Long before Marvel Studios and Disney built an empire on the concept of the "shared universe" there already existed an epic tale of interconnected stories so elaborate it blows one's mind as to how it all held together. I'm, of course, referring to the Star Wars Expanded Universe.
At one point, the Expanded Universe was a flourishing series of novels, cartoons, comic books and video games that kept the spirit of the Star Wars saga alive and well for all of the fans. Nothing was published or produced without the George Lucas stamp of approval and all of the creative teams and authors involved had to know what was happening and when before embarking on their own journeys in the galaxy far, far away.
But then Disney bought Lucasfilm in 2012 for $4 Billion and subsequently green lit a new trilogy of movies to take place after Return of the Jedi. They hired J.J. Abrams to helm Star Wars: Episode 7 – The Force Awakens and, with the flush of a toilet and use of a very large plunger, did away with the entire Expanded Universe.
Yep, gone is the epic tale of Timothy Zahn's definitive "Thrawn Trilogy" and likewise its namesake (Grand Admiral Thrawn). Lost to shadows is Luke Skywalker's wife, Mara Jade. Most likely never to be born are Jacen, Jaina and Anakin Solo. Never to be heard from are the Yuuzhan Vong. And (at least on a brighter note) alive, Chewbacca still is.
Did you see what I did there? Talked backward like Yoda, I did.
But how can you just dump over 30 years of interconnected continuity? Especially when it held the creative approval of George Lucas – the lord and master of all things Star Wars. Only he should have the power to rewrite the Star Wars canon...which he did. A lot. In the prequels. I'm mean don't even get me started on Anakin's age in The Phantom Menace. The ridiculous political structure of Naboo in terms of electing a 12 year old to be Queen. I mean, if Leia is a Princess and her mom is a Queen, then shouldn't it have been a hierarchy? Doesn't that make more sense? Oh! And that Mandalorians! Sure...let's just erase an entire race of warriors that played an integral part in the Clone Wars and replace them with one dude. But still...that was his choice to make! He is George Lucas after all.
But to have Disney erase so many beloved characters and story lines? That just doesn't sit too well with me. Sure, with Star Wars Episode 7: The Force Awakens premiering in just under a year with its own spin on the post Return of the Jedi continuity, there's nothing we can do about saving Grand Admiral Thrawn or the adventures of Cade Skywalker from Dark Horse's Star Wars: Legacy. But I'm here to tell you that there are in fact six Expanded Universe novels that still need to be considered canon to the existing and continuing future of Star Wars.
1. Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter by Michael Reeves
This novel, although you didn't actually read it ahead of time because it wasn't published yet, helped set the stage for the events of Star Wars: Episode I. It featured a Neimodian betraying Darth Sidius and his plans for the Naboo blockade, so the dark lord dispatches his apprentice to deal with him. However, not before the Neimodian sells his information to a broker named Lorn Pavan. What's great about this novel is not only does it tell an intriguing story of betrayal and pursuit but it also adds depth to Darth Maul and tells a sympathetic side to the Sith but also sheds a new perspective on the inner workings of the Jedi Order and how their actions are perceived by others. Lorn Pavan was a former contract worker with the Order until his child is determined to be Force sensitive and taken away from him. Lastly, what really helps solidify this novel as an important piece to the Star Wars puzzle is that it ends with Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi departing for Naboo to negotiate with Nute Gunray and the Trade Federation.
2. The Approaching Storm by Alan Dean Foster
Although not the only novel to take place during the events between The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, this book was published with the intent of being an official lead in to the next film. It follows Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker to the planet of Ansion where they must negotiate a dispute with the planet's populace about whether to stay with the Republic or join the Separatists. It also introduces us to Jedi Master Luminara Unduli and ends with the first appearance of Count Dooku. Plus, in Attack of the Clones, Mace Windu informs Chancellor Palpatine and Senator Amidala that Obi-Wan has "just returned from a border dispute on Ansion." CONTINUITY!!!!
3. Labyrinth of Evil by James Luceno
Just like The Approaching Storm, this novel was a direct lead in to Revenge of the Sith. It features Obi-Wan and Anakin on the hunt for Nute Gunray and gives us our first real look at General Grievous. Yes, technically Grievous was introduced in the second season of Cartoon Network's Clone Wars micro episodes but this novel really tackles his backstory. Also, it never directly states it, but it's implied that Grievous (as a cyborg) is a prototype for what would later become Darth Vader. And there's a scene in the novel where Anakin comes to the aid of Obi-Wan while in pursuit of Nute Gunray on Cato Neimodia, wherein Obi-Wan is incapacitated by noxious gasses. He gets high. So in Revenge of the Sith was Obi-Wan says "that business on Cato Neimoidia doesn't count," he's referring to Labyrith of Evil.
4. Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader by James Luceno
This is the only book on the list that I actually have not read yet. It's been on my to do list for years now and I just haven't had the chance to get to it. So I can't speak on behalf of its plot or any key scenes but I can say that, by mere concept, it helps fill a gap in the story that remains empty. Not much is known about the early days of Darth Vader, the Empire or the hunt for the Jedi. Even the new series Star Wars: Rebels still takes place decades after Revenge of the Sith. So this piece of literary history should not be so easily swept under the rug.
5. Splinter of the Mind's Eye by Alan Dean Foster
This was the original Expanded Universe novel decades before there was even a concept of an Expanded Universe. It was published in 1978 and intended to be filmed as a low budget sequel to Star Wars should the original film not perform well. The book follows Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia on a mission to Circarpous IV to convince the citizens to join the Rebel Alliance. On the way, they are forced down on the swamp world of Mimban where Luke learns of the Kaiburr crystal, which focuses the wielder's control over the Force. The book doesn't have any direct ties to the films and actually features a fight between Luke and Darth Vader that could, possibly, be viewed as a conflict with the one seen in The Empire Strikes Back. But regardless, it's history should secure its place in the canon of the Star Wars universe.
Lastly, we get to my favorite book on the list and one of the most well known and beloved Expanded Universe tales thanks, in large part, to the popular Nintendo 64 video game...
6. Shadows of the Empire by Steve Perry
The book that helped bridge the one year gap in between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi – Shadows of the Empire introduced us to the Black Sun crime syndicate, which would go on to be featured in other Expanded Universe tales (including Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter) as well as shed some light on Luke's continued Jedi training, where his green lightsaber came from and how Leia got the disguise of Boushh the bounty hunter. Not to mention the introduction of Dash Rendar – a Corellian smuggler in vein of Han Solo – who worked occasionally as a gun for hire with the Rebel Alliance. We're even told that he was a freelance fighter at the Battle of Hoth. These are important additions and expansions to direct events of the films. Plus, you get the chapter where all of the other bounty hunters from Empire try to ambush Boba Fett for control of the frozen Han Solo and he fights off every last one of them. What's that? You think Boba Fett is a lame character because he didn't do much with his limited screen time? Read Shadows of the Empire and learn some damn respect!
So that's it everyone. Those are the six novels that every Star Wars fan should read and appreciate and that Disney should still acknowledge as canon to the universe without infringing on any of the new properties. And yes, I know, I could have also touched on some of the comics and video game properties like The Force Unleashed and Dark Forces but I kept it limited to the novels for simplicity's sake. If anyone wants to take up arms in the battle to save more Expanded Universe properties then, by all means, be my guest.
So what do you all think, should these novels help inform [Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens](movie:711158)?
Should Disney have eliminated the Expanded Universe?
And here's the stinger.