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?

Star Wars Reads Day II!

Today is the 2nd annual Star Wars Reads Day!

What’s the deal? Pretty simple, really: celebrate reading and Star Wars, all at the same time! Lucasfilm and a number of its print licensees, Dark Horse Comics, and other groups are coming together to sponsor or put on various activities: stuff for the kids, book signings and author readings, costumed players hanging out for photo ops, and all that good stuff. Lots of places around the country–bookstores, comic shops, toy stores and craft centers to name just a few examples–are  observing what looks now to be an annual tradition.

StarWarsReadsDayII

Unlike last year, I wasn’t able to find anything near stately Ward Manor to which I could take the kids. When I said as much over on Twitter, a very helpful social media guru for DK Publishing pointed me to a “kids activity home kit” that the Star Wars website has made available in color, black and white, and Spanish.

That and other info, including a complete list of events by state, is available on the Star Wars Reads Day site: Star Wars website.

Yes, there are those who will dismiss this as tacky commercialism disguised as “doing something for the kids,” but hey: anything that encourages a kid to pick up a book is a good thing.

Besides, one of the titles they happen upon might very well be the Greatest Star Wars Book. Ever.

As I mentioned last year, Star Wars novels were among the first “grown-up” books I started reading around the age of ten or so, right around the time the first Star Wars movie was in theaters. This includes “George Lucas’s” novelization of the movie’s screenplay, and I also was reading Marvel’s Star Wars comics which continued the story after the film (“Beyond the Movie! Beyond the Galaxy!”), and I still remember how excited I was when I stumbled across Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, the first Star Wars tie-in spin-off novel.

Yep. Fun times.

My kids–thankfully–are big readers, and they like Star Wars. Yes, they have a few Star Wars toys, and among their various books are a few Star Wars titles aimed at their age group, which we’ve enjoyed together. The girls actually were bummed when I had to tell them that my plans to take them to one of the events got short circuited when I discovered there was nothing planned anywhere near us. So, we’re adapting with one of those activity kits, and we’re watching the fourth season of The Clone Wars, which I just picked up on Blu-ray.

It’s a hard life, but we manage.

(And I still want to know why we can’t get something like this going for Star Trek….)

May the books be with you.

The OTHER greatest Star Wars book ever. No, really.

Just when we thought the matter had been settled last year, when The Greatest Star Wars Book Ever was identified, we have this:

From the marketing copy:
“In this irresistibly funny follow-up to the breakout bestseller Darth Vader and Son, Vader—Sith Lord and leader of the Galactic Empire—now faces the trials, joys, and mood swings of raising his daughter Leia as she grows from a sweet little girl into a rebellious teenager. Smart and funny illustrations by artist Jeffrey Brown give classic Star Wars moments a twist by bringing these iconic family relations together under one roof. From tea parties to teaching Leia how to fly a TIE fighter, regulating the time she spends talking with friends via R2-D2’s hologram, and making sure Leia doesn’t leave the house wearing only the a skirted metal bikini, Vader’s parenting skills are put hilariously to the test.”

Vader’s Little Princess, by Jeffrey Brown – Chronicle Books

Just like its predecessor, this book is whimsical, cute, and oftentimes hysterical. Even the hardest of hardcore fanboys should be able to hold off from vomiting into their stormtrooper helmets, at least for a little while. It’s the perfect companion to Darth Vader and Son, and–in my case, anyway–just right for having a bit of Star Wars fun with your non-Y chromosome possessing offspring. My girls think it’s a total hoot.

I’m just jealous that I didn’t think of something like this, first. I also wish Star Trek could do more stuff like this.

Something else to rile the Star Wars fanboys.

Yesterday, my 6-year old comes home from school with one of those catalogs from Scholastic they hand out on occasion, from which the kids can order books and the school gets a cut of the deal to fund various things. We try to support it whenever the catalogs come around because, as I say, the school benefits from the purchases, and HEY! BOOKS! Can’t get enough of those, right?

For those who’ve not seen the catalogs, the selections run the gamut from educational to just silly fun, and we always try to strike a balance when letting Addy make her selections.

