Saturday, May 17, 2014

Star Wars Month - Expanded Universe


May is unofficially the month of Star Wars. Given that every movie released has been released in May, and given that May 4th is the Jedi Day, it kinda makes sense. So, I'd like to take this time to talk about one of my favorite franchises of all time! Stay tuned, and learn about a sticky topic: Since there's so much Star Wars literature out there... what's going to happen to it when we make another movie?!

Three new Episodes!
The decision has been made, and it's a controversial one. Lucasfilm has decided to remove all the Expanded Universe literature from the official Star Wars Canon. The Expanded Universe is any Star Wars material that doesn't include what's in the movies or the Clone Wars cartoon (and soon the Rebels cartoon). There are three main reasons why this could be a big benefit: First, the realm of Star Wars Canon was a complicated maze of hierarchies and seemingly arbitrary rankings – put simply, it's a mess; Secondly, by eliminating all of the extra works, there is the potential to have one, cohesive universe for us to play in; Lastly, the vast majority of non-canon star wars stories are forgettable anyway, if not lamentable.

This series was quite enjoyable
For the first point, let’s talk about what canon is, and how it affects a story. Any story, or universe created has what is considered “official” material. This official material is considered to be the “true” canon of that universe. For example, the Harry Potter Series has official canon from the books, but all the interesting fan-fiction is considered non-canon, or not official. So, if you feel like killing off Ron and Harry in your own fan-fiction, go ahead, it doesn't affect the actual books. In any discussion about Star Wars Canon, it simply has to be stated how much of a mess it was previously. An arbiter of the Star Wars continuity, Leland Chee, is the person responsible for the hierarchy of canon. Several different "types" of canon are used: G-canon, T-canon, C-canon, S-canon, N-canon, and D-canon. If this is confusing to you, it’s because it’s super confusing. More detailed information is below, as taken from the all-mighty Wookieepedia:
·         G-canon is George Lucas Canon; the six Episodes and any statements by George Lucas (including unpublished production notes from him or his production department that are never seen by the public). Elements originating with Lucas in the movie novelizations, reference books, and other sources are also G-canon, though anything created by the authors of those sources is C-canon. When the matter of changes between movie versions arises, the most recently released editions are deemed superior to older ones, as they correct mistakes, improve consistency between the two trilogies, and express Lucas's current vision of the Star Wars universe most closely. The deleted scenes included on the DVDs are also considered G-canon (when they're not in conflict with the movie).
·         T-canon, or Television Canon, refers to the canon level comprising the feature film Star Wars: The Clone Wars and the two television shows Star Wars: The Clone Wars and the Star Wars live-action TV series. It was devised recently in order to define a status above the C-Level canon, as confirmed by Chee.
·         C-canon is Continuity Canon, consisting of all recent works (and many older works) released under the name of Star Wars: books, comics, games, cartoons, non-theatrical films, and more. Games are a special case, as generally only the stories are C-canon, while things like stats and gameplay may not be; they also offer non-canonical options to the player, such as choosing female gender for a canonically male character. C-canon elements have been known to appear in the movies, thus making them G-canon; examples include the name "Coruscant," swoop bikes, Quinlan Vos, Aayla Secura, YT-2400 freighters and Action VI transports.
·         S-canon is Secondary Canon; the materials are available to be used or ignored as needed by current authors. This includes mostly older works, such as much of the Marvel Star Wars comics, that predate a consistent effort to maintain continuity; it also contains certain elements of a few otherwise N-canon stories, and other things that "may not fit just right." Many formerly S-canon elements have been elevated to C-canon through their inclusion in more recent works by continuity-minded authors, while many other older works (such as The Han Solo Adventures) were accounted for in continuity from the start despite their age, and thus were always C-canon.
·         N is Non-Canon. What-if stories (such as stories published under the Infinities label) and anything else directly and irreconcilably contradicted by higher canon ends up here. N is the only level that is not considered canon by Lucasfilm. Information cut from canon, deleted scenes, or from canceled Star Wars works falls into this category as well, unless another canonical work references it and it is declared canon.
·         D is Detours Canon, used for material hailing from Star Wars Detours.
If you’re a reasonable person, you would agree that this is needs to be redone.

On the second point, by writing off all the Expanded Universe and the rest of the extraneous stories, a more cohesive and consistent universe can be built. This is probably the most exciting thing to come out of the decision. Now everything will be connected and will relate to each other in the Star Wars universe. In the same way that the Marvel Movie and TV franchises have done, Star Wars will, hopefully, be doing the same.

