There…I said it. All that matters is head canon. The Last Jedi is on its way right? (Yay!) With it will come countless analyses, deconstructions, and evaluations (myself included). No matter where you’re at in the world of Star Wars, you’re going to have opinions (myself included!). And that’s exciting! However, the Star Wars community can be volatile at times (especially online). Instead of sharing our love, we seem to enjoy chastising those who love something else or love what we love in a different way. Yet we can (and should) happily love what we love and respect what someone else loves too! At the end of the day, no one can tell you what Star Wars stories move you. So in the seemingly endless debate over what is or isn’t “canon” or what stories are “best,” the only important question is what do you like? If the story moves you, it’s part of your Star Wars experience and those are the only stories that really matter.
This argument should be pretty tight. If a story doesn’t resonate with you, it won’t stay with you nor will it form a lasting part of how you experience Star Wars. And that’s okay. We all won’t like the same things nor should we. Sadly, not everyone’s okay with this. I can’t say how many times I’ve opened my Twitter feed or glanced at the comment section of an article to see fans of the Disney Canon angrily attacking fans of the Expanded Universe and vice versa. I see all manner of fallacious arguments and, by definition, you can’t use a fallacious argument without throwing out the legitimacy of your point as your reasoning is fallacious. That’s the perfect word for this fan-created animosity between the Expanded Universe and the Disney Canon too. It’s fallacious. In reality, both are relevant. Both are important. Both are fun. Both are equally Star Wars.
Obviously the world of Star Wars is George Lucas’s creation. He directly gave us the Original Trilogy and the Prequel Trilogy and oversaw Star Wars: The Clone Wars. But Lucas has always empowered other artists to carry on his story. In his 1994 introduction to Alan Dean Foster’s Splinter Of The Mind’s Eye (originally published in 1978) George Lucas writes, “It wasn’t long after I began writing Star Wars that I realized the story was more than a single film could hold….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 that I was destined to tell. Instead they would spring from the imaginations 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.”
Splinter Of The Mind’s Eye unofficially began what would come to be known as the Expanded Universe. This continuation of Lucas’s story through novels, comics, RPGs, computer games, and video games would accelerate in 1991 with the release of Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire, the first in a new trilogy of novels, and Dark Horse’s Dark Empire comic series. The EU continued to grow for twenty-three years until the Disney acquisition of Lucasfilm in 2012. Disney announced, understandably, that they were doing away with the “official” nature of the Expanded Universe. They wished to tell their own stories in the Star Wars timeline. Who can blame them? They wanted their authors and filmmakers to have creative freedom too, unbound by twenty-three years of preexisting interconnected canon. With that the Disney Canon was born…and a certain breed of Star Wars fan has been arguing about it all ever since.
Obviously, we all have our own opinions. We should! And discussing/debating them is part of the fun of geeking out over what we love! However, our personal preference doesn’t invalidate what we don’t like. Yet we often argue in a way that presumes it does. Our own tastes can only be subjective yet the tone of inner-Star Wars sparring often implies we’re fighting as keepers of objective truth against falsehood-spewing heretics. To be clear, the Expanded Universe can’t be objectively better than the Disney Canon any more than the Disney Canon can be objectively better than the Expanded Universe. We will naturally like one over the other or certain stories over others. But what we love most is always born in personal context. That makes it subjective by nature. While we should be passionate about what we love (that’s the fun!) we needn’t be exclusionary or elitist in placing our personal preferences over another’s. There’s no grounds for that. We aren’t talking about objective truths here.
To (re)state my own personal preference before we go any further, I love the Expanded Universe. I found it at the right time in my life. I was in middle school and in love with Star Wars. Then I began to open these brilliant, beautiful, exciting novels that felt just like the movies and continued the stories of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia, Chewbacca, Lando Calrissian, Artoo, and Threepio. I read them. I lived them. I loved them. I still do. Some of my fondest childhood memories come from sitting outside during summer vacation reading Star Wars novel after Star Wars novel under the tree in our backyard. Given that personal connection, the Disney Canon will always be an alternate timeline for me. The EU is what happens before, after, and around all the films in my heart. Nothing can ever change this. The presumption that a corporate marketing statement can has always struck me as odd.
However, this doesn’t mean I begrudge the Disney Canon anything. I enjoy much of it too, in my own way. I still read most of the novels and some of the comics they put out. I still watch their films (heck, I already have tickets to see The Last Jedi three times in the first 24hrs it’s out (I don’t have a problem (you have a problem))). Enjoying the Disney Canon in no way, shape, or form diminishes my love of the Expanded Universe either. Sure, I like the Expanded Universe better. I prefer how they structure their stories, build their characters, connect their continuity, and shape the world of Star Wars. But I feel that way because it resonates with me. That doesn’t mean I don’t find fun in some of the Disney Canon stories as well.
It’s just, for me, the Star Wars Saga will forever be the story of George Lucas’s films and the Expanded Universe stories that followed them. Part of it is my personal preferences as a reader. Part of it is finding the EU when I did and growing up with it, allowing it to shape my vision of Star Wars. That doesn’t make it better than the Disney Canon. It just makes it better than the Disney Canon for me.
