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This may sound like a pretty brutal decision, but it was unavoidable.
One of the biggest topics of speculation in the run-up to the new Star Wars movie is how it will fit in with the preexisting Expanded Universe. Well, now we have an official answer: It won’t.
Lucasfilm has just issued a statement saying that the entire Expanded Universe is no longer official canon.
This may sound like a pretty brutal decision, but it was unavoidable. Spanning decades of novels, comics, video games, and more, the Expanded Universe is now too vast and complex to tie into a new trilogy of movies that will have to be accessible to new viewers. Until recently the Expanded Universe fleshed out hundreds of sequels to the original trilogy and beyond, but the arrival of Episodes VII to IX inevitably puts a stop to that. After all, LucasFilm was never going to make a big-screen adaptation of a series of tie-in novels published in the 1980s.
Rather than being some kind of epic disaster for old-school fans, this is basically what the big-name superhero comics have been doing for years: hitting the reset button to make way for new stories.
Plus, there’s the fact that even most Star Wars fans haven’t consumed every aspect of the Expanded Universe, never mind the people who are working on the new movies. George Lucas has famously never read any of the novels published under the umbrella of his own franchise, although details from earlier Expanded Universe novels did occasionally make their way into the movies by other routes.
As of now, the official Star Wars canon consists of the six existing movies and the recent Clone Wars TV series. “These stories are the immovable objects of Star Wars history, the characters and events to which all other tales must align,” explained the announcement on StarWars.com.
“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 [upcoming animated series] Star Wars Rebels.”
LucasFilm also released a YouTube video celebrating the Expanded Universe, with messages from various Star Wars writers, artists, and video game concept designers.
This decision will settle a lot of ongoing arguments about what is and isn’t “real” canon, but LucasFilm is evidently trying to make it as clear as possible that it still values the Expanded Universe. Virtually everyone currently working as a writer or artist in the Star Wars tie-in franchise will have some kind of background in reading that now-defunct canon of stories, and plenty of those books and comics are beloved by generations of fans. The choice to detach the Expanded Universe from the new movies was a practical one, and it leaves room to make sure all future spin-offs do align with official canon.
As the announcement post explained: “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.”
This also helps to make sense of the recent move to give all Star Wars comics rights back to Marvel, when for the past 30-odd years they’d been published by DarkHorse Comics. If the old Expanded Universe is coming to an end, it doesn’t seem like such a radical change to hand everything over to a publisher who hasn’t worked on the franchise in decades. And if anyone knows how to build an extended universe of interlocking storylines, it’s Marvel.
As for the older fans who are worried that their favorite books and comics will no longer be available, fear not. According to StarWars.com, “Demand for past tales of the Expanded Universe will keep them in print, presented under the new Legends banner.”
Illustration via StarWars.com
Gavia Baker-Whitelaw is a staff writer at the Daily Dot, covering geek culture and fandom. Specializing in sci-fi movies and superheroes, she also appears as a film and TV critic on BBC radio. Elsewhere, she co-hosts the pop culture podcast Overinvested.