The Uncertain Future of the Star Wars Extended Universe

It is hard to overstate the iconic position Star Wars has held in American pop culture. For decades the movies have been considered among the greatest movies of all time. There have been countless action figures and memorabilia produced. People who haven’t even seen the movies understand phrases like “Luke, I am your father” and can at least identify R2-D2, C-3P0, Chewbacca, and Yoda (even if they can’t explain their significance to the series).

But in those decades it’s not just the merchandising and cultural presence that have grown.

The world of Star Wars itself has grown.

When most people think of Star Wars they think of the movies and it ends at that. Perhaps now they think of the Clone Wars cartoon show and identify more with the prequels than the original trilogy. Still, for a lot of people Star Wars ends with the visual media presentations. They don’t always recognize that Star Wars has become so much more. It’s moved beyond movies to encompass a variety of other platforms – namely video games, comics, and books. The stories have continued and expanded. New characters have been created and evolved, earning entire series of their own based on their various adventures. The history of the Star Wars galaxy extends for thousands of years before the events of A New Hope and a century and a half after. These collected sources and stories are all apart of what is called the ‘Extended Universe’ and which has been generally as canon.

At least until now.

One of the unfortunate casualties of the Star Wars expansion in the past decade and a half has been the Extended Universe itself. Up until this recent acquisition of the property by Disney, the official canonical continuation of the Star Wars story was the Thrawn Trilogy written by author Timothy Zahn. But we know now that the new movies promised by Disney will not be based on any existing content.

That comment can only leave the fate of the Extended Universe to question. What will happen to those characters now? What will happen to all those years of history that have been established? Will what we’ve been allowed to believe was canon now be completely ignored or rewritten?

The uncertainty is trouble.

I have been a fan of the Star Wars extended universe since I was in the third grade. I when I first came across my father’s copy of Heir to the Empire, the first in the Thrawn Trilogy. Having just recently discovered Star Wars on my own they were a welcome way to keep the adventure going. Suddenly it didn’t have to end with Return of the Jedi. I didn’t have to restart with A New Hope to get my fix. The story, I realized, continued.

The Extended Universe showed us what happened after the Rebellion won the day at Endor. Through the Rogue Squadron comics we got to see what happened immediately and the effects of massive amounts of debris falling to the moon’s surface. Later, we were able to see how Han and Leia’s relationship progressed. We saw their children born, grow up, and fall to their own devices. The books in particular let us see where our main characters went, how they lived, and – in some cases – how they ultimately died.

It also introduced us to entirely new characters and developed characters that otherwise might have been forgotten.

For example, my absolute favorite Star Wars character is Wedge Antilles. He’s one of the few tertiary characters present in every single one of the original trilogy and has the distinction of being the only pilot to survive the assaults on both Death Stars. That’s all you really know about him. It’s the books and comics that take him further. You learn about the tragic deaths of his parents, the sister he lost and later found, why he joined the Rebellion, etc. He becomes less of a random side character and more of a real, solid person. You watch as he helps build the New Republic and struggles with being a pilot and an administrator. You watch him fall in love and raise a family, including a daughter who follows in his footsteps. Wedge Antilles goes from being a random pilot to an intergalactic hero and a leader. The books give him a substance he otherwise would have lacked. The same can be said about so many other characters old and new.

Without the books, we never would have met Mara Jade who is arguably one of the most iconic and developed female character in Star Wars – other than Princess Leia, of course. Raised and manipulated by the Emperor, this Force sensitive woman is damn determined to exact her revenge on Luke Skywalker in the Thrawn Trilogy but redeems herself, comes into her own, and eventually becomes something of a (very tough) surrogate mother to the fledgling new Jedi Order. She and Luke certainly become one of the most powerful couples in the galaxy after their rather tumultuous wedding.

So  much happens after Return of the Jedi, too. So many great things.

Think about it, though. If there were no books or comics or video games, the Jedi Order would have remained extinct, consisting only of Luke Skywalker at the end of Return of the Jedi. The title may claim that they had returned be we never saw it. Not until Jedi Search where we see Luke tracking down other Force sensitive individuals and attempting to rebuild an order that he never knew himself. We never would have been introduced to Han and Leia’s three children – Jacen, Jaina, and Anakin – and a generation of children would have missed out on growing up with them via the Young Jedi Knights and Junior Jedi Knights series.

Most importantly, though, we never would have had the New Jedi Order series. The New Jedi Order tied in every single piece of prior literature possible and solidified the Extended Universe as one, cohesive entity. It worked in characters as minor as Anakin Solo’s furry rabbit-esque Jedi Mentor and made Kyle Katarn – previously best known for the Jedi Apprentice video games – a major player, introducing him to readers who otherwise may never have known him. The New Jedi Order changed things. It changed the way we see the Force, it killed off characters, established others. It made the Extended Universe something more.

I’d be sad to see that go.

Now, sure, there are things that never happened that might be cool to see. I would love to see Mara Jade on the big screen and I would love to see Wedge Antilles get the credit and screen time that man deserves. I’m just not sure I’m willing to give up what I already know for whatever the guy who wrote Toy Story wants to come up with on his own.

A lot of the Extended Universe is not appropriate for children, I feel. The extreme religious undertones and depravity of the Yuuzhan Vong in the New Jedi Order would not translate well to a Disney owned property. Or, honestly, to film Star Wars in general. Yeah, Anakin Skywalker killed off the younglings. They even cut away from the massacre of the Sand People. But there are occasionally things that happen in those books that you just couldn’t put on film and have kids still go. I’d love a more adult Star Wars movie but let’s be real. This is Disney. It’s not going to happen.

So where does that leave us?

No one really knows yet.

There is speculation that the new trilogy could be set much further in the future. If we “think further out” thank fifty years then there is a very good chance that the Extended Universe could remain in tact. But the comics go a good century and a half after A New Hope. Thinking fifty years out is fine and dandy but that could still ruin some canon. And, also, would they reference the things that happened in the Extended Universe up to that point? Would the Yuuzhan Vong War – arguably the most important event in galactic history – then just be something people mentioned in passing? One of the Solo children died in that war and it drove the other two into self destructive spirals. Planets died. Major characters from the original trilogy died. Perhaps they could treat that war like the Clone Wars were treated in the original trilogy – except they later went back (and messed with a lot of established canon) and filmed that.

I think that no matter what happens, we’re going to lose the canoncity of a lot of the Extended Universe. And that’s sad. I watched Jacen and Jaina grow up; I grew up with them. I saw a New Republic rise and then fall. I rooted for the Jedi to be reborn and criticized some of the choices and excuses they made the same as anyone else in that galaxy. What I read and what I played was as much a part of the Star Wars experience as watching the movies.

Those books, those comics, those video games – they are Star Wars to me. Perhaps even more than the actual movies. Because those books, comics, and video games showed that Star Wars was so much more than what George Lucas gave us. Written by dozens of authors, it was something that would grow and expand and surprise us at every turn. And you knew that every few months there would be a new story. Set after the original trilogy, set before. Either way. You knew there was more to Star Wars.

Now it looks like Disney is ready to capitalize on that and give us more Star Wars. I just hope they don’t do it at the cost of the Star Wars we already have.

Unfortunately, if they intend to bring back Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and Han Solo… they probably will.