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; 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 Star Wars Universe Canon?
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
- Official sourcebooks published after Lucasfilm's purchase by Disney
- 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 games, including the recently-announced #StarWarsBattlefrontII.
- A handful of popular mobile games
Incredibly, Lucasfilm has also announced that the Star Wars Land theme park being built at Disneyland Resort is also canon! We don't yet know much about it, aside from the fact that it's due to open in 2019, but Disney’s Scott Trowbridge has explained:
"It’s a remote frontier outpost somewhere on the edge of wild space. This used to be a vibrant trading port back in the old sub-lightspeed days. But now with the advent of hyperspace, its prominence has fallen and faded a little bit, which made it a great spot for those who didn’t want to be on that mainstream path — the smugglers, the bounty hunters, rogue adventures looking to crew up, the people who don’t want to be found… basically all the interesting people."
It's worth noting that 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.
It's Still The Same Galaxy (Just About)
Old-school fans will be relieved to hear that, in general, we're still living in the same Galaxy. That means worlds are in the same place, hyperspace routes still pass through the same star systems, and planets still have the same number of moons. At least, that was the case until Claudia Gray's Leia: Princess of Alderaan, which created a new moon of Naboo!
As always, Lucasfilm is publishing a range of Star Wars sourcebooks to support the new canon. Writers of these sourcebooks are playing a smart game of "wink and nod," carefully blending elements of the old canon into the new. As Dan Wallace noted when discussing his upcoming Rebel Files book:
"In my experiences so far under the new canon, there's no point in recreating things that don't need to be recreated. If the Mantooine Liberators were an important part of the early Rebel Alliance according to [West End Games], why couldn't they still be a part of the new canon alongside groups like the Lothal rebels? There's no reason, really. So things like that go into the manuscript and I trust that if Lucasfilm has an issue with it, it'll get flagged. Somebody like Pablo or Leland is guaranteed to recognize that and will know how to deal with it in context."
That said, the writers of these sourcebooks are savvy enough to make sure you don't need to know this backstory. What does the average reader care if the information they're reading is adapted from the old canon?
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, the range of tie-ins for #RogueOne — including James Luceno's Tarkin and Catalyst, and Alexander Freed's novelization of Rogue One — are excellent. Meanwhile, Lucasfilm has just launched the "Journey To The Last Jedi" range, and is gradually dropping hints for the next film. A particular highlight is Claudia Gray's novel Leia: Princess of Alderaan, while her earlier Star Wars novel Bloodline is also highly recommended.
- For comic book fans, the main title is an ongoing Star Wars comic that's set shortly after the events of A New Hope. Jason Aaron has been writing this title since 2015, but is soon stepping aside for Kieron Gillen. That will certainly be an excellent opportunity to dive into the new story! 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 #StarWarsRebels, which charts the adventures of a handful of rebels in the early days of the Rebel Alliance. We now know that Season 4 will be the last season, so don't miss it!
- And, of course, gamers will be eagerly awaiting the promising #BattlefrontII, which tells the story from an Imperial point of view; Christie Golden has written an official tie-in novel to help you get your head around the characters and concepts, Battlefront II: Inferno Squad.
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, Marvel has just launched a new Jedi of the Republic: Mace Windu series. Meanwhile, Kieron Gillen is about to take over the main Star Wars title, and plans to carefully tie the Rebellion of the Original Trilogy era to the one we saw in Rogue One.
The latest Star Wars novels, Phasma and Leia: Princess of Alderaan, are setting the stage for The Last Jedi. One tells the backstory of Gwendoline Christie's Captain Phasma, a decorated soldier in the First Order, while the other has revealed the secret backstory of Princess Leia.
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?