Heresy of the Week: Star Wars’ universe needs a spring clean


star wars expanded universe luke

Heresy of the Week is a (mostly) weekly spot in which I entertain some of the unthinkable notions of geek-culture. The arguments I put forward are not always things I personally agree with, but often rhetorical devices designed to force myself (and maybe readers) out of the boxes which fan discussions can get caught in. But that aside, feel free to get yourselves worked up and your knickers in a twist if you really want to.

This week’s heresy:

In its apparently ongoing quest to sacrifice all of geek-culture’s sacred cows, Disney has announced to predictable outrage that it intends to ditch the ‘expanded universe’ which has grown up around the six films. But, once again, Disney is exactly right to do so, and if the fandom could calm itself down for five minutes, it might agree.

Somehow, I’m back at Star Wars again. In my defence, so is almost every-bloody-one else.

But yes, Disney have announced that they will be taking the maybe-radical step of ditching almost forty years of books, comics and games which have grown like a parasitic cyst on the side of the original — yes, and the prequel — films. That’s an awful lot of vegetation to hack away.

Actually, in sympathy with those concerned about this move, the Star Wars Expanded Universe is a wonder to behold. It has grown from some thirteen hours of cinematic footage, into a living, breathing universe which is in many ways more vibrant and exciting than its real counterpart. Indeed, Timothy Zahn’s much-praised — and rightfully so — Thrawn trilogy rivals both the films and many original SF novels.

But. For someone coming to Star Wars for the first time — don’t laugh; A New Hope¬†was released 37 years ago, The Return of the Jedi 31 years, and even the prequels were done with nine years ago — and looking to go further than the films, it’s a confusing mess of vines. Some of it’s awful, some of it’s okay, and a select few pieces are rather good. Unless you’re willing to trawl the likes of Wookieepedia, it’s hard to tell where to start.

The same is true of another Disney property; Marvel Comics. For those sucked in by the recent Avengers series of films, wanting to read the comics, where to begin. If anything, superhero comics are even more impenetrable than Star Wars.

The thing is, though, that while Disney’s reboot of the Expanded Universe is necessary from their perspective, it doesn’t mean the end of what has come before. Look at J.J. Abrams’ reboot of Star Trek. The timeline was rebooted, but it didn’t stop the original timeline, did it? The Next Generation didn’t cease to exist, you can still find it on all good DVD shelves, and occupying a fair section of the SF bookshelf in Waterstones.

In drawing a line under the Expanded Universe — because that’s what they’re doing, not scrapping anything — Disney aren’t harming any of the existing material. But they are providing a foothold ahead of their new films, to allow ¬†newcomers and a new generation of obsessives to get stuck in. It is marketing genius, yes, but it’s also nothing bad as far as the fandom is concerned.

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