This year marks the 40th anniversary since the release of the original STAR WARS film on May 25th, 1977. This month, writers at ComicsVerse will be bringing you our insights on all things STAR WARS as we look at where the series has been and where it will take us next in the galaxy far, far away…


Disney acquired Lucasfilm in 2012. Shortly thereafter, they announced the development of a new series of STAR WARS movies. As a lifelong fan of all things STAR WARS, I was incredibly excited. I could not wait to see all my favorite characters embarking on a new adventure. The thought of more STAR WARS movies was like a dream come true. What really got me excited was the thought of seeing some of my favorite books come to life on screen.

The Expanded Universe

I had been reading the STAR WARS Expanded Universe novels for ages. One of the first grown-up books I read was Dave Wolverton’s The Courtship of Princess LeiaCourtship picks up a few years after the RETURN OF THE JEDI and shows the aftermath of the Battle of Endor. JEDI is the final movie in a trilogy, and so necessarily wraps things up, so they are nicely finished. However, Wolverton’s novel, among others, shows that things are not so simple. The war did not end in a single battle. The Rebels — now christened the New Republic — fought against the Imperial Remnant for years.

My first brush with the Expanded Universe

Wolverton’s novel delved into the complex interactions between Han and Leia. Their romance was not a simple progression from admitting their love to marriage, kids — the whole shebang. Wolverton explored the deeper issues at play, such as the toll that the war would take on a budding relationship and Han’s insecurities about dating a princess. A friend of mine complained that it lowered her opinion of Han as a dashing space pirate without any cares. However, I felt that the story showed all the characters — not just Han — as real people, with real lives and real issues.

Many Expanded Universe novels explored this idea of the real people behind the characters, and often introduced new, fascinating characters. For example, the X-Wing books follow Wedge Antilles, who is introduced in A NEW HOPE. In the novels, Wedge creates a new squadron to continue fighting the Imperial Remnant. The novels are witty and interesting. There are new characters, including new alien races. They explore themes of betrayal, jealousy, love, war-weariness, even xenophobia and inter-species romance.

THE NEW JEDI ORDER

Naturally, I did not expect the new STAR WARS movies to be like The Courtship of Princess Leia. It had been over 30 years since the last movie featuring Luke, Leia, and Han. The actors had aged. Short of casting new actors — which would have set the fans in a riot — the new stories would have to take place far in the future for our characters. What excited me was the thought of the new generation getting their own stories. In particular, I hoped that Lucasfilm would develop their NEW JEDI ORDER book series into film.

READ: What can we expect in THE LAST JEDI? Read ComicsVerse’s take on the new trailer here!

THE NEW JEDI ORDER series follows the next generation. While Luke, Leia, and Han are still major players, the books focus on the new Jedi that Luke had trained. The Solo children — Jaina, Jacen, and Anakin — are heavily featured, as are their friends. These are no longer just children. Only teenagers, they are suddenly confronted with a major catastrophe — the Yuuzhan Vong invasion.

The Yuuzhan Vong were a race of aliens from outside the STAR WARS galaxy. An aggressive warrior race who abhorred technology, they were an interesting foil for our heroes. As they invaded the galaxy, they used bio-enhanced weaponry to destroy and kill. They were brutal and had no mercy, even killing a pacifist envoy who sought to understand them better.

Most interestingly, they did not exist in the Force as all other creatures did. Their invasion forced the galaxy to respond to a new and unprecedented disaster. The New Republic was reduced to political squabbling and chaos when species lashed out in fear. The Jedi were forced to reevaluate their role as peacekeepers, not soldiers when several Jedi made mistakes that caused devastation.

THE NEXT GENERATION

The chaos in the galaxy was made personal in the struggles of individual characters. The Solo children were a study in disarray themselves. Jaina was a star pilot who wanted to prove herself her father’s daughter. She struggled with bitterness toward her mother, who had often left them for political duties.

Jacen sought to understand the Force and pushed back against the Light/Dark side dichotomy. He attempted to eschew using the Force altogether but used the Force to save his mother from certain death. This heroic feat did not settle things but made him more confused. Anakin, the youngest, had all the brash overconfidence of youth. When he made mistakes that cost lives, he was forced to reevaluate his choices.

The Solo children using a Force-meld to coordinate battle

These characters are able to accomplish things their older counterparts could not. Jaina becomes the youngest pilot to join Rogue Squadron and becomes an ace pilot. Jacen forces Luke to contemplate the role of the Force and how the Jedi use it. Anakin, however, interested me the most. When his best friend is captured by the Yuuzhan Vong, he makes a daring attempt to save her.

To do so, he forms an alliance with a former Yuuzhan Vong warrior, Vua Rapuung. Rapuung had been betrayed by a former lover and cast out in shame. He fought with Anakin to regain his honor. Although Rapuung dies in the attempt, he redeems himself first. The other shamed Yuuzhan Vong see that his alliance with a Jedi raised his status, rather than contaminating him. They start a movement that, in the end, allows the Jedi to overthrow the Yuuzhan Vong commanders.

