Star Wars: The Force Awakens released last week. I have yet to see it, having learnt in the past never to go to a premiere. I’ll be watching it in the coming days and I’m as excited as every other fan of the saga. But to me it’s all been a bittersweet experience, one that started with the announcement of the buyout and the plans to make new films, and I’m sure it’s the same for many fans. The reason is that with a single announcement, over thirty years of Star Wars lore became non-canon.
Yes, I’m talking about the Expanded Universe, the continuity formed by both the films and all the material published in one media or another that served to complement it. A fun detail that very few know is that the EU predates the films, with the official novelisation of A New Hope releasing months before the first Star Wars film.
The Expanded Universe, now branded as Legends and non-canon continuity, is what I loved the most about Star Wars. These amazing stories, characters, worlds and technologies added more depth to an already intriguing universe.
So while some of you enjoy the film and some of us will enjoy it soon enough, let’s remember the Expanded Universe.
Before we go into the different characters I’ve loved over the years, some of which are now much poorer without their expanded histories, or the worlds and technologies and cultures we’ve discovered, let’s talk a bit about the Expanded Universe itself, what it is and how it kept its continuity from becoming a complete mess—there are/were messy aspects of it, unavoidable in such a long history with so many different writers.
An Expanded Universe is the collection of media that extends a given franchise. Everything in it, unless stated otherwise, is canon and part of the overall franchise’s lore.
While George Lucas sat on the throne of LucasFilm, he had an entire department dedicated to keeping the EU consistent and sometimes even worked closely with writers to tell them how certain events happened. Every major change in the Star Wars status quo, including character deaths, first had to go through George for his approval.
While he often claimed to never have read a single novel, comic or other media and never let those influence him, some of the EU details made their way to the Star Wars films he produced, the most famous of which are Coruscant for the Galactic Republic’s Capital Planet and the Twi’lek Jedi Aayla Secura, who made her début in Attack of the Clones—and got bumped off in Revenge of the Sith. George drew both of these elements from EU sources, the first from a novel, Heir to the Empire (the first in the Thrawn Trilogy) by Timothy Zahn, and Aayla from the character’s final design for one of the many Dark Horse comics Star Wars series.
LucasFilm kept a Star Wars Universe Encyclopedia with the details of every published work across all media, including characters, worlds and even technology, something that George himself would often check when he had an idea, to make sure that no one else had thought of it before.
- G – George Lucas aka Word from God: George’s word, as creator of the universe, was final. What he said went. No one could contradict this level of canon. If Lucas dropped a mention of a character during a convention, in passing, it became official canon. The films are included in this category.
- T – Television Canon aka The Clone Wars TV series.
- C – Canon aka The Good Stuff or the main EU. It consisted of every authorised published work, across all media and genres.
- S – Secondary aka the Weird Bits were elements of the universe that were either inaccurate, contradictory of just downright silly. The infamous Star Wars Holiday Special belongs in this category—though it is worth mentioning that it had the first ever appearance of Boba Fett.
- N – Non-canon held all the spinoffs and silly bits that didn’t make it into continuity, such as the Lego Star Wars properties, Angry Birds Star Wars and some authorised yet clearly marked non-canon novels.
These levels and in fact the entire databases are now defunct, at least in terms of canonicity. They will continue to exists—as well as sites such as WookiePedia—as handy references to Star Wars Legends, the rebrand of the Expanded Universe.
There is a lot of confusion as to what exactly in the EU could still be canon—considering there’s over 37.000 years of Galactic history in there. Some thought the only thing non-canon would be the post Episode VI material, considering the time gap between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. But without official confirmation, the rule of thumb is that unless it’s directly mentioned in or related to any of the new media, including The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels TV series, then it’s not canon. If someone were to reference details of the Thrawn trilogy in their stories, then only these elements would be canon, but nothing else regarding the trilogy. This has left current Expanded Universe material like The Old Republic in an uncertain state on canonicity and the same holds true from Fantasy Flight Games’ Star Wars Roleplaying Game titles.
All the works in Star Wars Legends are now resource material for the new continuity, for new authors to pull details if not complete storylines and bring them back in perhaps new forms. If we’re lucky, the new Expanded Universe will iron out some of the messier of lazier aspects of its predecessor and be as or even more engaging. We can only hope that the Force is with them.
- History and Society: There were hundreds of cultures in the EU, framing stories and providing background for many of the characters.
- Worlds and Locations: Tatooine and Coruscant aren’t the only worlds out there. In the Expanded Universe there was even a sentient planet, and I’ll talk about that one.
- Life and the Force: The Force is in all living things, so let’s talk about them, the strange creatures that expand the horizons of the Expanded Universe.
- Characters: The best for last, the men, women, droids and clones that guided us through these dens of scum and villainy.