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 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 was conceived and written by Tom Veitch and illustrated by artists Dave Dorman, Chris Gossett, Janine Johnston, and David Roach. Later Veitch was joined by Kevin J. Anderson as co-writer. The series spawned many other productions, including books and comics, and a popular online role-playing game.
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, and R. A. Salvatore 's Vector Prime began the 19-book The New Jedi Order series (1999–2003), written by multiple authors. New Jedi Order, set 25 to 30 years after the original films, introduced a new threat: the Yuuzhan Vong, a powerful alien race attempting to invade and conquer the entire galaxy.
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.
In October 2012, The Walt Disney Company acquired Lucasfilm for $4.06 billion. In April 2014, Lucasfilm rebranded the Expanded Universe material as Star Wars Legends and declared it non-canon to the franchise. 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.
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 Dave Filoni, who has used multiple characters and elements from Legends works in the series.
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.
The Legends-branded expanded universe plotlines take place before, between, and after the saga films, over a span of 37,000 years. The earliest events depicted in Dawn of the Jedi comic series take place 37,000 years before the films, and the Legacy comic series is set at most 138 years after the 1983 film Return of the Jedi.
As the fictional timeline evolved, a dating system was implemented using the climactic Battle of Yavin in 1977's Star Wars: A New Hope as the epoch with which to measure the calendar era of the fictional universe. The time period of a given work is determined by its distance in time from this "year zero": BBY (Before the Battle of Yavin) and ABY (After the Battle of Yavin).
In early April 2014, StarWars.com defined the Expanded Universe as "stories set outside of the canon established by the films and TV shows of George Lucas that make the galaxy deeper and richer". The franchise is a sprawling collection of novels, comics, video games, and other media that has been created over the span of 40 years. While stating that "the Expanded Universe has enriched the Star Wars experience for fans seeking to continue the adventure beyond what is seen on the screen", Lucasfilm subsequently clarified that Lucas had always reserved the right to both draw on it and contradict it in his own works. Following their acquisition by Disney, in 2014 Lucasfilm clearly delineated between the continuity established in the EU and the new content they would be producing.
In the two-hour Star Wars Holiday Special produced for CBS in 1978, Chewbacca returns to his home planet of Kashyyyk to celebrate "Life Day" with his family. Along with the stars of the original 1977 film, celebrities Bea Arthur, Art Carney, Diahann Carroll, and Jefferson Starship appear in plot-related skits and musical numbers. The Holiday Special also features the first appearance of bounty hunter Boba Fett, in an 11-minute animated sequence. Lucas loathed the special and forbade it to ever be aired again after its original broadcast, or reproduced on home video.
The television film Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure aired on ABC on Thanksgiving weekend in 1984. With a story by Lucas and a screenplay by Bob Carrau, it features the Ewok Wicket from Return of the Jedi as he helps two children rescue their parents from a giant known as Gorax. The 1985 sequel, Ewoks: The Battle for Endor, finds Wicket and his friends protecting their village from invaders.
The animated series Star Wars: Droids (1985–1986), which aired for one season on ABC, follows the adventures of the droids C-3PO and R2-D2, 15 years before the events of the 1977 film Star Wars. Its sister series Star Wars: Ewoks (1985–1987) features the adventures of the Ewoks before Return of the Jedi and the Ewok movies.
Depicting events between the prequel films Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, Star Wars: Clone Wars aired on the Cartoon Network from 2003 to 2005, and won Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Animated Program in 2004 and 2005.
A parody animated series called Star Wars Detours was produced prior to the Disney acquisition, but its release was postponed in 2013 and it ultimately never aired, despite 39 episodes having been completed and 62 additional scripts finished. A live-action television project has also been in varying stages of development at Lucasfilm since 2005, when Lucas announced plans for a television series set between the prequel and original trilogies. Producer Rick McCallum revealed the working title, Star Wars: Underworld, in 2012, and said in 2013 that 50 scripts had been written. He called the project "The most provocative, the most bold and daring material that we've ever done." The proposed series explores criminal and political power struggles in the decades prior to A New Hope, and as of December 2015 was still in development at Lucasfilm.
A new CGI-animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008–2014) was introduced, set in the same time period as the previous Clone Wars series and related to the 2008 animated film of the same name. It was followed by the current CGI-animated series Star Wars Rebels, which debuted on Disney XD in 2014. Set between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, the series follows a band of rebels as they fight the Galactic Empire. The Clone Wars, its originating film, and Rebels were accepted as part of the canon by Lucasfilm when previous works were reassigned to the Legends brand in 2014.
A 13-episode radio adaptation of the original 1977 film written by science fiction author Brian Daley and directed by John Madden was first broadcast on National Public Radio in 1981. Lucas, a fan of the NPR-affiliated campus radio station at his alma mater the University of Southern California, licensed the Star Wars radio rights to KUSC-FM for US$1. Mark Hamill and Anthony Daniels reprised their roles from the film. The production used John Williams' original score from the films and Ben Burtt sound designs from the film. The broadcast was an overwhelming success, and a 10-episode adaptation of The Empire Strikes Back followed in 1982, with Hamill and Daniels joined by Billy Dee Williams. Return of the Jedi was adapted into six episodes in 1996, featuring Daniels.
