Lets Talk: The best we ever had of “The Galaxy Far, Far, Away” – By Stephen Stachofsky.
After the release of The Return of the Jedi, Star Wars fans never had it better. In the 16 years before The Phantom Menace hit theaters the Star Wars Expanded Universe exploded, and in the decade after as well. Authors, storytellers, videogame designers, and comic book artists suddenly had an immense and exciting new galaxy in which they could play around. A mere three years before the debut of the first of Lucas’s prequel trilogy, Lucas stated,
“After Star Wars was released, it became apparent that my story—however many films it took to tell—was only one of thousands that could be told about the characters who inhabit its galaxy. But these were not stories that I was destined to tell. Instead, they would spring from the imagination of other writers, inspired by the glimpse of a galaxy that Star Wars provided. Today, it is an amazing, if unexpected, legacy of Star Wars that so many gifted writers are contributing new stories to the Saga.”
―George Lucas, from the introduction of Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, 1996
The EU, or as it is now labelled “Legends”, encompassed a breathtaking 40,000 years of Star Wars lore. It tells stories of the ancient Jedi and Sith at the dawn of the time, and spans all the way to 130+ years after the end of the Return of the Jedi. In the time of my childhood from the mid 90’s on until 2014 (I don’t think I will ever really grow up), Star Wars saw three more blockbuster movies and countless novels, comics, and videogames. The EU got its start shortly after the worldwide sensation of Star Wars in the late seventies, predominantly in the comic book genre. The EU had consisted primarily of novels and the Marvel “classic” Star Wars comics through the 80’s. It lost steam however, when Marvel stopped running it’s Star Wars releases.
Then the EU struck gold in 1991 with Timothy Zahns’ Heir to the Empire trilogy. Zahn single-handedly launched the true golden age of Star Wars storytelling. From 1991 to 2013 there were more than 400 releases of media to add to the EU. This included comic books, video games, novels and short stories. So, having been born in the mid nineties, I couldn’t have asked for a more wonderful time to be part of the story and expansion of Star Wars. I mentioned that Marvel comics, the current superpower to print Star Wars comics, started the comics in the 70’s. However, they stopped running those comics in the 80’s after the release of Return of the Jedi. In between 1987, when Marvel dropped Star Wars, and 1991 with the release of Heir to the Empire, Star Wars Comics had some independent newspaper strips. It wasn’t until Dark Horse took over the Star Wars titles that the comics really had a true home. After the purge in 2014 and Disney’s subsequent acquisition of Marvel, the Star Wars comic titles returned to the house of the Avengers. The whole point is, what made the EU so good?
I grew up devouring Star Wars books, comics, and as a pre-teen and teenager, the video games. One of my earliest memories of going to a movie theatre was going to see The Phantom Menace. Some of the earliest memories of rainy days with my father are of watching the original trilogy. While writing this blog I decided to look up the complete list of novels in the EU. After going through the anthology, I realized that I had read more than two thirds of the titles. With a history that expands nearly 40,000 years; I struggle to find a more expansive timeline in any other work of fiction. It’s completely mind boggling.
The EU is obviously broken down into multiple eras; Pre-Republic, >25,000 years Before the Battle of Yavin (BBY), The Old Republic 5000-900 BBY, Rise of the Empire 63-22 BBY, The Clone Wars 21.5-19 BBY, Dark Reign of the Empire 18-4 BBY, A New Hope, the Rebellion Era 0BBY-4ABY (After Battle of Yavin), The New Republic Era 5-25 ABY, The New Jedi Order 26-39 ABY, and finally the Legacy era, set 40+ years after the battle of Yavin. I’ll note now, that the High Republic, an era that would take place roughly 899-62 BBY is not mentioned in the above timeline. In the EU that era of the galaxy was left largely untouched, and is only just now coming into focus with a new push from Disney to create the High Republic setting for Star Wars.
I hope to get my hands on some of that material soon so I can do a post about it.
My favorite era of the EU timeline has always been The Old Republic. In our own society there is often this feeling of loss when we consider ancient societies. There is a popular line of reasoning that the ancients, Greeks, Romans, and even older had knowledge of life and how to live and move that has been lost to us now.
This idea rings especially true in Star Wars. The Old Republic introduced many beloved characters over its 4000 year expanse. Many of these characters were powerful Sith and mighty Jedi. My favorite Star Wars story in general is the Knights of the Old Republic comic series from Dark Horse comics written by John Jackson MIller. In the Old Republic there are often instances of the force being stretched to never-before seen limits, by both the light and dark side. However Miller chose to make his protagonist a Jedi apprentice with a connection to the force that is tenuous at best. His story and the story of his companions holds a special place in my heart. In the Old Republic, the Sith are an unseen empire hiding at the edges of known space, and the Republic is much like the Roman Republic in its heyday. It is a new government and is truly devoted to its people, and it is protected by the mighty Jedi order.