So, I’m checking through the catalog this morning when I come across this:

Holy crap. I can’t stop laughing.

As I did with the greatest Star Wars book ever, I love when something whimsical or just plain goofy comes along for a beloved property. Much like the super hero franchises, Star Wars definitely has a handle on finding ways to appeal not just to hardcore fans but also presenting lighter, cheekier fare for casual followers or even just people like me: longtime fans who don’t take it all too seriously, and/or who like watching the more intransigent among us squirm, squeal, and scream whenever the object of their devotion is “desecrated” in such fashion.

I liken this bit of harmless fun to stuff like Marvel’s Super Hero Squad, or DC’s Superman Family Adventures, or JL8, a wonderful web comic written and illustrated by Yale Stewart, who presents the members of the Justice League as if they all had been children together in elementary school. If you’re a fan of comics and you haven’t yet seen this, definitely check it out. You’ll, chuckle, you’ll belly laugh, and once in a while you might even get a little choked up.

Damn, but I wish Star Trek could do stuff like this. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: When I was a kid, Star Trek was fun. I’d do a Star Trek kids book in a heartbeat if ever opportunity presented itself. My own kids would probably get a huge kick out of that. Of course, now they also like Star Wars, Power Rangers, and various super heroes, too.

Hmm…..

As for the “Very Vader” Valentine’s Day cards? Addy wants a box, of course. Hey! How’d that second box get added to the order form?

Star Wars Reads Day!

Come on. How can you not like something like this?

So, what’s the deal? Pretty simple, really: celebrate reading and Star Wars, all at the same time! Lucasfilm and a number of its print licensees, Dark Horse Comics, and other groups are coming together to sponsor or put on various activities, and lots of places around the country — bookstores, comic shops, toy stores and craft centers to name just a few examples — are observing what is hoped to be the first of what will become an annual tradition.

Check out the official page for the event on the Star Wars website.

They’re also running a blog where authors of various Star Wars books of every sort weigh in on the day. Check that out right here.

I suppose my inner cynic could denounce this as crass commercialism run amok, but given that so many of the planned activities are aimed at kids, it’s hard not to be jazzed. In my view, any effort to put a book in a kid’s hands is worthwhile on some level. If we can stand in line all week for the latest hip video game, iGadget, or Black Friday shopping spree, surely we can offer up a few precious minutes toward something like this, right? Star Wars novels were among the first “grown-up” books I started reading around the age of ten or so, right around the time the first Star Wars movie was in theaters. This include the novelization of the film, and I also was reading Marvel’s Star Wars comics which continued the story after the film (“Beyond the Movie! Beyond the Galaxy!”), and I still remember how excited I was when I stumbled across Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, the first Star Wars tie-in spin-off novel.

Good times, those.

As it happens, my kids like books and reading, and they like Star Wars. Yes, they have a few Star Wars toys, and among the various books they have are a couple of Star Wars titles aimed at their age group, which we’ve enjoyed together. When I explained to them that this was going on today, they got really excited and wanted me to take them to go and see what’s what. So, we’ll be heading out to one of the bookstores in our area to check out the happs.

(And why doesn’t Star Trek have cool stuff like this? Why? Why? WHY?)

:: Ahem. ::

So, that’s what we’re doing later this morning. Yes, I think this is pretty cool, and if you’re a parent with a kid who digs reading and Star Wars and who’s looking for something to do today, go to the Star Wars Reads Day page and see if something’s going on in your area. Hey, you might even find yourself a copy of the Greatest Star Wars Book. Ever.

May the books be with you.

Star Wars Detours, and the end of life as we know it!

So, with all the stuff about Hurricane Isaac, the flying squirrel circus that is the Republican convention, and Snooki’s baby over this past weekend, you may not have noticed your childhood being dragged through broken glass yet again, or whatever.

Amidst all the other hoopla, the annual Star Wars Celebration convention was being held down in Florida, during which a new animated TV series was announced: Star Wars Detours. What’s it about? Well according to official synopsis making the rounds on the net:

Star Wars Detours™ is an animated comedy that explores what daily life is like in a galaxy far, far away. There are no Empires striking back or attacking clones here. Instead, Star Wars Detours focuses on the universe’s regular folks and their everyday problems… which, to be fair, do frequently involve famous bounty hunters, crazed Ewoks, and even a Dark Lord of the Sith.

