STAR WARS RETROSPECTIVES:
PART II: The Expanded Universe: What made it great, why it was great, and why removing it from the canon was the biggest mistake Disney ever made. And why, even now, Disney is lost without it, to the point where they've begun ripping off things from the Expanded Universe to make plots for shows and movies.
WARNING: This essay is extremely long and will contain spoilers. Read at your own risk, and go get yourself a snack or a drink. You will be here for a while....
As promised, Part II of my Star Wars Retrospectives will talk about the Expanded Universe, and why removing it from the canon was one of the biggest mistakes Disney ever made ever since they acquired the rights to Star Wars. Today, I will be talking about the Expanded Universe, the reason why it was great despite some of its mishaps, and why preserving it and making movies from it could have allowed Disney to make so much money that had they done it, they would be wiping their asses with $1000 bills until the Second Coming of Christ rolls around.
Have you ever come across a series where the side products are greater than the originals? Say, for example, Batman. No matter what one says, it's quite obvious that the Batman shows, movies and animated series has reached greater acclaim than the Batman comics themselves. The Adam West TV show brought the Dark Knight to millions of TV sets worldwide during the golden years of America's dominance. The Batman movies that Tim Burton created showed that a serious and dark interpretation of the character can work well with the masses and sell tons of movie tickets and toys. Likewise, the Batman Animated Series is one of the most celebrated versions of the Dark Knight, bringing a dark interpretation of the character to kids without going overboard with its maturity. It even invented things like Harley Quinn and the backstory of Mr. Freeze that became traditional cornerstones of Batman lore. I still remember toys from both the Batman Animated Series and the Batman Tim Burton movies cluttering my childhood room. I still remember playing with them as part of my golden age memories of childhood. And of course, the Christopher Nolan Dark Knight trilogy helped bring the Dark Knight to the theaters in the Third Millennium, to the applause and approval of both newcomers and longtime fans. All of these things surpassed the Batman comics, not only in fame, but even, in some cases, style, maturity, and widespread appeal. Batman comics are hit-or-miss: whip one out and half the room will talk about how it was great, and the other half will talk about why it sucks or why it doesn't work. Pop in an episode of the Batman Animated Series and people will gather around to talk about it and talk about how good the whole thing was.
Needless to say, Star Wars was one of those series. The series that George Lucas created with his six movies went beyond the six movies that he created, and the world beyond the movies explored the Star Wars universe in greater detail, nuance, and beauty than the movies ever did. No offense to George Lucas, especially since I just spent the last essay defending him and his works, but the Expanded Universe of Star Wars did a better job at exploring the themes of the original movies and the universe itself than the movies ever did. Lucas even did the same thing himself, when he added the 3-D Clone Wars show to the Expanded Universe, and he also accomplished the whole "exploring the themes of the movies" better than he did when he was making the first six movies. I daresay that whatever flaws he had with the Prequels, he redeemed himself with the Clone Wars show. Which was why him dropping out and selling Star Wars when he did was a mistake to me. He already proved himself a good TV show producer, so why sell? If I were him, I'd have just stuck to creating TV shows and serials about Star Wars. Damn the media. Damn the press. Lucas' haters will hate absolutely everything he does. The show was great. He should have continued with making season seven of it and he should have led Star Wars Rebels. God knows he could have given them more ideas other than faffing about being space Robin Hoods.
Now, back to the topic at hand. The Expanded Universe consists of the great sea of comic books, novels, video games, and of course, the two Clone Wars TV shows, although the second Clone Wars show was later put into its own category. These things helped shape the greater universe outside of the movies that Lucasfilm officially licensed as official Star Wars products. Contrary to the claims of the anti-Expanded Universe crowd, most of this material was licensed as canon, with many authors and writers officially employed by Lucasarts to write for them with comics, books, video games, and eventually the two Clone Wars TV shows which eventually made it into the new canon. Lucas even spoke highly of the Expanded Universe in places like the preface to the novel, Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, and he even had favorites in the Expanded Universe, like the Dark Empire comic book series. It was obvious that when he was making the Prequels, Lucas kept tabs on the Expanded Universe, as Expanded Universe concepts like the galactic capital Coruscant, the Jedi Council, and even Palpatine’s quest for immortality all had their starts in the Expanded Universe. The last one was a very special case: there was no need to talk about Palpatine wanting to be immortal in a story like the Prequels were the whole plot is him taking over the galaxy........unless it was referencing the events of Dark Empire, George Lucas’ favorite Star Wars comic book, where Palpatine has gained immortality and returned to threaten everything the heroes fought for.
And of course, much of what makes Star Wars today comes from this great sea of content. Much of the groundwork for the Prequels came from the Expanded Universe, and while the Prequels are met with mixed reception, many Expanded Universe works, such as the Thrawn novel trilogy, the Tales of the Jedi comics, and the Jedi Knight, Rogue Squadron, and Knights of the Old Republic games garnered great appeal. In fact, many people who hate the prequels find a silver lining with the Expanded Universe content that came with said movies. They wanted to explore the mythos behind things like Darth Maul, the Clone Troopers, or the Jedi characters who barely get five seconds in the movies, and as I said, things like Coruscant being the capital of the Empire, the idea for the Jedi Council, the origins of the Sith, all come from the Expanded Universe.
The Expanded Universe also shores up many mistakes of the movies. For example, the Rebels won in Endor despite the fact that the Empire still had a larger fleet and both of the Rebels’ heavy cruisers got blown to bits by the Death Star II. Logically, the Rebel Alliance should have lost that battle thanks to the larger Imperial fleet. The Thrawn Trilogy novels plug that hole up by introducing the concept of Battle Meditation, a power that allows a Force-user to influence the minds of his minions, making them stronger while sapping the strength from the enemy. Grand Admiral Thrawn explains to his captain that the Emperor was using this power to drive his forces forward, and that his power was the reason why the Rebels were feeling the heat in the opening part of the battle, and why the Rebels were winning in the latter part of it after the Emperor died-because now, the Imperials no longer had the power that they unwittingly and instinctually relied upon.
