I’ve been a Star Wars fan since I was barely 13, and became an Expanded Universe fan only days later. My entire experience of falling in love with Star Wars was prompted and is because of the Expanded Universe; I ‘first’ saw the movies on VHS over Christmas break in 1991. And we wouldn’t have even had those copies in the house if not for the release of Heir to the Empire in the spring of that year.
I owe my entire fandom to Heir to the Empire and the Thrawn trilogy. The Expanded Universe, which was pretty much all there was back in those days, formed the nucleus of my fandom. They hooked me, and they hooked me well enough that I sit here, 22 years later, running a fairly popular blog devoted to the franchise, with those same worn copies of Heir, Dark Force Rising and The Last Command not four feet away.
I love the Expanded Universe. It’s a weird kind of love that you get with this sort of fandom; I kept with it through some of the absolute worst fiction I have ever read, and many books that could I barely bring myself to call mediocre and, yes, even those rare gems that make it all worth it.
But I’m also okay with letting it go.
Yesterday, we got a report that Peter Mayhew would be returning in Episode VII. It’s not a sure thing by any means, it’s not confirmed, but it’s from one of the trades – as solid as rumors get – and, yeah, it looks pretty likely.
The EU end of fandom exploded.
See, in 1999, there was a book called Vector Prime, by R.A. Salvatore. It was the first of a brand-new series, the New Jedi Order, with a (mostly) brand-new publisher, Del Rey. It ended with the death of Chewbacca, a shot across the bow of the readers that no one in the EU was safe.
The Wookiee was hit by a moon saving the life of Han Solo and Princess Leia’s youngest child, Anakin Solo. It was, depending on your point of view, either heart-wrenching or hilarious. (A MOON. I, and most of CJ, found it hilarious. There was filk.)
It wasn’t even his idea, but poor R.A. Salvatore took a lot of shit from fans over the death. It made the mainstream news, something events in Star Wars books almost never do. Chewbacca is still the biggest movie character to die in a Star Wars book by far. It was a Big Deal.
And the return of Peter Mayhew and Chewbacca? Almost certainly means that none of that happened in the galaxy we’ll be seeing in Episode VII.
Lucasfilm folks have been fairly tight-lipped on what the new movies mean for 20+ years of novels, which cover periods up to 45 years after Return of the Jedi. (The new movies will begin about 30 years after.) Some EU fans cling to hopes that this means we’ll see some version of the book storylines adapted; Some hope this means the EU will be dead and buried for good. Still others think a comics-style multiverse is in the cards.
And me? Despite my 22 years in it, I’m hoping for a clean slate, and that’s what I’ve been reading between the lines of statements from folks in the know as well.
As I said the day after the Episode VI announcement:
Disney didn’t pay $4B for Lucasfilm just to dance around some books and comics that only make up a (comparative) sliver of the Star Wars profit margin. They’re a major part of the franchise for us, but they are far from a major part of it as a whole. Disney is absolutely going to want to make movies that don’t require fans to have 20 years of background reading – they want a movie that’s going to be accessible to the vast, mainstream audience.
I would be the absolute last person to tell you the EU is perfect; It’s a mismatched, patchworked mess of story lines and characterizations. Too many cooks in the kitchen is an understatement. I love it, but I also have no problem seeing it for what it is: A ponderous hodgepodge, beloved by us rare few, but old and worn. It served a purpose, but that time is past, and there’s very little I would give to a newcomer in any case.
The movies deserve a better foundation. And no, none of the existing Star Wars movies are perfect, but they’re nowhere near as lumbering as the EU is these days. And the books will still be there for us to revisit whenever we like. A good Star Wars story is still a good Star Wars story, no matter what the canon ends up being.
There are good things in the novels which I hope get saved, something there’s precedent for in both the prequel films and The Clone Wars. But I’m not expecting a whole lot of that, and who knows what exactly the new Powers That Be will deem saving?
I want to see Luke, Leia and Han (and Chewie and Lando and Artoo and etc.) again, but I want something new for them. Not simply adaptions of books that, with a few notable exceptions, weren’t all that great to begin with. There are so many ways to go, so many things to do that the EU neglected or did poorly or didn’t do at all. This is a chance for a fresh start, a second chance, for all the mistakes made in the name of one lumbering series or another to be washed away. Isn’t that at least a little exciting?
If you believe the report about Mayhew, it means that nothing in the EU is safe, but nothing in the EU has ever been safe in this screen-centric franchise. Not now, and not in 1999, not in 1991. And you know what? That’s okay. Don’t you want to be surprised?
UPDATE 4/25/14: We now have an official announcement on the Expanded Universe’s status.