Relegated to Legend: The Stories We Lose in a New 'Star Wars' Timeline
So what's the difference between Star Wars and Game of Thrones?
Well, if you've never read the books, you'll say, "Game of Thrones kills everyone and generally leaves you feeling worse about people. Star Wars is a happier universe where the only people who die are wise mentors and faceless goons, and it ends with an enthusiastic celebration involving adorable furry creatures."
If you've read the books, you'll probably say, "Well... it's actually closer to Game of Thrones than you might suspect..."
Even if you're a casual fan, you've probably heard the term "Expanded Universe" in reference to the Star Wars books and other media. To be clear, there are a lot of Star Wars books, and what's amazing is that the clear majority of them are considered "canon". When a character dies in one storyline written by one author, this has to be acknowledged in every other series and by every other author. Given the number of authors that have written into the Star Wars canon, and given how many stories have been crammed into the timeline, there are shockingly few errors in continuity within the Star Wars universe.
And now, with a new Star Wars trilogy about to come out, all that is about to change. It's been announced that the much-loved Expanded Universe is being knocked down a rung on the canonocity ladder and is being rebranded as "Star Wars Legends." This effectively is going to set the movies apart as the real storyline, and everything else as glorified fan fiction.
Why should I care?
There will be spoilers for the Expanded Universe here.
What's important about the Star Wars Expanded Universe is that it had the freedom to really create good stories, rather than profitable ones. I mean, sure, there's the odd story about Boba Fett blasting space zombies...
...but there are also stories that contain great tragedy, political insight, social deconstruction, and questions about the very nature of good, evil, and everything that may lay in between.
I want to give you a taste of the storyline that is effectively being erased, and what the movies could have covered if they wanted to build on the incredible stories that were previously canon.
Grand Admiral Thrawn
While Thrawn isn't the first post-film villain to arrive in the Star Wars timeline, his story was the leading contender for a new trilogy of Star Wars films among many fans. There's a lot going on in the Thrawn trilogy that includes Jedi clones, Sith assassins, and so forth, but the legacy of the story comes mainly from Thrawn himself and his near victory over the fledgling New Republic after the fall of Palpatine.
Thrawn, whose full name is Mitth'raw'nuruodo, was a member of a blue-skinned humanoid race called the Chiss. The Chiss hung out in the Unknown Regions of space and occupied themselves fighting off threats that the rest of the galaxy didn't know about. Thrawn was recruited into the Empire after being exiled by his own species, which is noteworthy, considering the Empire was almost entirely made up of humans. His tactical brilliance allowed him to quickly rise through the ranks to become a Grand Admiral, regularly working directly with Palpatine and Vader to spread the Empire's influence. After Palpatine's death, he became the de facto ruler of the Empire, and nearly wiped out the New Republic in its infancy.
Unlike his Sith lord predecessors, Thrawn had no love for magical powers or super weapons, and recognized his own disadvantage when fighting against sword-wielding space wizards. What Thrawn had in spades was pure, unadulterated brilliance, and a personality that was purely logical, making him easily one of the most non-evil villains the Jedi ever fought. He preferred the novel use of technology and, amazingly, the study of art to defeat his enemies, such as using cloaked ships to terrorize a civilization who, he deduced, was extremely superstitious.
Thrawn really would have been the perfect villain to bring into a new, sharper Star Wars trilogy. Despite having no Force ability or super death rays hidden away, Thrawn was almost effortlessly able to run circles around the Jedi and the New Republic using little more than brain power and resources left over from the Empire's defeat at Endor. For many of us, Thrawn's arrival was the moment that we realized the Empire itself was not necessarily evil, but had been run by Palpatine, who was the very definition of evil. Thrawn was a tactician who fought to win, not to gain power. In fact, Thrawn's protoge, Gilad Pallaeon, would eventually take over Thrawn's position and work successfully to rebrand the Imperial Remnant not as an evil, enslaving force, but as a government responsible for running and protecting the planets under its care.
