BEWARE: Spoilers for the Star Wars Expanded Universe ahead.
“In order to give maximum creative freedom to the filmmakers and also preserve an element of surprise and discovery for the audience, Star Wars Episodes VII-IX will not tell the same story told in the post-Return of the Jedi Expanded Universe.”
With that definitive statement last week, Lucasfilm officially shut the door on the last thirty-five years of Star Wars storytelling. After literally hundreds of books, comics, and graphic novels released to satiate story-hungry fans, the grey area that the Expanded Universe lives in has been cordoned off for good by JJ Abrams and the team behind next year’s Episode VII. Is this a good thing? A bad thing? A (literally) universe-ending disaster?
The Light Side: Room for manoeuvre
It’s all there in the press release. With the phrase “creative freedom”, Lucasfilm have extricated themselves from a sprawling, sometimes messy, sometimes conflicting world that veers between the very good and the rather bad. With so many individual authors and artists involved it was always going to be difficult to keep the house style consistent, and the EU’s creative choices haven’t always been the best (see below). By distancing the movie release from their creative playground, Lucasfilm have made what is (realistically) the only logical creative choice for their cinematic future.
The Dark Side: Who?
But like the Death Star destroying Alderaan, with one fell swoop (and imaginary laser beam) Lucasfilm have ‘killed off’ a huge cast of genuinely beloved characters. From Dash Rendar to Tenel Ka Djo and Galen Marek, a long list of interesting, exciting characters have been boxed away in what Lucasfilm are now calling their Legends series. Fans of the EU are feeling the loss of two characters in particular – Grand Admiral Thrawn and Mara Jade (later Skywalker). Introduced in Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy, they consistently take the top two places on EU best-of lists. Whilst Thrawn is easily the EU’s greatest villain, Mara Jade takes top billing when it comes to complex characters with brilliant story arcs. Originally a grey-area villain and relic of the Empire, she later goes on to join the Light, going so far as to get hitched to Luke Skywalker himself and form the Universe’s greatest power couple. Her loss is a harsh one indeed.
Light: No more Yuuzhan Vong
Ah, the Yuuzhan Vong. A rather angry species originating ‘outside the universe’ and unable to be sensed through the force, the war-mongering zealots almost succeeded in destroying the New Republic created after the fall of the Empire. Ushering in a new era of EU books, these seemingly indestructible foes lacked the charisma of the Empire and villains like Thrawn, instead delivering a slow-paced, nuance-lacking war which despatched several characters who just didn’t deserve it. Rumours that readership went down during the Yuuzhan Vong’s tenancy don’t improve impressions, so the news that they won’t be appearing on the big screen is a welcome one.
Dark: No more emotional heartache
Something the EU excels at is getting you right in the feels. Angst lurks around every corner, from major character deaths to more than a few brushes with the Dark Side. It’s something the Expanded Universe not only does incredibly well but isn’t afraid to do in the first place, going so far as to turn Jacen Solo (son of Han and Leia) into one of its darkest villains, and killing off his little brother Anakin to boot. It’ll be undeniably sad to lose those brave choices. And the bravest of all? Killing off Chewbacca. The furry fighter sacrificed himself for old buddy Han, and the universe was never the same again.
Light: No more emotional heartache
On the other hand – the resurrection of Chewbacca! It’s hard seeing our favourite characters suffer so much, and it’s always risked mutating them so much that they no longer resemble the people we love. Han Solo in particular has undergone rather a sea change after losing his best friend and both of his sons, and whilst it’s imperative that the characters do change and grow, hitting the reset button for Episode VII means we’ll (hopefully) get to see the trio actually enjoying their more mature years. After the disaster that was Episodes I-III, doing away with some of these darker elements means they can put some of the fun back into the Star Wars universe.
Dark: A misspent youth
Thirty-five years. Thousands (maybe even millions) of words. Hundreds of images. In the blink of an eye, the time that people have invested in the EU has apparently come to nought. Though the franchise’s return to the big screen is a reason for cautious optimism, spare a thought for the people who’ve invested so much of their time into something, only to see it consigned to the realms of Alternate Universe. May the force be with you.