A group with about as much real-world power as the fictional Jedi Council has come together to decide the fate and future of something that means a lot to a lot of people. It’s been reported that a group of Disney-approved individuals have met to decide which parts of the huge Star Wars Expanded Universe will be elevated up to official, no-questions-asked canon — and which bits will be jettisoned like garbage from a Star Destroyer.
This comes hot on the heels of the announcement that come 2015, all Star Wars comics will now bear a familiar shade of Marvel-red on their covers, as the rights to the franchise exit Dark Horse’s planetary system. Fans have had a hunch that these continuity overhauls would happen after Disney realized that there was really nothing stopping them from making new Star Wars films. Those hunches are now truths, and now we’re just waiting to find out what happens next.
As problematic as continuity is to those on the outside trying to figure out a way in, fans love it. Or if they don’t really love it, they feel connected to it, either out of habit or a devotion to order, tradition, and familiarity. While pretty much every other long-running comic book or sci-fi property has seen their continuity rebooted in the past decade, Star Wars has kept on going strong. That all looks like it’s about to change, and I might be in the minority on this, but I welcome that change. In fact, I think Marvel and Disney would be wise to advise their Continuity Council to just wipe it all away.
Yes. I think Marvel and Disney need a completely fresh start. Controversial opinion? Blood pressure rising? Calm down, and let me explain.
The biggest reason for a total reset is that the Expanded Universe is just too big to continue now. It has twenty-five years of steadily published and tightly interconnected comics and novels, easily putting its continuity up there in the Marvel and DC leagues. And unlike Marvel and DC, Star Wars’ Expanded Universe comes in a variety of media, meaning that anyone truly wishing to get caught up would have to chart a course through comics, novels, kids’ books, cartoons and video games. I consider catching up on 50 years of “Avengers” continuity daunting, but I can’t imagine I’d ever try to do so if I knew I’d have to play through an entire video game in between issues.
Of course catching up isn’t a necessity to enjoy things, but talk to any non-comic book fan and the fear of being lost and not knowing where to start will most likely be their main reason for steering clear of the medium. We live in an era where “catching up” is a hobby people have; people don’t just start watching television shows anymore. They have to catch up. This same logic applies to comics and fandoms as well. Think about it — how many times have you heard the term “jumping-on point” in the past few years? Everyone from DC Comics to the “Doctor Who” crew is aware that continuity is terrifying to the uninitiated, and they try to downplay it at all costs.
It helps that the Star Wars Expanded Universe as it currently exists could come to a logical end right now. All the characters from the original trilogy have children, all of whom are adults; some of them are even dead. After watching Han, Luke, and Leia grow old, wouldn’t it be cool to see these characters go on new adventures that don’t have to be wedged in-between other already-existing stories?
But according to the reports, it appears that the Continuity Council is maybe taking a pick and choose approach to the Expanded Universe. This reminds me a bit too much of DC’s The New 52 reboot from 2011, and that worries me. The New 52 was touted as a continuity-free jumping on point, perfect for new readers. But new and old readers quickly found out that the New 52 wasn’t as continuity free as they thought. Instead, DC had cherry-picked moments from over seven decades of continuity and compressed all of them into a five-year timespan, common sense be damned. Batman still had four Robins in the span of five years, and one of them was his own teenaged son. Barbara Gordon was still paralyzed by the Joker, an event that still happened after a previous career as Batgirl. This wasn’t a new continuity, and it left fans in the dark as to exactly which previous adventures still existed.
Knowing Star Wars’ meticulously transparent approach to continuity (you’ve seen all those timelines they put in every comic, right?), I’d imagine that they’d release an official list of what they deem part of the new canon. Still, I find it hard to believe that that’s more desirable to Disney than just starting clean. Even if only five Star Wars novels are given the thumbs up from the Continuity Council, what are the odds that those five novels contain references or characters introduced in non-approved areas of the old Expanded Universe? How will the detail-obsessed fans rectify those errors? Why should they even have to? A clean slate means none of those worries.
It’s a different story entirely If the pick and choose method applies just to characters. A fan favorite character like Mara Jade should absolutely not be thrown away even if the beloved Timothy Zahn trilogy of novels is. But if Marvel wants to introduce Mara Jade and use her in their comics, I don’t think Marvel benefits from being confined to stories that the vast majority of the public isn’t aware of that were told in another medium decades ago. I think giving established Expanded Universe characters a totally fresh start gives new Star Wars fans — of which there will be quite a few after Episode VII comes out — a great jumping on point, and would also entice us older fans a bit.
It goes without saying — but apparently not without writing — that the worst thing Disney and Marvel could do would be to take Star Trek’s approach to a reboot. This comes from a fan of both J.J. Abrams films, but even I think that by tying up their reboot in existing continuity left everyone involved a bit confined to what they could and could not do. If “Star Trek” had been a firm reboot, there wouldn’t have been an old Spock around in “Star Trek Into Darkness” to make everyone flip out (in a bad way) during that one scene.
I believe that all of this attention is being paid to Star Wars because it’s poised to make a comeback in a big way. And I know, it’s crazy to think of something as big as Star Wars prepping to make a comeback, but that’s exactly what’s happening. There hasn’t been a big deal Star Wars movie in theaters in almost a decade, and the franchise has spent that time winning over a new generation of fans who know the show primarily through the cartoon series.
When “Episode VII” hits theaters in 2015, the kids who were born right after “Revenge of the Sith” came out are going to be ten years old, and they’re going to be ready for something bigger, meatier and hopefully more awesome than that cartoon series. If Disney and Abrams do “Episode VII” right, they stand to show an entire new generation new heights of Star Wars fandom. The quickest way to turn those fans off is to produce a bunch of comics and novels steeped in decades old continuity. The same goes for lapsed adult fans as well, fans that were turned away by the prequels. I can’t even pretend to know how many nostalgia buttons will be pressed by seeing a good Star Wars movie on the big screen. And if there’s one thing my bank account knows, it’s that nostalgia leads to buying things. Big time Star Wars fans that get back in the game in 2015 would probably love to know that they’ve missed nothing.
If Star Wars gets rebooted, I advise fans of the Expanded Universe to remember that everything they loved about those stories still exist. They can still be read, re-read, shared, and enjoyed; there’s no Jedi mind trick that can erase the love and affection you feel for those old stories.
Brett White is a comedian living in New York City. He co-hosts the podcast Matt & Brett Love Comics and is a writer for the comedy podcast Left Handed Radio. His opinions can be consumed in bite-sized morsels on Twitter (@brettwhite).