When some people complained that the Original Trilogy’s war against the Empire doesn’t seem to affect anything outside of the Rebels and the Imperials who fought them, the Expanded Universe explored the evils of the Empire and why the Rebellion was formed. I admit, it was quite puzzling how an Empire that blew up Alderaan solicited no mass protests or defections from the galaxy or the military as a whole-it seemed like the only people who had a problem with the Empire are small pockets of rebels and a few planets, while the rest of the galaxy seemed okay with Palpatine as their Emperor even after one of his friends committed that rather public act of genocide. The Expanded Universe showed many of the Empire’s crimes against the populace and why the war against them was justified, a point later driven home in the Special Editions of the Original Trilogy which added in scenes of people cheering after Palpatine’s death. Slavery, genocide, and a culture of indoctrination helped in making the Empire seem more evil and the war against them more justified than the way the OT painted it. Prior to the Special Editions, many fans had justified concerns that the Empire fights for Order while the Rebels seem to be a bunch of anarchists. The Expanded Universe and the later Special Editions showed how and why the Empire’s fall was a justifiable thing.
The Expanded Universe also fleshed out the backstories of many of the major players in the galaxy. Outside of explaining the beliefs and organization of the Jedi Order, they also fleshed out the Mandalorians, the Sith, the Republic, and helped populate the galaxy with many characters, making the galaxy more populated, instead of having just the same family be the one driving everything in the galaxy. It also added nuance to the universe. There were some times when the Jedi were portrayed to be flawed instead of being near-perfect seers of the future like how the OT painted them as. There were some times when people who served the Empire had a valid point. There were some times when there were shades of grey, making the distinction between right and wrong more nuanced and difficult. Is Count Dooku an idealist who wants to return the galaxy to a saner world, or is he just a demagogue for Sidious? Are the Jedi truly the rightful defenders of peace and justice as they claim, or are they as bad as the Sith? The Expanded Universe raised questions like these and helped make the Star Wars universe more complex and nuanced than the OT was.
In fact, considering the portrayal of the Jedi in the OT, I was unconvinced of their heroism. The more the OT tried to paint them as heroes, the more I saw them as pricks. Half the reason I was an Empire/Darth Vader fan was because of the fact that the good guys just didn’t appeal that much to me. Luke certainly did appeal to me as the central character. Leia certainly did, mostly because of her charm. Lando even amused me because unlike his friend Han, he took his smuggling career and actually turned it into something productive-to the point of where he owns his own planet. Chewie was interesting, as he was both a monster and a good friend at the same time-it’s like having a sasquatch on your payroll. The Prequels even made it more interesting by showing that he had a career as a high-ranking general who was pals with Yoda, giving a fertile ground for more stories to tell.
But Han Solo, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Yoda? As well as the rest of the Rebels? Well, not so much. Han’s not that impressive for me. He’s a good fighter, sure, but he gets his friends into a world of trouble because of that blasted price on his head. I bet that if I existed in the SW galaxy as a bounty hunter, if I brought Han Solo to the Hutts, I’d be rich enough to buy an entire Imperial fleet, including the Stormtroopers inside. Or I’d be rich enough to pay the Emperor to make me a Grand Moff like Tarkin. As for the Rebels, they seemed like good people, but the lack of popular support (before the Special Editions) kinda made me feel that they were a minority and the rest of the galaxy couldn’t care less about Alderaan and were okay with Palpatine as Emperor. After all, most of the army comes from the populace, and if Palpatine was unpopular enough, the Imperial generals and admirals would have certainly offed him by now and placed someone more “diplomatic” and easier to control on the throne. That’s how politics worked in Empires like Rome and China when the Emperor goes nuts, after all.
As for the Jedi, well, long story short-they seemed like complete jerks for me. I couldn’t understand why Luke chose them over his father, outside of purity sue reasons. The more they talked about how war wasn’t great, the more it seemed like they were just molding Luke into a hitman against the Sith-which was completely hypocritical, in my books. “Wars don’t make one great” is entirely hypocritical in a series where an act of war, such as blowing up the Death Star, made Luke a hero and a household name in real life as well as in the Star Wars galaxy.
Their lessons of patience and meditation are fine, in fact, I kinda found Kenobi to be cool prior to him fighting Vader, but when he fought Vader, he lost me. Why was he continuing the fight against someone who can easily kill him? Isn’t a general supposed to know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em? Especially when a bunch of stormtroopers go over to watch the fight between him and Vader, while Luke and the others are near the Falcon: Kenobi had the perfect escape. He could mind-trick the stormtroopers to attack Vader, then make a beeline for the Falcon and Luke and get the hell out of there. Except, Kenobi doesn’t do that. He just commits suicide-by-apprentice and allows Vader to kill him. Wasn’t this guy supposed to be a general that the Rebels want for their army? I understand that being a ghost lets him keep tabs on Luke better, but the good guys don’t just consist of Luke here. Isn’t it kind of selfish of him to just let himself die and abandon Princess Leia and the Rebellion, especially when they need tactical leaders like him, and his ticket to escape Vader was right there? It would have made sense if the soldiers watching the fight were Sith underlings of Vader immune to mind control, (this was before the Rule of Two was written, after all) but these weren’t Sith, but common soldiers. Soldiers that Kenobi has been shown to be able to mind-trick. What the hell was keeping him from doing that again, siccing the troops on Vader, and then escaping with Luke and the others? Well, if he was this dumb when it comes to tactics, then maybe suicide was the right thing to do. He might have led the Rebels into disaster if he survived.
