‘Star Wars’ Expanded Universe: The Legends Will Be with You. Always.

By J.T. Trigonis

The fourth of May is a day to celebrate the Force. More specifically, though, it’s a day to celebrate the greatest action/adventure/sci-fi fantasy franchise ever created: Star Wars. But while many out there celebrate by watching the prequels and sequels, The Madalorian, and The Book of Boba Fett all while celebrating the coming of Obi-Wan, I celebrate a different universe. One that may well have been all but forgotten: the Star Wars expanded universe. The one that existed a long time ago in a galaxy not so far away. What once had been considered canon which is now only legend.

As I did the research for this installment of Nostalgia’s Revenge!, I discovered that the word “canon” is quite the loaded blaster, full of intergalactic intrigue and all the dreadful possibilities of a Pandora’s box. Just the briefest glimpse at Wookiepedia tells us that there are multiple continuities to Star Wars history, from television and secondary canon right down to G- (or, George Lucas’s) Canon, which apparently only includes the six films the Maker produced, which I’m not entirely mad at, though for my own “J.T.-Canon,” I’ve lightsabered that list further down by three.

Now I’m not writing this to get myself into any kind of pseudo-philosophical debate about what is canon and what’s not––these days, I’m not that huge a fan to be thoroughly invested in my own opinions. I’m writing this to pay homage to what has been relabeled as Star Wars Legends, which began in 1978 with the Alan Dean Foster novel Splinter of the Mind’s Eye.

For me, though, it began much, much later in the early ‘90s. 

Star Wars Heir to the Empire Trilogy

Like many of us, I grew up with Luke, Leia, Han and Chewie, though I only recall watching Return of the Jedi as a kid on a big tube TV propped up on the pantry in my childhood kitchen, which doubled as the dining room. It wouldn’t be until many years later, in 1992, that I’d stumble on Kevin J. Anderson’s Jedi Search, the first in an all-new series of Star Wars books. I didn’t know about the trilogy that preceded this one, Timothy Zahn’s beloved “Thrawn Trilogy” (Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising, and The Last Command), which served as a firebrand for the many more novelizations, graphic novels, and role-playing and video games to come. In fact, according to Wookiepedia, Zahn’s books are often considered the “sequels [to the original trilogy] that were never made.”

I remember reading Jedi Search in record time, perhaps the first 300-page novel I had ever gotten through of my own volition. I couldn’t wait for the next installment which would dive deeper into the Dark Apprentice in the midst of Luke Skywalker’s newly formed Academy. To this day, I can still hear the snap-hiss of Anderson’s lightsabers, and I’m filled with the same excitement I had the first time I saw Return of the Jedi as an impressionable young boy.

I would eventually go on to collect other series, such as the X-Wing novels by Michael A. Stackpole, Children of the Jedi by Barbara Hambly, A.C. Crispin’s Han Solo Trilogy (The Paradise Snare, The Hutt Gambit, and Rebel Dawn), and a handful of the Young Jedi Knights books by Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta. But once I finished Anderson’s “Jedi Academy” offshoot novel Darksaber, I was suddenly sorta done with Star Wars novels. There was so much I had read (or, if I didn’t read a novel in its entirety, I paged through it, skipping paragraphs and the occasional chapter here and there), but there seemed to be so much more out there to read. This ever-expanding universe was just too big––and again, this was in the ’90s! The immensity of Star Wars was beginning to feel overwhelming.

So I shifted gears for a bit and dove into Star Wars comics, like Dark Horse’s six-issue miniseries Dark Empire, scribed by the late Tom Veitch and illustrated by Cam Kennedy. While my first experience with this particular series started with me listening to a two-cassette recording of it, when I finally got my hands on the comics, I remember the illustrations gave me a wildly different vibe of Star Wars, with Kennedy’s use of darker tones and moody sharp jaw lines. Even the space ships were more ominous than anything that Lucas, Irvin Kershner, or Richard Marquand could direct. It’s definitely not J.J. Abrams/Disney material! And while I never got around to reading Steve Perry’s novel Shadows of the Empire, which tells a Star Wars story that takes place between the end of Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, I immensely enjoyed the six-issue comic series by John Wagner and Kilian Plunkett.

Shadows of the Empire cover art

In tandem with the comics, I also briefly got into the West End Games role-playing game, but that was quickly overtaken by Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. And while I would’ve liked to get more involved in the Star Wars video game universe, I didn’t have a computer until the middle of my college years. However, I did get to play Star Wars: Dark Forces on my best friend’s PC with a joystick, and it was pretty awesome, and I did enjoy Kyle Katarn’s backtory and the overall plot of Dark Forces, even though I didn’t get very far in the story.

Today, Star Wars is certainly having a moment and making Disney so stinking rich that Scrooge McDuck’s money bin can’t contain all of that sci-fi gold! As with most, if not all of the pieces I write for Retrofied, I try my best (no, I do my best––there is no try) never to make Nostalgia’s Revenge! about something being better than something else and so on. It’s about showcasing the past and what makes it memorable and, at times, different from today. Truth be told, though, after sitting through two of the three sequels, I’ve no burning desire to see any more of this new, post-sellout Star Wars series. The Star Wars I once held in high regard has long since passed on to become one with the Force. What’s left is the light-blue husk of the legacy it once possessed, complete with new novels, comics, and video games that have further expanded this forever-expanding universe beyond the farthest reaches of the galaxy. And at the end of this universe, not a restaurant, but a giant theme park.

Don’t get me wrong, though: this new Star Wars universe has a few sparkling stars, particularly in the comics realm. I was hooked on Marvel’s 2015 Star Wars reboot written by Jason Aaron and illustrated by John Cassaday, and the Han Solo five-issue miniseries in 2016 by Marjorie Liu and Mark Brooks was much more entertaining and true to the character than Solo: A Star Wars Story could ever have been. And while I haven’t actually watched any of the new shows on Disney+, I’m sure there’s some merit to them and that they add value to a galaxy bursting like a supernova into the hearts and minds of Star Wars fans.

Truce at Bakura Cover art

This new Star Wars EU isn’t worse or better than mine, it’s just different. Far too different for me to get involved or be truly interested or invested in. The Star Wars that I know has a cinematic running time of seven hours and countless novels, comics, and roleplaying game supplements that built out an expanded universe that exists in my mind as something far more than mere legend.

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That’s all for this month, fans! Our next bit of Nostalgia’s Revenge! finds us looking back at the summer’s of my youth (and yours, for sure), but instead of looking at all our favorite summer blockbusters like Terminator 2: Judgement Day and Tim Burton’s (best) Batman (ever), we’ll be taking a look at some of those summer’s lacklusters that, try as we might, we may never truly forget––for better or for worse. See you then!