This past weekend saw no shortage of Star Wars chatter across the internet. There were plot rumours for Episode VIII, behind the scenes photos from Peter Mawhew, and a revelation that Disney has plans to draw some clear lines as to what is, and is not, canon with respect to the Star Wars extended universe.
On the latter point, an Ars Techina op-ed brings the point home quite nicely. For the TL:DR crowd, Disney has appointed an arbiter to decide what parts of the Star Wars EU are going to make it into the film canon. As a fan of the extended universe, specifically Timothy Zahn’s novels and BioWare’s Knights of the Old Republic games, this news was not absent a certain sting. Once when the initial shock wore off, and my Vulcan logic got the better of my fanboy outrage, I had an odd moment of clarity.
Taking a scalpel to the EU is a good thing. In fact, this is probably the best thing that could possibly happen to Star Wars.
My explanation comes down to a single question: What is the Star Wars EU? The answer: a body of work that kept the franchise alive in the late 80s and early 90s, a time when Hollywood wasn’t interested in Star Wars as a film franchise. The novels, video games, RPG systems, and comic books consistently demonstrated that there was a demand for more Star Wars. If it wasn’t for nearly two decades of revenue funneling into Lucas Arts/Films without a single Star Wars movie, I doubt the prequels would have happened.
Yes, shut up, I know, we all hate the prequels. But do you know what I don’t hate? The Clone Wars television series, and we don’t get that without the prequels. Yes, yes, Jar Jar should die a thousand deaths in the deepest bowels of the Sarlacc. The point here is that the EU proved the franchise was viable when the powers that be might just have let it die. And so long as something is viable, there’s a chance for it to be good. That certainly wasn’t the case with Episodes I-III, but perhaps J.J. Abrams will get eaten by a Wampas and there will be some hope for Episodes VII to IX
It’s also important to note that EU properties fit into the Star Wars timeline in such a way that they can easily be bracketed and removed if the creative powers see fit to do so. Case in point: if Disney decides that the events of KOTOR are not part of the film canon, then what have we, as people who enjoyed those games and their narrative experience, lost? Since the entirety of Star Wars is a predicated on hand waving, can we not content ourselves with a communal lie about the story of Darth Malak and Darth Revan taking place in an alternate reality?
Moreover, if The Phantom Menace and its bastard offspring taught us anything, it’s that there’s a danger in tethering the franchise to certain fixed points. As much as I really want to see Hugo Weaving as Admiral Thrawn, I don’t want to see Zahn’s character get used as a crutch for an otherwise weak story. Worse still, I can’t imagine an Heir to the Empire film adaptation subject to a committee of script writers, who actually care about how a test audience “connected” with the idea of Thrawn getting a love story with an Ewok. Removing these and other good EU stories from canon doesn’t reduce them to a lower tier of fiction. If anything, it insulates the really great aspects of the EU against any of the crap that the Disney/Abrams profit machine might spew forth in the name of merchandising.
Kyle Katarn, Admiral Thrawn, Mara Jade, and all the rest deserve better than to be turned into scape goats for bad story telling. At the same time, Thrawn is not so great that I believe him to be the pinnacle of science fiction writing. The Star Wars Galaxy is a big place, and certainly hopefully maybe Lawrence Kasdan can channel some of his Empire Strikes Back writing chops into new characters and conflicts.
In other words, we all love what we love about Star Wars. While we may have fond memories of Starkiller and Bastila Shan, those relationships are over. It’s time to move on and see if we can’t find someone new.