And of course, we have Yoda, everyone’s favorite Taoist space muppet. And dear God, this is where I began to hate the Jedi and root for Vader. He has wise teachings, nobody can deny that. And there was that certain…...otherworldly charm about him that I can’t shake off. However, he has more than enough setbacks for me to see him in a negative light. The dude acts like an asshole around Luke, trying to provoke him, and while I see that this was a test, people are dying out there in space, and this was no time for games. Then, when Vader captures Luke’s friends and hold them hostage, Yoda literally tells Luke to let his friends die. Right after warning him about the dangers of the Dark Side.
Now, we’ve seen how much Luke has lost in this war. He’s been told of a father killed by Vader and the Empire. He saw his foster family turned into burning skeletons by Imperial marauders. He saw his master die at the hands of Vader. His old college friend Biggs got vaporized in a dogfight. How much emotional turmoil must be going on in the head of this man, who is fighting, not merely for the rebels, but FOR HIS FRIENDS. Han, Leia, and Chewie are the only people keeping him together as he’s cruising around space. Outside of his friends, Luke literally is an orphan with nobody to turn to, outside of a ghost and a military that just uses him for his skills. He has no family, his list of friends is getting shorter, and he’s literally taking advice from a ghost. And Yoda’s telling him to let his friends die? This guy barely has anything left for him outside of his friends! Their deaths would have driven him to the Dark Side faster than anything. He could already feel their pain from one ass end of space to another. Wouldn’t their deaths cause more of a ripple? Perhaps even drive Luke to anger? To seek vengeance?
Yoda could have joined Luke to Bespin, or had Luke signal the Rebels to pick him up so they can go there together with a Rebel strike force, but no, it’s just “let them die”. Could you imagine what would have happened if he did let them die? Luke would have regretted it, and those feelings of regret would fester. The fear of loss becomes real, and fear turns into anger. Anger turns into hate. And hate, turns into suffering. Weren’t those Yoda’s words too? Yes, I know, they’re from the prequels, but the message still counts. So, going by Yoda’s own teachings, Luke letting his friends die would create the kind of anger and hatred that would cause Luke suffering-making it easier for the Dark Side to come in once he finally does confront the Sith. He’d not only be striking with conviction, but with anger. Rage. Hate. Things that Jedi shouldn’t have, but if Luke followed Yoda’s advice, he’d have them in spades.
And considering that both Jedi lied to Luke about his parentage, imagine how Luke would feel if he did let his friends die, only to discover that the Jedi lied to him about his parentage? And don’t tell me “they would have told him eventually.” They didn’t tell him right before he engaged Vader, who could (and did) reveal the truth to him personally. If they didn’t tell him then, they would not have told him later. What were they expecting Vader to do, keep quiet? I can understand Kenobi’s deception in the original film, but in ESB? Even as Luke races to face off with Vader? Come on.
But no, the Jedi are still sanctimonious heroes, flawless in the eyes of OT fanboys. Their “wisdom” is without peer in Star Wars. Wisdom, my ass. I was rooting for Vader once I found out who he was, and to me, had I been in Luke’s shoes, my own father, reaching out to me, pledging to help me take down the evil Emperor that the Rebels were fighting and offering me a chance to rule the galaxy would be far more appealing than two monks who have lied to me and tried to turn me as their own personal tool. Especially when, in EPVI, they try to shoot down Luke’s ideas of saving his father, instead trying to get him to kill Vader, showing that all that talk about wars not making one great as a lie. They wanted a warrior after all. They wanted a killer. The least they could have done is be honest about it and preach that wars do make one great and that anger is good because righteous fury is needed to kill evil. “Your father is an evil man who kills innocents, so he deserves righteous anger and fury to put him in his place. (which happens in Return of the Jedi when Luke gets angry at Vader) The Emperor is an evil man, and righteous fury is warranted to take him down for good.” Mace Windu understood that, and look where it got him. If it wasn’t for Ani, he’d have killed the Emperor with that righteous fury of his.
I didn’t just talk about the flaws of the Jedi for kicks, or for my own criticisms of the Original Trilogy fanbase. It links to the topic of the Expanded Universe-which had a nuanced and excellent portrayal of the Jedi. One that is multifaceted in its approach. Here, they approach the topic from many angles-are the Jedi walking saints, defenders of society against evil? Or are they self-righteous and pompous gas bags spitting out koans to excuse their own moral failings? Or are they somewhere in between, perhaps even both? The Expanded Universe portrays Jedi many ways, and it acknowledges that Jedi can be flawed, yet good at the same time. It acknowledges them with a human touch, that perhaps these walking angels aren’t angels after all, but they can still be good and seek to do what’s right while acknowledging that they have some serious problems. Unlike the Original Trilogy, which just portrays the Jedi as right and as wise, the Expanded Universe had many works that portrayed them as flawed, prideful, and sometimes even sinister, while still retaining enough Jedi that have goodwill and wish to do good for the galaxy, which makes the Jedi more real and lifelike. That’s how real-life “good guys” are-they aren’t always good, they have flaws, and sometimes they get a tad bit full of themselves. But they can have all those flaws, and still seek to do good for the world. That’s what so beautiful about the Expanded Universe-they can be nuanced and view things from many perspectives. Some Jedi, like Rahm Kota, can be cocky hotheads. Some Jedi like Vrook Lamar, can be stodgy assholes. Some Jedi, like Atris, can be spiteful and sometimes even downright sinister. And some Jedi, like Satele Shan, can be understanding when it comes to those that might not always fit the picture of the perfect Jedi. There’s different flavors for different tastes, different shades of light, dark and grey.