In 1983, Buena Vista Records released an original, 30-minute Star Wars audio drama titled Rebel Mission to Ord Mantell, written by Daley. In the 1990s, Time Warner Audio Publishing adapted several Star Wars series from Dark Horse Comics into audio dramas: the three-part Dark Empire saga, Tales of the Jedi, Dark Lords of the Sith, the Dark Forces trilogy, and Crimson Empire (1998).
Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker, the 1976 novelization of Star Wars: A New Hope by Alan Dean Foster, was followed by Foster's Splinter of the Mind's Eye (1978), an alternate sequel commissioned by Lucas. The film novelizations for 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.
The bestselling Thrawn trilogy (1991–1993) by Timothy Zahn reignited interest in the franchise and introduced the popular characters Grand Admiral Thrawn, Mara Jade, Talon Karrde, and Gilad Pellaeon. The first novel, Heir to the Empire, reached #1 on the New York Times Best Seller list, and the series finds Luke, Leia, and Han facing off against tactical genius Thrawn, who is plotting to retake the galaxy for the Empire. Though Thrawn was designated a Legends character in 2014, he was reintroduced into the canon in the 2016 third season of Star Wars Rebels. In The Courtship of Princess Leia (1994) by Dave Wolverton, set immediately before the Thrawn trilogy, Leia considers an advantageous political marriage to Prince Isolder of the planet Hapes, but she and Han ultimately marry. Steve Perry's Shadows of the Empire (1996), 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. The novel introduced the crime lord Prince Xizor, another popular character who would appear in multiple other works. Other notable series from Bantam include the Jedi Academy trilogy (1994) by Kevin J. Anderson, the 14-book Young Jedi Knights series (1995–1998) by Anderson and Rebecca Moesta, and the X-wing series (1996–2012) by Michael A. Stackpole and Aaron Allston.
Del Rey took over Star Wars book publishing in 1999, releasing what would become a 19-installment novel series called The New Jedi Order (1999–2003). Written by multiple authors, the series was set 25 to 30 years after the original films and introduced the Yuuzhan Vong, a powerful alien race attempting to invade and conquer the entire galaxy. The bestselling multi-author series Legacy of the Force (2006–2008) chronicles the crossover of Han and Leia's son Jacen Solo to the dark side of the Force; among his evil deeds, he kill's Luke's wife Mara Jade as a sacrifice to join the Sith. The story parallels the fallen son of Han and Leia, Ben Solo/Kylo Ren, in the 2015 film The Force Awakens. Three series were introduced for younger audiences: the 18-book Jedi Apprentice (1999–2002) chronicles the adventures of Obi-Wan Kenobi and his master Qui-Gon Jinn in the years before The Phantom Menace; the 11-book Jedi Quest (2001–2004) follows Obi-Wan and his own apprentice, Anakin Skywalker in between The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones; and the 10-book The Last of the Jedi (2005–2008), set almost immediately after Revenge of the Sith, features Obi-Wan and the last few surviving Jedi.
Marvel Comics published a Star Wars comic book series from 1977 to 1986. Original Star Wars comics were also serialized in the Marvel magazine Pizzazz between 1977 and 1979. The 1977 installments were the first original Star Wars stories not directly adapted from the films to appear in print form, as they preceded those of the Star Wars comic series. From 1985–1987, the animated children's series Ewoks and Droids inspired comic series from Marvel's Star Comics line.
In the late 1980s, Marvel dropped a new Star Wars comic it had in development, which was picked up by Dark Horse Comics and published as the popular Dark Empire sequence (1991–1995). Dark Horse subsequently launched dozens of series set after the original film trilogy, including Tales of the Jedi (1993–1998), X-wing Rogue Squadron (1995–1998), Star Wars: Republic (1998–2006), Star Wars Tales (1999–2005), Star Wars: Empire (2002–2006), and Knights of the Old Republic (2006–2010).
After Disney's acquisition of Lucasfilm, it was announced in January 2014 that in 2015 the Star Wars comics license would return to Marvel Comics, whose parent company, Marvel Entertainment, Disney had purchased in 2009. Launched in 2015, the first three publications in were titled Star Wars, Star Wars: Darth Vader, and the limited series Star Wars: Princess Leia.
The first official licensed Star Wars electronic game was Kenner's 1979 table-top Star Wars Electronic Battle Command. The first licensed Star Wars video game was Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, published in 1982 for the Atari 2600 by Parker Brothers. Atari's 1983 rail shooter arcade game Star Wars was based on the 1977 film and used vector graphics. The next game, Return of the Jedi (1984), was based on the third film and used more traditional raster graphics. The third game, The Empire Strikes Back (1985), was a remake of the first game and based on the second movie.
In 1993, LucasArts released its first Star Wars video game and first space flight simulation game, Star Wars: X-Wing, after publishing several World War II flight combat games. X-Wing was one of the best-selling games of 1993, and established its own series of games.
Released in 1995, Dark Forces was the first Star Wars first-person shooter video game. A hybrid adventure game incorporating puzzles and strategy, it also featured new gameplay features and graphical elements not then common in other games, made possible by LucasArts' custom-designed game engine, called the Jedi. The game was well received and well reviewed, and was followed by four sequels. Dark Forces introduced the popular character Kyle Katarn, who would later appear in multiple games, novels, and comics. Katarn is a former Imperial stormtrooper who joins the Rebellion and ultimately becomes a Jedi, a plot arc similar to that of Finn in the 2015 film The Force Awakens.
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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