Why the Star Wars Expanded Universe Matters to Me

Whenever you hear people start talking about Star Wars, there are varying general degrees to which people enjoy the saga. Some people only recognize the original trilogy (A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi), while some add in the prequel trilogy (The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith). Some fans add in the new animated series The Clone Wars, which takes place in the years between episodes two and three. Finally, there are those that include what is known as the Expanded Universe (also known as the EU).

Not to get too deep into the nitty-gritty details, there has been so much material published regarding Star Wars, from the films to novels, comics, and games, that there are varying levels of what is considered canon or official story. There are five levels of canon that establish the continuity. In order of precedence, continuity is established by films and their novels, then television series, then the combination of novels, comics, and games. The second to last in precedence is material that “may not fit quite right” and can used or discarded as seen fit. Finally, there is a category called “Infinities,” which is essentially made of “what if” stories, such as Luke freezing to death on Hoth.

Why does the Expanded Universe matters to me? Well, I never saw the original versions of the classic trilogy in theaters. In fact, my first experience with Star Wars was sometime around 1986 when my parents went out and the babysitter who was watching my sister and I asked if I had ever seen it. When I told her no, she put the pan and scan VHS tape on, which I fell asleep to after watching R2-D2 and C-3PO bicker in the desert. In fact, I never seriously watched the entire trilogy until after Easter 1993, when my parents gave me a copy of the trilogy novelizations and the paperback of Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn, which was the novel that revived the Star Wars franchise after nearly a decade of silence.

Before that point, Star Wars was just an action movie trilogy with cheesy dialogue – let’s face it, the fans are responsible for elevating those classic stilted lines to pop culture status over the years – and great special effects. After reading Heir to the Empire and the novelizations of the films, I found a hunger I didn’t know existed, and I became a frequent patron of bookstores and public libraries in a search over the next decade for all of the Star Wars novels I could read. I also sought out the games and comics and even the extra cheesy Ewok TV-movies because the depth and detail that those sources could provide in addition to the films was, quite frankly, inspirational to me. I saw how the myth arc grew beyond what I experienced on a seventeen-inch television screen to the unlimited expanse of my imagination. More than that, reading Tim Zahn, Michael Stackpole, Aaron Allston, Kevin J. Anderson, and other various authors as they took on the heroes and villains of the galaxy far, far away was what gave me the writing bug. I cut my teeth by writing Star Wars fanfiction, which of course no one will ever see due to how truly, truly horrendous it is.

In 1997, I finally got to see the classic trilogy on the big screen with the release of the Special Editions. Yeah, Greedo shooting first is a terrible thing, but to me, those movies were magical. I relished the changes George Lucas made and just had fun. After all, that’s what those movies were to me in the first place. I even saw each of the prequels on opening night, with their computer-enhanced effects and corny dialogue. For me, it was the same magic, although I grant you at a lower quality.

So why do I care about this now? Recent events in the new cartoon series, The Clone Wars, have been in conflict with the novels, comics, and games that have come before. Of course, the animated series takes precedence on the continuity scale, since George Lucas is directly involved. He’s even mentioned that doesn’t pay attention to the Expanded Universe, which has led some people to the conclusion that the EU doesn’t really matter anymore. Some people have taken to publicly celebrating every time The Clone Wars supersedes previous works. In fact, certain podcasters in the Star Wars fan community have gone as far as to describe the authors of EU works as “hacks”.

That’s the most painful part. I mean, if New York Times #1 bestselling authors are now considered hacks – someone who writes low quality work for pay – then what must my fellow fans think of struggling wannabe fiction writers like me or other fans? It’s insulting and only serves to drive unnecessary wedges into the fandom. Fighting amongst ourselves within the community serves nothing more than to divide us. We would be better served to acknowledge that some people accept the entirety of Star Wars as it stands, where others build their own canon based on what they enjoy within the franchise.

The EU is important to me because it represents a source of inspiration and motivation, but more than that, it represents a time of drought from 1983 to 1999 when we didn’t have anything but the original trilogy to enjoy. Just because we live a time of great prosperity in the franchise doesn’t mean that the classics don’t have a place. Furthermore, it doesn’t mean that those who enjoy it are any less of fans than those who watch the films.

We are all fans, and Star Wars is forever, no matter how we enjoy it. Our responsibility is to respect our fellow fans and pass the magic on to future generations. Only then will it live on in our hearts and minds.

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10 thoughts on “Why the Star Wars Expanded Universe Matters to Me

  1. It is a shame that the EU is disregarded, when it was Lucas Books that approved those stories in the first place. Lucas didn’t mind cashing in on them through use of the SW name, I’m sure!
    Of course, I suppose this means we can say that Chewie never died. 😉

  2. I have never believed that being a “New York Times #1 bestselling author” automatically makes one a GOOD author. There’s plenty of stuff that consistently makes that list on the strength of name recognition alone. (Sorry, we all have pet peeves: This is one of mine.)
    I don’t exactly know what the podcasters said – or rather, HOW they said it, and I’m not about to go listening for it. But it does come down to respecting the audience. Yeah, the EU isn’t always great. It isn’t even always good. (Hell, I have days – weeks – where I’d rather read semi-crud fantasy than something emblazoned with a SW logo.) But that’s all details and nitpickery and opinion. The EU has a place, and I think you’ve articulated that, my issues aside.
    And yes, sometimes the more, err, ardent fans can be annoying. Sometimes it’s fun to tweak them. (I won’t pretend I don’t play that game at times.) But there are some things that belong in personal conversations among friends, not on the air.

    • I agree on all your points. The best thing I pull from the EU is what to do or not do with my writing. While a story like “Splinter of the Mind’s Eye” is crazy and creepy, I picked up a few style things from reading it. It is Alan Dean Foster, after all.
      I wholeheartedly agree on the NYT bestseller point. Enough buzz will drive sales on a lot of titles that really aren’t worth the pulp they’re printed on.
      Thanks for your opinion. I appreciate your insights.

  3. What George Lucas says about the SW verse hasn’t mattered since 1977. Anyone who believes otherwise is a victim of that egomaniac’s knowhow of marketing.

  4. It is a shame that the EU is disregarded, when it was Lucas Books that approved those stories in the first place. Lucas didn’t mind cashing in on them through use of the SW name, I’m sure!

    Of course, I suppose this means we can say that Chewie never died. 😉

  5. I have never believed that being a “New York Times #1 bestselling author” automatically makes one a GOOD author. There’s plenty of stuff that consistently makes that list on the strength of name recognition alone. (Sorry, we all have pet peeves: This is one of mine.)

    I don’t exactly know what the podcasters said – or rather, HOW they said it, and I’m not about to go listening for it. But it does come down to respecting the audience. Yeah, the EU isn’t always great. It isn’t even always good. (Hell, I have days – weeks – where I’d rather read semi-crud fantasy than something emblazoned with a SW logo.) But that’s all details and nitpickery and opinion. The EU has a place, and I think you’ve articulated that, my issues aside.

    And yes, sometimes the more, err, ardent fans can be annoying. Sometimes it’s fun to tweak them. (I won’t pretend I don’t play that game at times.) But there are some things that belong in personal conversations among friends, not on the air.

    • I agree on all your points. The best thing I pull from the EU is what to do or not do with my writing. While a story like “Splinter of the Mind’s Eye” is crazy and creepy, I picked up a few style things from reading it. It is Alan Dean Foster, after all.

      I wholeheartedly agree on the NYT bestseller point. Enough buzz will drive sales on a lot of titles that really aren’t worth the pulp they’re printed on.

      Thanks for your opinion. I appreciate your insights.

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