A key example of this is Knights of the Old Republic. Here, the Jedi have differing portrayals mixed into one game. One of the Jedi, Bastila Shan, is cocky, full of herself, and flawed. Others like Master Vandar, Master Dorak, and Master Zhar are helpful instructors. Master Vrook is a stodgy asshole. The player character themselves can be the kind of Jedi that is skirting the line between light and dark, or they could be the kind of Jedi that helps absolutely anyone and everyone that has a problem, practically a walking saint who goes around healing and saving people without the need for rewards. Then we see the backstory for the Jedi in the game: higher-ranking Jedi Masters sensed a threat manipulating things behind the scenes when the Mandalorian forces (Boba Fett’s people) invaded the galaxy, so the Jedi Council refused to intervene. This caused less experienced Jedi led by a renegade named Revan to rebel and join the Republic in stopping the Mandalorians. The war was won, but at a heavy cost, and many of the fighting Jedi, including Revan, fell to the Dark Side throughout the course of the war. They later returned as Sith, warring to conquer the galaxy, but Darth Revan gets betrayed by his second-in-command Darth Malak, who takes the Sith throne for himself. The Jedi managed to get the amnesiac Revan, and reprogram his mind to be a soldier, and later, a Jedi, under Bastila’s command, to help figure out the secrets of the Sith: a hidden space factory called the Star Forge, brimming with Dark Side energy. Bastila gets captured and tortured into being a Sith, but Revan, now returned to the Light, redeems Bastila and defeats Malak, and the Sith threat gets ended for a time, thanks to Revan.
Here, we see that the Jedi were flawed, but at the same time, capable of doing good. They were right about a dark power playing things behind the Mandalorians, when later, a Mandalorian warrior named Canderous reveals that the Sith Empire in hiding lured them to attack, but the Council was wrong in how to approach it, which is why many of their students were corrupted during the war. Rewriting Revan’s mind seemed unethical, but the other choices were either death or life in prison, which would not have helped either Revan or the Jedi against Malak. So while we see that the Jedi are flawed, their actions still helped stop the Sith. They still proved to be necessary, even though they were greatly flawed.
The same applies for the treatment of the antagonists. The Expanded Universe offers differing levels of antagonists, from the kind of Ramsay Bolton-esque psychopaths who kick puppies into low level orbit, to Darth Vader and Darth Sidious types who are masterminds of evil, to more grey types similar to Dooku that use both honor and guile as a tool. Some, like Grand Admiral Thrawn, might not be as unforgiving as Vader yet still retain their own sinister traits, like how he retains the classic Imperial lust for power, while being open to criticism from his subordinates and open to thinking outside the box. Others, like Darth Malgus and Darth Traya, view the evils that they do as benefitting a greater good, with Malgus seeing conflict as a necessary thing to give people a better understanding of the Force, while Traya is trying to break the endless cycle of violence between followers of the light and dark. Others like Darth Marr, Captain Gilad Pellaeon, and the expanded universe version of Boba Fett might even have their own moral codes to live by and only fight the heroes out of a consequence of allegiance. Again, this is beautiful-it goes to show a realistic world where not everyone who works for the bad guys is like Ramsay Bolton or Darth Vader. It creates a sense of realism, that this world of lightsabers and hyperdrives has a realistic edge to it, just like how not everyone who worked for the Soviets, the Nazis, or Red China were crazy evil assholes. Some just thought they were defending their land, others just go with the flow, and there are those among them who ARE that kind of crazy evil leading the bunch. This gave the Star Wars universe a feel of realism that I find lacking from other shows that tend to be preachy about their message and create cliche bad guys for the heroes to slap around.
The best example of this is the old Sith Empire, which showed up first in the Tales of the Jedi comics, where they invade the Republic and get destroyed, but in the Old Republic MMO, they make an epic comeback, taking half the galaxy and forcing the Republic to sign an unequal truce that favors the Empire. The Empire has legitimate reasons to hate the Republic, considering the fact that the Republic almost hunted their people to extinction. In Tales of the Jedi, they were tricked into going to war with the Republic by one of their leaders who convinced them that the Republic was attacking them, only for their offensive to stall and evaporate when said leader, whose Battle Meditation powers was the key to the invasion, got attacked by his apprentice. The Sith were then hunted down by the Republic like dogs, without quarter or mercy. This then drove the remaining Sith to unite under a Sith Lord who then took the title of Emperor, and together, their fleet escaped into deep space, where they came upon a world known as Dromund Kaas, which they made into their capital. They then spent the next thirteen centuries rebuilding their lost Empire, eventually attacking the Republic to repay them for the attempted genocide that happened 1300 years ago. In Star Wars the Old Republic, they make their grand return in style, flying around in massive Star Destroyer-esque warships and blasting a Republic diplomatic envoy, then seizing many outlying Republic worlds and bribing Republic allies to turn against Coruscant.
While the Republic sees the Sith in Star Wars the Old Republic as an evil invading force, the Sith see what they’re doing as justice and revenge. The Republic offered their ancestors no quarter, so why should they show mercy now? Just as the Republic torched Sith worlds 1300 years ago and attempted to massacre even the innocent among the Sith populace, so too did Sith warships bomb their way through Republic worlds, and Sith Warriors and soldiers killed wave after wave of Republic troopers and Jedi Knights, along with countless billions of innocent civilians. As they retook former Sith worlds like Korriban and charged their way into the galactic core, they were fired up by their search for justice and revenge just as much as the Dark Side powers their bloodlust and anger.