THE YUUZHAN VONG

The series also shows the perspective of several Yuuzhan Vong characters. Nen Yim, a young female shaper — biological scientist — becomes entangled in religious drama and is used to further religious propaganda. In the end, however, she helps the Jedi reach an understanding with the Yuuzhan Vong, bringing an end to the conflict. Another Yuuzhan Vong character is a con man, weak and cruel, who plays both other species and his own for personal gain.

These characters demonstrate that the villains are not simply one-dimensional. They are a massive race of beings, with a complex caste system and slavish devotion to religion. There are different ideas at hand. In the end, it is through communing with the Jedi that they are able to be at peace. This is only possible through the actions of young Yuuzhan Vong.

The young Yuuzhan Vong are able to see that an unthinking adherence to authority is hurting their people. Just as the young Jedi cross boundaries, so too do these Yuuzhan Vong. The NEW JEDI ORDER series shows that the new characters are interesting, complex, and most importantly, capable of bringing about great change. Although the old favorites are still around, it is the new generation that ultimately are able to change the galaxy.

Nen Yim and Vua Rapuung

The NEW JEDI ORDER series provided a wealth of material to adapt. There are new characters, new alien races, new planets, and new conflicts. The Yuuzhan Vong provide a terrifying and complex new antagonist. The new generation allows for a sense of growth, showing that they are not the same as their parents. At the same time, the older, familiar characters are still present to give a sense of nostalgia. The NEW JEDI ORDER would have been an excellent starting point for new STAR WARS movies.

STAR WARS LEGENDS

That is not what happened, obviously. Rather than adapting THE NEW JEDI ORDER, Lucasfilm created an entirely new story for their new movies. Suddenly, the Expanded Universe became the Legends series. Lucasfilm explained the Legends series as a sort of mythology told by the beings who inhabited the STAR WARS universe. These books were not “real” — they were just stories told over metaphorical alien campfires. Books that I had read for years — cherished even — were suddenly non-canon. All the stories and interesting characters I loved were scrapped. My dream of a film series based on some of my favorite books was not to be.

Instead, Lucasfilm gave fans THE FORCE AWAKENS. Other writers have already discussed how THE FORCE AWAKENS is, in many ways, a rehash of the original trilogy. The plot closely resembles A NEW HOPE, as a ragtag team of rebels assaults a giant galactic weapon. It is only through grit, pluck, and the will of the Force that they succeed and save the galaxy. The Rebels become the Resistance. The Empire becomes the First Order. Rey, an orphan with latent Force abilities left behind on a desert planet, is a clear analog for Luke. Kylo Ren feels like a watered down Darth Vader.

Kylo Ren, unfortunately not Jacen or Anakin Solo

This is not to say that THE FORCE AWAKENS is a bad movie. It has interesting new characters in Rey, Finn, and Poe. The two main characters are minorities, proving that a movie does not need a white, male protagonist to be successful. The movie brings back a lot of the fun of the originals, with daring space battles, witty banter, and even an adorable droid companion in BB-8. However, while it may not be a bad movie, it is too familiar to stand out.

But Why?

Why did Lucasfilm scrap the Expanded Universe? They were sitting on many years’ worth of already established material to adapt. The Expanded Universe already had established fans, many of whom were angered by Lucasfilm’s decision. Lucasfilm had the material and the opportunity to make a fresh new series but chose instead to stick with safe familiarity.

One reason for Lucasfilm’s decision could be a fear of fan reaction. Dedicated Expanded Universe fans would be disappointed if their expectations were not reached. If Lucasfilm cut or changed a favorite character, fans would have complained. Perhaps Lucasfilm did not want to wade into potentially treacherous waters.

This is a tricky situation that haunts all adapters of a popular series. Hardcore fans are never going to get exactly what they want. If Lucasfilm adapted THE NEW JEDI ORDER, anything that failed to live up to fan expectations would be ridiculed and reviled. In that sense, it would be far safer to make a new story than adapt an existing one.

CLICK: Does Lucasfilm rely too heavily on nostalgia for their success? Read one author’s take here!

Alternately, Lucasfilm could have been afraid of turning off new viewers. Viewers who were not familiar with Expanded Universe stories may not have been able to follow along. Dedicated fans are going to see the movie no matter what. Based on that assumption, it would seem smarter to cater to completely new audiences. Lucasfilm could also have been banking on a nostalgia factor. By connecting the new movie so solidly to the old trilogy, audiences would have a pleasant experience. They could revisit a storyline that they enjoyed so many years ago wrapped up in new characters and a new name.

Moving Forward

While we can make educated guesses, we will likely never know what prompted Lucasfilm’s decision. Lucasfilm is capable of creating satisfying and interesting new stories. ROGUE ONE proved this. While the movie rested on fan knowledge of the original series, it was still original.The events leading up to the capture of the Death Star plans do appear in an Expanded Universe book. This was a tiny snippet, however, less than a chapter. With so little to go on, it makes sense that Lucasfilm created entirely new material.

