Hardcore Star Wars fans have felt a disturbance since Disney acquired Lucasfilm and announced new Star Wars movies. Friday, Lucasfilm addressed fans' concerns, both in an announcement and in a video reflecting on the Expanded Universe's legacy (which you can watch above).
The bottom line: the Expanded Universe of continuity might not be so expanded anymore.
What exactly is the Star Wars Expanded Universe?
Since director George Lucas created the Star Wars films, there have been books, comics and other assorted tie-ins. Unlike many franchises, Lucas allowed those other adaptations to be in continuity with his films — at least to an extent.
The official Star Wars creations outside the core films were labeled the Expanded Universe. While it's not canon, and Lucas reserved his rights to go outside what was first established in these different properties (and sometimes did), there was a team at Lucasfilm devoted to tracking everything. Some of what first came about in the Expanded Universe later made its way into the films proper.
Now that Disney is making the first post-"Return of the Jedi" films, though, they've been emphasizing that right to do what they want. This, despite Expanded Universe novels that served as pseudo sequels of their own already, along with numerous other properties that have shown what happened before, after and between the films.
As Lucasfilm puts it in their statement, "While Lucasfilm always strived to keep the stories created for the EU consistent with our film and television content as well as internally consistent, Lucas always made it clear that he was not beholden to the EU."
What counts as Star Wars canon?
The main part of the canon is the six films that exist thus far, including the original trilogy and the prequels. However, it also includes the "Clone Wars" cartoons of recent years.
As Lucasfilm's Friday announcement put it, "These stories are the immovable objects of Star Wars history, the characters and events to which all other tales must align."
Lucas has made a variety of comments about the Expanded Universe over the years, both praising the creativity of the Expanded Universe while reminding everyone that they aren't in the main canon and even noting that he hadn't read Expanded Universe material.
Lucas described his relationship with the Expanded Universe in an interview with Starlog magazine:
"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."
As a writer for the "Star Wars Rebels" cartoon put it at WonderCon in Anaheim this past weekend, ”You know, [the Expanded Universe is] not off-limits, and it’s certainly inspiring — I’m working on an animated show for [Lucasfilm] as well, 'Star Wars Rebels,' that will take inspiration from everywhere, but — I know for the movies, the canon is the canon, and the canon is the six films that exist.”
What does Lucasfilm say it's doing with the Star Wars Expanded Universe?
"In order to give maximum creative freedom to the filmmakers and also preserve an element of surprise and discovery for the audience, Star Wars Episodes VII-IX will not tell the same story told in the post-Return of the Jedi Expanded Universe."
To many fans of these characters who dress up as them and hoped to see them brought to life in the big screen, that reads as a big "uh oh."
What happens next?
Lucasfilm promises that all storytelling going forward will be connected. A new story group is being created to coordinate everything. It's being set up as similar to the Expanded Universe, encompassing all future licensed material, while also allowing for everything going forward to be canon.
Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy put a positive spin on it in the announcement.
"We're set to bring Star Wars back to the big screen, and continue the adventure through games, books, comics, and new formats that are just emerging. This future of interconnected storytelling will allow fans to explore this galaxy in deeper ways than ever before," Kennedy said.
There is a shred of hope for fans of the Expanded Universe, as Lucasfilm sought to reassure fans that those stories still count in some way.
"While the universe that readers knew is changing, it is not being discarded," the announcement read. "Creators of new Star Wars entertainment have full access to the rich content of the Expanded Universe."
While that could read like lip service, they provide an example from the forthcoming "Star Wars Rebels" cartoon, which premieres this fall.
"The Inquisitor, the Imperial Security Bureau, and Sienar Fleet Systems are story elements in the new animated series, and all these ideas find their origins in roleplaying game material published in the 1980s."
They also promise to keep previous Expanded Universe stories in print under the "Legends" banner — perhaps indicating that sure, these are "legends" of the Star Wars universe, but may or may not have actually happened in this continuity.
They've also promised more Expanded Universe content outside that cartoon and the movies, including new novels.
"I think the EU will be a legacy that's mined forever," Lucasfilm's Dave Filoni said in the video.