But that still doesn’t change the fact that the Sith, and their Empire, at their core, are corrupt. The Sith code openly allows for a subordinate to kill their master once they surpassed said master in power. The Sith Imperial military runs on nepotism, favors, and bloodlust, while the Sith themselves are backstabbing killers who enjoy inflicting pain and suffering, not only on the enemy, but on fellow Sith who are their rivals. The Emperor is an apathetic, murderous, detached psychopath, who would happily abandon his own Empire and his minions if it meant becoming more powerful. He used the Dark Side of the Force to destroy a whole planet to make himself immortal, and he’d have done the same thing to the galaxy if it hadn’t been for the efforts of his traitorous hitman and a powerful Jedi. Even those who seek to do good within the Empire, such as light-sided Sith and Imperial Intelligence leaders, have to contend with the fact that they live in a society of oppression, tyranny, and backstabbing, practically living out a Game of Thrones lifestyle on a daily basis. Slavery, torture, murder, and using the Force for dark, twisted rituals are an everyday fact of life within the Empire. Billions die in its wars. Still, there are those within the Empire, like the aforementioned Imperial Intelligence leaders and light-sided Sith, who wish to just do their jobs in peace or even want to improve life within the Empire, sparing the enemy when the Sith code demanded blood, or sparing an ally who failed when the standard Sith approach would have been the Vader-style Force Choke or the Palpatine-style lightning blast. Again, this is more realistic than having the whole enemy faction be evil for evil’s sake, without any real justification for war.
As shown above with the Sith Empire, the Expanded Universe applies the same nuanced ideology for factions: while the Rebel Alliance, Lucas’ main good guy faction, is viewed as somewhat pristine, other factions are not so clear-cut. The Republic has skeletons in its closet, just like the Jedi do. The Sith Empires sometimes have a valid point about Republic weakness and corruption. The Galactic Empire does some good alongside the horrid things they do that caused the Rebellion to rise. They patrol the skies, attack bandits and pirates, as well as would-be usurpers within the Empire-an example of that comes from the game TIE fighter, where you do play as an Imperial. In the game, the player spends their days attacking pirates, then a plot against the Emperor is hatched. The players save the evil Emperor from getting overthrown by another power-hungry Imperial admiral.
Another great example is the original Star Wars Battlefront II, where the players in the story mode play as Clone Troopers in Darth Vader’s personal army, the 501st Legion. Sometimes, the player is fighting scary animals. Sometimes, they’re helping retrieve components for the Death Star. Some missions have them aiding the Jedi, others have them fighting the Jedi. Even as Imperials, the players spend no less than two missions fighting remnants of the Confederacy, who were the bad guys from the Clone Wars. The last few levels involve battles from the original Star Wars movies, showing the capture of Princess Leia after her ship gets shot, and the aftermath of the destruction of the Death Star, culminating in the Battle of Hoth, where the defeat of the Alliance there is seen as a landmark victory in the eyes of the 501st. It gives nuance to the story to make the so-called “villains” actually more than just cannon fodder for the heroes. Sometimes, they serve with the heroes, other times they hunt the heroes, and they also wind up fighting other antagonists or evil forces.
Point being, the old Expanded Universe was very diverse in its approach to factions, and factions that were previously thought to be unrelentingly good are shown to have skeletons in the closet, while the bad guys do get some legitimate points for their cause. This still has the good guys be good and the bad guys be bad, but only in a realistic light where some good guys might be skirting the line towards gray and some members of the “evil” factions might just be grunts doing their everyday jobs.
Finally, the Old Expanded Universe had such a plethora of great and nuanced characters, they’re too many for me to list. Grand Admiral Thrawn is open to criticism and tries to appreciate the cultures of other species, yet he’s still the classic Imperial warlord out for control and revenge. Mara Jade served an evil greater than anything in the galaxy at the time, yet she had her own sense of decency and honor which eventually led her to be redeemed and she even became Luke’s wife. Grand Moff Trachta and Grand Admiral Zaarin want to keep the Empire intact and strong, yet plotted against the Emperor and Vader because they believed that the Empire should not be in the hands of a two-man Sith cult. Revan, from Knights of the Old Republic, was everything, from savior, to conqueror, to hero, then villain. His wife Bastila was a complex Jedi who, despite her adherence to the Jedi code, had feelings and attachments that she could not deny.
Even one-note characters like Starkiller had a more nuanced backstory than say, Rey from Force Awakens. Both are ridiculously powerful Force-users, the former being so powerful that he dragged a Star Destroyer from the sky and forced it down, and the latter learning how to mind-trick and use a lightsaber in less than a day, with no training. The difference is that Starkiller went through training from hell thanks to Darth Vader, while Rey just learned those powers as the plot demanded. Starkiller also had a character arc, from being a frightened child that Darth Vader picked up, to being his loyal Sith apprentice, to being fed up with Sith power games and being a Jedi for real, dying at the hands of the Emperor while helping the rebel leaders escape an Imperial trap, whilst Rey’s character had little change, all she did was learn the Force on her own and go off to train to be a Jedi. The most she had to change was learning to trust Finn. And yet it is quite hilarious for me to hear the Expanded Universe haters cheer Rey as the next Luke Skywalker while calling Starkiller a Gary Stu. I don’t know whether I should get angry due to their ignorance, or to burst out laughing thanks to their insane logic.
