Back in the ’70s when Star Wars was in the planning, the studio wasn’t enthused about it’s likelihood of success. They did very little marketing. So the creator, George Lucas, set out to improve his chances. Alan Dean Foster was hired to ghostwrite the novelization to be published by Ballantine books. Marvel comics was hired to create the comic book adaptation. Both were released before the movie. The tactic worked at getting the attention of science fiction and fantasy fans.
The initial tie in media was very careful. Marvel editors sat down with Lucas and got an idea where he wanted the story to go, and where it was forbidden. Brian Daley and L. Neil Smith were given access to write adventures for Han and Lando, but forbidden using the Empire itself (as these adventures would be before the movies) so had to use new creative foes. The Animated Droids and Ewoks cartoons with their tie ins were far enough outside the realm they had few issues outside ‘kids TV’ limitations. West End Games roleplaying was allowed to create in the universe but like the others, the prequel era was off limits until the movies were released.
When publishing was being revitalized, it began with kids books, comics, novels and games. The first entries of each did not reference each other. The authors in collaboration with Lucasfilm suddenly realized they could do a continuity cross over like never seen before. It’s popularity with fans was undeniable. It was always acknowledged Mr. Lucas might override anything. But then he announced their would be no sequels, he even stated that he’d put it in his will that there would be no more movies after he was gone. All his focus turned to the prequels.
Star Wars from that moment on was advertised as all being one canon, one continuity, with the films at the center. It still could not touch the prequel era until those movies were released.
The Creator’s Influence
Mr. Lucas never used the word canon (not even for his movies) but he did carefully control what was allowed. It was not allowed to contradict the movies, or his vision of the Force, the Jedi, the Sith or the main characters. He had to approve the anything directly impacting the main characters or those subjects. Lucas’s was directly questioned on what Jedi could do and those stories being millennia before (to explain any changes to the Jedi and Sith) made sure there would be no conflict with the prequels.
He directly used it to test the waters for the prequels. Shadows of the Empire was a cross media release ‘everything but the movie’ that showed just how ready fans were for more. The Special Edition rerelease of the Original Trilogy had a sighting of Dash Rendar’s ship the Outrider in it. When the prequels came out, Lucas directly incorporated elements without changing a thing. Coruscant, the Twilek Jedi Aayla Secura, Quinlan Vos, all came from publishing. He was as usual consulted by the authors on major characters and events such as Anakin being the Chosen One, Yoda, Darth Plaguis and what he wanted of the novelizations and stories that tied closest in.
Marketing a Galaxy
Initially early entries weren’t brought in (ie the earliest Marvel comics) hence the levels of continuity. IE S level for early Marvel contradictions. Games only had one ‘official’ canon ending. Infinities were ‘what ifs’ outside the timeline.
For decades this is how Star Wars was marketed. George Lucas hired continuity editors like Allan Kausch to maintain it. At first it was mere notebooks. Then Leeland Chee was hired to put it in the ‘holocron’ database. You can read more of the quotes from authors, the editors and even Mr. Lucas himself HERE.
This golden age continued from the 1990s until past 2005 when Revenge of the Sith was released. Mara Jade Skywalker even one a fan favorite poll on the star wars main site. The more popular comics and games even had action figures, trading cards and other merchandise.
The Beginning of the End
After Revenge of the Sith, Lucas gradually began stepping back. The company which was more of a family, took on a corporate look. While The Clone Wars TV show was his idea, based in part on the success of the Genndy microseries it was meant to have it’s own separate level (T-level). George Lucas’s name is not on as writer, only executive producer. There is no evidence he was more involved than with the Expanded Universe (again, see the interviews). I’ve no doubt he was involved in the editing aspect at least.
If anything recent events in Hollywood and the world teach, it’s that how a subject is framed tends to influence people. Did his continuity editors tell him that this story or that could fit into the Expanded Universe with only minor changes but would destroy the entire continuity as is in The Clone Wars? I have doubts. Whether he considered the Expanded Universe part of ‘his’ universe or not, he set it up to succeed by providing input. Also he is an innovator, pushing new technology and telling stories that were new. Altering previously created characters and planets isn’t new anything. I’ve yet to see a single interview with him on the subject. But I would think he’d be far more supportive of all new characters than altering old ones, based on his past performance.
