The Star Wars expanded universe (SWEU; formerly branded as Expanded Universe or EU) is a collective term for all Star Wars fictional material produced by Lucasfilm or officially licensed by it. This expanded universe includes an array of derivative Star Wars works produced in conjunction with, between, and after the original trilogy (1977–1983) and prequel trilogy (1999–2005) of films, and includes books, comic books, video games, and television series. Intended as an enhancement to and extension of the Star Wars theatrical films produced by George Lucas, the continuity of all Expanded Universe material was tracked by Lucasfilm, and Lucas reserved the right to both draw on it and contradict it in his own works.
The Star Wars space opera media franchise began with Lucas's 1977 film Star Wars, which is set "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away" and chronicles the attempt by the characters Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo, and the Wookiee Chewbacca—assisted by the Jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi and the droids C-3PO and R2-D2—to thwart the evil plans of Sith Lord Darth Vader and the Galactic Empire.
Lucasfilm was acquired by The Walt Disney Company in October 2012, and with a sequel trilogy of films and other works in development, Lucasfilm announced in April 2014 that all previously released expanded universe content would be declared non-canon to the franchise and rebranded as Star Wars Legends. A new company division, Lucasfilm Story Group, would ensure from then on that all forthcoming comics, books, games and other media were non-contradictory to the films, other canon media, and each other. This restructuring left the Star Wars theatrical films, the Clone Wars animated film, and the 2008 Clone Wars animated TV series as the only material embodying the official Star Wars canon. A number of works have subsequently been produced, including the Rebels animated TV series, the 2015 film The Force Awakens and its 2017 sequel The Last Jedi, the 2016 anthology film Rogue One, Star Wars Battlefront II and multiple novels and comic book series.
Credited to George Lucas but ghostwritten by Alan Dean Foster, the novelization of the original 1977 film Star Wars—called Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker—was based on Lucas' screenplay and released six months before the film in November 1976. Foster's 1978 novel Splinter of the Mind's Eye was commissioned by Lucas as the basis for a potential low-budget sequel to Star Wars should the film prove unsuccessful. The film novelizations The Empire Strikes Back (1980) by Donald F. Glut and Return of the Jedi (1983) by James Kahn followed, as well as The Han Solo Adventures trilogy (1979–1980) by Brian Daley, and The Adventures of Lando Calrissian (1983) trilogy by L. Neil Smith.
A Star Wars comic book series from Marvel Comics ran from April 1977 to May 1986. Former Marvel Editor-In-Chief Jim Shooter credited the title's strong sales for saving Marvel financially in 1977 and 1978. Marvel's Star Wars series was one of the industry's top selling titles in 1979 and 1980. West End Games began publishing Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game in 1987, and the subsequent ancillary roleplaying game material such as sourcebooks, gamebooks, and adventure modules have been called "the first publications to expand greatly beyond what was known from the vintage era of the movies". The material was used as a resource by some novelists that followed.
The 1991 Timothy Zahn novel Heir to the Empire, which reached #1 on the New York Times Best Seller list, began what would become a large collection of works set before, between, and especially after the original films. StarWars.com wrote in 2014 that the novel "jumpstarted a publishing program that endures to this day and formalized the Expanded Universe". It introduced, among others, the popular characters Grand Admiral Thrawn and Mara Jade, and was followed by the sequels Dark Force Rising (1992) and The Last Command (1993). This so-called "Thrawn trilogy" is widely credited with revitalizing the Star Wars franchise. In The Secret History of Star Wars, Michael Kaminski suggests that this renewed interest was a factor in Lucas's decision to create the prequel trilogy.
Around this same time, Dark Horse Comics acquired the Star Wars license and launched a number of series set after the original film trilogy, including the popular Dark Empire sequence (1991–1995) by Tom Veitch and Cam Kennedy. In 1993, Dark Horse published Tales of the Jedi, expanding the fictional universe to the time of the Old Republic, 4000 years before the films. The series spawned many other productions, including books and comics, and a popular online role-playing game.
In 1994, Lucas Licensing's Allan Kausch and Sue Rostoni discussed the relationship between Lucas' creations and the derivative works by other authors:
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 written by other writers. However, between us, we've read everything, and much of it is taken into account in the overall continuity. The entire catalog of published works comprises a vast history—with many off-shoots, variations and tangents—like any other well-developed mythology.
The 1996 Steve Perry novel Shadows of the Empire, set in the as-yet-unexplored time period between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, was part of a multimedia campaign that included a comic book series and video game.
In 1999, Star Wars book publishing moved from Bantam Spectra to Del Rey Books. A new series set 25 to 30 years after the original films, The New Jedi Order (1999–2003), was written by multiple authors and introduced a new threat: the Yuuzhan Vong, a powerful alien race attempting to invade and conquer the entire galaxy. The first novel in the series, R. A. Salvatore 's Vector Prime, killed off popular character Chewbacca.
The bulk of Expanded Universe storytelling explores the time period after Return of the Jedi. Lucasfilm specifically prohibited development of the time period before A New Hope—including the rise of the Galactic Empire and the personal histories of Anakin Skywalker and Emperor Palpatine—to avoid conflict with Lucas's own plans for a potential prequel trilogy. Lucas eventually released The Phantom Menace (1999), Attack of the Clones (2002), and Revenge of the Sith (2005), punctuated by the 2003 animated series Star Wars: Clone Wars, which explored the titular conflict in more detail. Subsequent novels and comics were set before, concurrent with, and after the events of these works.
