Two years ago, on April 25, 2014, the Star Wars franchise underwent a major reboot. After three decades of Expanded Universe canon in the form of books, comics, games, and more, Lucasfilm announced that the Expanded Universe would no longer be considered part of the official Star Wars canon. Instead, it was rebranded as Star Wars Legends, while a new canon was created based around the “immoveable objects” of George Lucas’ story: Episodes I-VI and The Clone Wars film and television series.
This decision was made in order to give the new generation of Star Wars filmmakers, including J.J. Abrams for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, maximum creative freedom to tell their story, one that was not beholden to decades worth of lore that took place after Star Wars: Return of the Jedi and countless other eras in galactic history. Not only would the films be able to tell a new and unconstrained story, but the television series Star Wars Rebels would also be able to tell the canonical story of how the Rebel Alliance came to be.
Was This a Good Decision?
Many fans were, of course, heartbroken by the decision to make the Expanded Universe non-canon. This was a story that many fans had followed for years. In particular, in the absence of films after Return of the Jedi, the Expanded Universe represented the official continuation of the story of Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and Han Solo, even if it was not as official as the stories that George Lucas continued to tell in the prequel trilogy and The Clone Wars. Different levels of officialness didn’t matter to many fans. What mattered was that this was the Star Wars story.
I was not one of these fans. Arguably, this was the only decision that Lucasfilm could have made. To Force (pun completely intended) the new films into following decades of complicated and often convoluted canon would have prevented the films from telling the best story they possibly could have. Plus, so much would have happened before the events of an EU-friendly The Force Awakens that the audience would have missed out. Anakin Solo’s death, the fall of Jacen Solo, the devastation of the Yuuzhan Vong War, the rise and fall of the New Republic, the rise of the Galactic Alliance, the exile of Luke Skywalker, the death of Chewbacca, and more are all stories that would have already happened. These are epic sagas unto themselves that the average moviegoer has no awareness of.
If the filmmakers had to deal with stories like the deaths of Chewbacca and two Solo children, the average moviegoer would have rightly asked, “wWll, why didn’t you just show those in the movie instead of only telling me that they happened in a book I never read?” There would have been too much that either required explaining things to an audience, or that required restricting the story that could be told. Did you know that, 130 years after Star Wars: A New Hope, a new Sith Empire rises to power in the Expanded Universe? That would have limited what the Star Wars films could do, because there were things that would have had to have happened later. So why limit the potential for future movies by constraining them to stories most people don’t know?
Opinions may vary on this, of course, but, no matter what, there’s one thing that Legends fans can still take away from the new canon.
Legends Live On
From the very beginning of the new canon, Lucasfilm made it clear that Legends was not being discarded. The announcement stated, “While the universe that readers knew is changing, it is not being discarded. Creators of new Star Wars entertainment have full access to the rich content of the Expanded Universe. For example, elements of the EU are included in Star Wars Rebels. The Inquisitor, the Imperial Security Bureau, and Sienar Fleet Systems are story elements in the new animated series, and all these ideas find their origins in roleplaying game material published in the 1980s.”
Beyond those basic concepts, we see Legends live on throughout the new canon. Every Star Wars novel and comic brings some sort of Legends influence into it, whether it’s the name of a planet, ship, weapon, or more. Star Wars Rebels is filled with references to the Expanded Universe; in almost every episode, you can find something that was derived from Legends. Though Lucasfilm may no longer be publishing new Legends stories, the creative teams are still fans of the many Legends stories at their disposal and will continue to bring these elements into canon. These may not be fully re-canonized stories (nor will they ever be), but the way the universe functions remains largely the same.
Even Legends as obscure as the West End role-playing games continue to influence Star Wars Rebels on a weekly basis, right down to the makeup of the crew. Who knew that a role-playing game from the early 1990s could be so influential? When it comes to Star Wars, nothing is too obscure to become important. That just shows how important Legends still is, and why I’ve never agreed with the idea that Lucasfilm hated Legends. If they hated it, they wouldn’t still be drawing from it.
Opportunities for Fans
Of course, while Legends continue to influence canon stories, what many fans of the Expanded Universe want are new Legends stories. Although I would not be surprised if, some day, Lucasfilm started putting out StarWars.com-exclusive Star Wars Legends short stories, the time for Legends has come to an end. The resources of Lucasfilm, Disney, Del Rey (the novel publishing house), and Marvel Comics are fully devoted to canon, and putting resources towards Legends would take away from stories set in the canonical storyline.
Not to mention the fact that a new Legends novel, with different Solo and Skywalker children than are depicted in the films, would likely create brand confusion amongst the average reader who doesn’t know about the difference between canon and Legends. Because when you think about it, that’s a distinction generally only known to megafans. Wikia, the Home of Fandom, ran a survey of Wookieepedia readers to find out how many people were aware of the difference. 60% of readers knew the difference between Canon and Legends, while 40% did not. 60% is a big number, but so is 40% – and a lot of these people are some of the biggest superfans out there!
But, hope is not lost. Just because Lucasfilm won’t continue the Legends stories doesn’t mean that the fans can’t. Fan fiction is finding a lot of growing acceptance in Star Wars fandom; it’s not the dirty word that it used to be. These stories will never be official, but if fans want to see the further adventures of Jaina Solo, Ben Skywalker, and all of the other many Legends characters whose stories remain unfinished, the fans themselves can finish them! That’s the beauty of a franchise where the parent company is so open and welcoming to the fans; Star Wars fans don’t have to worry about Lucasfilm coming in and shutting down their efforts to continue the Legends story online.
What the future holds for Star Wars canon and the influence that Legends has on it remains to be seen. It’s clear, though, that there is now a long-term storytelling strategy at Lucasfilm, something that never existed when Legends were still being published. We’re starting to see the fruits of this transmedia effort already, but the full scope of it won’t be known for years to come.
I’m personally excited to find out. How about you? Send me a tweet to let me know what you think!