Friday, February 8, 2013

Let's Talk About The Star Wars Expanded Universe



One thing that keeps popping up in a segment of Star Wars fandom since Disney’s purchase of the franchise is a fear that the Expanded Universe won’t be left intact.

Never heard of the Expanded Universe (EU)?  The EU is a vast collection of Star Wars stories featured in novels, comics, video games and various other media. For a brief period, it was thought the EU was canon, as after the release of Return of the Jedi, we were told there would be no more Star Wars. The EU expands on everything George Lucas presented in his films, adding new characters, new locales, and new adventures to the universe. A lot of people have dedicated a lot of time to the EU. It has a very loyal fan base and it’s understandable they would be afraid the stories will no longer count. 

But the EU, for the sake of all films and the sanity of audiences old and new, must be counted as nothing but apocrypha.

THE EU HASN’T BEEN CONSIDERED CANON IN A LONG TIME (IF IT EVER WAS)

Let’s point to the elephant in the room right now. A lot of fans of the EU hold to the belief that the EU is considered canon. Well, it’s not. Here’s a few choice quotes from George Lucas himself on the EU:
“’There are two worlds here,’ explained Lucas. ‘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 in between the movies. I don’t get too involved in the parallel universe.’” – Cinescape, 2001
Here’s another quote:
"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.” Starlog, 2005
So there you go. At best, the EU is an alternate universe.

HOLDING THE EU AS CANON IS CREATIVE SUICIDE FOR FILMMAKERS

But let’s pretend the EU has been canon and George Lucas has given it his blessing. That’s all well and good, but Disney is in the business of making movies. Movies, as we all know, are made for the masses (at least the ones that come out of studios are). Disney, after all, just paid billions of dollars for Star Wars and needs a return on their investment.

So why in God's name would Disney require their very broad audience to have read hundreds of novels, thousands of comics and played dozens of video games (and maybe played an RPG or two) to get all the backstory they need to enjoy the film?

Think of it this way. When Marvel and Disney got serious about making their movie universe, did they make it an extension of the comics or did they make it its own thing? Obviously that’s a rhetorical question, but you get my point. The movies exist independently of the comics and rightfully so. To expect an audience to familiarize themselves with at least 40 years of continuity is absurd.

Expecting an audience to consume countless stories from various media to enjoy a series of films is not just absurd, it’s delusional.

THE EU ONLY WORKED AS CANON WHEN THERE WAS NO MORE STAR WARS

The EU was originally a bone Lucas graciously tossed when there was no intention to make any more Star Wars films (and, let's be honest, a way to keep getting people to pay money for Star Wars stuff). Say what you will about George Lucas, but the man has always been cool with letting folks play in his sandbox and it was nice having new Star Wars, even if it was in books, comics and games.

But the sandbox was George Lucas’ sandbox and he’s sold it to Disney. It was fun playing in it, but once it became clear there would indeed be new Star Wars, the idea that the EU was required to enjoy Star Wars should have been abandoned.

Does that mean there shouldn’t be books, comics and all the rest? Absolutely not. Bookstores are filled with Star Trek books, Doctor Who books and books on a large number of other properties. People enjoy those books. There’re comics and video games as well. And people enjoy them. They scratch the itch to get more of what they love.

But they also understand they don’t, and can’t, count as canon. 

2 comments:

  1. I agree and disagree. While I think it's a mistake to require a mass audience to be familiar with the EU in order to understand the next round of films and spin-offs, I think filmmakers should use the opportunity to instead introduce a mass audience to what you and I as followers of the EU have enjoyed for years.

    There were some great books that could be easily translated to film (Admiral Thrawn anyone?) and the video game franchises such as X-Wing, Rogue Squadron and even Rebel Assault (yes, I went there) all live inside this vast universe and represent more of an opportunity than they do a drawback in reference to a larger audience.

    I guess the point I'm trying to make when it comes to EU and the new films or spin-off's is that we're going to get something new and different regardless of where the creative process takes those in charge. I just think there's a wealth of great stories already out there that deserve their moment on the silver screen. For example, it won't matter if someone is familiar with Dash Rendar or not if Shadows of the Empire was given the Hollywood treatment. Drawing from the current source material would make for great new adventure for the uninitiated and a treat for those of us that wanted something beyond a 64-bit adventure.

    I understand that entirely new material would level the playing field for us all, but let's face it - the audience is going to be segmented no matter what's made. I just think some opportunity should be given where it's due to the storywriters that kept us in great adventures for the last few decades.

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  2. Just so I’m clear, I see no problem with drawing from the EU when making the films. Hell, Lucas did the same thing when he introduced Coruscant. But this idea that we have to for some reason be dogmatic in our adherence to the something that appeared in a novel that not even a fraction of Star Wars fans read, let alone the entire viewing public, is just silly to me.

    Again, I liken the whole argument to people getting angry that comic based movies don’t translate properties EXACTLY as they appeared in the source material. Why would you even try to do that given that these character all exist in a serialized, shared universe that is decades old? Same with the EU at this point. In fact, the argument falls apart when we’re talking EU because the movie are and have always been the one true canon. Everything else is just fan service.

    Then there’s the other elephant in the room that I didn’t want to attack in the post and that’s for every good entry in the EU, there’s a dozen shit entries. For every Thrawn Trilogy, there’re even more Truce and Bakura’s, Dark Saber’s. I’m sorry, but that’s just a fact.

    The EU is a great place to draw inspiration from, but as a strict canon? No way. Then it’s nothing more than a hindrance.

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