Rules for a new Star Wars Expanded Universe
Let’s take off the rose colored glasses. Most of the Star Wars Expanded Universe was of questionable quality. It succeeded at the time because it had the charm of 1) being Star Wars and 2) we were all fourteen. By the time the haphazard Bantam era was over, Del Rey took over the license and there was some modicum of editorial oversight. But there were still some significant problems: the main characters were in their 60s, the Empire was feeling very tired as a villain, and the continuity was severely disjointed. This led to the New Jedi Order era, which presented a number of questionable creative decisions itself. The characters were denied any kind of “happily ever after” ending, and consigned to one masochistic character spiral after another.
I think many people who are interested in Star Wars are ultimately relieved to see a new continuity take place of the now aptly named “Legends.” So, as a new series of novels prepares to bridge the gap between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, let these items serve as both a critique of the EU of yore, and as fond hope of what might come.
1. Nothing can be as big and terrible as the Death Star.
One of the big problems that is endemic to the EU is some looming, powerful weapon that can be used to make some very big thing go boom. But the problem is, these weapons quickly grow to farcically large or ominous proportions. If it’s not the one of the Reborn Emperor’s many Super-Weapons (the Dark Empire series was a pernicious offender), it’s the Sun Crusher, capable of destroying entire systems.
In addition, these these weapons are always destroyed mere days after their deployment, and never make much of a galactic impact. You would think that simple logic should make it seem obvious to even the most flamboyant Imperial warlord that building weapons of that magnitude draws far too much attention, and all of those resources will quickly go to waste.
To be fair, there the Star Wars universe works very well with some kind of big MacGuffin that the characters are working to find or stop. The two examples of large scale things that have come close to working narratively were the Valley of the Jedi in Jedi Outcast and the Star Forge in the Knights of the Old Republic computer game. This was mostly because they were constructive places, rather than cheap copies of the Death Star. Facing an army of Force Adept Stormtroopers or an inexhaustible number of ships are just as threatening as any old Superweapon, but without relying on the same old tropes.
2. Not every villain has to have a Light Saber.
We know the drill. Luke has to engage in some kind of big confrontation with the big bad, and it just seems cool if that’s a lightsaber duel. Yet there are two big issues with this. First, the universe really does strongly set up that he’s the only trained Force user after Return of the Jedi. It really devalues both Luke’s importance and the lore built around the Sith if there are still tons of light saber wielding force users immediately after RotJ.
I know that Luke will most likely start training other Jedi between Jedi and Awakens, one of them will fall to the Dark Side, and that’s probably where Kylo Ren will come into play. But to preserve the narrative impact of that inevitable reveal, they really need to lay off the Lightsabers.
This does not mean a series of novels with Luke having nothing to do but pontificate. The Sail Barge sequence of Jedi was plenty exciting. And in the first of the new EU novels, A New Dawn, Count Vidian proved to be a formidable villain even without Force Powers.
3. There needs to be a Rogue.
This point serves as more of a critique of the Prequels than of the EU as a whole, but I’ll still include it, as there are many pieces of Clone Wars era comics, television, and novels floating around.
One of the things that made Star Wars so charming was Han Solo. And this wasn’t exclusively due to Harrison Ford’s charm. He was a character that didn’t abide by the rules. He was self interested, which made his character arcs both in the individual films and the trilogy as a whole more compelling. He clashed with Leia’s aristocratic sense of duty, and the stoic ideals of the Jedi. And further, his character was a window into the seedy underbelly of the universe that the other characters could find themselves thrust into. He created a great deal of entertaining conflict.
It’s crazy just how many of the Star Wars properties, most notably the Prequels, fail to hit this note. Most scenes play like Socratic dialogues about abstract concepts instead of actual people talking about events that affect them. So, the key to Star Wars success is to throw characters together who dramatically clash instead of an assortment of monks and aristocrats who only disagree on the minutiae.
4. Han and Lando have to actually evolve as characters.
This was particularly maddening in the Bantam era. Han still flying around on the Falcon and behaving like an outlaw when his wife was head of the frickin’ galaxy. And Lando, they guy who blew up a Death Star, only popping up every now and again on some business venture that the main characters subsequently ruin for him.
This is particularly a problem for Han. I’ve heard an oft cited rumor that Kasdan and Kurtz had originally planned for Han to be killed at the end of Jedi, but that Lucas nixed that when he, well, fired them. And it kind of makes sense. At the end of the film, he seems to be the only one without a clear character path going forward.
Han and Lando need to stay involved with the Rebellion, and need new things to do. Han had actually gone to the Imperial Academy; him staying General Solo and leading strike teams from the Millennium Falcon would be an awesome direction for his character that would be consistent with his trajectory at the end of Jedi. Due to his charm and business acumen, Lando could get involved with the politics of the Rebellion, and provide a capable foil to Leia.
5. Create new protagonists.
From what I’ve seen so far, particularly with how heavily Disney is promoting Rebels, this is something that Lucasfilm is already heeding, but it bears reiteration here. The Star Wars universe is so vast a place, that I would argue that it has become as much its own subgenre of Science Fiction as a franchise itself.
As a result, main characters don’t always have to be Luke, Han, and Leia. It’s a big universe. There can be other big events. That’s why I’m really hoping that Rebels and the upcoming Rogue One film won’t be the only entries in the canon that deviate from the main characters. I hope Lucasfilm releases comics like Knights of the Old Republic, or games like the Dark Forces series that give new protagonists a place in the binary suns.