Last week when the announcement about the status of the Expanded Universe broke on StarWars.com, Lucasfilm’s decision was what I expected. The previous two decades’ worth of books and comics had never been written with the idea of adaptation into a movie in mind. Cinematic storytelling is a different endeavor than serial prose or comic fiction. That simple fact alone would require the franchise’s narrative structure to reinvent itself now that the Sequel Trilogy and the standalone films will make Star Wars movies a yearly experience, in addition to Rebels and additional interconnected stories in other mediums, too.
Of course, the EU had been an important part of the fandom experience for many female fans. Alyssa Rosenberg, an admitted Star Wars fangirl, wrote about the decision at the Washington Post, calling it a big mistake for Disney. She recounts the ways the novels and comics explored complex subjects like marriage as a power couple and rights of individuals. The X-Wing stories are acknowledged for the opportunities female characters were given to shine. X-Wing series authors Michael Stackpole and Aaron Allston continued that legacy on through the New Jedi Order and beyond with Jaina, Mara, and many other strong female characters.
When I first started this blog, though, the legacy of great female Star Wars characters was in jeopardy. I’ve written much about the ways in which the then-ongoing EU narrative had failed the female characters and their fans. One of the concerns I raised repeatedly was the lack of oversight from Lucasfilm to ensure their licensees’ stories favorably reflected the Star Wars brand. It was obvious George Lucas had things he cared about – the movies and television – and for everything else he relied on the people in the trenches to understand what Star Wars storytelling meant to the audience. Unfortunately, the failures of that approach are why all too often we saw avid science fiction fans who gave up on the franchise after the movies.
In the years ahead, I believe the actions of the licensees – from toys to books and more – continue to pose the biggest challenge to the Star Wars brand that Disney is trying to establish. What the EU announcement and the accompanying video suggest is that Lucasfilm is grabbing back the reins. That is a positive change.
In the video Star Wars creators talk about how the Expanded Universe inspired them. Timothy Zahn, author of Heir to the Empire, the book that propelled the Expanded Universe forward, talks about the incredible canvas Lucas’ movies create. Dave Filoni was inspired by the illustrations of Dark Empire, Amy Beth Christenson by the idea of powerful female characters like the Nightsisters riding rancors. Pablo Hidalgo read the Star Wars Sourcebook and created his own adventures while discovering new details in the worldbuilding. John Jackson Miller had the chance to tell comics stories that tied into videogames that allowed fans to explore the galaxy far far away. Just like Lucas brought into his Star Wars stories elements from other sources that inspired him, it makes sense that these creators, who are such avid Star Wars fans, will bring forward elements of the Expanded Universe in their new stories, as well.
Going forward, the efforts of all creators beyond the movies and television series – sourcebooks, videogames, comics, and books – will be cohesive. What really hurt Star Wars storytelling in the past decade was the lack of creator diversity, life experiences, and interests, whether Princess Leia with a lightsaber in her hand or the specifications of the engines on a Corellian YT-1300 light freighter. What isn’t explicitly said, but shown to us, is the diversity of people working to align the future stories – and it gives me cause for optimism.
Additionally, the Legends label will help shake off the trepidation that many potentials fans had when approaching the Expanded Universe. The question “Where to start?” was often followed by “Do I have to read all of it?” Unfortunately, many of the EU writers became invested in their own continuity within the continuity, which inhibited the ability of the stories to be accessible. As April Daniels explains over at Mary Sue, the Star Wars Expanded Universe fell prey to the same trap that has tripped up the DC Comics mega-storytelling franchise.
Now people can find the stories, characters, or events they’d like to see more of, pick up that book or comic, and enjoy them. Down the road, the stories that were weakest will be shoved into the back recesses of fandom memory, and that’s a good thing. While the EU has explored many great ideas and themes, they weren’t always executed well, and sometimes disastrously. To be fair, Star Wars’ attempt to create a massive ongoing continuity was an unprecedented enterprise. Still, the Powers That Be weren’t always interested in the give and take necessary to understand and respond to the fandom in order to ensure the sustainable success of the storytelling process. Hopefully the lessons that can be learned from the EU’s mistakes will be applied as Lucasfilm builds upon the ashes of its Legends.
The Expanded Universe was a gateway to creating fantastic memories of my own and build friendships that won’t go away. Looking at other fandoms that have ended their stories, such as Buffy or the Browncoats, they are still thriving. The relationships haven’t disappeared in the blink of an eye with this announcement, either. Nor have the characters and stories that fans love. Perhaps my experience as a fanficcer makes it easier to accept that stories can be told in a different way and still be equally entertaining and enjoyable. Fans can still love the first, second, third, fourth iterations, and so on.
I love the Expanded Universe and the community built around it, but Star Wars can absolutely do better, and I believe the community will be bigger and better for it. As I first watched the video a week ago I thought, “This was the perfect way to say goodbye and remind fans that inspiring things from the Expanded Universe will carry forward.”
By the end of the day, I felt the impact of the announcement and video had been diminished by later reveals. I remember thinking, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” I’ll leave that discussion for another day. I’ve got my copy of Starfighters of Adumar sitting by my side, and it’s time to remember how much fun a Star Wars book can be.
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