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.