There was also the fact that many aspects of the world were far expanded than they were in the movies. The Force, in the films, although described as a near-omnipresent mystical power, was mostly restricted to telekinesis and telepathy, along with Lightsaber use, with the Dark-Siders adding Force Choke and lightning to the mix. In the Expanded Universe, they not only expanded the Force with Battle Meditation, but healing, speed, invisibility, phasing through solid objects, teleporting, draining life energies, corroding the enemy’s bodies with poison, and even conjuring up illusions were all brought in, and those were just a taste. Heck, some powers for the Sith truly made them worthy of the fear and panic that they spread throughout the galaxy. Some use the Force to transfer essences from one body to another, which is what Palpatine used to attain immortality in Dark Empire. Others like Naga Sadow, the leader of the Sith Empire in its first war with the Republic, had powers that allowed him to destroy whole solar systems using a bunch of power crystals. Darth Nihilus destroyed whole worlds with a power that allowed him to absorb life essences from a whole world by merely speaking, dooming a whole world through simple words. His partner, Darth Sion, had the ability to heal from almost any injury, making him near-invincible in a fight. The Sith Emperor from the Old Republic MMO was a composite of both Dark Empire Palpatine and Nihilus-he absorbed the life essences of those in his home world, making him powerful, and he switches bodies on a whim, sometimes even controlling more than one at a time.
The technology also had a similar expansion. Some technologies allowed for cloaking ships, and others like the Interdictor Cruiser and its Gravity Well Generators stopped ships from going into hyperspace. Others competed with the Death Star on the planet-destroying range, from low-grade Peragus fuel that could blow off a chunk of a planet if ignited, to Galaxy Guns which can destroy planets across the galaxy by firing warheads that have FTL capabilities. Some superweapons can blast an entire fleet into space dust, others can even shoot down ships in the middle of a hyperspace jump! Most impressive of all was the Rakatan Empire’s Star Forge, a space station of great power, mixing together advanced solar energy technology with the Force, allowing the user of the Forge to create anything, from robots, to starfighters, even capital ships, so long as the user is a powerful Force-sensitive capable of controlling its great powers. (If they’re not, then they will come to a horrible end) Just as the Expanded Universe expanded the use of the Force, so too did it expand the already-impressive array of technology presented in the Star Wars films. Introducing these new gimmicks into stories that had nuance and depth, the Expanded Universe truly did make the universe of Star Wars more mysterious and engaging. Just when you think you knew everything, something new smacks you in the face to show how small your knowledge really was.
In conclusion, the Expanded Universe offered a more realistic view of the Star Wars universe, expanded the franchise, gave birth to many things Star Wars fans take for granted today, gave a more nuanced view of the Star Wars universe that offered many different interpretations, expanded things from the movie up to impressive heights, and turned Star Wars from merely a successful movie franchise into a full-on universe with its laws, customs, histories, and charm. Just as JRR Tolkein took Lord of the Rings and made a whole universe out of that series of books, so too did the Expanded Universe authors that George Lucas hired make the universe more diverse and nuanced that it was before.
Speaking of which, now is the time where I talk about WHY it was a mistake for Disney to can the Expanded Universe.
When Disney first bought Lucasarts and the Star Wars franchise, my first thoughts were uncertainty. What will they do? What new things will they bring? Will they make more TV shows? Make new movies? Will they adapt the novels and comics to the big screen? The latter was more in my mind, because the Expanded Universe was a goldmine of ideas and possibilities just waiting to be exploited. Lucas didn’t want any more movies after his six initial films, but with the changing of the guard to Disney, new movies were now not only a possibility, but a certainty. And making films out of the Expanded Universe stuff, whether animated or live-action, would have been logical. Just as Game of Thrones leapt from the pages from the Song of Ice and Fire books into the television screens of everyone with HBO with great acclaim from the public, so too would the Expanded Universe leap from the pages of novels and comics into the big screen. Besides, adapting comic heroes onto the big screen was something Disney was already doing with their Marvel franchise, doing the same thing with Star Wars would be the next logical step. Just sit back, use the stories that people have loved for decades as blueprints for new movies, and let them usher in a new golden age for Star Wars.
They could do the same for many Star Wars video games, have classics like the Jedi Knight, KOTOR, Republic Commando, Bounty Hunter, and Battlefront 1 and 2 undergo the same renovation 343 Industries did for Halo 1 and Halo 2, and re-sell them on the markets with gorgeous new HD graphics. It’s a success story waiting to be written down. They don’t even need to program new games, just remake old ones, make sequels for them, and watch as they dominate the modern gaming industry with a return to classic video games in an era sorely begging for such great classics to return in style.
Had Disney done that, they’d be wiping their asses with $100 bills until Kingdom Come, with a united Star Wars fanbase at their heels, asking for more, and paying for it every time.
I was waiting for Disney to make this logical, profitable, and rather easy move.
Then the news broke: the Expanded Universe was no longer canon.
Is that for real?
No, no, they’re joking, right? This is a prank, gone wrong, and some asshole working in the PR department would get their beating come the next morning when Disney would rectify this and say that all is well with the Expanded Universe being canon.
Nope. They were dead serious. The Expanded Universe, decades’ worth of good characterization, consistent canon, great storylines, and a well-defined universe, all gone with a simple edict.
Just like that.
My first thought mirrors that of the Angry Video Game Nerd when he talks about bad video games.
WHAT WERE THEY THINKING!?
I mean, this was just the most illogical, wrong-headed, imbecilic, suicidal move they could make. When the Prequels were getting shelled by the critics for bad characterization, people who hated the Prequels ran to the Expanded Universe and found dozens of great characters whose stories they latched on to. When Anakin failed to live up to the expectation of being the next big thing for Star Wars, other characters like Thrawn, Mara Jade, Kyle Katarn, and Revan picked up the slack. As the Star Wars fanbase divided over those who loved the Prequels and those who hated them, the one thing that kept them together was their love for the Expanded Universe, which both groups agreed was awesome.
