On this day, every year, we Star Wars fans celebrate the franchise that has given us joy since most of us were children. But what many on the outside of this fandom don’t realize is that a lot of what we love is secondary to the movies. It’s called the Expanded Universe, or EU. The EU includes books, comics, video games, tv shows, and even other movies (remember those Ewok movies?) that were created over the last 37 years.
Think about that. 37 years worth various entertainment derived mostly from the original trilogy–though once the Prequel movies came out, you pretty much only heard about The Clone wars for the last 15. The only other multimedia franchise I can think of that can rival that is Star Trek. I’ve always been the Star Wars person of the family, my dad is the Star Trek guy. We each absorb what we can of those universes when it comes out and a good portion of our shelves are devoted solely to the lore of those worlds and characters.
Because of this, I think I might be the only Star Wars fan on this May the 4th that is ecstatic that the EU has been declared non-canon.
For those that have just watched the movies, or only know of the movies through the collective unconscious, you have to understand that for most of us Star Wars fans is that we existed mostly on the EU for the better part of the 80′s and 90′s–when a lot of material was created. In opposition, Star Trek fans had that original series, then a sequence of movies, then the return to TV with The Next Generation, Deep Space, and Voyager, all within a fairly steady pace.
What does this mean? It means the most dreaded word in all nerddom: continuity.
You see, while Star Trek had books and comics and such as well, you couldn’t deny the connections the original series had to the movies and how they influence the later TV shows and movies as well. They had a strong continuity, and most of that because it followed the same characters, who then influenced later characters and events in the franchise.
Star Wars went a different route. After Return of the Jedi, if you wanted the further adventures of Luke, Leia, Han, Chewy, and the droids, you had to love reading because it was only in books and comics for the most part. So while Star Trek was finishing up the original cast movies and coming back to TV–both mediums that have the chance of making anyone a fan, Star Wars was lost in the bookshelves waiting to be discovered by those that really loved the original trilogy. And for those of you to young to remember the 80′s and 90′s, trying to watch a movie you didn’t own or had recorded on a VHS tape, wasn’t always so easy. So, with Return of the Jedi coming out in 1984, the likelihood of catching it on TV past 1986 were slim to none. You had to rent it or borrow a friends copy if you didn’t own a copy yourself for the next decade and a half.
This created a sense in the Star Wars fan base, though, that the EU was, for all intents and purposes, canon. The people creating all this new content did a good job of keeping things contiguous in the lives of the characters we loved. Most never expected more movies, though we knew Lucas had two other trilogies in his head. These books and comics, and later video games, were what we were going to get.
Then Episode I: The Phantom Menace hit theaters. Not only did it blow continuity in the EU in places, it even did so with the original movies. I think a lot of fans have forgotten that fact because they want to forget Episodes 1-3 even happened. But with the announcement of a new trilogy, its cast including the original trilogy cast, it seems to me that it actually a good thing that universe we love, and for many grew up with, won’t be touched in these new movies?
I spent a lot of my free time in the EU. More than probably is mentally healthy. I loved my time there. Even the terrible books has moments I enjoyed greatly. But as a fan, how can I expect anyone to make a good movie with all that pre-written history to navigate? As a writer, I find the challenge daunting. Too much was already determined for the time period these new movies took place that it would just result in a terrible story. And then you want J.J. Abrams to make a movie to fit in there and it be good? Remember Star Trek: Into Darkness people.
So on this May 4th, let us not only celebrate the story we’ve cherished for decades. Let us cherish the fact that we will still have those stories to go back to when we want and that these new movies aren’t going to ruin them. Just because they aren’t considered canon doesn’t negate their value to us and to the future fans of the franchise.