The lights are on
Like many people, I absolutely loved the original Star Wars films. I was so enthralled by the universe that George Lucas created that I wanted more of it, and that’s how I stumbled into the Expanded Universe. The continuing adventures of Luke Skywalker, not to mention other characters from the past and future, entertained me for hours through video games, comics, and novels. With so much time and energy invested in these adventures, should I feel betrayed that today’s clarification from Lucasfilm suggests that none of them ever happened? Because I don’t.
Part of the outcry may be that what precisely constitutes Star Wars’ canon has never been totally clear. I’ve always subscribed to the idea that the movies were the only official record of events, and everything beyond that existed on a spectrum of plausibility that fans could accept or deny as they saw fit. But the line is blurrier for some fans, inspiring debate as to what belongs and what doesn’t. Among those people, the EU is much more serious, and they see today’s announcement as sort of repudiation of everything that Star Wars has become in its long history. I understand that viewpoint, but I don’t buy it.
Boba Fett escapes from the Sarlacc. Luke briefly turns to the dark side. Darth Vader’s punk apprentice starts the Rebel Alliance. These moments from the Expanded Universe are interesting in their own ways, and no statement from Lucasfilm is ever going to change that. They’re not canon? I don’t care. I enjoyed them, and you still can, too. That’s one reason today’s announcement isn’t bad: These things remain unchanged. Grand Admiral Thrawn is still cool, even if the next movies don’t officially acknowledge him.
The word “canon” is mainly something that gets thrown around as a marketing ploy these days. On the video game front, I remember both Shadows of the Empire and The Force Unleashed being discussed as canon. Then they weren’t. Now they definitely aren’t. This happens with lots of other movies-turned-games also, like interquel games that “fill in the gaps” between the first and second installments of some popular movie franchise. All of this confusion regarding what’s official and what isn’t can’t be good for a brand over time, which is why the statement from Lucasfilm is actually encouraging in some regards. Yes, the EU is going to get steamrolled by the new content, but that new content looks like it will get rid of the barrier between what’s “real” in Star Wars and what isn’t.
Part of today's statement reads: "Now, with an exciting future filled with new cinematic installments of Star Wars, all aspects ofStar 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." If this is what it sounds like, it's a far cry from the previous approach, which saw the Star Wars fiction spiraling off in all kinds of crazy directions in various timelines. I hope this means that Lucasfilm wants a more deliberate and curated approach to the Star Wars universe, and that this new story group will be able to maintain consistency among the various products.
Really, we’re getting the best of both worlds. Moving forward, hopefully we can assume that every piece of the Star Wars universe is official and guided by the creative forces at Lucasfilm. At the same time, we get to enjoy all of the same stories that we’ve loved for years. Yes, some of the new stories may contradict the old ones, but that doesn't make the standalone narratives less compelling.
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