When I was a kid, it wasn’t enough to just watch the Star Wars movies; reading the comics and playing with the toys were pretty much essential parts of the whole experience. Same thing, later, with Transformers, which were as much about the comics and cartoon as they were the toys (or vice versa). These days, though, I feel as if “expanded universes” gets a bad reputation. Why?
There was a conversation on Twitter earlier this week where various people owned up to having read Star Trek novels as if it was something socially unacceptable, or at least frowned upon; I read the tweets with something between embarrassment and bewilderment, because I got through my fair share of Trek tie-ins when I was a teenager, filling the gaps between seasons of The Next Generation or movies with books by Peter David – by far my favorite of the novelists – and others, but I also feel some sense of… shame, somehow, in admitting that publicly. But I don’t really understand why, just as I don’t understand why it’s fine to be into the Star Wars movies and Clone Wars TV show, but reading the comics or novels is somehow geekier – same with Doctor Who spin-offs, or Battlestar Galactica or whatever.
Is it the quality of the tie-ins? There’s definitely a feeling – Somewhat deserved, admittedly – that tie-in novels and other expanded universe product have a somewhat lower level of quality control than the core stories in the original medium, and so perhaps some of the “unacceptability” of tie-in stories and the franchising out of series comes from snobbery or just plain unwillingness to consider what is seen to be “unnecessary” inferior additions to the canon. Or perhaps it’s the idea that, because the stories aren’t happening in the original format, they aren’t canon, and therefore don’t matter in the grand scheme of things… or is that too insular and “fanboyish” an argument?
Maybe “fan boyishness” is the key. It may be, after all, that delving into the expanded universe demonstrates a devotion to whatever franchise far beyond the casual relationship that can be easily dismissed or played for irony; a sign that you’re actually a fan who’s willing to devote additional levels of time and money to follow the adventures and stories of favorite fictional characters. Reading the tie-in books, comics and whatnot comes from a completist nature that is one of the few parts of the nerd stereotype that, tellingly, hasn’t become cool as geeks and nerds take over mainstream culture; making jokes about C3-PO and Boba Fett is one thing, but start talking about Mara Jade or Cade Skywalker and watch out for the looks of quiet contempt.
Of course, maybe I’m wrong, and expanded universe material isn’t as out there as it seems. Use the comments, people: Who reading this goes for the novels and the comics and the webisodes and all the expanded material for their favorite movies and show? And do you think it’s the kind of thing that is as easily accepted as the original material?