The big three have made their return, and have unceremoniously booted those who took their place. Via GalaxyFM on Flickr
Here we are, where no serious Star Wars fan ever thought we’d be. But at what cost? The metatextual mass murder of fictional billions? Is that a price we’re prepared to pay?
Last week, George Lucas implied that the Holy Trinity of Ford, Fisher, and Hamill are this close to signing on for the J.J. Abrams-helmed Star Wars: Episode VII. Let’s assume for a moment that it’s all true, that the ink dries, and that the wardrobe department starts getting their measurements. What are the implications?
For the workaday filmgoer and the average Star Wars viewer, there are barely any, other than chuckles about a sexagenarian Skywalker and a self-proclaimed crazy Leia. For Disney and Lucasfilm, recognizable faces mean money in the bank, though their casting probably means little to the youngest generation of Star Wars fans, the ones who grew up actually enjoying Episode I and are now in the 18-25 demographic.
But what about us? What about that small fraction of the world’s population who kept watch over the Star Wars universe’s post-Return of the Jedi development? What about the people who, decades ago, gave up any hope that there would ever be filmed sequels? How are we supposed to feel?
Luke battles the cloned Emperor. By Cam Kennedy, via Wookieepedia
To put it bluntly, we’ve been abandoned. Our purpose has been served, and we’re being unceremoniously downsized without so much as a “Thanks for Two Decades on the Job” plaque.
We were the stewards of the Galaxy. Under 22 years of our watch, we’ve lived and breathed something called the Expanded Universe (EU), in which the Star Wars mythology grew and flourished to a size that Lucas could never have imagined. I mentioned fictional genocide because now, with the presence of Hamill/Fisher/Ford, much of the EU — and the countless characters, wars, species, and millennia of events the EU contains — will be wiped out at the stroke of a pen.
It began in 1991 when Timothy Zahn published an officially sanctioned Star Wars sequel in novel form, Heir to the Empire, and followed it up with two sequels of its own–Dark Force Rising and The Last Command. It was, in many ways, a masterwork. It fit perfectly into the continuity of the original trilogy, but was in no way derivative. It retained the main cast, but introduced an array of vividly imagined new characters (eg. the nobly Rommel-esque Imperial Grand Admiral Thrawn and the Force-sensitive reformed assassin Mara Jade).
From that fertile ground, an entire new mythology grew. In the past two decades, hundreds upon hundreds of Star Wars sequel stories were told, all outside the silver screen. There were the Dark Empire graphic novels, in which a cloned Emperor returned and where we saw exotic new locales like the floating free-market ecumenopolis of Nar Shaddaa.
Mara Jade. By Jason Felix, via Wookieepedia
There was 19-novel epic of The New Jedi Order, in which the entire Galaxy went to war against extra-galactic, hyper-religious conquerors known as the Yuuzhan Vong. We saw Chewbacca nobly die in battle; we saw Jacen Solo, the son of Han and Leia, grow up to become a Sith Lord; and we saw a distant future, in which the scion of the Skywalker family rejected, embraced, rejected, then embraced his destiny.
And that’s not even getting into the Corellian Insurrection or the roving adventures of Rogue Squadron. The EU was nothing if not massive. Just trawl around Wookieepedia for a few hours and you’ll quickly lose yourself in a sea of minutiae.
Some of these stories were thrilling and on par with the original trilogy. Some were garbage. Indeed, most were garbage. But it’s the principle of the thing: We were there for Lucasfilm when it needed us most, giving our dollars and attention to endless franchise-milking. Since the vast majority of them took place after Return of the Jedi, the prequel trilogy actually did very little to disrupt the EU.
And then, a few months ago, with zero fanfare and absolutely no buildup, we got the announcement that sequels were happening. Suddenly, everything was up for grabs.
To be fair, there had long been a complex hierarchy of canon for EU works, and we’d been told time and time again that only “G-level” stories (ones approved by Lucas himself, which basically just meant the movies) were immutable and permanent. This kind of thing was always possible, but it just seemed so unlikely.
For a while, it seemed like the sequel trilogy could potentially take place in the far-flung future, millennia after all the EU stories had been told. Sure, some details would have to be retroactively erased, but the chronology we’d devoured wouldn’t be simply disregarded.
This isn’t about being a fanboy purist. This is about decades of vigilant fandom being dismissed.
Maybe I’m speaking too soon. For all we know (which, when it comes to the sequels, is absolutely nothing), Fisher, Hamill, and Ford will only appear in a flashback, perhaps a vision in a Jedi Holocron, and we’ll still get that distant-future, non-EU-disrupting tale.
But that seems like a desperate and silly hope now. Apparently, new Star Wars movies will come out every two to three years. There’s no plausible way the EU can remain relevant in the face of that. In retrospect, I suppose it was only a matter of time before the hammer came down and the cinema lit up again.
And of course, I’m almost sure EU tales will still be cranked out, but they’ll be retroactively put in some alternate universe or something. No matter what, they’ll have been rendered irrelevant. They will no longer be the main operating system for continuing Star Wars stories. This isn’t about being a fanboy purist, angry at Han shooting first or Boba Fett’s origin story being tweaked or something. This is about decades of vigilant fandom being dismissed.
To mix mythologies, we and the EU authors we read became like Tolkien’s Stewards of Gondor: We assumed that the true monarchy was probably never coming back, so we set up a stable order of our own. But today, we are all Denethor, crazed by our betrayal.
Let’s hope the new stories are good enough to make the EU as irrelevant to us as it is to Disney.