Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens is truly right around the corner and, with just over 73 days before the film hits theaters, excitement has crescendoed to an all time peak for the franchise. When Disney purchased Lucasfilm, the studio behind the Star Wars franchise, in 2012 for $4.05 billion many fans rejoiced at the fact that they would finally get to see movies beyond the original and prequel trilogies. Since then, Disney’s announced that we’ll be getting far more Star Wars films than we ever actually expected to, with not only the next 3 episodes planned, but also anthology films (now tentatively titled ‘Star Wars Stories’) that will essentially play the role of big blockbuster interludes. That’s 6 films in the next 6 years! And along with all the new Star Wars movies comes a wide variety of non-essential, yet complimentary, canonical material in the forms of novels, comics, video games, television and more. It’s this auxiliary content I’ll primarily be referring to in this article. And while many fans are chomping at the bits with each new in-canon Star Wars release, there are those letting nostalgia hinder their enjoyment and the enjoyment of others.
For the uninitiated, Star Wars has a long and varied history when it comes to supplemental material that’s been made available to fans. The ‘Star Wars Expanded Universe’ (or SWEU), long considered a natural part of the Star Wars canon by fans, boasted hundreds of novels, games, and comics that ran the gamut between 36,000 years before the Phantom Menace to 134 years after Return of the Jedi. The SWEU was a flawed, yet wonderful addition to the Star Wars franchise to many, as it saw the evolution of beloved characters, the introduction of whole new individuals, planets, and more, as well as carrying the galaxy far far away into new, uncharted stories. I say “flawed” only because there was little quality control. Some books were fantastic, and others unreadable. Still, many Star Wars fans, myself included, grew (unhealthily) attached to many of the characters that were constants in the long run of the series, most particularly within the novels. And when Disney bought Lucasfilm, it was announced that the SWEU would no longer be recognized as canon, and all EU material would fall under the banner of ‘Star Wars Legends’.
With Disney’s purchase came the Lucasfilm Story Group, a 4-member division within Lucasfilm whose sole priority is to
bring balance to the Force create and determine a cohesive canon in which all mediums of storytelling moving forward can fit neatly amongst each other in a chronologically sound manner. Sounds great right? Must be the best job ever.
Well, this new canon sees the Star Wars universe moving forward in entirely new directions, leaving many classic SWEU characters far behind. When the shift was made, I couldn’t help but feel that pang of loss for those characters I’d read about and learned to love. And I’d only read a handful of the novels in question. For others, the loss of these stories and characters to the status of ‘Legends’ was a far more acute pain. And now that we’ve been hit with a few waves of new in-canon material, some fans are clammoring that it simply isn’t enough, it’s not as good, and that they want the SWEU back.
This has been highlighted recently with the release of Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath, the first in-canon novel to expressly pertain to events set post Return of the Jedi and prior to The Force Awakens. The novel has been receiving a slew of 1-star reviews on both Goodreads and Amazon from (reportedly) organized fans boycotting the new canon, perhaps in an attempt to bring back the old books. I need not explain why this is wrong to do, as the answer is so egregiously obvious, but it still stuns me that fandom so can stoop so low. I’ve read the book. I’ve reviewed it. It’s really not bad, and certainly doesn’t deserve the backlash it’s received.
Nostalgia has turned some fans towards the Dark Side of the Force it seems. Let’s take a step back, look at what’s been accomplished so far with this new direction, and just try to understand the need for the new canon altogether. Although it’s been far from perfect, there’s plenty of good to be found there.
Anyone who’s read any EU content beyond the events of Episode VI has thought to themselves, “how would this fit in with a future film?” And the most likely answer, every time, is that it simply would be too difficult to make these storylines work alongside the films. There was just far too much material to find a place in-between stories, and very few of the stories actually felt like true successors to the original trilogy – thematically anyway. Hate to say it but the Yuuzhan Vong felt more like a Star Trek threat than a Star Wars one. The cast of the original trilogy are too old now to do the classic Thrawn trilogy or something else.
And if you’re going to disregard one set of stories to set up another, you might as well disregard it all. The only way Lucasfilm could have honestly moved forward with the new films was to disregard everything else. This couldn’t have been an easy decision and shouldn’t be regarded as though they maliciously threw away a bunch of great content and history. What would happen if you tried to fit the new films into the EU continuity? You’d alienate a magnificent number of people who would simply be too lost in the minutia of the history to find any enjoyment whatsoever. And had they kept going with the EU alongside the new films? That would be absolute mayhem. If you’re in the boat where you feel they should have simply not made new movies and continued with the SWEU novels, I hate to break it to you but the films are and always have been the core of the series. All media should orbit the main releases.