Here’s the first trailer, released over the weekend:

Could be funny. Plus, it has the virtue of being irreverent and therefore guaranteed to piss off certain fandom sects, so I’m curious (and hopeful) just on principle.

The brainchild of Seth Green and Matt Senreich, aka the creators of Robot Chicken, Detours definitely possesses some of the same DNA (and perhaps a bigger budget), though this new take on poking fun at Star Wars seems designed to be more kid-friendly. This, naturally, has some Star Wars fans up in arms, because, as we all know, Star Wars was never meant for kids. All those toys, action figures, games, Lego sets, Halloween costumes and so on? Yeah, all that crap’s targeting the 30-45 age group. Yes, even the bubble bath mix. Also? Star Wars is serious business, damn it. No laughing, no mocking, no taking the piss out of the galaxy far, far away. Oh, and like I said, keep those kids away from it.

Please. Get over it.

I was ten years old when Star Wars (not “Episode IV” or “A New Hope“) hit theaters. No, it wasn’t aimed squarely at little shits my age, but we were there, by golly. Then all those toys came along, and we were playing Star Wars around our neighborhoods, shooting at each other with Han Solo’s blaster (which wasn’t orange) and beating on each other with inflatable lightsabers, and using a catcher’s mask because nobody had anything else that looked like Darth Vader. As we grew older, we started figuring out what the grown-ups already knew, and that there was more to the movie than cool ships, laser gun fights, and ‘splosions. Granted, we’re not talking A Tale of Two Cities or whatever, but there’s obviously some stuff in there for adults to enjoy.

Doesn’t make it any less for kids, right? While I obviously don’t think it’s meant for kids only, I don’t get this thinking by some folk that it must instead be for adults only. What the hell is with that?

My oldest daughter, getting ready to be six, loves Star Wars. We watch the Clone Wars TV series together (most of the episodes, anyway; I’ve had to screen a few I thought were a bit too intense for her), and her favorite character…as you might guess…is Ashoka Tano. I even bought her a hoodie that looks like Ashoka’s outfit. When we go to the toy store, she picks out Star Wars toys. There are whole lines of toys aimed at her age bracket, and still more intended for older kids, all the way up to the “collectibles” nerds like you and I buy.

It’s obvious that this new show isn’t going to appeal to everybody. Some peeps won’t think it’s funny, and then there are the hardcore fans who see things like Detours and all the merchandising as somehow diluting or “disrespecting” the Star Wars films. After watching the various trailers and clips, I’m sure I’ll check it out when it finally hits TV, but there’s a good chance I’ll view it like I do the Robot Chicken shorts: A little will go a long way. On the other hand, maybe I’ll laugh my ass off. Guess we’ll see.

Personally, I think that when a property has achieved a status where it’s being parodied, homaged, crossed over, mashed up, and variations are being created to appeal to different age groups, it’s a good bet said property has cemented its place in the pantheon of entertainment history (whatever the hell THAT is), and no silly toy or cartoon is going to knock it off its pedestal. I mean, anything which can beget a super-cool book like this has to be unwaveringly confident in its sheer awesomeness, right?

So, hardcore fanboys need to just lighten up. Otherwise, Vader’s gonna have your ass, yo.

The greatest Star Wars book ever. I mean it.

You can stop looking.

From the marketing copy:
“What if Darth Vader took an active role in raising his son? What if “Luke, I am your father” was just a stern admonishment from an annoyed dad? In this hilarious and sweet comic reimagining, Darth Vader is a dad like any other—except with all the baggage of being the Dark Lord of the Sith.”

Darth Vader and Son, by Jeffrey Brown – Chronicle Books

Damn it, this book is brilliant. I bought it the other day. For my kids. Honest.

“WAAAAAAAH!”
“What’s wrong?”
“Greedo pushed me!”
“Well, did you push him first?”

She’ll make .5 past the toybox….

As some of you may know, my oldest daughter, all of 5, is a budding Star Wars geek.