This is not to say that everything else is getting fully eliminated from the official Star Wars universe. All the Expanded Universe, which includes novels, comic books, video games, and cartoons, is going to be reclassified as “Legends” status. Meaning that, while they are no longer considered part of the official Canon, they still exist, and won't be completely disregarded. Actually, it’s closer to the opposite; these stories will continue to be published. Additionally, these characters and stories have elements that may be used in the official canon later on – just like they took Boba Fett from the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special (which, by the way, is not considered canon). Previously, Lucas held lordship over any material published in his universe. While he would give his blessing for those works, he never considered them as official. This allowed him to write whatever he’d like – not keeping him bound to something others had written.

One of the only characters worth keeping...
What is the benefit of having all of this separated from the official canon? Well, for starters, now there is a blank slate. This universe that’s been created now has an infinite territory for us to explore and expand into. Before, everything was a minefield and stepping in certain areas could result in massive blow-back. Currently, the plan is to proceed forward with one, cohesive vision. Lucasfilm has appointed a special group called the Lucasfilm Story Group. Their mission is to ensure that the stories from the movies will mesh with the new movies, comics, video games, and cartoons that get produced later. This is a very exciting time for Star Wars and should be viewed as a terrific opportunity.

The people in the Story Group for now
Now let’s discuss the third topic: The vast majority of Star Wars Expanded Universe is forgettable. I should mention that I have probably read about 60% of all the expanded universe literature out there. That means novels, comics, and video games. In some cases, not only are these stories forgettable, they’re just awful. There is a comic where there is literally a weeping mountain named Mount Sorrow. Yes, the mountain is a talking character that cries. Did you really want that to officially be part of the Star Wars Universe? There is a terrific list of which stories are simply terrible over at Io9 located here. Some highlights from this list: Remember the droid that blows up at the beginning of the first movie? “This one’s got a bad motivator!” cries Luke. Well it turns out that droid is actually force-sensitive and his name is Skippy. I think we can do without that one. Another highlight is the time Boba Fett fought the Sarlaac. No, not the one in Return of the Jedi, yes there’s another one. This comic was called “Jawas of Doom.” Yes, I’m okay seeing that one go. Just in case you’re not convinced, there’s another list here from the people at Topless Robot.

Admit it, you were curious
What’s great about this particular point is that it almost makes itself. Besides Shadows of the Empire and Grand Admiral Thrawn, can any of you name something that is really that important to the Star Wars Universe? How about the franchise as a whole? We can spend some time talking about the 19 book series featuring aliens from another galaxy, but I’d rather just ignore it happened because that whole series had problems from the start. Any discussion of those aliens is fun, but certainly doesn’t impact anything within the core universe. Besides, any series that kills of Chewbacca in the first book isn’t one I care to remember.  The bottom line is that the Expanded Universe has become a giant, bloated, disgusting slug. It’s a huge problem to do anything in the expanded universe, and the past 10 years have shown this. After all, nothing notable has come out recently, with the possible exception of the Legacy comic book series. In the words of Lee Hutchinson of Ars Technica:
A sci-fi universe with as long a tail as Star Wars can be death for new stories, though. Finding space among the EU to make a mark without being hamstrung by established ideas is difficult, and even keeping the EU somewhat organized is challenging. Its growth has been cancerous—like a tumor, it has no plan and no organization—it simply expands, blindly, as the collective fan engine shovels in new material.
And like a tumor, Disney is going to rip it out
The Expanded Universe is certainly a colossal mess. This is why the news of the Expanded Universe and the Canon being rewritten should be regarded as a good thing. For those fans that have spent the time to learn and read all the convoluted stories, it might feel like you’ve wasted your time, but that’s not it. Most likely, you read all that crap because you love Star Wars and you wanted more of it. By changing the status of canon, we have a better chance than ever before to get more of the Star Wars Universe that we want.

Also an acceptable answer
If there’s something you disagree with, or a comment you’d like to make, please post it below, or send it to me via Facebook.


PS I’ve compiled a  couple of links that are certainly worth checking out related to this post.

-         This guy writes a blog specifically about the EU. It’s definitely worth looking at.
-         There are some ladies over at The Mary Sue that wrote a pretty good article about this topic, it’s worth reading for sure.