ROGUE ONE stands as an example of Lucasfilm creating a story that does not feel rehashed. We can only hope that, after the success of ROGUE ONE, Lucasfilm feels more confident about creating new material. Hopefully THE LAST JEDI and the upcoming Han Solo movie provide the sort of exciting and adventurous experience STAR WARS fans crave.

In the meantime, if you need me, I’ll be rereading THE NEW JEDI ORDER.

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10 Comments

  1. Colleen Etman

    May 13, 2017 at 9:12 am

    If you want to see more about The Courtship of Princess Leia, I’m also writing an article about the Force-Witches of Dathomir! Might be something for you to check out (it will be coming out later this month)

    Reply

  2. Moriah

    May 13, 2017 at 4:54 am

    Thank you so much for writing this. I felt like you hit the nail on the head! I love Star Wars and the EU really deepened that love. The Courtship of Princess Leia was the first novel I read too.

    And the New Jedi Order impacted me so deeply on an emotional level. The Solo Twins story and the further examination of the Force, light, dark, grey. It just felt so RIGHT. So Star Wars. So Lucas. So human.

    I hated The Force Awakens and LOVED Rogue One. There are some of us who will never be swayed by hype and popular concensus. We understand a good story when we see one. Unfortunately, these days the media is only interested in cheap entertainment. And the masses don’t know what they are missing because they don’t demand more. Disney is not on the business of quality or epic story telling. Lucas was but for whatever reason sold his most precious piece of property, his most creative genius. It’s really his fault in the end. 🙁

    Reply

  3. Taylor

    May 10, 2017 at 4:24 pm

    The Kevin J Anderson books were the best, and read like a movie. Better than the prequels of the awful sequel.

    Reply

  4. Randal Brown

    May 10, 2017 at 2:03 pm

    It didn’t stop be from seeing the movie and enjoying it, but it did stop me from ever buying another start wars novel. I have a collection of probably 20-30 hardcopy and about 15-20 on my Kindle. I haven’t purchased one since they scraped eu, or even read one since. Every other book I bought used to be start wars. Not anymore.

    The betrayal of the hardcore fans I think was for the reason you said of the regular viewer. I spent $15 to see the movie. They lost probably $150 of books I would have purchased.

    If you can’t tell by reading this I’m still angry about it lol.

    Reply

  5. Alfonzo (@ifonze)

    May 10, 2017 at 9:03 am

    You’ve made very valid points. But I think the exclusion of the EU probably had to do with licensing issues. All of the EU stories are published under Dark Horse Comics which isn’t owned by Lucas film. They had permission to do that. So with Disney having marvel under their belt they had to dismiss everything published by Dark Horse. So marvel has been publishing star wars comics since the acquisition. So with that said marvel may develop their own EU commissioned by Lucasfilm as the novels are. Me personally I never gotten into the comics series under Dark Horse. I was only a fan of the film’s and animated series. I read a couple but felt like it was star wars with plastic surgery. But I’ve heard about yuuzhan Vong and it did sound interesting but it seemed way more developed than the actual cannon stories which weren’t provided by Lucas film.

    Reply

  6. Gledr

    May 9, 2017 at 8:11 pm

    Any legends stories would be much more interesting than this crappy monolog. Youzong vhong are way more interesting than tantrum throwing mini Vader.

    Reply

  7. Andrew

    May 9, 2017 at 4:39 pm

    Thanks​for this article. As another huge fan of the EU I try not to think much about what could’ve been with the new trilogy. It depresses me too much.

    I’m also rereading NJO I’m about 3 books out from the finale. Just not seeing Jaina/Jacen hurts, I grew up with those characters, having read their prior Young Jedi Knights series when I was a younger child, and being a male twin with a female twin sister I really identified with Jacen.

    Hopefully they’ll try and bring some elements from NJO and Legacy of the Force into the fold with The Last Jedi, but if they make Luke into a depressing and emotional hermit and not include how much of a badass Jedi Grandmaster he should be. I hope we get more info about the Knights of Ren as well, the Jedi are one of the main reasons I love Star Wars, and The Force Awakens was sorely lacking in terms of Jedi information and lore.

    Reply

    • Colleen Etman

      May 9, 2017 at 7:10 pm

      Glad you liked it! I’m with you on Luke – I do not need him to be useless and annoying. I live in hope that Disney will do a good job!

      Reply

  8. Colleen Etman

    May 9, 2017 at 4:39 pm

    Honestly the first time I read it I put it down and refused to continue! But it was so interesting otherwise that I went back to it. Now it makes me sad but the rest of the series is so good. And it’s necessary for Han’s character development

    Reply

  9. Jeral Youmans

    May 9, 2017 at 4:29 pm

    You say u like the expanded universe? I do to…what are thoughts on Chewies death?

    Reply

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