Last week, Lucasfilm made headlines with an official press release that essentially relegated the entirety of the Star Wars Expanded Universe—novels, comics, video games, role-playing manuals, et al—to mere “What If?” status (read the full statement here).
If you’re lazy and don’t want to wade through it, here’s the gist of the situation: all of the events and characters contained within the EU were declared non-canon, ending all speculation about the possibility of the Mara Jades or the Grand Admiral Thrawns or the Yuuzhan Vongs or the Kyle Katarns of the world appearing in film adaptations of their literary or digital adventures. None of the EU narratives, characters, or events will have any impact on the one, true canon of Star Wars, i,e the Clone Wars animated series, Episodes 1-6, the new Star Wars: Rebels animated series, and the new film trilogy under Disney. Some character or planet names might pop up in Episodes 7-9 (or in the new in-canon publishing initiative Disney plans to launch), and the materials that compose the Expanded Universe, or “EU” for short, will remain in circulation – but they will be rebranded with a gold band bearing the title “Star Wars Legends,” and for all intents and purposes, will be completely irrelevant.
The immediate reactions from fans of this literary and video game expansion of the six core Star Wars films ranged from mild disappointment, all the way up to righteous indignation and seething, frothing rage; many hardcores openly declared their love of the Expanded Universe far outweighed their attachment to the films, and vowed to boycott any new Disney Star Wars product, including Episode VII. But Star Wars fans should not bemoan the jettisoning of this messy, labrynthine realm of green space bunnies and bearded Hutts, rather they should celebrate a fresh, new beginning and a re-focusing on the medium Star Wars truly belongs to – films. Discarding the EU is a good thing for Star Wars, and here’s five reasons why:
5.) The Star Wars Universe Is Now (Mostly) Free Of Convolution
The Star Wars EU is a dense, tangled forest whose gnarled, twisted roots run deep. The timeline of events is a jumbled mess and many stories in the EU openly contradict events that occurred in the comics, games, and even other previously published novels. By clearing it out, Disney/Lucasfilm can start fresh and construct a coherent narrative which builds off of the films virtually everyone knows by heart, without having to worry about educating Joe Sixpack and your everyday moviegoers about the children Han and Leia had; or which one of them turned to the dark side and which ones died off in a lengthy, convoluted war with a weird, very un-Star Wars like species called the Yuuzhan Vong, for example.
Fans who have read every EU novel, comic books series, role-playing game manual, and played every video game likely account for a mere fraction of a percent of Star Wars fandom, so why should Lucasfilm cater to these individuals and make it more difficult for Star Wars fans and moviegoers who never had the time, money, or emotional investment to engross themselves in mountains of reading material? Lucasfilm CEO Kathleen Kennedy and the Disney brass saw the writing on the wall and knew it time for a fresh start; they made a logical decision to keep things simple, stick to the films, and appeal to the widest possible audience. Star Wars is for everyone, and the EU made it too insular.
4.) All Of Those Terrible Stories Have Been Wiped Away
Even the staunchest EU supporters have to admit to themselves that their beloved literary galaxy is rife with plodding narratives, nonsensical twists, repetitive plot devices, and some awful Mary Sue characters. I haven’t read any of these books or comics in years, but right off the top of my head, I can cite the following terrible, horrible, no-good things that Star Wars no longer has to worry about:
Suncrushers, Darksabers, World Devastators and other tedious superweapons developed by the Imperial remnants; Waru, the sentient gold Jell-O mold and cult leader (yes, really); Trioculus, the Emperor’s long-lost, three-eyed son; Lowbacca the Wookiee and the entire Young Jedi Knights YA Fiction series; Force-canceling lizards; Prince Isolder the Fabio-esque space royal who spent an entire novel trying to get into Leia’s pants; The recurring plot device of Han and Leia’s children getting kidnapped pretty much everywhere they went; Bounty Hunter IG-88 uploading his A.I into the second Death Star and taking control of its systems right before it was destroyed; Chewbacca getting killed by an entire planet falling on him and on and on it goes. I’m sure I’m forgetting about dozens of other atrocities and transgressions against good storytelling here, but thankfully all of them can now be written off as a bad fever dream; a series of tales which took place in some alternate dimension none of us ever has to visit if we don’t want to.
3.) Characters Who Have Died Can Live Again, And Vise Versa
The EU killed off beloved characters like General Madine, Mon Mothma, Admiral Ackbar, and—as I mentioned earlier—poor ol’ Chewbacca. It also resurrected characters who died in the original trilogy like Boba Fett and The Emperor – both in pretty dumb ways (If i recall correctly, Boba Fett’s rescue from the Sarlacc Pit involved having to serve as best man in fellow bounty hunter Dengar’s wedding to one of Jabba’s slave girls or something). Now, thanks to the shuttering of the EU, Chewbacca never had a planet dropped on him, and JJ Abrams has the freedom to bring back Boba Fett in a cooler, more interesting way if he so chooses. Then again, if you’re stupid and clumsy enough to get taken out by a blind guy fresh out of carbon freezing in a Laurel & Hardy-esque manner, you probably deserve to stay dead.
2.) The Mysteries Of The Force And The Jedi/Sith Are Intact
One of the things that drove me bananas about the EU material—especially the stuff that dealt with the Force and Jedi Knights—was the over-explanantion and the stripping away of everything cool and mysterious about the Force. The EU did stupid things like creating and categorizing different styles of lightsaber combat (similar to different styles of martial arts), a few authors gave Force-sensitive individuals weird powers never glimpsed in the films, and perhaps worst of all – pretty much every other character Han, Luke, and company ran into the EU was either a Force-sensitive Jedi potential, or an unstoppable Mary Sue Jedi Master or Sith Lord who appeared after being “hidden” somewhere for decades. Even in the Prequels, when the Jedi were at the height of their power and numbers, we only saw perhaps 30 or 40 of them. The Force and The concept of who can truly become a Jedi lost its significance and got mired in unnecessary minutiae.
George Lucas is guilty himself of peeling away the layers of mystery away from the Force with his misguided and mundane midichlorian nonsense, but aside from that misstep, now all we know about the mysteries of the Force is what we discovered in the films and The Clone Wars animated series, paving a way for the return of The Force as something deep and mystical. The Force isn’t something you should break down, categorize, label, or micromanage; it should be spoken about in hushed tones and gazed upon in wide-eyed wonder. Yoda says is best: “Size matters not. “Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? Hmm? Hmm. And well you should not. For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you; here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere…”
1.) Surprises Are Back In Play:
One of the biggest complaints fans levied against the Prequels was that they were almost completely devoid of drama, tension, or stakes, because anybody who saw the “classic trilogy” knew where the characters were going to end up in the end. Good, dramatic storytelling requires the element of surprise; a sense that anything can happen. Now that this new trilogy of movies under Disney and JJ Abrams aren’t beholden to the events in novel series like Fate of the Jedi and Legacy of the Force—which told stories about Luke and Leia in their 60s and beyond—anything can happen and anything could have happened in the 35 some-odd years between Return of the Jedi and Episode VII.
Maybe Han and Leia realized they were too different and split up without ever marrying or having children; Maybe Luke went off alone to live a quiet life of contemplation rather than train new Jedi Knights; Maybe Leia turned to the Dark Side and she is the leader of the Sith in Episodes 7-9; Maybe The Emperor never really died; Maybe the Emperor’s former master Darth Plaguies the Wise, who boasted about having the power to create life, is still out there somewhere? The bottom line here is that Star Wars once again is rife with unlimited possibilities, and there’s an open, uncharted galaxy ahead of us; let’s plug in some hyperspace coordinates to anywhere and punch it.