Today is May 4th, known by many as Star Wars Day, because “May the Fourth” sounds a lot like “May the Force [be with you]”. So I’m using this as an opportunity to talk about Star Wars (though, really, I often talk about Star Wars whether others–by which I mean my wife–want me to or not) and I’m going to address a recent announcement, subsequent fan reaction, and my thoughts on it all.
I was not upset, like many other hardcore Star Wars fans were, when Disney bought Lucasfilm in 2012. To be fair, of course, I’m obviously a big Disney fan as well, and I saw potential in the merger. I felt that not only would it add the power of Disney’s marketing and distribution to the Star Wars brand, but we could someday potentially see something like a Star Wars-themed area at a Disney park. Plus, a lot of the arguments against the purchase boiled down to some irrational fear that suddenly singing forest animals or similar silliness would appear in future Star Wars projects.
Let’s remember, folks, that Jar Jar Binks came about well before Disney owned the brand. So really, we can only go up from there. Singing animals would be an improvement.
Going back well before the Disney/Lucasfilm merger, something called the Expanded Universe (often shortened to EU) came into being. Basically, if you’ve ever read a Star Wars novel or comic, or played a Star Wars video game, it’s most likely part of this Expanded Universe. Some of these starred existing characters from the movies, while many more did not, and while authors were fairly free to tell the stories they wanted to tell, there were a few ground rules: they couldn’t deal with the time period leading up to A New Hope (at least not until the prequel movies happened, then that restriction was lifted), they couldn’t contradict anything from the movies, they couldn’t make any major changes to a main character without express permission (so no killing off Luke Skywalker, for example), and ultimately Lucas’s word was law–any new movies/Lucasfilm projects superseded anything that anybody else wrote.
In late April of this year, in conjunction with plans that include new movies and other media, Lucasfilm announced that everything outside of their own projects is not Star Wars canon. The press release stated: “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. While the universe that readers knew is changing, it is not being discarded.” It went on to say that previous EU content would not be discarded, but would be rebranded under a new “Star Wars Legends” banner.
So now if it’s not the movies, the Clone Wars or Rebels animated TV shows, or any of the official future books/movies/games/comics/etc, it’s not part of the official Star Wars universe. The thought that all of these EU stories are now not part of the official Star Wars canon got a considerable number of Star Wars fans quite angry, and many suggested that they “blame Disney”.
Many fans assumed that the separation of the EU from official canon is a new development, directly related to the fairly recent Disney/Lucasfilm merger, but in fact Lucas has pretty much said this all along. In 2002 he this to say to Cinescape Magazine:
“There are two worlds here. There’s my world, which is the movies, and there’s this other world that has been created, which I say is the parallel universe–the licensing world of the books, games, and comic books. They don’t intrude on my world, which is a select period of time, [but] they do intrude between the movies. I don’t get too involved in the parallel universe.”
Lucas reiterated this in 2005, in an interview in Starlog #337:
“I don’t read that stuff. I haven’t read any of the novels. I don’t know anything about that world. That’s a different world than my world. But I do try to keep it consistent. The way I do it now is they have a Star Wars Encyclopedia. So if I come up with a name or something else, I look it up and see if it has already been used. When I said [other people] could make their own Star Wars stories, we decided that, like Star Trek, we would have two universes: My universe and then this other one. They try to make their universe as consistent with mine as possible, but obviously they get enthusiastic and want to go off in other directions.”
So according to the man who created Star Wars, the EU exists separately from his own view of the series.
There were some contradictions as well between the EU and Lucas’s canon as he developed it with the prequels and Clone Wars. Timothy Zahn’s “Thrawn” trilogy of novels included the timeframe and cause of the event known as the Clone Wars, which the prequel movies then drastically altered. Karen Traviss wrote an excellent series revolving around a small squad of clone commandos which focused on the planet Mandalore, and the Clone Wars animated TV series went in a very different direction from what she had created and essentially forced her to quit writing the novels.
A lot of the arguments against the recent announcement boil down to the fact that people fleshed out this universe over the years, adding details and history well beyond the saga of “Luke Skywalker and his companions against Darth Vader and the Empire” and many fans feel that removing this rich tapestry is a bad thing.
Look, I’m a hardcore Star Wars fan. I can spend more time than I care to admit discussing the prophecy (of the one who will bring balance to the Force), I’ve got an Instagram account that’s devoted to Star Wars action figures (galactic_repertory_theatre), and I named one of my cats after a Jedi who had less than five minutes of total screen time (Kit Fisto). I’ve played most of the games, and I’ve read a lot of the novels, and you know what? This announcement doesn’t really bother me. Here’s why:
1) It’s George’s story. Yes, I love the saga and I’ve gotten far more invested in it than is probably healthy, but at the end of the day it was created by someone else and he’s got final say over it all.
2) Just because a story isn’t official canon doesn’t mean that I suddenly enjoy it any less. I’m a big fan of the Coruscant Nights book series by Michael Reaves as well as the aforementioned Karen Traviss novels. I played and loved the two Knights Of The Old Republic games and Force Unleashed (which I thought at one point had been canonized, but I suppose that’s nullified now). Now that these tales aren’t happening in the same fictional universe as the canon saga, I don’t retroactively dislike them. I’ll still read the novels and I keep meaning to go back and play Knights again, and the fact that it’s now officially not canon wouldn’t change that.
3) The decision actually makes a bit of sense. There are a lot of Star Wars stories out there, and hopefully this “cleaning up” of the slate will allow them to create new and exciting tales that will all be a part of the official canon and the universe will be fleshed out (again). They did acknowledge that some EU content will be at least mentioned or even incorporated, and the inclusion of the Inquisitors (characters tasked by Emperor Palpatine to seek out and kill Jedi) in the upcoming Rebels series indicates that this is the case.
4) At some point in an EU story, Chewbacca was killed off. Not cool, man. Not cool.
I don’t “blame Disney” for destroying Star Wars like the Death Star destroyed Alderaan. I’ll still enjoy EU content for what it is–fun stories in a fictional universe–and I look forward to seeing what Disney and Lucasfilm do with the franchise going forward. The trailers for Rebels suggests it’ll be a lot of fun, of course there’s the upcoming new movie trilogy as well as some spin-off films planned, Marvel (also owned by Disney) will be handling future comic books, and a series of novels that closely ties into the new stories has already been announced.
So to those who are really upset by the announcement, I would remind them that anger is the path to the Dark Side. Trust in the Force, even if it happens to be wearing mouse ears.
May the Fourth be with you.