Monday, January 13, 2014

Opinion: Learning From the Past: How to Successfully Reboot the EU


As we move closer and closer towards Star Wars Episode VII hitting cinemas on December 18, 2015, one question that is constantly brought up is: What about the Expanded Universe (EU)?  The general consensus is that the current post-Return of the Jedi storylines, or canon if you will, will be rendered null and void.  And while this may be upsetting to some fans, it is ultimately for the best - ensuring that Episode VII is not weighed down by twenty years of novels and comics or the pressure of being an adaptation will deliver the best results.  

It is also interesting to look at what else is coming from Lucasfilm.  We know the sequel trilogy is on the way and there are other projects such as spin off films and TV series in the works.  So where does that leave the EU.  The recent announcement that Marvel would be taking over the Star Wars comics license for Star Wars in 2015 makes it clear that they intent to continue publishing Star Wars comics.  It is also logical to assume that Lucasfilm wants to continue releasing novels.  

Recent statements by Leeland Chee, keeper of the holocron (continuity) at Lucasfilm and member of the Lucasfilm Story Team, suggest that moving forward novels and comics would be the same level of canon as films and TV series.  This would replace the tiered system of the past where the films and television series outranked novels and comics in the canon.  This created tension when The Clone Wars television series would change aspects of the canon previously established in the EU.  Some fans believed that George Lucas should have the right to do whatever he wants in his universe, while others believed that he should respect what came first. 

With George now retired and the Lucasfilm Story Group, who are essentially filling his role, striving to create a cohesive continuity it raises the question of how to avoid issues like this in the future.  The last thing they would want is to create more continuity issues in the new canon.   The experiences from The Clone Wars should remind them that overriding previous canon causes divisions among fandom and the last thing Star Wars fandom needs is more divisions.  So how do they move forward?

Lucasfilm will never be able to please everybody.  There are even people who (shocker) don't like Star Wars.  But every indication from Lucasfilm is that they are thinking of the fans and are driven to create new and exciting adventures across all platforms in the Galaxy Far, Far Away.  The fact that they are discussing a new continuity where everything is equal shows that they have listened to the concerns of fans.  Now they face the challenge that is how to go about it successfully.

One option would be that they only use the EU for adaptions of the films or television episodes.  This would be the safer option.  It would ensure that Star Wars remains active in the publishing world, while giving other mediums the freedom they desire.  The danger of too many stories that are told outside the film and television medium is that the filmmakers may not have the freedom they desire because of previously established continuity (creating a Clone Wars-esque scenario).  And you have to think that given the choice between a great novel or comic and a great movie or TV series, Lucasfilm would go with the latter.  Star Wars movies and TV have a broader audience and will be more profitable than the comparatively niche market that is EU fandom.

Another option would be to cordon off certain eras and aspects as EU only.  This could be between films (like Shadows of the Empire taking place between Empire and Jedi) or even origin stories of characters we meet in films or TV shows.  This would bring the EU back to actually expanding the universe, rather than pushing the story forward.  And that's really when the modern EU is at its best.  Everybody loves Heir to the Empire because it was the first novel published and it picked up pretty much right after Jedi, but there has been criticism of the post-Jedi EU of late due to its inaccessibility to new readers (that's what 20+ years of books and comics will do!)  The best received novels of late, Darth Plagueis and Kenobi, have been books that are set between set between films or expand on the back story of film characters.   They are great stories that enhance our understanding of characters and elements we already know, without causing fans who haven't read them to feel like they are missing something important. 

There is a third option and it is by far the most risky.  The decision could be made to make the Expanded Universe an entirely different continuity.  This could mean continuing the stories told in the current EU, or just not worrying about continuity when it comes to print media.  There could be an exception here or there and a novel or comic series could be set in the main continuity, but the rest would be outside that.   The danger of this is two fold.  One, there will be the people who will prefer the EU over the main continuity and they could get very loud about this.  This could again lead to dangerous splits in fandom, especially if they keep the pre-Disney post-Jedi EU.  The other risk is that of confusing new readers.  Say a new fan goes into a book store after having just seen Episode VII and wants to read a Star Wars novel.  This fan could very well wind up very confused as to why this story doesn't line up with what they just saw on screen, causing them to never buy another Star Wars novel, and nobody wants that.

Ultimately, the second option is the way to go.  By setting aside certain eras and aspects for the EU makes it so that those who are interested can follow along, while not handicapping the creators of the main aspects of the franchise (films, TV, etc.) and not having fans who don't read the books and comics feel like their missing something crucial when they see the next film/episode.  Doing so will ensure that the fans who enjoy the EU will have something fresh to read and runs the smallest risk of more divisions among fans.

So what do you think?  How would you like to see the EU rebooted?  Separate continuity?  Adaptations only?  Specific areas of the timeline and origin stories only?  Or something else?  Sound off in the comments below, tweet us @TheSWU, or join the discussion in Club SWU on Facebook!

This article is an opinion piece and represents the views of the writer, and not the entire Star Wars Underworld organization


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