Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Expanded Universe Overreaction

Sometime last week, in a secret bunker deep beneath Skywalker Ranch, George Lucas pressed a big red button labeled EXPANDED UNIVERSE SELF DESTRUCT as Disney CEO Bob Iger looked on approvingly. All around the world, Star Wars fans cried out in terror as all their Expanded Universe novels, comics, video games, and action figures vanished in a puff of smoke.

Wait, that is what happened, right? Because otherwise all the Internet outrage about Lucasfilm “nuking” the Expanded Universe would be kind of silly. You know what, why don’t I just read the official announcement so I don’t jump to any conclusions. Hang on, this should only take a few minutes:

Lucasfilm’s official announcement on the Expanded Universe.

I realize that a large portion of the Internet can hardly be bothered to read a sentence fragment superimposed over an amusing picture of a cat before taking to their online commenting forum of choice to vent their extreme anger and outrage. So let me explain in as few words as possible what the announcement basically means:

The Expanded Universe is cool, but the new movies are going to do their own thing.

No rational person would have a problem with this.

After all, back when the Expanded Universe really got going in 1991 with Timothy Zahn’s novel Heir To The Empire, Star Wars was pretty much dead. George Lucas had moved on to other things, like rolling around in giant piles of money, and the Star Wars universe was an abandoned sandbox full of cool toys that nobody was playing with. The success of Zahn’s “Thrawn trilogy” opened the floodgates for a whole series of novels, comics, and video games all set in the same continuity. Some of it was good, but a whole lot of it was crap, as pointed out by veteran Internet comedian Lore Sj√∂berg:

Does anyone really believe that J.J. Abrams or the folks at Disney would allow their new movies to be bogged down by 25 years of largely awful continuity? Not only is a lot of it just plain bad, it’s also terribly convoluted and downright weird. Over the years, as story has built upon story, the Expanded Universe has drifted farther and farther away from that classic Star Wars “flavor” and kind of become its own thing. And, whereas a casual Star Wars fan could pick up one of Timothy Zahn’s early Star Wars novels and instantly enjoy it, the newer stuff is totally incomprehensible unless you’re versed on a quarter-century of earlier novels, comics, and even video games.

Of course, some folks on the Internet don’t see it that way. One comment I read (either on Twitter or the comments section of an article on the subject, I can’t remember which) sternly reproved Lucasfilm for not “remaining true to the source material” the way Marvel films do. Here’s the problem with that line of thinking: the Expanded Universe stuff is not source material. The characters in the Marvel films first appeared in comics. Star Wars began as a series of movies. The six Star Wars movies are the source material here. All the other licensed fiction, be it novels, comics, or video games is just ancillary stuff based on that source material.

I’m sure that the premiere of Episode 7 in 2015 will give all us People of the Internet plenty of legitimate things to complain about. But the decision to cut things like Lord Heathrir, Darth Vader’s magic glove, Bendorion the Jedi Hutt, or Wilford Brimley’s character from that one made-for-TV Ewoks movie out of the official Star Wars universe? That’s cause for celebration.