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.