WARNING: This post contains spoilers for The Force Awakens.
The Star Wars Expanded Universe was arguably one of the biggest reasons the franchise stayed alive after Return of the Jedi. It kept the property simmering for almost a decade, even if it did so mostly among die-hard fans who snapped up every book, comic and video game they could find. The general public couldn’t tell a Thrawn from a Katarn, but for Star Wars fans, those names were holy writ.
Then Disney came along and went all New Testament and wiped away the Expanded Universe. Granted, the EU was never actually official — only material straight from George Lucas was considered full canon — but it had at least been given the stamp of approval by Lucasfilm, which made it official enough. Now it’s been consigned to what Disney is calling “Star Wars Legends,” which is a fancy way of saying, “People will still buy this stuff, but we don’t want to be beholden to it.”
And that’s where I’m seeing the big disconnect among fans. I keep reading these detailed treatises on how it’s impossible for a non-Jedi to wield a lightsaber, on trying to reconcile Kylo Ren being Han and Leia’s son with their children from the EU, on linking Supreme Leader Snoke with every Sith lord ever created. People point out the technical inaccuracies of the Millennium Falcon jumping into hyperspace from inside a docking bay or the firepower of a Wookiee bowcaster, based on reams of RPG stats and fictional technical manuals. In short, they’re holding The Force Awakens to a standard Disney has said it no longer needs to be held to, and finding it lacking.
I get that people have an affection for this stuff. A lot of them grew up on it, or leaned on it heavily when there was nothing else from which to get that Star Wars fix. And it’s fine for what it is. Which is officially sanctioned fan-fiction. It’s a bunch of writers getting to play in someone else’s sandbox and make all kinds of cool things. But the last thing that should happen is Rian Johnson getting a great idea for Episode VIII only to be told, “Oh, well, according to page 172 of this novel that maybe a hundred thousand people have read, lightsabers don’t work that way, so you can’t do that.” The caretakers of cinematic Star Wars should be able to make the best Star Wars movies they can, not the best Star Wars movies than a bunch of twenty-year old novels allow them to.
It’s not like it’s not without precedent anyway. The prequels ignored or outright contradicted plenty of stuff, especially from Dark Horse Comics’ pre-Star Wars Jedi comics. Splinter of the Mind’s Eye has long been consigned to its own lonely branch of the continuity. Hell, the novelization for Return of the Jedi called Uncle Owen Obi-Wan’s brother. In the end, none of this is set in stone. Especially if jettisoning something would make for a more compelling story.
The Expanded Universe should be a celebration, not a yoke. It’s a testament to the imagination, not a shackle on it. If you loved the old EU, it’s all still there. No one is coming to take it from your shelves. Just allow the new storytellers the same freedom the old ones had. We need better new stories, not better adherence to the old ones.