Cancelling the Expanded Universe is a decision so bad, that I can’t find a decision in modern media that equals it. It’s far worse than Hasbro entrusting the Transformers film license to Michael Bay, because say what you want about Bay, for all his crude jokes and sexploitation, the guy makes money. And the movie canon is openly different from the shows, games, and comics, so Bay can go play around in his private Transformers universe while those who don’t like his movies have other continuities of Transformers media to latch on to. Star Wars had ONE continuity. Unlike Marvel and Transformers, which had different continuities, from Beast Wars to the Ultimate universe, Star Wars had one canon. ONE. Sure, there’s different levels to that canon, akin to a pyramid, and some Expanded Universe works were outright non-canon like the Infinities comic books and the Force Unleashed DLC levels. But most of the Star Wars universe, from Expanded Universe, to shows and movies, fit into ONE canon. ONE. Now, there’s two. The new Disney canon, and the old Legends canon, which comprises the old Expanded Universe. And guess which one most fans latch on to? If you say the former, then you’re more blind than Daredevil from Marvel ever was.
So, okay, they nuked the Expanded Universe. But they did say they would be taking elements of the Expanded Universe into the new canon, right? So this is the perfect opportunity to mold the new Disney Expanded Universe! Take works from the old canon that were universally loved, remove the ones that had a lukewarm reception, and there you go! For example, the Old Republic novel and game were both considered great works, but were lambasted for their treatment of Revan and the Exile, the heroes of the previous Knights of the Old Republic games. Maybe they can make a remake of the Old Republic that wasn’t so disrepsectful of the KOTOR heroes.
Other works could get a new shake-up. Not everyone was a fan of the respawning Emperor Palpatine from Dark Empire or the Yuuzhan Vong invasion, how’s about replacing them with a more threatening villain, like say, the return of the old Sith Empire with thousands of Sith Lords-that would keep Luke Skywalker and his Jedi awake for more than a few sleepless nights, eh? Or how about bringing in a remnant of the Force-sensitive Rakatan Empire, an Empire that discovered how to replicate machines with the Force and solar power, but were brutal to the point where Emperor Palpatine looks like a saint when compared to them? Or, they can bring back Darth Nihilus, since when he died, he turned into a puff of red smoke, so it would be easy to write in that he possessed a new body, and that he was now running around, destroying whole worlds and absorbing the Living Force from billions. A Sith Lord destroying whole worlds on a whim-proving Darth Vader’s belief that the Death Star was a toy when compared to the true power of the Force.
Nope. Nada. Nothing. While shows like Rebels would take a few ideas, like for example, the Interdictor Cruiser and the TIE Defender, most of the new Disney canon was ignorant of the Expanded Universe, acting as if none of it never happened. Until recent times, Disney’s new canon did almost everything they can to distance themselves from the old one. Old fans who had read up on the Expanded Universe for years were treated to a new canon that acted with disgust and amnesia when referring to the old universe, to the point where the third and fourth Star Wars Battlefront games are called Star Wars Battlefront and Star Wars Battlefront 2, respectively, even though those titles belonged to the first two games.
Quite predictably, the result was a disaster.
While Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens scored big on the box office and tickled the nostalgia boners of the Original Trilogy purists, many Star Wars fans condemned the movie as a tired re-hash of Episode IV, with a few specks from the Jacen Solo storyline on top. Rogue One was telling a story already told, one about recovering the Death Star plans, a feat that most fans link to Kyle Katarn in the Dark Forces/Jedi Knight series. Star Wars Rebels was a poor man’s Clone Wars, with less than half the impact or charm of the show that preceded it, relying on cameos from the movies and the old Clone Wars show to support its so-so cast. Some complained that the novels, outside of those written by established Expanded Universe authors, were sub-par. Fans all over the place denounced the movies, denounced new canon, denounced Rebels, and attacked Disney for “ruining Star Wars”. For me, the Legends universe will always live in my heart, so Disney can go on ahead and play with their new canon while I stick with the one I grew up with. But many other Star Wars fans are not so forgiving.
This wasn't like that Mass Effect revolt that happened in 2012 when the fans made a respectful criticism of Mass Effect 3 that eventually turned into a shitshow between Bioware and its jilted fanbase. No, this wasn't simple honest criticism. This was fury. This was hatred. This was legitimate anger that stemmed from what seemed like an unforgivable betrayal. Video after video, I saw the fanbase’s raw fury directed at Disney, and the passage of time did nothing to soften the hate. Instead, the hate seemed to intensify, as old canon fans kept bashing everything Disney is doing, from EPVII, to Rebels, to the new Battlefront series, Rogue One, and the upcoming Episode VIII movie. It seems like the only thing that didn’t get hatred on it were the new Old Republic expansions (which, instead of making the game and its expansions part of the new canon, were still relegated to Legends) and the Freemaker Adventures, which were a non-canon parody Lego series.
At first, the Disney Star Wars fans and Original Trilogy purists tried to counter the hatred of these old fans by attacking the Expanded Universe, claiming that it was never canon, and that it was a fanfiction gallery of Mary Sues, completely misconstruing what the Expanded Universe was and what it did for Star Wars. Which is, of course, asinine and stupid. Many Expanded Universe characters had limits and flaws. Even well-loved characters like Thrawn and Revan get stretched to their limits and get their asses kicked. Thrawn accounted for almost everything outside of the loyalty of his Nohgri bodyguards, whom he just kept in line through fear, which bit him in the ass when one of these assassins, loyal to Darth Vader, killed him on the behest of Vader’s daughter, whom they considered to be his heir. Revan, a man who mastered both sides of the Force, was made into the Sith Emperor’s chew toy in the Old Republic MMO, taken down like a mad dog by players who crushed him like any other raid boss. Starkiller was powerful, but got killed fighting the Emperor. Mara Jade was killed by her nephew Jacen Solo when he was playing with darkness on his own. The revived Emperor Palpatine had to deal with clone madness as his plans exploded in his face like they did back on Endor. And as I previously stated, these stories were far from one-sided fanfictions, often tackling ideas and characters from many viewpoints, providing realism to the universe. And of course, the Expanded Universe WAS canon under George Lucas. It was canon to the point where, as I said, Lucas kept putting their inventions in the movies, showing that the Expanded Universe and the movies existed in the same universe. The capital of the Republic being Coruscant. The existence of the Jedi Council. Palpatine’s search for immortality, which is a central part of his design even though it had nothing to do with Episode III’s galactic takeover plot. It was there as a call forward to Dark Empire, George Lucas’ favorite Star Wars comic book, where Palpatine finally does attain immortality and once again becomes a threat to the heroes.
