A Terrible Waste of Time: Reviewing the Star Wars Expanded Universe

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“According to Lucas Licensing Editor Sue Rostoni, ‘Canon refers to an authoritative list of books that the Lucas Licensing editors consider an authentic part of the official Star Wars history. Our goal is to present a continuous and unified history of the Star Wars galaxy, insofar as that history does not conflict with, or undermine the meaning of Mr. Lucas’s Star Wars saga of films and screenplays.’ Things that Lucas Licensing does not consider official parts of the continuous Star Wars history show an Infinities logo or are contained in Star Wars Tales. Everything else is considered canon.”

Star Wars Gamer #6, July 1, 2001

“While Lucasfilm always strived to keep the stories created for the EU consistent with our film and television content as well as internally consistent, Lucas always made it clear that he was not beholden to the EU. He set the films he created as the canon. . . . In order to give maximum creative freedom to the filmmakers and also preserve an element of surprise and discovery for the audience, Star Wars Episodes VII-IX will not tell the same story told in the post-Return of the Jedi Expanded Universe.”

StarWars.com, April 25, 2014

Before the first Star Wars film, there was the Expanded Universe. After the last Star Wars film, the Expanded Universe remained. From 1976 to 2014—for 38 years—the EU kept the saga of Star Wars alive between the movies, between the trilogies, and after the saga ended.

When the world’s last glimpse of Star Wars was a villain lost in space and an awards ceremony set to Nazi imagery, the EU told us how Han Solo went on to fight a dinosaur that shot lasers out of its head while Luke Skywalker fantasized about making out with his unconscious sister on a swamp planet.

When the classic trilogy concluded and Star Wars’ popularity faced a slow, inevitable decline, the EU kept it alive with an unending succession of warlords, witches, talking Velociraptors, and telepathic transdimensional slabs of golden meat yet to be vanquished after Return of the Jedi’s credits rolled.

When the prequel trilogy came out and disappointed everyone, the EU turned its cast of nonentities into bland, inconsistently developed characters and made its convoluted plot even more incomprehensible.

And when the prequels ended and the saga was at last complete, the EU was waiting, torch in hand, ready to ease our loss by mimicking everything lame about the prequels over and over and over again.

And through it all (or at least since 1991), there was that promise of continuity, of interconnectivity, of canon. A tapestry of stories, each inane adventure of the Ewoks no less an authentic piece of fictional history than the works of the famed fantasy novelists and Hugo Award-winners who leant their pens to this never-ending narrative.

But all things die; even cross-promotional multimedia tie-in franchises burn out. So it was with the EU at its height. Like the greatest of trees, able to withstand any external attack, the EU rotted from within though the danger was not visible from outside. And when the end came, it came not from the organic conclusion of a multigenerational saga, but from an editorial edict.

The film franchise the EU had been created to support was returning under new management, and the EU as it had been, with its homogenized aesthetic, sexagenarian heroes, and redundant storytelling, had no place in that brave new world. But before the EU vanishes from memory like so much spinoff fiction, its bones picked over by a different continuity, a newer canon, there’s still time to reflect on what was, to mourn what could have been, and to laugh at how dumb we were for ever liking most of it in the first place.

If you were to ask when the EU began, most people who’ve heard the term “Star Wars Expanded Universe” and know what it means would point to 1991’s Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn. And they would be wrong. If we define the EU as any officially released Star Wars content outside the six main films, it began with Alan Dean Foster’s ghostwritten novelization of Star Wars, which hit bookstores at the end of 1976. If we exclude adaptations, the first true EU story was Roy Thomas’s The Keeper’s World, a serialized comic strip that started publication in October of 1977, five months after the original film’s release. Either way, the EU has been around for a long, long time.

In my younger and more vulnerable years I was fairly well-versed in its impenetrable lore, but that brief love affair was not to last. Through the decline in quality of its products and the obvious lack of care put into shepherding the future of George Lucas’s universe, Lucasfilm made it clear that they didn’t want my money and I could go to hell for all they cared, and eventually we drifted apart. But now that they’ve finally Old Yellered the EU, perhaps it’s time to get some closure: to remember, let go, and move on. To that end, I’m going to read the Star Wars Expanded Universe in chronological order. All of it.

Forever.

The point of this project is to examine the EU as a(n) (in)coherent, (dis)continuous narrative, so stories with variable plots or outcomes are outside its scope. That means no video games, Choose Your Own Adventure books, role-playing game seeds, or sources that mix prose fiction with a non-narrative style, like the Star Wars Missions YA fiction/RPG series.

Also not included are RPG campaign guide and sourcebook vignettes, as typically they are too brief to have any meaningful structure or plot and are used merely to flavor some point in the accompanying non-narrative text. (The exception is if those vignettes were republished independently, as several were on the now-defunct StarWars.com “Hyperspace” feature.)