It’s also rather telling that if someone liked a story, Dave Filoni tried to take credit (and was caught out when those things came from the Expanded Universe, by Katie Lucas herself, daughter of George Lucas). But whenever a decision was unpopular he pointed at Lucas as why it was changed. He admitted to circumventing his wishes as soon as he was out of sight (ie refusing to kill Ahsoka.)
The Soft Reboot
It seems suspicious that it all happened soon after The Clone Wars series. Stories like ‘Rebellion’ and ‘Invasion’ were both suddenly cut short.
Rebellion was set in the Rebel era but replaced with the Brian Wood stories set in the same era. Seems an odd replacement, to leave those stories hanging. But the Wood stories placed more emphasis on Leia and actually dismissed Luke and even contradicted The Empire Strikes Back by putting Wedge Antillies in charge of Rogue Squadron. (In the movie Luke is Commander and Wedge is Rogue Three). The Expanded Universe had long since established that Skywalker founded Rogue Squadron.
The novels veered emphasis from the prequels or right after and veered again into the Original Trilogy era. They also failed to mention other events of the era, or places and characters. Luke, Han and Leia basically didn’t read as consistent with each other as they are in other stories of the era. Again however they imply Wedge is a Commander and Luke isn’t. This change in how Luke and Han are handled bothered me at the time. Now it seems a definite precursor to Disney canon, in how it diminishes their roles and characters.
Reason for the Soft Reboot
It seems likely this was a marketing stunt to help newcomers get into the Expanded Universe. But it came at the cost of dropping the stories of long time fans as well as ignoring continuity and was totally unnecessary. The books already had a timeline in them. So did many of the comics and graphic novels. A simple sampling of stand alones from each era or a timeline of the main events would’ve aided new fans without alienating the old. I’ve tried to do that on this site if you look in the timeline section. It was very soon after this that the Disney buyout was announced.
Disney and the End
When Disney bought out Lucasfilm many of us did have a bad feeling about it. We were kicked out of groups, fan pages, forums, and basically everywhere mocked for mentioning it. Their were fans who wanted another movie, post Return of the Jedi and believed the original trilogy heroes would be reunited. Sure enough, Disney completely declared the entire Expanded Universe (including elements its confirmed George Lucas directly worked on) as non Canon in April 2014.
Only a few years before the whole idea was so inconceivable that Wookieepedia had done an April Fool’s Joke on it. (Fans were not amused.) Some fans right up until the first sequel was released honestly believed it was just a publicity stunt and the new movie would star Han and Leia’s kids Jacen and Jaina. The new movies would end up not even using Mr. Lucas’s story treatments he made up for the sale. They outright rejected him as consultant.
By 2015 Dark Horse comics lost it’s license to Marvel. They were forced to hurry and finish the Dawn of the Jedi and Legacy comics before the end of 2014 (after Disney basically told everyone don’t bother, it isn’t canon.) The last few book were Crucible, Scoundrels, Razor’s Edge and Honor Among Theives. They were too far down the publishing pipeline to be altered for the new canon. Sword of the Jedi, the promised story about Jaina Solo (announced at convention) was cancelled. 1313, a game near completion where you played as Boba Fett, was cancelled too.
Star Wars the Old Republic to this day is the only still continuing part of the original canon. It was released in 2011 and continues to receive expansions. Other than that one Marvel comic (a special add on to the original Marvel run) and a few action figures and Funko Pop have been released.
In spite of the Disney Lucasfilm employee predictions (and preference) the original Expanded Universe fans have only gained in numbers. The more that become disenfranchised with Disney’s treatment of the original heroes, the more have turned to it looking for alternatives.
The galaxy we grew up with had diversity as a given, not a marketing stunt. Within our universe, the story came first and had to align with the movies. In our universe, George Lucas wasn’t afraid to release the novelization, comics or merchandise before the movie for fear people would be scared off going to see it in theaters or on TV. While the fans weren’t always easy on the “Maker” Mr. Lucas, he actually was very supportive of the fan base. Fan film awards, writing contests and so much more were encouraged while he owned the company. Perhaps this is because he is very much a fan himself of many things.
That is the way it should be.
Some of the sources I used for this:
- The Chronology of Star wars
- The original Star Wars website (it’s since revamped and much can only be found in the web archive)
- Star Wars Insider (many issues!)
- The Secrets of Shadows of the Empire book by Mark Vaz
- The Art and Making of The Force Unleashed
- as well as many forums, fan groups and fan pages that have long discussed this story.