The expanded universe contains Star Wars stories that build upon canon material from the movies. But it can only go so far.
When Star Wars Canon material became known as Legends, and new Canon material launched a new timeline outside the main saga films, the definition of the “expanded universe” changed.
For the first time in a long time, books were starting to come out that sometimes tied directly into the films, expanding on characters’ backstories and enriching the experience for fans willing and able to explore them all.
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Unfortunately, some fans have taken this to mean that it is expected that you read all the books and comics if you want to follow along with the movies. And this assumption just isn’t true — and it’s not at all Lucasfilm’s intention to imply, either.
The release of the Star Wars novel Resistance Reborn last month has brought up some concerns about whether those who choose not to read it will miss out on important information needed for The Rise of Skywalker.
While there are interesting character developments throughout the book, and it essentially fills in some of the year-long gap between The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker, if you haven’t read it, and don’t plan on doing so before the movie comes out, you aren’t going to feel like you’ve missed something essential — and that’s very much purposeful.
Let’s be clear on one thing: Saga films, which are generally catered to a more casual Star Wars audience (“casual” fans are still fans), probably won’t rely too heavily on major plot points that require extensive background knowledge to understand.
There is some material from the Aftermath trilogy involving Palpatine and the Empire, for example, that could potentially play some kind of role in The Rise of Skywalker. But even if it does contribute to the story that will play out on screen, you won’t have to have read Chuck Wendig’s Star Wars books to follow this story.
However, the same way that Solo brought Maul back into the films, it’s possible certain characters and small references to other material might be made here and there in the script. In a way, this can serve as fanservice to readers and might go over the heads of those who have stuck to the films. But it should never confuse fans to the point of taking them out of the movie entirely.
(Some fans may have felt this way with the re-introduction of Maul if they weren’t familiar with his story arcs from the animated shows, but it wasn’t a detail critical to the plot of the movie, which is probably why it was justified on the filmmaking side of things.)
Take Vice Admiral Holdo as a perfect example of an expanded universe character that merged seamlessly into a new film. If you had read Leia: Princess of Alderaan before watching The Last Jedi, knowing her background and relationship with Leia might have changed the way you viewed both her character and her ultimate sacrifice.
But if you saw the movie for the first time not knowing who she was beforehand, it wouldn’t have taken away from her purpose in the film. It was still made very clear, through the film’s context, why she was there and what the audience was supposed to gather from her presence.
So will you show up to the movie on the 19th or 20th totally confused if you haven’t read books like Resistance Reborn? Most likely not. The opening crawl will probably fill you in on all you need to know about the state of the Resistance. The book isn’t “required” in order to have a good experience watching the movie.
(Although, even if you don’t have time to read it before seeing the movie, we still highly recommend you do at some point. It’s a true masterpiece.)
As for the matter of whether or not fans should feel they have to consume everything to be part of the Star Wars fanbase, in all honesty, Star Wars is getting too big and too diverse for everyone to be able to consume every piece of it.
This isn’t a bad thing, since Star Wars has always been for all ages and backgrounds, and there is always something for everyone to enjoy within the vast and ever-growing amount of content available.
But take the line of children’s books, for example. An adult has every right to read them even if they aren’t parents. But you don’t have to just because it’s Star Wars, the same way you don’t have to read a book about Galaxy’s Edge or canon Thrawn if you aren’t interested in these settings or characters within the universe.
For whatever material you prefer to consume, there is a corner of the fandom for you to explore and enjoy. And those outside that corner can come and go as they please — just because you like it (or don’t) doesn’t mean everyone else has to (or shouldn’t).
The general consensus among the fandom should remain that reading books and comics, as well as watching animated and live-action shows, outside the theatrical films should always be optional.
This means that if you do choose to read expanded universe material, you have every right to do so — but that doesn’t mean you are “more of a Star Wars fan” than someone who doesn’t read the books and only watches the movies.
And if you are a fan who prefers to stick to the movies and doesn’t want to or lacks the time for supplemental material, you shouldn’t feel like you’re missing out or that you aren’t somehow allowed to be part of the fandom. These materials are meant to be enjoyed at your own leisure. That is why they exist.
There is no such thing as required reading for Star Wars fans. If you have the time and means to enjoy the comics and books, absolutely feel free to do so. But you are more than welcome to consume only the parts of Star Wars you love without feeling like you have to devour everything in order to be “in the know.”
We are all fans here. Let’s do all we can to remember that Star Wars is fun, and meant to be enjoyed in all its forms, always.
Do you find value in reading stories that expand upon what’s covered in Star Wars movies? Do you ever feel lost or left out when there’s a reference you miss out on in a movie or show?