Scrapping the Star Wars EU Was a Good Thing
Star Wars is a beloved franchise, one seared into the permanent cultural DNA of every generation since its premiere. It was an early pioneer in special effects innovation, and made space not just science fiction, but fantasy. But it's more than just a series of movies or even a good story.
As I have argued before, Star Wars follows the archetypal format of a mythos, a hero's journey to become better and save the day – light stumbling and triumphing over dark. Its theme and essence is instantly relatable to almost everyone, and it provides people access to understanding our world a little better (as any good story should). The saga possesses breadth and even depth that allows fans to explore for themselves the same and different possible themes that come from the characters, locations, and ideas of the movies. This should be no surprise, as any mythos worth its salt should be big enough to be populated by more than what is presented in the initial plots.
And populated Star Wars became. Starting with a novel called Splinter of the Mind's Eye (1978), numerous authors who were not George Lucas began to write dozens upon dozens of stories never seen on the silver screen. Some of them are quite well known and beloved (like the Thrawn Crisis trilogy), and fans couldn't get enough of them. A specialized team at Lucasfilm was dedicated to maintaining a continuity between the creation of the George Lucas (who wielded unlimited power in determining what could and could not be published) and the outside material as much as possible. Lucas even said that all of the possible thousands of characters and planets in his universe had a story, but he may not be the one to tell them. The result was a more-or-less free range to create, and it was at times beautifully chaotic, and at worst, monstrously confusing.
The new material not done by George Lucas was dubbed the Expanded Universe (EU), and everything in it was tracked and catalogued. The categorization of the EU fell under differing tiers of how accurate and true (or canon ) the material was:
G (George Lucas): absolute canon. Episodes I-VI, film novelizations, radio dramas, film scripts, or anything directly from Lucas himself. This trumps all other canon in face of contradiction.
T (TV): only the television show Star Wars: The Clone Wars.
C (continuity): the main body of EU work, and was the next most authoritative level of canon. All material published under the Star Wars label but not falling into G, S, or N was C canon, and was considered authoritative as long as not contradicted by G canon.
S (secondary): older, less accurate, or less coherent EU works, which would not ordinarily fit in the main continuity of G and C canon. The stories themselves would be non-canon, but certain non-contradictory elements were canon.
N (non-canon): also known as "non-continuity" material. These are the what-if stories, most games, and other contradictory or inconsistent material.
Still with me? This tier system wasn't all that bad, if you were a hugely dedicated fan, that is. Outside of the films, the wonderful universe of Star Wars became inaccessible to the layman. How do I know this is actually what happened? Many will argue you were to just assume it did happen. Problem was, George Lucas could, at any later time, contradict the material and do something different. He didn't even read the novels. If he said something, that was it; anything else became secondary or worse. Anything outside of G and T canon was essentially inherently at risk and unstable.
I'm a fan for organically grown communities, ones where an order emerges, not one that is dictated. But that assumes the community establishes an order. The tier system was organized, but it was not ordered. This is more than mere semantics. The categorization and cataloguing was all wonderful, but it did not provide a firm foundation for the future. Under the tier system, in the EU, everything was and was not canon at the same time. Schrödinger lives.
A New Hope
Then, in late 2012, Disney, the magical whimsy-wielding entertainment titan, bought Star Wars from George Lucas. It was a moment of both great rejoicing and anxiety. Fans (mostly) rejoiced at the opportunity for the saga to grow and continue. But how? How would Disney continue the saga when there's already so much EU material that takes place after Episode VI? How was Disney going to incorporate over 30-odd years of work into its new films? Unless, of course it wasn't going to...
For over a year, fans awaited on what would happen to some of their beloved characters and plots. After all, the Expanded Universe was practically the creation of many superfans. The mythos was theirs. In 2014, it finally came. Disney declared that any material not the original six films and the 2008 cartoon series was thereby no longer official canon. Gone was the tier system. There was only canon and non-canon. Everything not canon was dubbed "Legends," stories and ideas that add to the value of the universe, but are merely stories and ideas, not official Star Wars truth. To some, it was Disney's Order 66.
Many fans considered this devastating, and it unleashed a torrent of anger and resentment that Disney had ever bought the saga at all. Many still refuse to accept it, doing everything they can to fight it. Unfortunately for them, it will not work.
Shortly after the 2014 announcement, Lucasfilm established the Star Wars Story Group, a select team of filmmakers, producers, authors, superfans, and designers who had one purpose: expand the now-near empty universe. It became somewhat top-down, the kind I fear. But, the results are quite incredible. Every novel now written, every comic book drawn, every show produced is now reliably and permanently canon. It is stable.
Back to Roots
And it's fantastic. Having read some of the comics and novels, even watching some of the new shows, the result is brilliant. The Story Group helps generate ideas, but they mostly recruit other artists – fans who helped build the original EU – into creating the new material. This new canon is all entirely and completely consistent with itself, never contradictory, and usually interconnected, which was one of the Group's mandates. The work is quite good, and more importantly, accessible. Anyone, and I mean anyone, can now go outside the films and find a universe that can belong to them, even if not made by them.
Disney made the choice to scrap the EU because of practicality; I support it because it makes Star Wars simple again.The beautiful chaos of before is, yes, now gone, but in its place a new and wider generation of fans can come and partake in the totality of Star Wars. This isn't an egalitarian crusade against the "elite fans." They will always, and should always, exist. It's not about elitism, but exclusivity. This mythos is big and wonderful, and should be shared by many. It's now more fully possible to do so. It has returned to the idea that Star Wars should be easily understood, and fully available to those who seek it. And to me, that's worth it.