A Study in the Force: The Expanded Universe (1978 – 2014)

04 May


So, when the rabid fan fury over Return of the Jedi wrapped up, the possibilities were endless for the future of Star Wars . . . except that George Lucas was in no hurry to get things moving.  So, it was left for fans and writers to fill in the gaps.  Unlike its genre cousin Star Trek – which owed much of its rebirth to the success of A New Hope and thrived in visual media in the form of a long-running series of movies and a rebirth on television – Star Wars basically languished in the 17 years between Return of the Jedi and The Phantom Menace.  There were several series for kids and a few TV movies, but nothing really tangible that the rabid Star Wars fans could sink their teeth into . . . except on the page.

Enter: The Star Wars Expanded Universe, a long-running (and exhaustive) series of novels, comic books, e-books and games that tried to pick up where George Lucas’ trilogy left off.  Unlike Star Trek which formed its book narrative into a non-linier series of one-off adventures, Star Wars books dealt heavily in continuity.  The book series – in the years before Disney pulled an Order 66 on it – began almost as soon as A New Hope turned a profit.  It is commonly believed that Alan Dean Foster’s “Splinter of the Mind’s Eye” was the launch pad for the EU though it actually had begun in the form of Marvel Comics before that (if you’ve read SOTME, I apologize and assure you that the EU does get better).

Before I continue I must tell you this.  I realize that Disney has wiped the EU off the table and renamed it “Star Wars Legends” but for the purposes of this essay I am looking at the media produced between 1978 and 2014.  Admittedly I haven’t read every book in the EU – not many have – so I’m going with what I know, what I’ve read, and what I’ve researched.  Also, despite Disney’s new moniker, Star Wars Legends, I’m still calling it The Expanded Universe.  Let’s move on . . .

“Splinter of the Mind’s Eye” had been conceived as a low-budget sequel to A New Hope just in case it was not a box office hit.  Foster’s book and the novelization of A New Hope were based largely on Lucas’ notes for the original Star Wars.  In particular The Journal of the Whills which formed the base for the novelization more than the movie.  “Splinter of the Mind’s Eye” introduced The Kaiburr Crystal, which was shown as a Force-centric talisman that was born in Lucas’ original draft for Star Wars.  It was an idea that was brought up but quickly abandoned.  Throughout the 70s and 80s, the EU would remain very light in terms of novels.  Outside of “Splinter of the Mind’s Eye” there were two trilogies, first dealing with Han Solo and then with Lando Calrissian, but that’s about it.

It wasn’t until 1991 when Timothy Zahn ignited the EU with the “Heir to the Empire” trilogy did the books truly take off.  Unlike “Splinter of the Mind’s Eye” which was based on unformed and sometimes bizarre nuggets of inspiration rattling around inside George’s head, the EU that sprung from the Zahn books were actually cannon and led to a whole continuity to fill the gaps of the movie that Lucas should have been working on.  This continuity dealt mostly with events that took place after Return of the Jedi (apparently Lucas gave his permission but proclaimed the timeline before A New Hope to be off-limits as he still had plans to produce the prequels) the books expanded the world of Star Wars, the legacy of the Jedi, and the nature of The Force itself.

The EU begun in 1991 led to a wide-ranging and extremely inconsistent tapestry of the role of the Jedi and the extent of their powers.  What the Jedi and the Sith were able to do in the movies was kept rather confined based on Lucas’ vision.  In the Expanded Universe, not such restrictions seemed to exist, but neither did a centralized bible to contain them, so the role of the Jedi and their power structure varied with the books based on what the functioning author was trying to do.  This led to a wide-ranging series of inconsistencies.

In terms of The Jedi Order, their role in this universe was widened based on the assumptions of the way Ben had described it in A New Hope – namely the “Guardians of Peace” motif which was stretched way beyond reason leading to the identity of The Jedi Order being somewhat confused.  In A New Hope Ben describes it in as being kind of monk-like society whose sole responsibility was to be peacekeepers.  In the EU their role expanded from the religious aspect to become a sort-of paramilitary organization that worked within society but didn’t have a governing voice within it.  The peacekeeper role wasn’t so much a police or military role but was more like how The Avengers work within the MCU.  But even that wasn’t consistent; the role of the Jedi moved erratically from politics, to military, to a religious order based on what each author wanted to say at that moment.

