I fell in love with the Star Wars Expanded Universe about 20 years ago. I was about 13 at the time. It was 1995. I remember walking into the local bookshop with my Mum, feeling rather unenthusiastic about the whole experience. You see at the time, like a lot of kids my age, I was more into movies, music and video games. It’s not that I was completely against reading; it’s just that it didn’t really resonate with me. It’s something we did at school, a bit of a chore. My experience with reading at this age included John Steinbeck’s Of Mice & Men and Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. Those stories didn’t exactly set my world on fire.
As Mum began to peruse the shop I found myself wandering off into the Science Fiction section. At 13 my love for Star Wars was just beginning to flourish. I had worn-out copies of the movies at home on VHS, a few vintage figures here and there, and a couple of much loved LucasArts PC games. Curiosity lured me into ‘S’ under Science Fiction. To my surprise I came across two titles – Heir To The Empire and Jedi Search. You have to remember I was just getting into Star Wars in a serious way and I certainly wasn’t lucky enough to have access to the Internet yet, so I really didn’t know these books even existed!
I left the shop that day with a smile on my face and a brand new copy of Kevin J. Anderson’s Jedi Search. On the way home in the car I must have read the synopsis about a dozen times. I couldn’t wait to start it, but I knew I didn’t want to read it on the way home, as I needed to give it my full, undivided attention. No distractions.
When I got home I ran up to my bedroom, jumped on the bed and opened the book. I began to read, and read, and read. Dinner came and went and I continued to read. Time was no longer a conscious thought; I was completely engrossed in the galaxy I loved far, far away. New characters, new planets, new vehicles, I was lapping it up. An all-new Star Wars adventure, yet it felt so familiar, like seeing an old friend after so many years.
I didn’t finish the book in one sitting, but it’s the closest I’ve ever got to it. The next day I started to do what research I could to find out what other adventures were waiting for me out there. Heir To The Empire, The Courtship of Princess Leia, Children of the Jedi, The Truce at Bakura, I couldn’t believe these all existed! I had to find out more. And that’s exactly what I did.
For the next 20 or so years I read every Star Wars book I could get my hands on. I went from begrudgingly reading one book a term in English, to reading two to three books a month. I went through the emotional highs of the early Thrawn and Jedi Academy trilogies to the sad lows of the New Jedi Order. My love for the EU didn’t stop at the novels either. I bought every single game I could get my hands on, sometimes spending hundreds of pounds on a brand new console just to play within the Star Wars galaxy.
The reason I’m telling you this is because I want you to appreciate that I’m a huge fan of the EU. I’m not a ‘dip-in-and-out of a couple of books’ kind of guy. We have quite a bit of history together. I have a massive appreciation of everything the EU has achieved over the years, and continues to achieve in great storytelling.
It was a bittersweet moment for me when Lucasfilm finally answered fan questions regarding these stories within Disney’s new age Star Wars.
"“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.”"
You can remind yourself of the statement in full here.
I remember my first thought upon reading that statement – Damn, Thrawn would have made a kickass bad guy in the next trilogy! Look, I know the Thrawn books took place five years after ROTJ and Harrison, Mark and Carrie look way too old for that time period anyway, but I could still wish and hope.
Following the statement I wasn’t surprised to read a lot of knee-jerk hate and anger spilling out all over the social media and Internet forums. The usual kind of drivel that so-called ‘fans’ of the saga like to bestow on the world, as if time should stand still and the planets should align to the sound of their gospel truth. After my own initial disappointment it took me a good hour or so to really start to formulate a considered opinion. The more I thought about it, the more it made total sense.
First impressions are important, right? Disney is clearly putting all its chips behind Episode VII in an attempt to reignite the franchise with the masses. One man is integral to this – JJ Abrams. I have no doubt that Abrams would have walked if there was any inkling that his creative input would be stifled by the blueprint of the EU. Look how he took over writing duties half way through pre-production – the man’s a storyteller in his own right.
Generally speaking it’s very difficult to adapt a book that was never intended to be a movie, into, well, a movie. I know there are some high profile success stories out there, but for me the real magic ingredient of a book is my own imagination. I would prefer my imagination do the editing, the camera angles, the dramatic explosions. Leave the movies to complement the imagination in their own unique way.
It’s important that the future of Star Wars remain true to its maker – George Lucas. It was no secret that Lucas wasn’t overly enthusiastic about the Expanded Universe. Yes he let others play in his sandbox, and yes in certain circumstances he incorporated characters, locations and events into his own mythology – Aayla Secura and the 501st come to mind – but broadly speaking Lucas always professed there were the movies, and then there was everything else. Even though the man has now retired and passed the reins over to the next generation of storytellers, I for one would much rather see a future trilogy of movies based around Lucas’ own vision of the future, however much Abrams and Kasdan choose to build on it.
We Star Wars fans simply don’t like confusion and lack of clarity when it comes to continuity within our universe. We take the continuity of Star Wars saga very seriously, probably more so than all the fans of all the other franchises put together. When the movies or the TV shows contradict what we read in the books and comics, or play in the games, we struggle to swallow this. Take Karen Traviss’ warmongering Mandalorian race vs The Clone Wars pacifistic depiction as case in hand. We like things to be a bit more black and white than that, and I think Lucasfilm gets this. Effectively wiping the canonical slate clean for the future of Star Wars removes all of this confusion and uncertainty. As fans we should be thankful and embrace this.
Finally, do we really want to know exactly what’s going to happen in the next chapter of Star Wars? Ask yourselves this, would you rather Episodes VII through XI be based on a set of books published years before, or would you rather embrace the mystery, savor the speculation and find out for yourself on December 18th 2015?