I also won’t cover any children’s picture books that only rehash scenes from the movies or other stories without adding any substantial new content of their own, so about half of the two million illustrated adaptations of The Phantom Menace will not be included. Otherwise, be it novel, comic book, short story, young adult novel, television episode, audio drama, film outside the core six episodes, or illustrated children’s book about goddamn colors and shapes, I’ll cover it if I can get my hands on it.

Now that everyone understands the convoluted and arbitrary ground rules, it’s time to take our first step into a larger world, beginning with the chronologically earliest piece of Star Wars fiction but one of the most recently published, a short story called simply “Eruption.” After that, we can only trust in the Force (or copious amounts of absinthe). Come along with me, won’t you?

Continued in Suicide by Star Wars Apocrypha: Before the Republic, Part 1 or view the entire archive HERE

Also consider tipping Frank a nickle on his PATREON. All these books and comics cost money and we all know Frank’s liberal arts degree ain’t making him rich.

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  • Obi-Shawn

    Interesting article and project- also surprised to see my car featured as the lead in photo! Can I assume it means you like it? 🙂

    • Bryant Davis

      Absolutely. Your car is a work of art.

    • Riley Anderson

      That’s not a chopped Geo Storm or Metro is it? Oh, Honda Del Sol??

      • Obi-Shawn

        Honda Del Sol. 😀

  • Francesco M. DiGiovanni

    They’re making a stupid mistake at Disney not adapting Heir To The Empire, Dark Force Rising, and The Last Command as their movies. Unfortunately.

    • RevengeofZodLovesMaude

      Nope

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  • Matt DAngelo

    wtf.. wow.. the eu kept star wars alive and was amazing. xwing.. thrawn, daala, exar kun.. callista, yevetha, correllia, the kids, vong, caedus, abeloth and lost tribe and more. the eu was amazing! worst thing to happen was to give disney the reigns and let them go their own way… cause of their ages, they coulda made movies 30 years later, starting with dark nest and on to legacy of the force.. they coulda made it about the children from then on… so much they could do… and not with just after rotj.. so many old republic and clone wars movies they can make… would be awesome to see live action about the null arcs and commandos or skiratas company

  • Riley Anderson

    What pisses me off is that THERE WAS NO REASON TO DETHRONE THE EU. They could have simply, SIMPLY, created a story between the EU; they could have gone around it without destroying it. I will always consider EU canon and screw Disney. Caps were unavoidable sorry.

    • Lanayru

      Totally agree. Disney doesn’t get to decide what the fans like.

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  • Diggin Little Boots

    How could I go with this when you literally just slapped the Expanded Universe in the face before you’ve begun and how are you calling the future of the franchise a “Brave New World” when they’re ALREADY begun to screw stuff up within the first year? Rebels is already a train wreck of a series, most of everyone has avoided “A New Dawn” and “Tarkin,” making those two novels some of the absolute worst selling Star Wars Novels of All Time, especially for the beginning of this “Brave New World.” In other words, they’ve made a mistake already and all they’re going to do is rehash EU material and Ralph MacQuarrie Artwork without any shame whatsoever.

    • 1cassiuscoleman1

      As you can see, you are not alone little Diggin Little Boots. We’re all with you, those of us with respect and love for the EU. Disney make a death star sized mistake on this one. And I don’t get the whole Ralph McQuarrie gang rape either, but hey, these days so called entertainment studios and the like are all about pillaging the past for their own financial gain, all the while laughing at us and thinking about how they’re going to do the exact same thing to his “new generation” of fans, who don’t even see it coming. They’ll feel our pain when the rug is yanked out from under them too.

  • Gabriel Paolini

    who wrote the article is an asshole. but hey, today plenty of those.
    must be fully read the EU to criticize constructively.
    or you can be an asshole that is guided by myths and write an article like this.

    • Walter

      OK but do you understand that this article is about fully reading the EU?

  • Cabius

    I just don’t understand why they won’t at least make some of the EU canon. There is no reason KOTOR should not be canon, it happened thousands of years ago and would have little to no impact on the new trilogy. All hopes of a movie adaptation of the Bane trilogy are gone. I really would love to see this. Or at least some sort of Cameo. Also if you look at the movies, The Rule of Two, is present.

    • 1cassiuscoleman1

      Right with ya, boss.

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  • jrebel87

    I am so glad that I’m not the only one angry over Disney throwing away EU without caring how those that loved it feel about the whole thing. I own every EU book that ever existed and loved all of it. To me, the EU IS the continuation of the Star Wars saga because the stories allowed me to envision a universe that was so much broader then the movies themselves allowed. How can Disney possibly create a Sith Lord more likable than Darth Bane? How can they possibly retell the story of KOTOR when we already all love a fallen Jedi Knight known as Revan? They can’t. All this means is they are going to have declining book sales. Han and Leia’s daughter will always be Jaina to me, and their son will always be Caedus.

  • Lanayru

    Much of the Extended Universe is great and most of the cosplaying community and hardcore fans draw much of their inspiration from it. Anybody saying that everything ever written in any books should be thrown away isn’t a Star Wars fan, they are a sci-fi movie fan. Leave it alone and work around and cut a little bit out here and there but don’t throw it away. The lore belongs to the fans, not executives at a bloated entertainment company.

