There seems to be a strange sort of correlation between ardent I-III haters and hardcore fans of what is known as the Star Wars Expanded Universe (EU for short), the collection of books, video games, comics, and even a cartoon or two detailing events in the galaxy far, far away that was not covered in the films. While this is certainly not true of everyone, I am never surprised to see a large selection of EU material in a hater’s library. In fact, there are many haters that hate on the fact that the films are not more like the EU, and in fact contradict it from time to time.
|"This is Just the Tip of the Iceberg"|
So I thought it would be “fun” for me to extrapolate upon my own opinions regarding the EU, which I have thrown out from time to time. But before we get into the opinion stuff, I do want to reiterate one solid fact that many EU fans either forget or purposefully neglect to mention:
The EU is, by design, since inception, for all intents and purposes, not canon.
Oh sure, it has developed its own internal canon that the various writers follow out of respect for what came before. But as Star Wars stories? They’re entertaining apocrypha at best.
Now, again, this isn’t my opinion, but a stone cold fact that was set down by George Lucas when he allowed writers to work on what is essentially licensed fanfiction. Which is actually a beautiful thing, if you think about it. By putting that caveat in, it allows writers to blossom and tell whatever stories they wish, thus building the myth without having to follow a set list of rules. They can play fast and loose and have fun with it. As long as it didn’t completely contradict the films, the one true canon, each reader could build his or her own head-canon; taking stories they like and discarding what they don’t. Finally, it still allows Lucas the freedom to continue telling his story his way in the future, if he so desired.
Ah, but that last part reveals one inherent flaw in the system. Do you see it? Readers create their head-canon, but then the Maker himself comes and changes everything. It’s his right, he’s the filmmaker and the only one really allowed at this point to say what is and isn’t canon. But people will always be resistant to change. It’s one of the reasons Lucas added one more caveat: leave the Clone Wars alone, as he knew he’d eventually want to come back to that before anything else, and few would be able to accurately predict where he’d take it.
|"The Legends were True!"|
The Clone Wars CG animated show was a weird case. By Lucas’ own admission, he considered it closer to true canon than any other EU material in existence. However, he still wanted to give the creation team the same sort of leeway to take the stories in the directions they wanted with only a few “wouldn’t it be cool if…” edicts handed down, thus letting the fanbase take or leave it the same as any other part of the EU.
Now, what does this particular fan make of the EU? Well, I’ve quite enjoyed many parts of it, but on the whole it doesn’t interest me that much.
While it’s true, I haven’t sat down and read a whole lot of the actual books and comics. Just a small handful, really. But I have a fair idea of many of the more famous story synopses based on character encyclopedias, references in books I have read, and plain old word of mouth. My problem is that much of it belies a fundamental misunderstanding of what Star Wars actually is. Too much of the EU is hard science fiction, when the films are more of a fantasy epic and rollicking adventure that just happens to be set in space.
|"Are...are you sure you want to light that near the baby?"|
And do not speak to me of the post-Jedi storyline. It’s one of the few things I’m legitimately hopeful for with VII-IX: that they’ll give me a post-Jedi story that fits better with the Saga as a whole. As it is, I find it’s just a depressing mess that undoes Jedi’s happy ending in any way it can. The one thing I actually like is the concept of Mara Jade. I say concept, because I’ve seen little of her character in action, so my idea of her portrayal is shaky at best. But the idea that Luke gets married and has children is pretty much essential to the Saga as built up between I-VI, as it was the outright rejection of attachment as opposed to teaching responsible attachment that helped lead them to their doom. And love saved the galaxy in the end. Lastly, what I do know of Mara Jade seems to me that – under the right writer – she’s a strong woman who is more than a match for the younger Skywalker.
Having said all that, I want to stress that – especially since I have not read them cover to cover – I cannot pass judgment on the objective quality of the writing and story by themselves, so I will not. Moreover, I want to make sure people who actually do like, or even love, the stories as they unfolded know that I’m not being a basher here – I encourage people who love and celebrate it to continue to.
So what EU stories DO I like? Well, I’ve always been a fan of the Star Wars Tales comics, which are un-canon to the EU’s un-canon (discontinuity-caption?). I love the lore given to the Jedi Path and Book of Sith. The Clone Wars, both versions, do a lot of things I like (and a few I don’t). And there are many video games I very much enjoy. But when it comes to full-fledged novels, I’ll tell you the three main entries on my shelf:
1. Darth Plagueis: One of my all-time favorite books, period, it gives some much-needed Palpatine backstory and is fantastically written. My only complaint is that they leave Plagueis alive far too close to the films to my liking – it’s pretty clear Palps in in full control by the time Phantom begins.
2. Yoda – Dark Rendezvous: It’s a decent if not “incredible” page-turner, but the scenes between Yoda and Dooku both past and present send chills up my spine in the best way, so it remains one of my favorites.
3. Shadows of the Empire: Boy, they really marketed the hell out of this one when it first came out, didn’t they? I have mixed feelings about this one. The stuff with Xizor I adore. I think he’s a great character, and he was fun to read. Plus, I had a laugh with Leia playing seductress. Dash Rendar, however, annoyed me to no end. He was a Han Solo clone, pure and simple, but more irritating. The fact that he died near the book’s climax redeemed his storyline for me (not because he was dead, but that after being such a jerkwad he sacrificed himself for the team) – until I read that he survived in other material and knew he would going into it. Boo.
In the end, like I said, the beauty of the EU is that you can pick and choose what you like and don’t. Me, I prefer the backstory to the continuation. I like a world where Chewbacca is still alive, Boba Fett is still dead, and the Empire of the Sith is truly defeated for good.
I just hope JJ Abrams does too.