In the summer of 1977, Star Wars exploded onto the big screen, captivating audiences young and old with its iconic characters and stunning visual effects. The six-year span of the original trilogy’s release revolutionized the way we see films, but the phenomenon didn’t end there. The rich complexity of the Star Wars universe inspired the creative talents of numerous fans and led to a new kind of storytelling through an Expanded Universe of books, games, comics, and more.
For more than three decades, the lore of Star Wars continued to grow through the Expanded Universe. New stories were spun out of fans’ imaginations in numerous mediums, ranging from writing to gaming. These stories defined the Star Wars universe almost as much as the feature films themselves. But like all good things, the Expanded Universe eventually came to an end.
In the aftermath of Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm in 2012, the decision was made that the Star Wars canon needed a fresh start. On April 25, 2014, Lucasfilm announced that the sequel trilogy would pave the way for a new canon that did not follow the storyline of the Expanded Universe. The six films, the TV series Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and all projects from that point onward were part of a new canon timeline. The Expanded Universe was renamed Star Wars Legends and set aside from the official continuity.
Some fans were saddened by the news, myself included, feeling that thirty years worth of fantastic stories had been tossed aside. I could understand resetting all post-Return of the Jedi stories for the sake of the sequel trilogy, but the entire Expanded Universe? It took me a while to accept that Star Wars was going on without it. But looking back, there are a few reasons why it was probably for the best.
What’s Left to Tell?
Never has a single franchise produced such a vast collection of tie-in material. Hundreds and hundreds of books, comics and games have been added to the lore over the years, introducing compelling characters and conflicts. But as much as the EU contributed to Star Wars, let’s be honest: after thirty years, even this universe will run out of room. Because every entry in the Expanded Universe has to coincide with the established continuity, there can only be so many stories told in one time. Even if some stories are set far enough away from existing material to not interfere (such as the ongoing Legends MMO, The Old Republic), most of the galactic timeline is filled up.
That’s what made The Force Awakens such a success. It had the freedom to tell a story all its own, without the constraints of fitting into an existing continuity. We’re left wondering what will come next, rather than having a sense of it from something already written. That’s what made so many EU stories great, and that legacy of storytelling will carry on into the future.
A New Generation
The Expanded Universe was great in no small part for the collection of minds that built it. They used their creative talents to tell stories of their own, which shaped Star Wars into what it is today. Their impact was so profound, it continues to influence the new canon. When newer authors come forward, they hope to make their own contribution to the story. But as I said before, after thirty years, there isn’t much left to tell.
The authors of the EU are people just like us: they saw Star Wars, loved it, and wanted to add to it. Early on, authors like Timothy Zahn (who is commonly considered one of the founding fathers of the EU) were free to make their riveting, complex stories in on their own terms. For a new generation to tell stories of that quality, they must be granted that same freedom. By this I mean great stories should not be limited by a crammed timeline. Star Wars: The Clone Wars often contradicted parts of the Expanded Universe in their storylines. Though these contradictions irritated some diehard fans, they allowed the show to tell more compelling stories. So a standing continuity isn’t a bad thing, but a fresh start allows for greater possibilities for the next generation.
A Larger World
The Legends continuity is gone, but not forgotten. So far, I’ve basically framed the rich complexity of the Expanded Universe as a nuisance to new writers. But it’s also a wellspring of content to create new ideas. Just as the original EU authors took George Lucas’s concepts in new directions, so to can the next wave of authors use ideas of the storytellers before them. Numerous Expanded Universe elements have already been added into the new canon, including the Imperial Security Bureau, the Inquisitors, and the New Republic.
Even though the stories are no longer considered canon, the universe itself is here to stay. The myriad of worlds, vehicles, and organizations introduced in the EU are still around. The new canon is free to tell new stories, while retaining elements from past stories and applying them in new directions. Rather than overwriting the old continuity, this new canon timeline is expanding the existing Star Wars lore, just as the EU books before it did.
It’s still disappointing knowing that future projects won’t connect with the “Legends” we once knew; the sequel trilogy isn’t about Grand Admiral Thrawn’s conquest, nor will Star Wars Rebels tell the story of Vader’s Secret Apprentice. But resetting the timeline opens up new opportunities. An entirely new universe of stories is waiting to be told, with an iconic film saga and a vast expanded universe as its backdrop.
The phenomenon that began in Summer 1977 hasn’t come to an end. It’s turning a new page.