    • 1cassiuscoleman1

      Amen, Lanayru. You hit the hydrospanner right on the bulkhead.

  • 1cassiuscoleman1

    I’m not thoroughly convinced Frank Przewozny is the most genuine of Star Wars fans, but he comes off as an extreme hater and probably paid to gloss over the true matter at heart of this whole EU being jettisoned thing by Disney. Yeah things were convoluted and very mixed up as far back as the comic strips and Foster’s novel. But instead of going back and validating massive amount of beautiful work done by so, so many creatives, I’ll just say that it was Lucas’ and Lucasfilms’ own lack of commitment to this money trawler the inital movies spawned. This guy basically commissioned all of this stuff without taking a creative or editorial hand to keep it all straight but eagerly and easily raked in the profits and financial overflow they generated. Through it all he flip flops back and forth about whether or not it is or isn’t canon and eventually when he sees a payday bigger than any he’s ever seen, he does another about face and jettisons 30+ years of creative imagination and hard work. Talk about selling out! But hey, we all know this guy gave up on himself and his whole franchise long before he decided to churn out the prequels. He just sat back, allowed business people and fans a like believe what he wanted us to believe until the day came when the giant mouse ears showed up and offered to buy him out of his misery.
    The EU could’ve worked. It doesn’t and didn’t have to be some mess a lot of people are so eager to see blown out of an airlock. It wouldn’t have to be something that would impede or take away surprise to established fans of the films. If Lucas or anyone else involved currently were true, true business people they would’ve seen the EU as a tremendous opportunity to profit even more and benefit greatly on both ends of the lightsaber. How? Just like with DC comics’ mistake in eradicating their multiverse because the felt new readers were too intimidated or their established history(ies) were “convoluted” and confusing, all they had to do was create new reader friendly cliffs notes in the form of afford ably priced mini graphic novels that new and old reader could collect, at their leisure and only in terms of characters and situations they wanted to keep up with. Sorry to say, but new readers and old fans who didn’t want to read or invest time in what they allegedly consider something as their favorite or a “huge fan of” are kind of just lazy and spoiled, in my opinion. All I know is Lucas and Disney missed a huge, huge opportunity to streamline and merge all the previously established material the comprises the EU and make it accessible to old and new fans and still please everybody. In fact, just like DC comics failed to do, Lucasfilm and Disney could have kept the EU INTACT and fully functional and ongoing and STILL created an alternate universe wherein these new movies could take place. As a business minded person I could easily see how keeping both alive could be just as financially beneficial on both ends. You’d keep the old fans happy, you’d make it easier for new fans to access them both, if they so chose and to generate or maintain enthusiasm and joy for we older fans as we would jump back and forth between the two, with much greater ease because we’re already familiar with the terrain. But just as with the lazy helm at Disney and Mr. Abrams instead of applying a little elbow grease, ingenuity, creativity and imagination, they all opted to cut it all out and be about their merry business. Would it have been a lot of work? HELL YES it would’ve been, but with time and patience all of this could have been avoided and Disney and Lucas could potentially double their profits if not triple them. But I guess business people nowadays don’t really have the savvy of those who came before. And that’s a sad, sad thing.

  • RevengeofZodLovesMaude

    Prequels did not disappoint everyone you dumb dicks. Stop speaking for everyone.

  • Todd Storey

    Let’s not forget Marvel Comics, who gave us a talking rabbit. A Giant. GREEN. Talking. Rabbit.

  • Axel

    Nice articles. I think the EU was at its height in the Mid-2000s when games like Kotor 1 & 2, Jedi Academy or Empire at war: Forces of corruption came out and they tried to fit everything in a huge narrative (comics alike). With some confusion here and there, as you point out. But the destruction of the old canon was foreshadowed even some years before the Disney takeover. One thing was the “The clone wars” cartoon series from 2008 that in the first season still seemed to try to fit in but then chose to ignore the masses of Clone Wars works that were published just some years ago.
    Similarly, the god-awful “The Force Unleashed” games and the accompanying comics broke canon in a even more daring way. There is just so many things… Rebellion set up actually by the emperor to lure any opposition in. Vader having an apprentice who is so strong to crush a star destroyer, beating him and the emperor and founding the rebellion, but they have forgotten about him few years later… a love interest for Boba Fett…

  • B K

    This already happened with Star Trek, and nobody seemed to notice or care. And that wasn’t just throwing out canon from other media sources, that was actual deifiance of the whole core of what the series was; the most canonical of the canon. Along with rehashing and massacring some classic characters and storylines at the same time. And, oddly enough, JJ Abrams was in charge there, too. The unforseeable implosion came when Star Wars and Star Trek were directed by the same man. That had to be the end of it all. That was the day everything came to an end. The end of my happy little world.

    The whole idea of a profiteering reboot has to be done away with.