That said, this brings up a big issue with the new continuity, as we’ve seen it. Because these books and comics are shying away from spoiling major details about the new movies, they feel less substantial. That’s not to say they aren’t good – I’ve read most of them, and enjoy them a ton – but they do feel like an interlude to a far bigger story. They rarely feel like they’re treading new ground. Instead, they feel more like “safe” ways to keep us fed and not tell us anything at the same time. Should the films be the tentpole on which these new stories lean upon, or should they hold their own? So far very few actually feel like “this is the next chapter,” and they increasingly feel like filler material to placate demand.
As it is, Lucasfilm and Disney are tight-lipped about what’s to come from The Force Awakens. We know that. And that level of secrecy should be respected. You and I both want to enjoy the new films as much as possible, day of. We cannot expect that the entire plot of the new films will be divulged in the new material. Sure, we’ll get hints here and there about what to potentially expect going forward, but it’s clear that in its infancy, the Lucasfilm Story Group will be holding most of its new canon cards close to their chest. No less should be expected at this stage. I expect that after we finally get to see The Force Awakens, we’ll be allowed to know more about the events leading into the film. Truthfully, Aftermath only scratches the surface.
But we do get a healthy glimpse of the post Return of the Jedi galaxy in it, along with other recent projects. Lost Stars, a novel from author Claudia Gray targeted at the Young Adults demographic, spans the length of the entire original trilogy, and gives us some much needed insight into the mindset of the splinter factions of the Empire, as well as introducing us to Jakku. We learn how the Empire takes matters into their own hands by creating an all encompassing iron blockade around the Anoat Sector in the mobile game Star Wars Uprising, by developer Kabam. We even get to witness the conception of one of our leading heroes from Episode VII in the Marvel comic Shattered Empire.
The abrupt cancellation of The Clone Wars animated series was a mistake, in my opinion, one they’ve more than made up for with Star Wars: Rebels, which is now entering its second season. However, it was smart of them to move away from the Clone War era, as that would be dwelling too heavily on the prequel era, when they really needed to start filling in the gaps between III-IV, and so on. Still, we were gifted with a wonderful in-canon novelization of unused Clone Wars scripts in Dark Disciple, by Christie Golden.
All in all, the new Star Wars canon is off to a great start. Not all of its novels are stellar, but many are. Again, the purpose of the Lucasfilm Story Group isn’t quality control – that’s the authors’ jobs – rather, the LSG simply help the cohesion of the canon as the story develops. If you haven’t given it a shot yet, you really should. It’ll only whet your appetite for what’s to come. Check out this handy timeline for more info. Share your thoughts in the comments below, I’d love to hear them.
11 thoughts on “In Defense of the New Star Wars Canon”
George Lucas always said the expanded universe’s canonicity was up to debate and that he felt he could change it a moment’s notice. In fact, the Prequel Trilogy did go against established things even if it didn’t disown the entire canon. Fans simply removed the affected things from the canon and kept them alongside it as an “unofficial canon”. So I wasn’t particularly surprised when they decided to write their own thing nor did it particularly bother me.
But what did bother me was the removal of all Expanded Universe books. Everything after Return of the Jedi I get, it’ll be hard to fit the movies into the mess that is the EU and they shouldn’t need to work around the Expanded Universe. But I didn’t see the need to remove thing that simply weren’t affected and it felt kind of short sighted. Instead of just going “We don’t care about the EU.” they said “It’s gone.” like a final statement. The finality of it is what bothers me. Granted, it can come back and fans are free to say certain books weren’t affected because they simply weren’t. I don’t see why a book about a jedi on the run from the Empire with brief appearances by Vader isn’t canon just because they’ve gone in another direction post-RotJ. Still, it bothers me that they went so biblical on it rather than just say “Right, you love the EU but we can’t move forward if we have to take it into account all the time so… prepare for some major sacrifices.” and fans would’ve obliged.
I also disagree that the movies are the end that justifies the means. Certainly they’re the biggest pillar but orbiting material should not be disregarded and at this point I’m fairly confident in saying Star Wars wouldn’t be nearly as big as it is without all the extra material created between and after the trilogies. Sure, the movies will always be seen as more important and cleaning the slate a bit definitely offers them to better coexist since they can now rule with an iron fist, something Lucas refused to do. But labeling everything “sacrificial in search of more money” doesn’t really fly with me. It gives me less of a reason to care and if they’re willing to disregard canon just for the movies then what possible reason do I have to get engaged? It won’t happen any time soon, granted, because Disney has plans. But still, if the precedence has been set and we’re willing accomplices, what’s to stop them six years down the line saying “Right, new plans, scrap all the comics and books and cartoons, we’re starting over. It would’ve hindered us too much!” It’s not a pattern yet, sure, it’s hard to see a pattern from one time but it still troubles me that it can happen which instantly makes me less interested in anything New Expanded Universe.
The only reason they’d do that, if you asked me, is because they probably have plans to fill in those gaps themselves, with the Star Wars Stories, tv shows and books, down the line.