The Disney fans’ attack on the Expanded Universe just made things worse: it outed them as ignorant of Star Wars as a whole and hostile to its loving fans, which of course, caused the Disney-haters to be even more virulent in their attacks. Countering hatred with more hatred caused the problem to escalate even further. This level of falsehood only angered the old fans even more, solidifying their hatred and making them open and prolific enemies of the new Disney canon. And instead of making more money, Disney was losing potential customers, as their Rebels show slowed down, and the obvious burning out slowly creeping amongst the moviegoing fans of the Star Wars franchise. It was at this point, Disney realized, they made a mistake.
Now, Disney is openly trying to whore out to Expanded Universe fans. The direction of the new movie, Episode VIII: The Last Jedi, seems to go in the way of Darth Traya where Luke decides that the Jedi “must end” and a tone of grayness is introduced in the film similar to the second KOTOR game. Grand Admiral Thrawn was nicked from the Legends canon and introduced into Rebels to spice things up for the main cast. The introduction of things like Interdictor Cruisers, TIE Defenders, and other things from the old canon and shows were meant to try and hook disappointed fans back into the new canon, which shows how nuking the old canon was a mistake to begin with, and how Disney is trying to make up for that horrible misstep.
Good on Disney to realize that they’ve screwed up. But I’m afraid the damage is already done, and what Disney does next may be too little, too late. Disney nuked the Expanded Universe to give their moviemakers unlimited boundaries in making the new movies. However, with the new movies being described by many hardcore fans as even being “worse than the prequels”, it is quite obvious the move did not pay off. If they had someone like, say, Timothy Zahn (Thrawn) or Drew Karpyshyn (KOTOR) write the new movies, perhaps the new movies would be a great replacement for the Expanded Universe. But as it stands, even the stories that weren’t universally loved like Dark Empire and the Yuuzhan Vong invasion were leagues above the new movies.
Here’s what they can do to mitigate the damage: make most of the material in Legends up to at least the Thrawn trilogy canon, then make movies out of the Old Republic eras. With Carrie Fisher’s death, Harrison Ford’s exit from the franchise, and an increasingly irate Mark Hamill getting angry at how Luke Skywalker is being characterized, the best thing to do now is to leave the Original Trilogy era behind, to go for a fresh, new era, one that is new for the movie fans, but familiar for the old fans, to at least garner some support. Tales of the Jedi seems to be a great start to make movies out of, and the Mandalorian Wars could be next, giving Disney a lot of room to breathe and a lot of content to make into yearly films. Instead of jumping all over the place, from after Episode VI to before Episode IV, they can create a series of movies that occur in the timeline one after another, similar to their Marvel Avengers films, and keep that line steady and consistent. Not to mention that the Tales of the Jedi/KOTOR fanbase is quite an influential part of the Expanded Universe fanbase, and scoring their loyalty could help salvage Disney Star Wars in the eyes of the fans, and restore some semblance of respect in the eyes of the Star Wars fans who were fans for decades.
Where else can they go? Their writers are obviously running out of ideas. As I said, Episode VII, the groundbreaking return to Star Wars after Lucas left, was a rehash of the original movie with some plots from the Jacen Solo storyline sprinkled in, except Kylo Ren was not even half the villain Darth Caedus was. Rey’s rise to power was so rushed that she began learning lightsaber combat and Force powers, not to mention how to resist Sith mind-rape, without the instruction of a Jedi Master. Rogue One was telling a story already told, with the recovery of the Death Star plans, albeit one leaving Death Star sized plot holes and continuity snarls. The first movie made it clear that the Death Star was not operational until DURING that movie, with one Imperial commander even saying that until the station was online, they were vulnerable, and yet in Rogue One, the damn thing wasn’t only operational, going from planet to planet, it was already attacking worlds with its Superlaser, even though Alderaan was supposed to have been the first official test. Vader’s testimony was that the plans for the Death Star were BEAMED onto Princess Leia’s ship, not given as a disk, and if Vader saw Leia’s ship amongst the Rebel fleet, he can officially bring her to trial for aiding and abetting insurrectionists. Instead, in the first movie, he’s holding her in secret, because he has no proof of her wrongdoing and the Imperial Senate would swing in the Rebellion’s favor if word of his deeds came out. And of course, the Rebels show was just nicking one plotline after another from the old Clone Wars series and the Thrawn books, having little original stories of their own outside filler episodes. The fact that one movie had to rip off the original and sprinkle a bit of Jacen Solo on top, while another made one continuity snarl after another in telling a story told before, and the fact that the show had to survive by picking up old plotlines from the previous show and the books, shows us that Disney’s scraping at the bottom of the barrel for ideas. Re-canonizing a good chunk of the Expanded Universe and searching around it for movie material would give them a way to make more movies and regain the trust of the Star Wars fanbase-to kill two birds with one stone. With Disney’s credibility among the hardcore Star Wars fans waning, and the movie fans slowly getting burnt out, this can perhaps be Disney’s only hope for a stable, strong, and long-running Star Wars franchise.