The Great American Expanded Universe Freakout

When Lucasfilm decided to relegate most of the books and comics of the past several decades to “alternate universe” or non-canon status some months ago, I knew the poop storm that was coming. Predictably, fans who had been ultra-devoted to what had been called the expanded universe got extremely upset. It’s not as though Disney sent in jack booted thugs to kick down doors, shatter windows, seize everyone’s copies of the New Jedi Order series and the Dark Nest Trilogy, and toss them into an incinerator. Congress didn’t pass a law prohibiting anyone from reading the books or comics. Nobody even said those stories were going out of print, at least not to my knowledge. What had those fans up in arms was to a smaller degree some loose threads were never resolved (Clone Wars fans can relate) but for the most part, the stories they’d followed for 23 years no longer “counted.”

TFN posted a couple days ago about the organized groups of angry expanded universe fans who are taking their frustrations out in not terribly constructive ways. I don’t know why no one saw this coming given that many expanded universe fans have been obnoxious about this stuff for a long time. Remember the petition urging Lucas to stop “ruining continuity” with Clone Wars just a couple of years ago? Nothing is more sacred to the expanded universe fan base than the holy continuity. In fact, I’ve noticed for many years that a vocal number of expanded universe fans seem to be far more into the spinoff world of novels (not so much the comics) and to some degree the games than the movies themselves. They obsessively know every detail from every book. The expanded universe was on par with Lucas’s cinematic saga, maybe even superseding it.

I’d read most of the novels and comics up to about 2008, then became more selective as I started to not like the direction much of the post-ROTJ stories took. I have not been an expanded universe continuity nut since the late ’90s–kind of pointless with more movies added to the saga–and have long regarded anything not in the films or Clone Wars as basically officially-sanctioned fan fiction. As you might imagine, this had led to a few interesting “conversations” with fans who have always insisted the expanded universe was canon on par with the movies and would get very upset if a movie or show contradicted what’s in the books. So when they announced a new trilogy, I immediately saw the writing on the wall. I had no problem with “Legends.” What else could you do if you were going to make more movies? Plus, as someone who didn’t like the whole Darth Jacen bit, it was okay by me to start fresh.

Still I knew that many book fans would not take the news the same way and as the TFN piece notes, some of their frustrations have gone to crazy town proportions. One guy in the comments section witnessed a fan at Disney World’s Star Wars Weekends yell at “Rebels” star Vanessa Marshall that Starkiller was the true founder of the Alliance and not her band of poseur voice actors. This kind of stuff is just embarrassing. I’m unhappy too with many of Disney’s decisions and curse them at least once a day for shutting down Clone Wars. I’m still mad as hell about hiring a basher to write one of the spinoffs, I hate the crummy treatment they’ve given the prequels, and I have many apprehensions about this new trilogy. Fans do this kind of thing because they feel powerless and these stunts give them a sense of control. But you don’t see me trolling actors who have nothing to do with corporate decisions or trying to sabotage new Star Wars efforts.

That said, the reactions might be extreme and annoying to everyone, but some of the blame has to be put on Lucasfilm’s book gurus, Bantam Spectra, and Del Rey. The problem is nobody said back in the ’90s that these stories were not necessarily the “real” story on the fates of your favorite characters. The only caveat I’d ever seen on that account was Timothy Zahn telling Starlog in an interview that of course Lucas’s ideas superseded Zahn’s ideas. But that was just Zahn talking. Yeah there was the stuff about G-level canon and whatever-level canon but that wasn’t explained until maybe less than 10 years ago (don’t remember exactly when) and by that time, there was already a subset of fans who were very heavily-invested in the expanded universe and wouldn’t listen, or understand the difference. I know why this wasn’t clarified 20 years ago when it might have made a difference: everyone knows the books sold because fans were under the impression that they “counted.” Largely through implication, mind you, but that impression didn’t appear for no reason. Recall the media campaigns for “Shadows of the Empire,” the NJO, or even “The Force Unleashed.” Lots of other shows/movies have tie-in books but people felt like they were reading the true, Lucas-approved post-ROTJ story of Luke and Co., not some ancillary tale of Capt. Kirk chasing Klingons around Uranus. Especially since in those days few people thought we’d ever get a sequel trilogy. So now there’s an angry band of people who feel cheated as “their” Star Wars no longer “counts.”

So Lucasfilm will just have to ride out the storm. (Hint: after 17 years, there are fans who are still hung up on hating the Special Editions, so it’s going to be a looooong storm.) Though I would say to expanded universe fans, would you really rather see poor Chewie squished by a moon than live again in a new movie? Really? Honestly??

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One Response to The Great American Expanded Universe Freakout

  1. Keith Palmer says:

    From my cautious more-than-arms-length distance from most of the fandom, I’ve long had the impression “OT supremacy” and an insistence the Star Wars novels were “the true extension of the story” went closely together, so it did surprise me a bit for the “Expanded Universe” to be turned into “Legends.” While I can certainly doubt the new trilogy would have opened with constant discussion of what had happened in “New Jedi Order,” some allusions to mopping up the toughest of the Imperial remnants “twenty-five years ago” and Luke meeting “the love of his life” back then just might have gone a long way to getting the bulk of the book fans on side…

    Maybe there is a distinction after all between “lazy nostalgic attachment to the old movies” and “obsessive interest in the prose extension of the story.” Still, it does get me thinking the plans for a sequel trilogy must have been thought up just a little while ago, or else the authors would have been kept away from that part of the story too.

    For my part anyway, the novels might have just been collateral damage in nervously drawing back from Star Wars as a whole for fears exposing myself to it would suddenly pound through even my thick head the crimes against cinematic decency and civilization itself everyone seemed to be screaming about after TPM. Still, in the years just before that, I’d seen numerous pedantic complaints about how Zahn “got it” and everyone else hadn’t to the extent that they weren’t acknowledging how Mara Jade had obviously been introduced as Luke’s destined soul mate, and that just might have started me wondering if indeed Zahn’s novels felt quite right to me after all. When I did work up the courage to seek out the positive-minded fans including you, it wasn’t hard to decide I didn’t seem to need the novels after all…

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