I get it because I secretly pretend every Star Trek novel I read is canon until proven otherwise even though I know better. I mean, obviously it makes sense for the new writers to NOT be beholden to so many years of novels and comics but I’d always thought that was the point of the so-called Expanded Universe…that EU stories were deliberately coordinated to flesh out canon events.

    Gods know I’ve had more than one Star Wars fan laud over me that their novels were ‘real’ whereas my beloved Star Trek ones weren’t. It always stood as one of the major differences between the franchises. I guess now we have more than just JJ in common.

    Like

    1. Well, the reality is that unless a film or TV episode comes along that outright contradicts something from a novel, that novel can still be considered to be “in the continuity” if not “actually canon.”

      In other words, the same way fans treat events from Star Trek novels. 🙂

      Like

  2. I think it’s sad that Star Wars still isn’t ready to be as honest as Trek about tie-in novels. With their wording they still seem to at least try to imply that the (new) books are canon while, as you said, Trek always was upfront about the status of the novels.

    It’s kind of reads like this: ” You know those novels we pretended for the last few decades to be canon? Yeah, not so much. But those new ones are totally canon!”

    Like

    1. Like I’ve said elsewhere, I’ll just be over here waiting to read something along the lines of how the events of Novel X are to be the springboard from which Film Y moves forward, etc.

      Like

  3. Nailed it right on the head, as usual. Bummer to see some of the better EU stuff being swept away, so to speak, but oh well. It’s not like you can’t go back and enjoy the stories anymore; they’re still in print, and will be for quite some time, I imagine. Good stories never die.

    Speaking of SW comics…did you ever check out Legacy or Knights of the Old Republic Those were some white-hot shit. (Their sequels…not so much.) I highly recommend them, and I think both are available in omnibus format. They ran around 50 issues each, if I recall correctly.

    Like

Lay it on me.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s