A Defense of Canon
“The Star Wars universe is complex and vast, and internally consistent–and we authors have to keep it that way” – Kevin J. Anderson, introduction to Dark Empire collection, 1995.
Describing the Star Wars universe as complex and vast is as accurate as it gets; by the time Kevin J. Anderson wrote those words, there were already quite a number of comics and books released under the Star Wars name, and before 1991, they had been released the way any other spin-off had had novels released – random, only connected by the film they had sprung from.
Barely ten years after Return of the Jedi’s theater debut, and immediately following the publication of Zahn’s landmark Thrawn Trilogy, Sue Rostoni of LucasBooks was quoted in the Star Wars Insider (#23, Fall 1994) saying, “Gospel or Canon, as we refer to it, includes the screenplays, the films, the radio dramas and the novelizations. These works spin out of George Lucas’ original stories, the rest are created by other writers. However between us, we’ve read everything and much of it is taken into account in the overall continuity.”
Where did this concern for continuity come from? Other franchises didn’t have it. Heir to the Empire started something incredible and unique. Timothy Zahn was greenlit to begin the project in 1989, and unlike Alan Dean Foster – who had ghostwritten the first movie novelization in 1976 and the first spin-off novel in 1978 – had been handpicked by Lucas for a special purpose: the purpose to write intentional sequels to the groundbreaking Star Wars Trilogy.
From the beginning, this book was different, unlike anything that had ever come before. Zahn was sent boxes of West End Games publications, Star Wars RPG resources that had begun germinating the seeds of the Expanded Universe, and Zahn incorporated their information as factually part of the saga, on equal terms with the film trilogy itself.
Kevin J. Anderson took it further when he started to pen his first Star Wars novels, the Jedi Academy Trilogy of 1994. He was aware of Dark Horse Comics’ developing Dark Empire series, and took it upon himself to get in communication with Tom Veitch so that their two stories – set right after one another chronologically – would not contradict each other. Thus, Zahn’s Jacen and Jaina Solo appear in Dark Empire, and the aftereffects of Luke Skywalker’s exploration of the Dark Side and the Emperor Reborn’s havoc amid the New Republic has consequences in Jedi Search: the book series and the comic series were forever linked.
In 1996, Mark Cotta Vaz published in The Secrets of Shadows of the Empire, “Continuity has been the supreme commandment at Lucasfilm for Shadows and all its projects. The company had made the decision to not only expand its universe but have it unfold as a seamless chronicle.” Anderson identified Lucy Wilson as a “conduit” through which continuity was regulated, and by 1995, Bantam was publishing this explanation in all their paperback Star Wars novels:
“Lucasfilm and Bantam decided that future novels in the series would be interconnected: that is, events in one novel would have consequences in the others. You might say that each Bantam Star Wars novel, enjoyable on its own, is also a part of a larger tale.”
Apart from the fact that George Lucas hand-selected Timothy Zahn to write his Return of the Jedi sequel, and thereby gave license and credibility to the Expanded Universe, Lucas was always very positive about the EU. When Splinter of the Mind’s Eye was reprinted in 1994, Lucas wrote in the introduction: “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 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.”
Lucas defined a hierarchy of canon that allowed him the freedom to make whatever movie was in his mind’s eye, unhindered by the authors of books, but also allowed fans of the saga to take for granted that the books, comics, and games they loved so much were indeed a legitimate part of the Star Wars chronicle. In fact, in interviews leading up to the release of The Phantom Menace, Lucas reported that he placed “interesting characters” in the film with the intention that they be developed by the EU (Aurra Sing was the specific example at that time). Lucas also incorporated elements of the EU into the films, using the Special Editions of 1997 to include references to Shadows of the Empire (1996), and giving Twi’lek Jedi Aalya Secura (originally from a comic series) a notable role in both Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. Perhaps most significantly, George Lucas accepted Timothy Zahn’s 1991 naming of the galactic capital Coruscant by including the planet in the ’97 SE and bringing it vividly to life in the prequel trilogy.
Leland Chee, formerly Keeper of the Holocron, went on record numerous times to emphasize that the EU was part of George Lucas’ vision for Star Wars, even if he did not hold himself bound by it. And in 2008, when the LA Times asked Lucas about his thoughts of making more Star Wars movies, he insisted, “There really isn’t any story to tell. It’s been covered in the books, and video games, and comic books which are things I think are incredibly creative.”
In fact, the EU and the film saga are a symbiotic circle. Lucas’ six films, groundbreaking, heartbreaking, beautiful, and flawed as they are, need the framework provided by the Expanded Universe in order to really shine. The EU needs the films as a gateway, to give readers a reason to care, but the films require the EU’s history, chronology, and story just as much. And that is why no reboot can be possible, or ever desirable.
Destroyed “EUderaan” is a universe covering some 40,000 years of galactic history, told by hundreds of individuals across a wide variety of media. It was profitable. It is worthwhile. It did not deserve to be destroyed. And we will always stand by it.