Eventually the Republic, after suffering through much hardship, comes against its true enemy, the Sith Empire. Many stories of the Old Republic explore the Jedi Order’s own hubris. They are often seen and portrayed as lofty, pious to the point of arrogance, aloof and disconnected from the lives of the people they are sworn to protect. Many stories, such as the story of Revan explore the ramifications of war, the fall of good men, and the strength needed to redeem one’s self. Revan was first introduced in the Knights of The Old Republic video game (KOTOR). BioWare, which has gone on to capitalize on the RPG genre, released KOTOR in 2003. KOTOR is the story of the player, who later is revealed to be Darth Revan, a fallen Jedi turned Sith Lord. KOTOR is considered one of the best videogames ever made. The game takes place approximately 4,000 years before the rise of the Galactic Empire, and covers the era following the conclusion of the Star Wars: Tales of the Jedi comics, still during the early years of the Galactic Republic. The backstory of the game involves the Mandalorian clans invading the Republic in a pan-galactic conflict known as the Mandalorian Wars, essentially to test their prowess.
The Jedi were hesitant to get involved, but a pair of renegade Jedi Knights, Revan and his apprentice later known as Malak, took a group of Jedi to war anyway. The renegade Jedi who took commissions in the Republic Army and Navy led the Republic forces to victory. Afterward, Revan and Malak disappeared into the Unknown Regions, returning a year later with a Sith armada and launching an invasion against the very Republic they had saved. Malak, Revan’s apprentice, eventually succeeded his former master as Dark Lord of the Sith after Revan was seemingly killed in an ambush by the Jedi. Malak’s aggression had left the Jedi scattered and vulnerable; many Jedi Knights had fallen in battle, and others had sworn allegiance to Malak himself. This was just the setup to drop the player into the game. Many critics of KOTOR have stated that the game self-referenced too often. This may be true, but they also referenced the creative talents of the writers and illustrators of Dark Horse Comics and in fact based all of the history in KOTOR on the Tales of the Jedi, which hit the shelves in 1992. Both Kotor and its sequel left players asking questions, and launched many people, like myself, on a quest to go find the answers.
The EU also took us into the lives of our favorite trio after the fall of the empire. Timothy Zahn, one of the most hallowed names of the EU, started to take audiences into the lives of Han, Luke, and Leia after their victory in The Return of the Jedi with his trilogy. Zahn was only one of the many authors who lent their stories to the galaxy. Those stories took us through the formation of a New Republic, the rise of new Sith, and so much more. But the important thing to remember is that this explosion of content was happening as the millennial generation was growing up. Over 400 titles across media made for more than just a story, and was bigger than any movie could ever be. This very well may be why the more cut-throat fans of the franchise were so disheartened by the almighty mouse’s decision to retcon the continuity in 2014. Even so, those stories are not gone. The beloved characters of the New Jedi Order, or the children of Han and Leia are still there on the page or screen. One of the unique things about the old timeline, the EU, was that there was a massive effort to make everything published and produced under the Star Wars logo to be one continuity. What happened in the Dark Forces game in 1995, and the introduction of Kyle Katarn, carried all the way into RA Salvadore’s 1999 novel Vector Prime, which in turn sparked almost 30 publications in the series. The New Jedi Order was started by an author largely known for his Dungeons & Dragons content, but it turned into a major era of the EU. As a teen, there was always a hope that one day I might even number myself among the authors and creators of the EU.
When they say that hindsight is 20/20, nowhere have I encountered a more true manifestation of the saying than when looking back on the Star Wars Legends. In recent years, I have started to collect more and more of the titles that shaped my Star Wars experience, particularly the comic books. I now own complete runs of The Tales of the Jedi (writers John Veicht and Kevin J Anderson) The Old Republic (Writer John Jackson Miller) The Clone Wars (Various Writers), The Empire years, reprinted by Marvel (John Ostrander, Randy Stradley, Haden Blackman, and Alexander Freed) and Legacy (John Ostrander and Jan Duursema). In all there are just under 40 individual volumes of Star Wars comics on my shelves at home. That combined with the great stories from all the novels and games I read and played prove that it was the best time to grow up with Star Wars.
As I come to the end of this blog post I want to add a couple of personal items. I grew up with these stories, and the original intention was to compare the Jedi and Sith of the Old Republic to the Jedi and Sith we see in the movies. I’m glad that something so superficial and subjective is not what this turned into. As you go about enjoying the Star Wars fandom in any way you want to, I am going to ask one thing. Read or play some of the old cannon, but also go dive into the new shows, movies, comics and novels coming from the new cannon. What Lucas said 25 years ago is still true to this day. There are thousands of stories waiting in the galaxy far, far away and every one of them, even the ones about characters we might not personally care for, are worth telling. Go fall in love with Star Wars even more by choosing to visit or revisit the EU.