I agree with you in principle. Many SWEU books were indeed unreadable; I picked up many because they had great concepts (Darth Plageuis) but had atrocious writing and plotting (and the same goes for the prequel-trilogy novelizations). But, if you’re going to jettison the SWEU — and, let’s be honest, many fans invested literally thousands of dollars in SWEU materials over the years — then you can’t just put out the same lukewarm product in a different continuity. You need a new paradigm for quality. And “Aftermath” just wasn’t it.
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Aftermath is just the poster child for the new continuity, in my opinion. It’s only scratching the surface of what’s released really, and much of it is far better than Aftermath.
People have been intentionally boycotting Aftermath? Damn, I feel bad for my negative review now! Might have to amend that. You’re dead right, some of the new canon definitely feels like filler. While I thought the comics started great, they quickly went plain weird, and it felt a lot like “why am I continuing with these?”
For me, the problem has always been to see what these things are replacing. One of my all-time favourite Star Wars comics is Empire: Betrayal, which takes place in the same shadowy world as the new Darth Vader line, and which I can’t believe has been pushed aside in favour of, well, this.
This issue with the comics feels very much like Marvel is excitedly getting their hands on Star Wars, and wants to make as much use of it as quickly as possible, and has produced something slightly less great than fan fiction. Which is kinda what all EU material is, but that’s besides the point. I hope, as the storylines progress, this will definitely calm down and they’ll hit their stride.
I’ve only read two of the novels though, and while Aftermath was a let-down, I think that was largely due to the hype that surrounded it. I was expecting the next glorious chapter following the battle of Endor, and instead barely got to see even one of the big movie heroes. As a Star Wars story, while it seems to follow Del Rey’s recent penchant for telling ‘just another story set in the universe’ rather than following the big events, such as the Thrawn Trilogy did, it’s nevertheless a decent story with a lot going for it.
Heir to the Jedi – now there is a novel! Easily one of my all-time favourites, and one that I’d highly recommend to anyone with even a passing interest in the franchise.
I’m hoping to get round to more soon, and also to get out of this idea of comparing the new to what it replaces, but there have certainly been some clunkers among the good stuff. Which I suppose carries on the long and glorious tradition of Star Wars EU, anyway!!
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Yeah, I too was hoping to get an “after the battle of Endor” read. Cause that’s what we would have received in the EU. The SWEU was essentially glorified fan fiction. I have yet to read Heir to the Jedi. I will say you should give Dark Disciple a try.
Well said. I absolutely loved the SWEU, with people like Thrawn and Darth Caedus, not loving it is impossible in my books. But the flaws, the complete lack of quality was stifling it with each book I read, and it eventually forced me to stop reading them entirely until a few short months before they actually scrapped it altogether. I can’t help but think of the old canon and wondering if it would take me reading 20 or 30 random books to find a single 1 I could say I really loved.
With the canon books, yes, we’ve had some crap ones already. And as you mentioned, they feel a lot like fillers or back story. But the cohesiveness is undeniably there in ways that it never was in Legends, and I can’t help but think of the way its incorporated into each book, and hope that as the LSG gets into the grind of things, the new movies come out and they have a firmer base to stand on, the stories are only going to get better and better. They’ve already displayed that they’re not only listening to the biggest criticisms levelled against the old EU, but that they’re also willing to incorporate Legends material into this new universe.
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Thanks for the comment. It too is well said. You’re right though. The new books have had a level of cohesion that is beyond anything that the EU books were capable. I admire that. And do think it’ll be the better universe for it.
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At some point in the future, it’s possible that the Lucasfilm Story Group will reconsider the canon again. Eventually, the production of canon material will become so efficient that it’ll become harder to keep control of it. And the films are what matter. Extended universe stories should be prepared to be sacrificed if it allows the films to be better. Otherwise, the first good Star Wars film in decades will look just like fan-fiction. I don’t follow the Extended Universe, so I don’t want to turn up to The Force Awakens (I’m SO EXCITED! It’s unbelievable!) and only be able to follow it if I’ve read a specific novel. I’m sure Disney will be very forceful with assuring audiences that they’re unnecessary. The canon is really a novelty. Were I a fan, I’d probably at least appreciate the clarity of what is/n’t part of the universe I love, but I suspect that eventually it’ll become too successful to regulate and Lucasfilm will figure, why don’t they just go back to Extended Universe just “being” rather than “being canon”. The canon is there to honour the story told by the films, but that too could lead to the canon either over-complicating itself or diluting itself to prevent that, so several strands might have to be cut to give the core canon room to breathe. So long as the films don’t contradict themselves… oh crap, I’ve just remembered Attack of the Clones.
Every Thursday, Collider publishes a new episode of Collider Jedi Council, where the hosts dissect everything from the Star Wars universe that week. And one of the regular features is What’s the Deal With Canon?, which attempts to understand the canonicity of everything released that week. Worth checking out.
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Nice! I have to check that last bit out!
Will say that if regulated well, and we’re given small doses here and there, a collective canon can work. Especially with advancements in the Internet, such as the official wikis and such. It’s doable. Difficult, and ever more so, but doable.
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