“According to Lucas Licensing Editor Sue Rostoni, ‘Canon refers to an authoritative list of books that the Lucas Licensing editors consider an authentic part of the official Star Wars history. Our goal is to present a continuous and unified history of the Star Wars galaxy, insofar as that history does not conflict with, or undermine the meaning of Mr. Lucas’s Star Wars saga of films and screenplays.’ Things that Lucas Licensing does not consider official parts of the continuous Star Wars history show an Infinities logo or are contained in Star Wars Tales. Everything else is considered canon.”
Star Wars Gamer #6, July 1, 2001
“While Lucasfilm always strived to keep the stories created for the EU consistent with our film and television content as well as internally consistent, Lucas always made it clear that he was not beholden to the EU. He set the films he created as the canon. . . . In order to give maximum creative freedom to the filmmakers and also preserve an element of surprise and discovery for the audience, Star Wars Episodes VII-IX will not tell the same story told in the post-Return of the Jedi Expanded Universe.”
StarWars.com, April 25, 2014
Before the first Star Wars film, there was the Expanded Universe. After the last Star Wars film, the Expanded Universe remained. From 1976 to 2014—for 38 years—the EU kept the saga of Star Wars alive between the movies, between the trilogies, and after the saga ended.
When the world’s last glimpse of Star Wars was a villain lost in space and an awards ceremony set to Nazi imagery, the EU told us how Han Solo went on to fight a dinosaur that shot lasers out of its head while Luke Skywalker fantasized about making out with his unconscious sister on a swamp planet.
When the classic trilogy concluded and Star Wars’ popularity faced a slow, inevitable decline, the EU kept it alive with an unending succession of warlords, witches, talking Velociraptors, and telepathic transdimensional slabs of golden meat yet to be vanquished after Return of the Jedi’s credits rolled.
When the prequel trilogy came out and disappointed everyone, the EU turned its cast of nonentities into bland, inconsistently developed characters and made its convoluted plot even more incomprehensible.
And when the prequels ended and the saga was at last complete, the EU was waiting, torch in hand, ready to ease our loss by mimicking everything lame about the prequels over and over and over again.
And through it all (or at least since 1991), there was that promise of continuity, of interconnectivity, of canon. A tapestry of stories, each inane adventure of the Ewoks no less an authentic piece of fictional history than the works of the famed fantasy novelists and Hugo Award-winners who leant their pens to this never-ending narrative.
But all things die; even cross-promotional multimedia tie-in franchises burn out. So it was with the EU at its height. Like the greatest of trees, able to withstand any external attack, the EU rotted from within though the danger was not visible from outside. And when the end came, it came not from the organic conclusion of a multigenerational saga, but from an editorial edict.
The film franchise the EU had been created to support was returning under new management, and the EU as it had been, with its homogenized aesthetic, sexagenarian heroes, and redundant storytelling, had no place in that brave new world. But before the EU vanishes from memory like so much spinoff fiction, its bones picked over by a different continuity, a newer canon, there’s still time to reflect on what was, to mourn what could have been, and to laugh at how dumb we were for ever liking most of it in the first place.
If you were to ask when the EU began, most people who’ve heard the term “Star Wars Expanded Universe” and know what it means would point to 1991’s Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn. And they would be wrong. If we define the EU as any officially released Star Wars content outside the six main films, it began with Alan Dean Foster’s ghostwritten novelization of Star Wars, which hit bookstores at the end of 1976. If we exclude adaptations, the first true EU story was Roy Thomas’s The Keeper’s World, a serialized comic strip that started publication in October of 1977, five months after the original film’s release. Either way, the EU has been around for a long, long time.
In my younger and more vulnerable years I was fairly well-versed in its impenetrable lore, but that brief love affair was not to last. Through the decline in quality of its products and the obvious lack of care put into shepherding the future of George Lucas’s universe, Lucasfilm made it clear that they didn’t want my money and I could go to hell for all they cared, and eventually we drifted apart. But now that they’ve finally Old Yellered the EU, perhaps it’s time to get some closure: to remember, let go, and move on. To that end, I’m going to read the Star Wars Expanded Universe in chronological order. All of it.
The point of this project is to examine the EU as a(n) (in)coherent, (dis)continuous narrative, so stories with variable plots or outcomes are outside its scope. That means no video games, Choose Your Own Adventure books, role-playing game seeds, or sources that mix prose fiction with a non-narrative style, like the Star Wars Missions YA fiction/RPG series.
Also not included are RPG campaign guide and sourcebook vignettes, as typically they are too brief to have any meaningful structure or plot and are used merely to flavor some point in the accompanying non-narrative text. (The exception is if those vignettes were republished independently, as several were on the now-defunct StarWars.com “Hyperspace” feature.)
I also won’t cover any children’s picture books that only rehash scenes from the movies or other stories without adding any substantial new content of their own, so about half of the two million illustrated adaptations of The Phantom Menace will not be included. Otherwise, be it novel, comic book, short story, young adult novel, television episode, audio drama, film outside the core six episodes, or illustrated children’s book about goddamn colors and shapes, I’ll cover it if I can get my hands on it.
Now that everyone understands the convoluted and arbitrary ground rules, it’s time to take our first step into a larger world, beginning with the chronologically earliest piece of Star Wars fiction but one of the most recently published, a short story called simply “Eruption.” After that, we can only trust in the Force (or copious amounts of absinthe). Come along with me, won’t you?