Star Wars is back — and bigger than ever! Purchased by Disney back in 2012, the franchise has returned to the big screens with a relaunched Skywalker Saga, and all-new spin-off movies like Rogue One. Dig a little deeper into the franchise, though, and fans quickly realize that there's a lot more to Star Wars than just a series of blockbuster movies. The wider Star Wars universe embraces everything from novels to computer games, from animated TV shows to ongoing comic book series. It's easy to get overwhelmed — so here's our primer on the wider Star Wars universe!
The Star Wars Universe: A Brief History Lesson
The first Star Wars movie, A New Hope, was released back in 1977; and within a year the franchise had branched out into new media. The first Star Wars novel, Splinter of the Mind's Eye, was published in 1978 and written by popular fantasy author Alan Dean Foster. It continued the story that, at the time, Lucas wasn't convinced he'd be able to tell; giving an indication of just how little the future had really been planned out, Foster enjoyed building up the frisson of romantic tension between Luke and Leia, who the movies would later reveal to be siblings!
In a prologue added to the 1996 edition of Splinter of the Mind's Eye, Lucas explained the logic that would become central to the developing Star Wars franchise:
"After Star Wars was released, it became apparent that my story – however many films it took to tell – was only one of thousands that could be told about the characters who inhabit its galaxy. But these were not stories that I was destined to tell. Instead, they would spring from the imagination of other writers, inspired by the glimpse of a galaxy that Star Wars provided. Today, it is an amazing, if unexpected, legacy of Star Wars that so many gifted writers are contributing new stories to the Saga."
As the years passed, Lucasfilm took a tiered approach to the canon. Anything that was created by George Lucas himself was considered to be 'God-Level' canon (i.e. fixed and beyond dispute). Below God-level, you had everything else: an ever-more-tangled web of comics, novels, TV shows, and even computer games. Where this so-called 'Expanded Universe' (or 'EU') contradicted with the God-Level canon, it was cast aside and dubbed 'Infinities'. Otherwise, everything was canon.
Then, in 2012, Disney purchased Lucasfilm. They swiftly realized that they had to completely abandon this approach in order to make Star Wars work again.
The New Canon
The fundamental problem with the old EU is that it grew far too complex and restrictive. Thanks to the (tremendous) Star Wars: Legacy comic book series, it even charted events far ahead into the future of the Galaxy Far, Far Away, locking in the character journeys of iconic figures such as Luke, Han and Leia. If Lucasfilm was going to successfully relaunch the film franchise, they'd need to go back to the drawing board. So everything from the old EU was dubbed 'Legend' — which meant it was no longer canon. All the old continuity was shelved, and Lucasfilm began again.
They assembled the Lucasfilm Story Group, a team of continuity experts whose job is to ensure that continuity between the different projects remains tight. Now, in a much simpler approach, everything is equally canon. Whether you're talking about a short-story published in the official Star Wars Insider magazine, a novel, the Star Wars: Battlefront game, or the tie-in comics, they're all part of the same continuity, and they're all equally canon with the movies. The Lucasfilm Story Group's job is to coordinate all these, to make sure there aren't any continuity slip-ups, and to stagger releases in an effective marketing strategy.
What's in the Canon Star Wars Universe?
Now, the Star Wars universe includes:
- The ongoing slate of Star Wars movies
- The Clone Wars TV series and movie
- The Darth Maul: Son of Dathomir comics published by Dark Horse in 2014, which were adapted from an unused Clone Wars script
- The ongoing #StarWarsRebels animated series
- A New-York-Times bestselling range of novels, with tie-ins published just before the latest movie releases
- Short stories published in the official Star Wars Insider magazine after April 25, 2014
- All new comics published by Marvel from January 2015
- The Star Wars: Battlefront game
- A handful of popular mobile games
The new canon does often pick up elements from the old EU, but it always assumes you're being introduced to those elements for the first time. Knowledge of the old EU is not necessary to get your head around the new Star Wars universe.
So How Do I Get Into This Wider Universe?
One of the advantages of Star Wars is that there's something for everyone — so it all depends on your tastes. Here are some examples:
- If you like to read novels, I'd recommend exploring some of the stories set around #RogueOne — namely, James Luceno's Tarkin and Catalyst, and Alexander Freed's novelization of Rogue One. These three books will give you an idea of just how seamless the renewed continuity really is, and they're all excellent reads. Meanwhile, probably the most important book set between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens is Bloodline, by Claudia Grey. This helps you to understand how the First Order came to be, and how Leia became the leader of the Resistance.
- For comic book fans, the main title is Jason Aaron's ongoing Star Wars comic, set after the events of A New Hope. Marvel has a useful habit of including a recap page at the front of each comic, so it's fine to dive right in! Most of Marvel's other miniseries are set in the same kind of time-zone, and I'd particularly recommend the trade paperbacks of Kieron Gillen's excellent Darth Vader series. Mark Waid's Princess Leia miniseries, now collected in a single trade paperback, is also highly recommended.
- Fans of animated action can head over to Star Wars: Rebels, which charts the adventures of a handful of rebels in the early days of the Rebel Alliance. The timeline is gradually catching up to A New Hope, though, so we're gradually getting some cool Rogue One tie-ins.
- And, of course, gamers can head to Battlefront (there's a tie-in novel, Battlefront: Twilight Company, by Alexander Freed) and to the mobile games!
If you're anything like me, you'll soon find yourself captivated by the unfolding story of the Galaxy Far, Far Away. The overall continuity is so very detailed, and it's tremendously immersive. So be ready to find yourself trying out mediums you'd never expected!
Over in the comics, we've just seen the launch of a new Darth Maul miniseries — only the second Marvel miniseries to be set during the Prequel Era. Meanwhile, Jason Aaron's ongoing Star Wars comic is currently telling a strange, twisty tale in which Luke Skywalker reads the Journal of Obi-Wan Kenobi.
The latest Star Wars novel, Aftermath: Empire's End, has just been released, marking the end of Chuck Wendig's Aftermath trilogy, which explores the collapse of the Empire after Return of the Jedi. It's an important book, offering tantalising hints that tie Rogue One into the wider Star Wars narrative. Meanwhile, the next major novel is the eagerly-anticipated Thrawn, which features legendary author Timothy Zahn's return to the franchise. Look out for this undoubtedly important chapter in the Star Wars saga when it hits book shelves on April 6th.
- Lucasfilm's Latest Novels Prepare To Reveal The Greatest Mysteries Of 'Rogue One: A Star Wars Story'
- 'Thrawn', The Next Star Wars Novel, Promises To Transform The Franchise!
- Star Wars: The 'Rogue One' Novelization Reveals Just How Galen Erso Sabotaged The Death Star!
So there you have it — your primer to the wider Star Wars universe! You're only at the beginning of an exciting journey, and I encourage you to dive straight in. I'll be keeping this page up-to-date with any developments, so keep coming back for the latest news!
Which are you most likely to check out?
(Poll Image Credit: Lucasfilm)