Saturday, May 3, 2014

The Expanded Universe: A New Dawn

Last week, Lucasfilm posted a news article detailing their plans for the future of the Star Wars Expanded Universe. I've quoted it below, with the important bits bolded:

For over 35 years, the Expanded Universe has enriched the Star Wars experience for fans seeking to continue the adventure beyond what is seen on the screen. When he created Star Wars, George Lucas built a universe that sparked the imagination, and inspired others to create. He opened up that universe to be a creative space for other people to tell their own tales. This became the Expanded Universe, or EU, of comics, novels, videogames, and more. 
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. This includes the six Star Wars episodes, and the many hours of content he developed and produced in Star Wars: The Clone Wars. These stories are the immovable objects of Star Wars history, the characters and events to which all other tales must align. 
Now, with an exciting future filled with new cinematic installments of Star Wars, all aspects of Star Wars storytelling moving forward will be connected. Under Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy's direction, the company for the first time ever has formed a story group to oversee and coordinate all Star Wars creative development.
"We have an unprecedented slate of new Star Wars entertainment on the horizon," said Kennedy. "We're set to bring Star Wars back to the big screen, and continue the adventure through games, books, comics, and new formats that are just emerging. This future of interconnected storytelling will allow fans to explore this galaxy in deeper ways than ever before." 
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. While the universe that readers knew is changing, it is not being discarded. Creators of new Star Wars entertainment have full access to the rich content of the Expanded Universe. For example, elements of the EU are included in Star Wars Rebels. The Inquisitor, the Imperial Security Bureau, and Sienar Fleet Systems are story elements in the new animated series, and all these ideas find their origins in roleplaying game material published in the 1980s. 
Demand for past tales of the Expanded Universe will keep them in print, presented under the new Legends banner. 
On the screen, the first new canon to appear will be Star Wars Rebels. In print, the first new books to come from this creative collaboration include novels from Del Rey Books. First to be announced, John Jackson Miller is writing a novel that precedes the events of Star Wars Rebels and offers insight into a key character's backstory, with input directly from executive producers Dave Filoni, Simon Kinberg, and Greg Weisman. 
And this is just the beginning of a creatively aligned program of Star Wars storytelling created by the collaboration of incredibly talented people united by their love of that galaxy far, far away....

To summarize:

-The Expanded Universe is effectively getting a refresh.

-The six live-action films and the 2008 Clone Wars TV series are now the only "past" stories considered to be absolute canon.

-Moving forward, ALL Star Wars stories, including films, TV series, novels, comics, video games, will ALL work together as one single canon.

-Future Star Wars stories can and will lift elements from past EU stories, bringing them forward into the new canon.

-Past EU stories will remain in print, now with the "Legends" banner to denote their separate-canon nature.

As someone who's read quite a few Star Wars novels, plenty of comics, and played nearly all the video games, I'm entirely cool with this. Yes, it definitively puts the "non-canon" label on the 35-year history of the EU, but that doesn't mean that the story "didn't happen"; it only means that future stories will be different. And that's fine. Honestly, I don't think I would want the Star Wars sequel films to be mere adaptations of old novels, or need to dodge and weave between hundreds of post-Return of the Jedi storylines in order to tell an original story.

One thing that's nice to see is how reverent Lucasfilm is being towards the EU even in spite of the new status of canon. They even put out a video that's essentially a montage of Lucasfilm employees gushing about the EU.

This "reset" or "reboot" of continuity is something that honestly needed to happen. George Lucas was never particularly willing to work with EU authors in the past, and as a result, the EU and film canon grew in different directions. Now that Post-ROTJ stories are being told in film, it's time to honestly re-evaluate what's best for the entire saga.

What I find most exciting about this announcement is the fact that from this point forward, every single Star Wars book is just as "real" as any Star Wars film. We can now read new Star Wars books and know for certain that what we're reading matters to the entire saga.

They've already announced the lineup of new novels coming out over the next couple of years:

The first book, A New Dawn, is a direct prequel to the upcoming TV series, Star Wars: Rebels. Heir to the Jedi is a Luke Skywalker story written in first-person and set between ANH and ESB. Lords of the Sith is a teamup story where the Emperor and Vader join forces. Tarkin is... about Tarkin, I guess.

I can't wait to read these new books. As a matter of fact, I completely plan on reading each and every Star Wars novel from now on. After all, if there's no gigantic backlog of books to go through (as there currently is with the past EU), why not start right now, at square one?

It's a very exciting time to be a Star Wars fan.

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