In 2004, USA Today reported that over 1,100 Star Wars titles had been published, including novels, comics, non-fiction, and magazines. Then-president of Lucas Licensing, Howard Roffman, estimated that there were more than 65 million Star Wars books in print. He said, "The books are a way of extending the fantasy of Star Wars. The movies have had a really profound effect on a couple of generations. Star Wars has become a cultural touchpoint, and our fans are avidly interested in exploring more stories."
The animated television series Star Wars: The Clone Wars ran from 2008 to 2014 and was set between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. Lucas discussed ideas for a sequel trilogy several times after the conclusion of the original trilogy, but denied any intent to make it.
Historically, Lucasfilm tracked the storylines and content of these media in large black binders, known as bibles. In 2000, Leland Chee was hired as Continuity Database Administrator for Lucas Licensing, and implemented a database to replace the bibles. The database was named the Holocron, a term used within the fictional Star Wars universe for "ancient repositories of knowledge and wisdom" used by the Jedi and Sith. Lucasfilm's Holocron consists of over 55,000 entries for franchise characters, locations, species, and vehicles. Chee said of the database in 2012, "What sets Star Wars apart from other franchises is that we develop a singular continuity across all forms of media, whether it be the films, TV series, video games, novels and comics, and the Holocron is a key component to Lucasfilm being able to do this."
The Holocron was divided into five levels of canon (in order of precedence): G-canon, T-canon, C-canon, S-canon, and N-canon.
Lucas Licensing's managing editor Sue Rostoni said in 2001, "Our goal is to present a continuous and unified history of the Star Wars galaxy, insofar as that history does not conflict with, or undermine the meaning of Mr. Lucas's Star Wars saga of films and screenplays." In a 2001 statement on the franchise's official website StarWars.com, Director of Fan Relations Steve Sansweet clarified:
When it comes to absolute canon, the real story of Star Wars, you must turn to the films themselves—and only the films. Even novelizations are interpretations of the film, and while they are largely true to George Lucas' vision (he works quite closely with the novel authors), the method in which they are written does allow for some minor differences ... The further one branches away from the movies, the more interpretation and speculation come into play. LucasBooks works diligently to keep the continuing Star Wars expanded universe cohesive and uniform, but stylistically, there is always room for variation.
In August 2005, Lucas himself said of the Expanded Universe material:
I don't read that stuff. I haven't read any of the novels. I don't know anything about that world. That's a different world than my world. But I do try to keep it consistent. The way I do it now is they have a Star Wars Encyclopedia. So if I come up with a name or something else, I look it up and see if it has already been used. When I said [other people] could make their own Star Wars stories, we decided that, like Star Trek, we would have two universes: My universe and then this other one. They try to make their universe as consistent with mine as possible, but obviously they get enthusiastic and want to go off in other directions.
In October 2012, The Walt Disney Company acquired Lucasfilm for $4.06 billion. Subsequently, Lucasfilm formed the "Star Wars Story Group", which was established to keep track of and define the canon and unify the films, comics, and other media. Among its members are Chee, Kiri Hart, and Pablo Hidalgo. To prevent a planned sequel trilogy from being beholden to and restrained by the plotlines of the Expanded Universe works, the choice was made to discard that continuity. In particular, Chee said that the death of Chewbacca in Vector Prime was a key factor in the decision.
In April 2014, Lucasfilm rebranded the Expanded Universe material as Star Wars Legends and declared it non-canon to the franchise. Chee said in a 2014 Twitter post that a "primary goal" of the Story Group would be to replace the previous hierarchical canon with one cohesive one. The company's focus would be shifted towards a restructured Star Wars canon based on new material. Lucasfilm explained that the only preexisting works to be considered canonical within the franchise would be the original and prequel trilogies of films, The Clone Wars film, and the 2008 The Clone Wars animated series. The announcement called these works "the immovable objects of Star Wars history, the characters and events to which all the other (subsequent) tales must align". It was also made clear that a planned Star Wars sequel trilogy, and subsequent works developed within the restructured canon, would not be based on Legends material but could possibly draw from it. The previous levels of the Holocron became obsolete, because going forward all works would share the same level of canon as the films.
Lucas had previously used the character Aayla Secura, introduced in 2000 in the Star Wars: Republic comic book series, in Attack of the Clones. He also used Coruscant, the New Republic capital planet created by Zahn in the Thrawn trilogy, in his prequel trilogy of films and the Special Edition release of Return of the Jedi. Thrawn himself was reintroduced into the canon in the 2016 third season of the CGI-animated television series Star Wars Rebels by supervising director Dave Filoni, who has used multiple characters and elements from Legends works in the series. Filoni explained that he followed Lucas's example in considering the films and television series canon, but allowing for the use of Legends material as necessary.
The first new canon novel was Star Wars: A New Dawn by John Jackson Miller, published in September 2014, followed by the animated series Star Wars Rebels a month later. Marvel Comics began publishing a series of Star Wars comic book titles in January 2015. Star Wars: The Force Awakens was released in December 2015, and marked the beginning of the sequel trilogy of films.
In the most conservative terms, it is inarguable that the success of the Star Wars comics was a significant factor in Marvel’s survival through a couple of very difficult years, 1977 and 1978. In my mind, the truth is stated in the title of this piece.
The industry's top seller? We don't have complete information from our Circulation Scavenger Hunt for the years 1979 and 1980, but a very strong case is building for Star Wars as the industry's top-selling comic book in 1979 and its second-place seller (behind Amazing Spider-Man) in 1980.
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