The Jedi’s powers were expanded based largely on the games, both video and role-playing, that being abilities such as zip-running and force-pushing – ideas that rely on game mechanics (another power, The Force Jump, was introduced in Empire).  Many of these elements would eventually make their way into Lucas’ Star Wars prequels.

One thing that would remain in question were the rules regarding The Jedi.  The Order, being a sort of Space Wizard version of Catholic monks were to abide by the rules of the Order such as their inability to have romantic relationships.  This was true in days of The Old Republic and, as we later learn in Attack of the Clones was one of the primary causes of Anakin Skywalker’s meltdown.  But in the New Jedi Order, apparently no such restriction exists.  Luke gets married to Mara Jade and has children.

The EU introduced several more ideas that would be expanded from minor ideas presented in the films or not at all.  This being the fact that Jedi and Sith design and build their own lightsabers.  This is briefly mentioned by Vader in Return of the Jedi, but comes to full fruition in “Shadow of the Empire” as Luke is seen actually building the green-bladed saber he will wield in Jedi.  Also, part of the orthopraxy is that the Jedi must run around in crummy robes as a symbol of humbleness.  So, apparently, it’s not just that Ben and Yoda live in a crummy environment; they are keeping their uniforms up to code.  I’m not sure how this humble-factor works exactly due to the fact that Jedi apparently have money.  Ben has $17,000 to throw away on a trip to Alderaan and somewhere along the way a Jedi was able to order hundreds of clones for an Army.  So, somewhere, the Jedi are getting paid.

As far as the powers go, many of the Jedi abilities expanded from what was briefly seen in the movies – the previously mentioned Force Run and Force Jump.  The Sith too had their powers expanded with more use of the Force Grip and the Force Lightning, which would become as much a staple of the bad guys as their lightsabers.  Force Lightning was The Emperor’s great hat trick in Return of the Jedi, first wielded when The Emperor tires of Luke’s insolence and refusal to join the dark side.  Force Lightning, of course, is a Sith power.  Jedi can use it but don’t due to the fact that it is a power associated with aggression and anger.  YET, that does not mean that the Jedi don’t have a lightning power of their own.  Enter: Emerald Lightning, a power first introduced to Jedi Master Plo Koon, but much later used by Han and Leia’s sons Anakin and Jacen.  It is controversial among the Jedi and is only used sparingly.  The only real difference between the two is that Sith lightning is blue and Jedi lightning is green.

I’ve talked quite a bit about Force Spirits and in studying the lore of this ability; I can only really go by what I have little I’ve read about it.  According to the films, it was an ability that was honed sometime around Revenge of the Sith as the power was taught to Qui-Gon Jinn who mastered the ability to speak to the living but not manifest himself in spirit form.  Yet the full functions of Force Spirits have never been fully explained.  It is presumed that Force Spirits only appear to those who are Force sensitive, such as Luke’s ability to speak with Ben and his ability to see Anakin and Yoda and Ben at the end of Jedi.  If true, then Leia, who is force-sensitive, has this ability as well.  In the book “The Truce at Bakura” she is visited by Anakin’s ghost in the middle of the night.  Questions about the nature of Force Spirits still remain.

The Expanded Universe that existed between 1978 and 2014 widened the Star Wars timeline to about 30,000 years with the lynchpin being The Battle of Yavin.  But it all came to a screeching halt once George Lucas signed away LucasFilm to Disney and the company decided that continuing the series would be impossible if following the erratic nature of the Expanded Universe as it had been presented.  Therefore, on April 25, 2014, the company officially announced that everything Star Wars save for the six films, The Clone Wars movie and the Clone Wars TV series were officially no longer cannon.  Thousands of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced, especially when they got a look at The Force Awakens  . . . But that’s another story.

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Posted by on 05/04/2016 in Uncategorized


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