Don’t worry, she still digs Rapunzel from Tangled and various other Disney characters, but she migrates between those things and stuff that some people might dismiss as “just for boys.” To them, I say, “Pffft!” If my kid wants to do the Star Wars thang, I’m not going to discourage her. We haven’t graduated to the actual movies yet, but she (and her younger sister, to a lesser extent) really likes the Clone Wars series. Thanks to the merchandising behemoth that is Lucasfilm, there are plenty of books, games, and other items intended for kids in her age bracket to make her eyes go all “HOLY SCHNIKES!” whenever we happen past the toy section at the store.

One evening, after a particularly extended run of good behavior at home, school, and Taekwondo, we decided to let them take some of their Christmas gift money and pick out something at the store. For some reason they’ve gotten into Thomas the Train, so we’ve acquired a couple of those sets (which all can connect together to form a GIGANTIC TRAIN SET THAT CONSUMES ALL OF THE OPEN SPACE IN THE LIVING ROOM). It’s actually pretty cool, and half the fun is working out the different configurations for the tracks and sets to wind under and around furniture, and all of that jazz. Erin, focused on that bit of fun, picked out yet another expansion set. At this rate, I may be able to fashion a system which will deliver chicken wings from the kitchen down to my office and return the dirty plate upstairs on command.

Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, Addy literally stopped in her tracks and her mouth did indeed drop open when her eyes fell upon this:


(Click pics to Biggie Size)

I’d seen these before, long with other figures and vehicles. Playskool has a Star Wars license, and they’ve put together a pretty slick line of toys for the 3-6 range. As you can see, the Falcon opens up to make a playset, and there’s all sorts of little accessory doo-dads to snap into this bracket or plug into that connector. Stuff like the dish and the cannon pops off the outside and snaps into place on the inside. Everything seems designed for little, awkward hands in mind. Opening the ship too far doesn’ break it; it just pops off and you can pop it right back on. All the little pieces go inside when the kid’s done playing, you pop it closed, and it even has a little concealed carrying handle. The figures are rendered in that exaggerated/stylized manner that for some reason to me is just frikkin’ cool.

Where the HELL was this kind of stuff when I was a little kid? Part of me wants to run out and get all the other vehicles and figures for this line. You know, for the kids. Always for the kids, you know.

Of course, as we get it home and I start helping the kids put this and the train set together, I keep returning to one thought…..

Why the HELL doesn’t Star Trek have stuff like this?!?

If I could’ve had a playset like this, with totally whacked-out versions of the Enterprise and Kirk and the gang when I was a wee lad, I’d have flown that thing around the house and out in the yard until it crumbled to dust. Playsets for the bridge, engineering, the transporter room, an alien planet/village/whatever? A shuttlecraft? Hell, I’d buy one of everything right now if somebody made the stuff.

You know…for the kids.

Yes, Star Wars is more popular than Star Trek, at least when it comes to kids and toys. I don’t know if that’s just a characteristic of each property’s fandom as a whole, or what. I know it’s not a function of CBS being unwilling to provide licenses for such things, because some really fun stuff has come out over the past few years. That said, whenever any Star Trek merchandise is announced which brings with it anything approaching “whimsy,” hardcore fans seem to foam at the mouth, weeping and wailing at this latest assault on the Holy Trek. “How dare they sully the sanctity of Roddenberry’s vision” or some such dumbass thing.

Meanwhile, Star Wars keeps getting the cool shit, and kids eat it up.

And I’m right there on the floor beside them, having a grand old time. Pew! Pew! Oh, and the train tracks run right past the spaceport, yo.

Pixar Wars!

This is awesome.

The gang over at GeekTyrant.com have posted a piece of sweet mash-up artwork as rendered by Andrew Chesworth, showcasing what Star Wars might look like if re-imagined by the fine folks at Pixar:


Click to visit the article on GeekTyrant.com, and to see a ginormous version of the pic.

This isn’t the first time I’ve seen Pixar-ified Star Wars imagery, but I can’t help chuckling every time I look at this one. Now I really want to see a whole movie like this; fanboys be damned.