While the original cast is now far too old to reprise their characters for Thrawn's timeline, it's still a real shame we'll never see this trilogy brought to the big screen. It had the gritty realism that people seem to want so much in modern takes on old series while keeping the same great aspects of Star Wars we expect.
The Yuuzhan Vong
It wouldn't be unfair to consider Star Wars a fairly "safe" series. Main characters rarely die, evil rarely truly triumphs, and teddy bears can save the day.
And then comes the war with the Yuuzhan Vong.
There is perhaps no greater catalyst of events in the Star Wars galaxy than the arrival of the Yuuzhan Vong, and I don't state that lightly. It's one of the most destructive events to ever happen in the timeline. In fact, in-universe theories persist that Thrawn, Palpatine, and even some really ancient Sith lords were attempting to conquer and unite the galaxy specifically to protect it from the threat of these guys.
The Yuuzhan Vong was a race of aliens that had been scouting the galaxy since well before the Clone Wars. They make vague cameo appearances in many stories, and eventually show up with an invasion force bent on conquering the galaxy.
They are incredibly wary of droids and machinery, and instead utilize organic technology to great effect. Everything they use is alive, like their armor, which can react to the damage it's taken. One critter they use is capable of controlling gravity, and they use it to pull a moon onto a planet, which results in the death of Chewbacca. They have no respect for anything but battle, and don't accept surrender.
Perhaps most notably, they can fight the Jedi on square terms, since they have absolutely no Force presence and are immune to most Force techniques. Even a single Yuuzhan Vong warrior is often a match for a Jedi, and many in Luke Skywalker's new Jedi order fall to the Vong. If it wasn't for the internal civil war going on within the Yuuzhan Vong ranks and the intervention of a sentient planet, it's very likely that the Yuuzhan Vong could have completely wiped out the galaxy. Instead, they only killed hundreds of trillions of sentient beings.
The introduction of the Yuuzhan Vong, from a storytelling point of view, was an incredibly brave move, not just because they killed a bunch of main characters, but because they completely restructured the architecture of the galaxy. They essentially terraformed Coruscant, the galactic hub and capital, and the scars they left are really never going to heal. Very few main characters ever truly fall in the Star Wars galaxy, and the Yuuzhan Vong came in and Red Wedding'd many of them in a single series. It was tragic, but ultimately a profoundly powerful move that had long-lasting effects for the rest of the canon.
The Solo Family
If there's anything that's sacred in the Star Wars galaxy, it's that Han Solo is going to be the puckish scoundrel who goes off after adventure with his loyal companion, Chewbacca. No matter the situation, you always knew that Solo would find a way out.
So when Chewbacca sacrificed himself to save Solo's son, Anakin, the normally unflappable Han Solo is utterly shattered. We see him lash out at everyone around him, especially Anakin, and is only barely able to pick himself back up to help with the war against the Yuuzhan Vong. While he eventually gets some of his old spark back, he is never the same man.
Even worse, soon after Chewbacca's death, Anakin is also killed at the hands of the Yuuzhan Vong, and the Solos' other son, Jacen, is captured. While the death of Anakin came as a shock to most readers, Jacen's fate is far more nefarious and, ultimately, more painful.
You see, Jacen Solo and his twin, Jaina, are the two oldest children of the Solo family, and predictably get into many shenanigans as they grow into fully-formed Jedi. During the Vong war, Jacen is eventually captured and tortured by the aliens, as well as confronted by a rogue Jedi named Vergere. Vergere plays with his open-mindedness and convinces him that perhaps there is no dark or light side of the Force, and that the "dark side" of the Force is ultimately no more corrupting than a blaster pistol. This concept sticks in Jacen's brain and leads him on a path of exploring incredibly obscure Force techniques, such as the ability to hide himself from other Force users.
