A Brief Star Wars EU Overview
The Star Wars universe is one of my favorite fictional universes.George Lucas and his collaborators developed a fictional universe that blended several distinct genres, including fantasy, westerns, science fiction, and samurai, into a single, living breathing universe.This universe was brought to life in a way that gave it a lived-in feel.Gone were the spotless uniforms or environments from traditional space operas.Locales had their own personality, characters had their own distinct look that fit their role, ships ranged from spit polished clean to messes of wire, conduits, and leaking fluids.This made the universe more relatable and compelling.It also provided avenues for many stories, whichbrings us to theStar Wars Expanded Universe.
The Star Wars Expanded Universe comprisesnovels, comic books, TV shows, and video games, all exploring and expandingthat exciting-familiar-yet-totally-unique world set “A long time ago, in a galaxyfar,far away.”Existing characters were developed further and new characters were introduced.New political factions, conflicts, and cultures were explored and we saw our favorite characters from the movies, major and minor, embark on new adventures.
The Three Major Eras of the Star Wars EU
The Expanded Universe has gone through major changes over the years.In general, these changes can be boiled down to three distinct eras.We could get more specific and divide it up further but keeping to three eras is the easiest.This is an overview of the eras, not a critique on the quality of the stories.I will explore thataspect in future blog posts.This is not meant to be a complete listing or rehash of the different Expanded Universe material.
The Expanded Universe starts with Splinter of the Mind’s Eye by Alan Dean Foster, released in 1978.
Splinter of the Mind’s Eye was originally written as a possible low budget sequel to Star Wars: A New Hope if the movie failed. Obviously, this didn’t happen, so it remains a stand-alone adventure featuring Luke, Leia, and Darth Vader and is the beginning ofthe First era of the Expanded Universe.This era lasts from the publishing of Splinter of the Mind’s Eye in 1978 until the early 1990s.The biggest Expanded Universe releases during this time are Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, Marvel Comics first Star Wars series, and the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special.Other releases included the Han SoloAdventure and Lando Calrissian Adventure trilogies, Ewoks and Droids cartoons and a pair of live action Ewok TV movies.
This era played it a bit fast and loose with what we would now consider canon.There was little oversight to make sure the stories from one medium didn’t contradict stories from another or to even make sure the tone of the stories was consistent. This wasn’t much of an issue, but the only consistent product was the comic series produced by Marvel. Those lasted from 1977 until 1986. By then, as hard as it is to believe, interest in Star Wars was winding down. Marvel wouldn’t have cancelled the comic otherwise. Towards the end of this era, West End Games began publishing the Star Wars Roleplaying Game. These publications helped keep interest in Star Wars alive in the gaming community and provided additional background to the characters and galaxy. This game also served as a bridge between the First and Second eras of the Expanded Universe.
The Second era of the Expanded Universe is the one many fans think of when the Expanded Universe is mentioned. This era starts with the release of Heir to the Empire by Timothy
Zahn in 1991. This was part one of the Thrawn Trilogy and brought Star Wars back to the masses. It reached number 1 on several bestseller charts and sold millions of copies. Timothy Zahn used, at Lucasfilm’s request, copies of the West End Games books as reference material. Technology, ship classes, species, and other things created for the game made their way into Zahn’s stories
The massive success of Heir to the Empire brought on a new wave of Star Wars material.Within a few years you had the completion of the Thrawn Trilogy, as well as several stand-alone novels, new trilogies, young adult books, comics, and more.This is one of the key characteristics of this era.The sheer volume of material.After a few years it was rare for a month to go by without some sort of Star Wars release.Dark Horse Comics obtained the comic rights and published various ongoing and mini-series, the publishing company (Bantam, under the Spectra and Del Rey imprints, primarily)kept pushing out novels and short story collections, and the video games were starting to tell their own stories. To keep everything straight, and make sure there was some internal consistency and authors didn’t take too many liberties with the universe, Lucasfilm took an active role in maintaining the continuity.Stories needed to be reviewed by editorial to make sure it was consistent with the other material that was being released.It wasn’t perfect but considering the sheer number of new stories and different people working in the universe, they managed to keep the continuity relatively consistent.The Second era used some of the characters and events from the first, without following every event that happened to the letter.
The First and Second era are what is now called Legends Continuity.The stories in Legends, especially in the Second era, followed certain rules and had to stay relatively consistent with each other.The same was not true of the movies or shows like Star Wars: The Clone Wars. As far as George Lucas was concerned, Star Wars was his.He loved that other writers were working in the universe he created, but it was his story.He did not follow the Expanded Universe and when he started working on the Prequels and The Clone Warshe didn’t stay within the constraints of the stories from the Expanded Universe.
In October of 2012, the Walt Disney Company bought Lucasfilm for enough money to buy a Star Destroyer. The Third era, or Disney Canon, started in 2014 when Lucasfilm announced that the existing Expanded Universe would be phased out. This led to the cancelation of all comics under Dark Horse Comics and plans to continue the stories that were told under the Second Expanded Universe era were canceled. Already published books were now labeled as Legends.
Disney’s plan was to create a new, cohesive Star Wars universe drawing from the already existing movies, Star Wars: The Clone Wars,and tie everything together with new Expanded Universe releases.These comics, novels, and video games were intended to form one cohesive narrative with the new movies and TV shows that Lucasfilm was creating as part ofDisney.Much like the Legends eras of the Expanded Universe, this was met with mixed results.
The comics bookwere able to tell the most cohesive story.Most of the series that were released under this era were telling stories that took place during or in between the movies of the Original Trilogy.The writers weren’t under as many constraints regarding creating comics that tied into upcoming and just released movies, letting them tell longer stories and flesh-out the characters.The novels, and some comics, during this era were often focused on tying into other releases.Especially the new movies.This led to a lot of stand-alone novels that simply filled in the gaps and didn’t help contribute to a living breathing Expanded Universe in the same way that the newer Marvel comics or the older Legends Universe did.
Lucasfilm and Disney are now changing course and creating a new publishing initiative called TheHigh Republic.The High Republic is set approximately 200 years before the movies.While they haven’t said this specifically, I think the main goal is to capture some of what made the Second era great by introducing new characters and conflicts in a time period that can be fleshed out and allowed to grow,just like they were able to do in the Second era.As of right now The High Republic is still new and this Third era is moving along, releasing novels and comics on a regular basis.
Those are the three eras of the Star Wars Expanded Universe.The first two eras are now considered Legends.Some characters from Legends, notably Grand Admiral Thrawn, have been adapted for the Third era. Other aspects of Legends, like holocrons, force healing,other force powers,and some technologieshave also been incorporated into newer stories.But for the most part Legends is considered its own separate entity.
I wanted to touch on these eras.Ever since the old Expanded Universe ended and was rebranded as Legends, the Star Wars fandom has been divided.Some fans are incredibly devoted to the Legends era, others the Disney Canon.I like parts of each and think other parts are, frankly, bantha poodoo.I intend to explore the good and bad of all three eras of the Expanded Universe.I hope you’ll stick around.