I don’t know what I was thinking by setting up that open thread on Friday just before leaving town for the weekend and being offline until this morning. It attracted a whopping 65 comments and with feelings running strong, it looks like some of the discussions got away pretty fast. At this point, it’s like herding a bunch of cats so I’ll address things here in this post.
First off, please go re-read The Rules of The House. If I’m to keep doing these open threads, commenters will have to start acting like grownups and not attack each other for differences in opinion. This is a prequel fan site first and beyond that, some of us love the expanded universe and some of us don’t.
But let me say this. I’ve been a Star Wars fan since 1977, so for me, the heart of the mythos are the six existing films, plus Clone Wars. They comprise the story George Lucas is telling. That’s what I care about and in many ways, last Friday’s announcement was Lucasfilm trying to get everyone on that same page.
Everything else spun off from those movies are tie-ins. Lucas was generous from the beginning about letting comic books, comic strips, and novels tell stories based on those films but he never felt any obligation to follow those stories in continuing his saga. “Heir To The Empire” wasn’t the first Star Wars novel; it was “Splinter of the Mind’s Eye” back in 1978. Marvel started making its own stories long before Dark Horse got the license. The late ’70s and early ’80s brought Brian Daley’s trio of Han Solo books and L. Neil Smith wrote a few tomes about Lando Calrissian. Those books had no bearing on the movies, though a few tidbits here and there appeared in future novels, roleplaying games, and comics.
And yet, no one walked out of ROTJ ticked off because there was no Jessa, no Yuzzem, and no Jaxxon the green bunny. No one demanded that TESB and ROTJ follow Marvel’s comics or the daily strip. Strange as it is, Star Wars fans back then did not give a fig about continuity or how movies affected the expanded universe. A common complaint I saw on Friday was how these fans felt that they spent all of that money for nothing. Well, I bought a lot of comic books and spent a lot of time reading “Han Solo At Stars’ End” or “Splinter.” None of them counted toward the movies, but they were a fun way to pass the time.
No one complained either when the newer wave of expanded universe stuff that appeared in the early ’90s effectively overrode the older stuff. But what changed was the obsession with continuity. Lucasfilm didn’t care in the past that the expanded universe stuff contradicted each other but with “Dark Empire” and “Heir to the Empire,” that all changed. I think in the minds of many fans who got into the expanded universe that it all somehow counted on par with the films. And unlike in the past, there was far more volume of material.
Back in the ’90s I was a continuity hound and stressed out over whether my fan fic matched up everything. When I started my own fan fiction zine, I insisted submissions don’t contradict “Shadows of the Empire.” Really. I used to get into it with expanded universe-hating fans, who in my mind didn’t want to accept anything new in Star Wars (which might have been true in some cases). But then my perspective changed, largely after TPM came out. It was refresher on what truly was Star Wars and the books, even the better ones, just couldn’t touch the movies. No matter how epic they got, they just didn’t match the real thing. Then with some of the latter books, I started to get annoyed with the plot and what they did with the characters. By 2008, I had enough of the post-ROTJ books and quit reading them.
Folks, the expanded universe was originally meant to be hors d’oeurves leading up to new movies and between movies, not a substitute for those movies. The problem with the books is that they drew people who were more fans of Timothy Zahn and Co. than George Lucas and that’s just crazy. No problem with Zahn, but I’ve actually had people tell me that Star Wars to them is a publishing program, not so much a series of films. Once someone told me on my LiveJournal page that she hated the movies because she found the battle between good and evil too simplistic for her taste and she preferred the “gray areas” in the books. Which tells me how far afield the books went from their source material.
It didn’t help when Lucasfilm, Bantam, and Del Rey were coy for such a long time about the place of the expanded universe. When they tried to correct that, fans of the books resisted and so they had to come out and say, “Guys, no really, we’re not going to hold the movies to these books.” And thus the freakout began.
As much as I can understand why people who had invested a lot emotionally in those books would be upset, I’d also point out that among older Star Wars fans, we all still remember Bollux/Blue Max, Jaxxon, and Don-Wan Kihote or however the hell they spelled it.