When civil war breaks out following the defeat of the Yuuzhan Vong, Jacen begins to slip into the dark side in his attempt to force peace onto the galaxy. It's really one of the most tragic stories in all of Star Wars, because we had been watching this slide for at least three series, and like Walter White's descent into madness, it's hard to tell exactly when Jacen became a Sith Lord. His hot-headed sister, utterly ruined by her brother's fall, trains with an aging Boba Fett to fight her brother, and kills him in their final confrontation. Jacen leaves behind a hidden daughter, a family in disarray, and a galaxy that ultimately loses faith in the Jedi Order altogether.
Unlike Jacen's iconic grandfather or Emperor Palpatine, Jacen Solo (having become Darth Caedus) fell to the dark side not out of selfishness or greed, but out of a true desire to combat chaos in the galaxy. The authors don't shield Jacen from our scrutiny, and oftentimes, we can find ourselves agreeing with his mission without endorsing his methods. And we aren't the only ones; Jacen's fall forces him into conflict with his entire family, who slowly and painfully learn to face Jacen's transformation.
Given some of the horror shown on Leia's face in The Force Awakens trailer, there is speculation that this Shakespearean-esque tragedy may unfold in some fashion in the film, but that's more than likely the hopeful speculation of fanboys like me. Even if Han and Leia have a family in the new trilogy, it seems unlikely that this complex family history is going to be stuffed into the backstory, and will most likely be ignored.
Mara Jade Skywalker
If you've never read the books, you probably have no idea who this woman is. This is a depiction of Mara Jade, one of the most intriguing characters in the Star Wars canon. She was an assassin who reported directly to Emperor Palpatine, and was incredibly good at what she did. After Palpatine died, she went a little crazy, given that her last order was to kill Luke Skywalker, who was the one who offed her boss (as far as she was concerned). Instead, the two fell in love, were married, and had a child named Ben. Although she never lost her roguish edge, the former Sith assassin became one of the most powerful Jedi Masters alive.
What's important about Mara Jade is that, chronologically, she's been around since very shortly after Episode 6. She was part of nearly every story concerning the main cast of characters until her relatively recent death at the hands of her nephew, Jacen Solo.
Despite being a character never featured in the films, Mara Jade Skywalker grew to be as much a part of the core Star Wars cast as Han, Luke, and Leia. She was much edgier than her husband, and her snarky wit could reduce the legendarily calm Luke Skywalker into blushing. She gained very real relationships with everyone in the main cast, and her death shook Luke Skywalker so badly that he ends up killing a Sith in cold blood, which is worse than watching Batman blow a bad guy away with the BatShotgun.
Many Extended Universe fans are very much hoping for some acknowledgement of Mara Jade in the new trilogy, though given that The Force Awakens takes place right around the chronological time of her death, I'm not keeping my hopes up.
So again... why should I care?
This article went through many forms, and most of them were the intellectual equivalent of me standing on a cardboard box screaming about space at a nearby turtle. My emotions regarding the new movies are rather complex and difficult to enunciate without sounding like a lunatic.
I will go watch The Force Awakens, and I am positive I will love it. I think they have the perfect director, they added legitimacy by reuniting the old cast, and they seem to be following a natural timeline as they see it. But it won't be the timeline I'm familiar with, and that's going to cause some severe dissonance in me.
From a literary point of view, that's a fun problem to have. It means that the stories that have been written (and I've only described a fraction of them for you here) are fantastic, complicated, intense, and emotional, and I don't want to lose them. But I'm also ready to see what a new timeline is going to bring, and how (or if) they will attempt to reconcile the two different timelines, as was done in the new Star Trek franchise. Star Wars doesn't really play with parallel universes as freely as Star Trek, but I'm going to hold out hope for a reconciliation between the two timelines, rather than ignoring one in favor of the other.
So I'm not angry. Anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering, and such is the stuff of the dark side. Not even the dark side can change the future. So instead, just go enjoy the movie. Also, read the books. Then when you truly understand my pain, there's plenty of space up on this box for you, and plenty of turtles to scream at.
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