By Tom Holste
Mar. 13, 2019
There is a great disturbance in the Force.
An increasingly large (or maybe just increasingly vocal) number of Star Wars fans insist that nothing has been right in the franchise since Disney abolished the old Expanded Universe in 2014. For those not in the know, the Expanded Universe (EU for short) refers to all the non-film material that was created for the saga: the novels, comic books, video games and so forth.
And to a degree, I get it. I haven’t been very excited with a lot of the new books and comics, the few which I’ve bothered to read. If you don’t like the new stories, that’s perfectly O.K. But there’s a false narrative gaining traction in fandom, and I think it’s time to set the record straight.
This false narrative claims that there was only ever one canon from 1976 to 2014. (“Canon,” originally a term for scripture, is now often used to refer to any event that officially happened within a fictional universe. With Star Wars, the movies are clearly canon; C-3P0 and R2-D2 visiting Sesame Street, while entertaining, clearly isn’t canon. But novels, comics and video games tend to fall somewhere in the middle of those two extremes.)
EU defenders further say that the continuity was always internally consistent, that George Lucas was aware of and involved with every aspect of it, and that Disney cruelly flushed it all down the toilet despite Lucas’ objections just so they could cynically sell more books.
There are so many problems with this argument, I barely know where to begin, but let’s start anyway. (Spoilers ahead!)
None of it was ever canon. Otherwise, why call it the Expanded Universe in the first place? Admittedly, pre-Disney Lucasfilm is responsible for part of the confusion here, since they eventually adopted a tiered level of canonicity. “G-canon” was the primary source, anything created by George Lucas himself; “C-canon” referred to the recent comics and novels; and “S-canon” referred to secondary material like the old Marvel comics. EU fans point to the use of the word “canon” to prove their point, but the fact that “G-canon” trumped them all and could contradict them at any time meant that the others weren’t really canon, just as internally consistent as possible.
The movies frequently contradicted the other sources. At one time, the novels said that Luke’s “Uncle” Owen was actually Ben Kenobi’s brother in hiding, until the prequels came along and showed Owen to be Luke’s uncle after all. Boba Fett was a member of the Mandalorian Army, until Lucas decided that he was actually just a clone of his “dad” Jango Fett. Many of the early novels about the Clone Wars got contradicted by the later TV series that Lucas was more involved with. These examples, among others, indicated that the spinoff media was never that important to Lucas, and that the movies (and the later TV shows) were always top priority.
There was already an earlier break in the timeline. As noted in the earlier mention of “S-canon,” the Marvel comics from 1977-86 were contradicted once the new series of novels and comics started in 1991. (In fact, the term “Expanded Universe” was never used prior to that date.) Other media, such as the Ewoks and Droids cartoons of the ‘80s, were quickly ignored. Lucas himself struck certain characters and storylines from official continuity long before 2014, including a talking rabbit named Jaxxon (seen in the header image) and the infamous Holiday Special. Only one character created for spin-off media before 1991 ever made it into the later EU.
Lucas was never that involved. EU fans point to Lucas’ hatred of the character Mara Jade as evidence that he was keenly aware of the spin-off media. But if that was the case, why did he let her keep appearing, and even get married to Luke Skywalker? When she was finally killed off, why was Lucas surprised to learn that?
In 2005, when Starlog magazine asked George Lucas how he kept everything straight with all the novels and comics, he replied, “I don’t read that stuff. I haven’t read any of the novels. I don’t know anything about that world. That’s a different world than my world” (emphasis added).
How fans continue to insist that Lucas was deeply involved in the EU after reading that quote is mind-boggling to me.
Disney did not break into Lucas’ house and steal Star Wars from him. He sold the company himself. He approached Disney CEO Bob Iger about the sale, not the other way around. And I doubt he cries himself to sleep on the bags of 4 billion dollars that Disney paid him. (Yes, I imagine Lucas keeps the money in physical form and plays with it Scrooge McDuck-style.) Lucas could have stipulated in the contract that he didn’t want the EU to be written out of existence, but he didn’t.
There were a lot of bad stories in the old EU. Fan reaction to the Jedi Prince series of young-reader books was so negative that the books were eventually contradicted by later novels. And while fans say that Luke in The Last Jedi was written too dark and out-of-character, there was an EU story where Luke Skywalker fell to the Dark Side under a clone of the Emperor, and Leia had to rescue him. (I actually liked that one, to be fair, but it doesn’t fit into the fans’ current “Luke would never do anything wrong!” narrative.) Fans also complained that the stories had gotten stale and predictable. It’s only been after the Disney reset that suddenly fans behaved as though every prior story was a flawless work of art.
Getting rid of the old EU didn’t help Disney sell more books. They could have easily kept telling stories at different points in the timeline without eliminating anything. They also make a profit off of sales of EU books. The old timeline was eliminated so that filmmakers could have a free hand when making the new trilogy, and to create an easier point of entry for new fans. Thanks to Disney, there is now one consistent canon across all Star Wars media.
Again, if you don’t like the new stories, that’s perfectly valid. But I don’t think revisionist history is the way to make one’s point.
To be fair, I also think that Disney went too far in eliminating everything. There were a lot of stories they could have kept (maybe I’ll write another article about that). But at the end of the day, the important thing is whether or not the stories entertained you. If they did, then it doesn’t matter who says it’s canon or it’s not. But if they didn’t, then keeping them just so fans could say they “really happened” is pointless, because none of Star Wars “really happened.”
Disney has, however, made the first step towards reaching out to disenfranchised fans, with the announcement that there will be a new comic book story set in the timeline of Marvel’s Star Wars from 1977 to 1986. If this trend continues, maybe the fans will calm down, and there can be peace and justice in the Republic…er, the fandom…once again.