On the off chance you’ve been living under a rock on some distant extra-solar planet without access to television or the internet, you may not have heard that Disney bought Lucasfilm. The house of mouse secured Lucas’ brainchild for 4.05 billion dollars. The price is quite a steal considering Disney paid 7.4 billion for Pixar and 4.2 billion for Marvel. Disney’s acquisition includes LucasArts, Industrial Light and Magic, and Lucas Sound, making the deal seem all the more like a fire sale on George Lucas’ life. And as if all that wasn’t enough to get the internet buzzing, Disney paired announcing the sale with news of a new Star Wars film to release in 2015: Details remain unreleased.
Apropos of Obi-Wan, millions of voices cried out in terror…and nerd rage. Scenes with Jar-Jar as a speaking character and Leia reduced to “Disney princess” status raced through people’s minds as Randy Newman played some tedious up-tempo song in the background.
People pleaded with the internet gods, “Please, no more. Why can’t they leave it alone? Nothing good will come from this? They’re going to do more crap from the expanded universe.”
Life rarely mirrors rage comics, but this announcement ushered in one of those infrequent moments of similarity.
Now that the dust has settled, and fury morphed to quiet discontent I feel it is my duty to say the following. Good people of the internet, I feel your frustration but it’s time to calm the hell down.
Yes, not many among us liked the new trilogy. There was too much green screen, questionable writing, and no real depth to any of the characters. Would that George Lucas’ story telling abilities matched his technical acumen, I too would lament his departure from the Star Wars universe.
However let us explore the idea that some of the best Star Wars stuff has little to do with George Lucas, other than via his role as the progenitor of a mythic cycle, and scant direct tie-in to the canonical movies. In fact, I would go so far as to say that since Return of the Jedi the popularity of Star Wars, as a contemporary mythology, is so far removed from film that even if the next trilogy proves as bad as the last, it wouldn’t really hurt the brand or the reason it is so beloved by its fans.
To illustrate this point I offer five first rate aspects of the expanded universe which would not have been possible if Lucasfilm/LucasArts had left Star Wars alone.
Timothy Zahn published the first of these post-Jedi continuity novels in 1991. In doing so he rekindled interest in Star Wars after many years of creative drought. The first book, Heir to the Empire landed on the New York Times best seller list. It would later go on to be adapted into a graphic novel by Dark Horse Comics. In addition to giving Coruscant its name, Zahn also gave Star Wars one of its most enigmatic villains in the form of Grand Admiral Thrawn. Though Zahn’s novels may show their age, they did bring a new generation of fans into the zealous fold when they hungered for more in the aftermath of Return of the Jedi.
Published by LucasArts but developed by the now defunct Totally Games, Tie Fighter is a name spoken with awed reverence among gamers. Though not the first game to put players in the cockpit of a star fighter, Tie Fighter set multiple benchmarks for space combat simulation. In terms of sound, graphics, and mission complexity, it was leaps and bounds beyond its predecessor X-Wing. TF also managed to change the news cycle of the Star Wars universe. For the first time the rebels were cast not as heroes but violent insurgents bent on disrupting the life of innocent imperial citizens. In shifting perspectives, players saw a more pragmatic and practical side to the empire and less of an evil oppressor.
The name might be a mouthful but Dark Forces 2 offered the first ever post-Jedi live action glimpse of life in the Star Wars universe. Like so many games of the late 90s, Dark Forces 2 bookended each level with a full motion video cut scene. As a precursor to Bioshock, a player’s decisions in-game dictated clear consequences for lead character Kyle Katarn, a former imperial officer turned smuggler turned Jedi. But more important than that, DF2 gave Star Wars fans what they really wanted: an opportunity to cut down storm troopers with a light saber in a first person shooter.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
Because the only thing better than Dungeons and Dragons is a Star Wars RPG governed by D20 rules. KOTOR, and its sequel KOTOR 2, wound back the clock on the decadent, and possibly illiterate, civilization that is the Star Wars universe. Set thousands of years before the Battle of Yavin, KOTOR set the galaxy on fire with a war between the Republic and the Sith empire. As with any good RPG, decisions on the part of the player created multiple paths to stopping the Sith lord Darth Malak. Although far removed from the source material, KOTOR was widely praised by critics and earned multiple awards including the first ever BAFTA Games Award for best X-Box game of the year.
The Clone Wars
Perhaps the most controversial of the expanded universe settings, The Clone Wars follows the exploits of Anakin Skywalker and company during the “fade to black” conflict that occurs during Episode 2 and 3. While the story telling can fall flat with respect to certain characters whose fates are known, the series is at its best when chronicling the war stories of the clone troopers. Indeed, if this series proves anything, it’s that even the worst executed ideas (Star Wars Ep. 2) can lead to better things when fresh eyes get to work within a well established mythology.
So while Disney may own LucasArts/Films, it doesn’t necessarily follow that Star Wars is going to get neutered like so many scruffy looking Nerf Herders. Disney owns Marvel, yet Tony Stark is still an egomaniacal booze swilling playboy. The Hulk still has anger problems, even if they are a little inconsistent. Wall-E, for all its cutesy-poo robot stuff, was a story about unabashed capitalism gone wrong, wrapped in a criticism of the inherent sloth built into a western lifestyles, all told through the lens of ecological catastrophe.
Indeed, if the new trilogy, as well as these examples, prove anything, it’s that Star Wars can often be at its best when it is far removed from the man who created it.
So relax already. Everything is going to be fine.