This is true for all of us. There’s nothing to be won by my arguing with someone who prefers the Disney Canon and trying to “prove” I’m right nor is there anything to be won by someone trying to convince me I’m wrong. That sort of thinking misunderstands the way art works. What we like is always about what moves us. We’re not talking about the reality of global warming or the fact that the earth isn’t flat. Artistic preferences aren’t facts that can be proven or disproven. All the people who like the Expanded Universe better are right…and all the people who like the Disney Canon better are right too. We all have our own tastes in what speaks to us.
It doesn’t have to be an either/or situation either! The EU will always be the “true” Star Wars story in my heart and mind but that doesn’t mean something in the Disney Canon can’t speak to me. I loved James Luceno’s Catalyst novel and Gareth Edwards’s Rogue One. They were brilliant, moving stories and I loved how they fit together and how they fit into the world George Lucas created. So do you know what happened? In my mind, EU preference and all, when I think of how the Death Star came to be…I now think of Catalyst and Rogue One!! That little Disney Canon nugget falls right in next to all my Expanded Universe knowledge to become part of my primary experience of Star Wars. I draw my understanding and experience of Star Wars from both!
I grant, for some, this may seem odd. After all, some may say, Disney said the EU isn’t canon anymore! It’s not the real story! As I said above, I’ll never, ever understood this line of reasoning. A corporate marketing decision of what “is” or “isn’t” “canon” can never affect how I personally experience a myth or fantasy world in my own heart and mind. It’s all make believe! If it’s the real story to me then it’s the real story. Again, we’re not talking about the Civil War or World War II. Kathleen Kennedy saying the Expanded Universe was now “Legends” on 25 April 2014 doesn’t change the fact that, for me, Han and Leia have a strong marriage and three children – Jaina, Jacen, and Anakin. This will always be true for me. However, for many people coming to or coming back to Star Wars in the last few years, Han and Leia have been separated for some time and have only one son – Ben Solo. One isn’t better than the other. They are just different. And differences don’t have to breed discord and division.
Both perspectives are equally true…it all depends on your point of view. AND the real beauty is with the Expanded Universe alongside the new Disney Canon, we have different versions of the Star Wars story to experience now! I think there’s great nerd fun to be had in discussing why we might like one version of Star Wars over another with our fellow nerds but we needn’t argue with fanatical ire. It’s all subjective. One can’t be fundamentally better than the other. It can just be better for us, personally.
Some say the Disney Canon is better because it’s all officially endorsed and the EU wasn’t. If we take a second to think about this, we’ll see that’s fallacious too. First, as the quote from his introduction to Splinter Of The Mind’s Eye above illustrates, Lucas endorsed the Expanded Universe. The EU had a direct impact on the films too. For example, the name “Coruscant” for the central system in the galaxy was created by Timothy Zahn in Heir To The Empire. Lucas really liked it so he kept it. Another example would be Jedi Master Aayla Secura. Lucas first encountered her in the Dark Horse Star Wars comics and liked her so much he used her in Attack Of The Clones and later in The Clone Wars series too. Lucas clearly and freely used the EU in the films. As has been widely documented, he retained creative control and could veto an idea he didn’t like or suggest one he did for the novels and comics too. But the Expanded Universe was always part of his Star Wars Saga, even if the canon was layered in a way where the films/shows Lucas worked on were inviolable and the other narratives could be changed later on.
This is how the Disney Canon still works. We need look no further than Alan Dean Foster’s novelization of The Force Awakens to prove this point. In the novel, Unkar Plutt – angered by his loss of the Millennium Falcon – tracks Han Solo, Chewie, Rey, and Finn to Takodana. When he moves to confront Rey at Maz Kanata’s place, she tries to defend herself with her blaster. Rey forgets to take the safety off and, as she fumbles, Chewie steps in to protect her and rips Unkar Plutt’s arm off and throws it across the room. Logically Unkar Plutt can’t both be at Maz’s and not at Maz’s. He can’t have his arm ripped off and not have his arm ripped off. We know this. Both events can’t occur and both accounts can’t be equal. While it’s a discrepancy, it’s not a problem. This sort of stuff happens when telling a story across many mediums. And when these discrepancies arise, we naturally know to defer to the film. In any issue of contention, J.J. Abrams’s version of The Force Awakens is the canonical one, not Alan Dean Foster’s novel or Chuck Wendig’s comic for that matter.
In reality, both the Expanded Universe and the Disney Canon have their strengths and weaknesses. And they both operate in the same way, as many creators try to tell harmonious stories in one big universe, working on one big timeline. Yes, the nature of their stories may be different but different doesn’t mean deficient.
Let’s all try to remember this as we go into The Last Jedi in a few weeks. Love what you love. Cringe at what makes you cringe. You’re free to have whatever opinion you have. And remember, your point of view is 100% absolutely right…for you. Someone else’s Star Wars preference can’t be wrong anymore than someone can tell you yours is. No matter what Story Groups and marketing decisions say, no matter what internet trolls say, no matter what anyone says – the only true Star Wars stories for any of us are the ones that speak to us and the ones that feel right in our heart and minds.
Celebrate that! And celebrate it by finding people who feel the same as well as those who feel different and by geeking out together over what you love and don’t love! Be passionate…but be compassionate and accepting in your passion too. In so doing, the Force will be with you, always.