We’ve known for a while that the Star Wars Expanded Universe (basically all the books, comics, etc. that tell stories before and after the original trilogy that were created prior to the sale of Lucasfilm to Disney) is going out the window with the new movies. Generally speaking, this was met with cries of despair from longtime and hardcore Star Wars fans, a demographic I’m on the fringe of, but by most metrics still a part of. Particularly when it comes to stuff from the early Republic (i.e. a couple thousand years before the original movies) and the stuff immediately following Return of the Jedi, there was a lot of good work and really compelling history that had been created.
But the more I think about it, here’s why it’s maybe a good thing that all of that is going away, at least in the context of making new Star Wars movies.
Although it takes place “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away,” Star Wars is nominally a science fiction franchise. Yes, it might be better described as space fantasy, but the point is it trades in futuristic technologies like spaceships and portable instant communicators.
Wait a second though, because one of those is definitely not such a futuristic technology.
Google “star wars comlink” and this is the first image that pops up:
That’s the device C-3PO uses in A New Hope (or to some of you, simply Star Wars) to talk to Luke when they’re trying to escape the Death Star. And among other things, it reveals just how much the Star Wars universe has had to shift in its nearly 40 years of existence.
Go back to the 1970s, and you see a world that thinks of the future very differently than we do today, down to basic technological imagination. Most people today see the internet, smartphones, and things like VR and imagine a future that is many factors more synthetic, mediated, and virtual than our current existence. In the 1970s, the future was far more about mechanical possibilities. Think about it. We’d just made it to the moon and back. ICBMs were on ready alert. Computers were still in their relative infancy, and the internet as we know it today was utterly unimaginable. Although 2001: A Space Odyssey came at the end of the ’60s, it’s still one of my favorite time markers for how people thought telecommunications would work.
My point is this: even though most of the Star Wars Expanded Universe (or at least the parts most fans really care about) was created in the 1990s, they were still largely divorced from the ideas of the internet age and highly influenced by the standards of a film trilogy concepted in the 1970s.
Which is awesome in its own way. There’s a mechanic’s ethos in O.G. Star Wars, one that interacts compellingly with the spiritualism and mythic nature of its more fantastic elements. You get people going and doing, because it has to be done then and there, not remotely or virtually. You get:
So I love the Expanded Universe, and I always will. I will cherish my original Essential Chronology, a compendium book published back when we knew what happened in The Phantom Menace but not the other prequels.
But for the sake of these future movies, maybe it’s a good thing that they don’t have to be beholden to the foundational assumptions that anchored so much of the Expanded Universe.
Then again, most of the rhetoric out of The Force Awakens has been about returning to Star Wars’s roots, and then today we got this picture for Star Wars: Rogue One:
So maybe they should have just given us the new trilogy about Grand Admiral Thrawn or Ysanne Isard we all wanted.