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Star Wars: Expanded Universe Restrospective

Star Wars: Expanded Universe Restrospective

A new trilogy of Star Wars films is on the way, and as with the prequels, the new films will no doubt enter into the Star Wars galaxy during an era that has already been well explored by the expanded universe (it’d be hard not to). As with the prequel films, the new trilogy is more than likely going to override the expanded universe wherever it needs to in order to tell its story. On the release of ‘The Phantom Menace’ the order of the Sith being limited to two lords, was contrary to countless comics in the ‘Tales of the Jedi’ line, while Boba Fett’s origin was told in a way that resembled nothing of his post-Return of the Jedi stories.

Inconsistencies such as these have fostered new expanded universe content to retrospectively fit in as much pre-existing material as possible with the new canon established by the films. Episodes VII, VIII, and IX will no doubt carve a decent slice out of the existing expanded universe however I’m sure we can look forward to new content being built up around the new movie canon as it rolls out.

In dwelling on the Star Wars expanded universe since the Disney/Lucasfilm announcement, I’ve decided to take a look back at some of my favourite content outside the films that has been released over the years. With numerous comics, novels, and video games released, this list is in no particular order of preference, but all items have been very influential on my love of Star Wars.

Tales of the Jedi

Way back in the 1990’s Star Wars was looking pretty dormant, the films were done and the special editions weren’t in sight. A final version of the classic trilogy was released though there was little mention of new films other than the usual rumour and speculation. The expanded universe carried the torch and one series that opened up things only hinted at in the classic trilogy was the ‘Tales of the Jedi’ series.

Published by Dark Horse comics the ‘Tales of the Jedi’ series began in 1994 and produced several mini-series up until wrapping its final story in 2001. At the time these stories were the earliest chronological Star Wars tales, and depicted both the Sith and Hyperspace wars from ancient Star Wars history. The comics built up a setting and cast of characters that fans of the films could otherwise only imagine with the Jedi Order depicted as a dominant force in the galaxy and the Sith order strong and numerous. These tales followed different sith lords including Naga Sadow, Exar Kun and the fall and redemption of Ulic Qel-Droma.

Tales of the Jedi was thematically similar to the classic trilogy being set against galactic war, with family connections running through out, and the notion of heroic sacrifice for the greater good. The series is still in publication today though in a different format being the Star Wars Omnibus: Tales of the Jedi Volumes 1 and 2.

X-Wing

The X-Wing series of video games were PC exclusive releases that started in 1993 and ended with X-Wing: Alliance in 1999. Developed under the vision of Lawrence Holland and his company Totally Games, the series put players into the cockpit of spacecraft from the classic trilogy.

The X-Wing series took a simulationist approach to the space flight genre, with players having to manage various power systems of their star fighter as well as become fluent in managing the targeting computer and various warheads available in the game. Not to mentioning learning the best approach vector on capital ships or tactics against various star fighters you could encounter.

Playing an X-Wing game was a deeply immersive Star Wars experience, and any X-Wing player’s knowledge of Star Wars ships grew exponentially as they played through the many missions across X-Wing, TIE Fighter, X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter and X-Wing: Alliance.

Making use of various story hooks from the movies the games included a number of cut scenes that were unlocked as players completed several missions linked together by a common story thread. In doing so the games revealed a few extra details and fleshed out a couple aspects of the movies creating that ‘just one more mission’ temptation to the player.

Unfortunately it’s been over a decade since the last release in this series, with no mention of HD remakes, or sequels on the horizon. The video game division of George Lucas’s empire ‘Lucasarts’ was included in the sale to Disney so what impact that might have on Star Wars video game remains to be seen.

The X-Wing games can still be found for purchase on ebay, fortunately community support has been enduring enough that patches are available to allow these old games to run on modern 64-bit operating systems.

Thrawn Trilogy

The Thrawn trilogy was written by Timothy Zahn and first released across 1991 to 1993. Set approximately five years after the battle of endor, Zahn managed to take many of the familiar aspects of the classic trilogy and massage them into his story. One of the more difficult characters to write for in the post-Jedi novels has been Luke however Zahn managed to give him an engaging story against a classic trilogy-esque setting of war between the Imperial Remnant and the newly formed New Republic.

The main villain of the trilogy of course being Grand Admiral Thrawn was a well thought out character with a different Imperial perspective to what had been presented both in the films and in the existing expanded universe at that point. Also tied in was a jedi sub-plot that drew from the clone wars era, long before the prequel trilogy was on screens.

Zahn’s trilogy gave readers what was essentially another classic trilogy with the staple characters of Luke, Leia, Han and Chewie in a desperate fight against the Empire. At the time of release these books were essentially considered movie level canon, in continuing the Star Wars story.

Knights of the Old Republic

The Knights of the Old Republic era has been explored by both video games and comics, the most recent new additions to this setting have been with the releases of the Star Wars: The Old Republic massively multiplayer online game and the Knights of the Old Republic: War comic mini-series.

Taking place just 22 years after the conclusion of the final ‘Tales of the Jedi’ story, and 8 years prior to the first Knights of the Old Republic video game, the comic series followed the character Zayne Carrick, a young padawan training on the planet Taris who becomes the centre of a larger conspiracy involving the Jedi and Sith.

For years gamers had been witness to countless fantasy based role-playing games including Baldur’s Gate, and Icewind Dale while Star Wars despite being a setting so rich for similar video games was left aside. Bioware’s release of KOTOR in 2003 was an eagerly anticipated and long awaited foray into the role playing genre for Star Wars video games.

Both franchises made great use of the Star Wars setting, and were effective in capturing the space opera feel from the films, while introducing new characters, and new locations.

Jedi Academy and the New Jedi Order

Following the Thrawn trilogy of books, the Jedi Academy trilogy was written by Kevin J Anderson and published in 1994. The trilogy failed to match the quality of Timothy Zahn’s books however it did deliver one of the most significant events in the post-Return of the Jedi expanded universe. This series covers Luke Skywalker’s quest to re-establish the Jedi Order, and to set up a new academy to serve as the centre of the new order.

The series was a mixture of new elements introduced by Anderson as well as utilising some existing expanded universe elements such as the unresolved Exar Kun plot thread from the Tales of the Jedi series and some of the mystery around the construction of the first death star.

Overall the series is quite an easy read, it doesn’t match the detail or the depth of the Thrawn books but isn’t bad as an adventure read within the Star Wars setting.

The New Jedi Order series included nineteen novels published across 1999 to 2003. Set more than two decades after Episode VI, the series is the longest continual story arc in the Star Wars expanded universe of novels and introduces an alien invasion from outside the known Star Wars galaxy.

With a large number of books to the series and several different authors working on them the quality of each book does vary. The better entries tend to be earlier in the series particularly the books written by Michael Stackpole however the series is memorable and worth noting for a number of reasons.

Firstly of course is Mark Hamill, in 1999 Mark Hamill reprised his role as Luke Skywalker in a brief speaking role as part of the marketing campaign for the books. This role depicted Luke’s take on the state of the galaxy at the time the books were set, compared to the height of the galactic civil war between the Rebels and the Empire.

Secondly if nothing else the series was courageous, through the invasion the story effectively rendered worlds that had already been thoroughly explored by the expanded universe as wastelands. They didn’t shy away from carving out a slice of the known galaxy and sacrificing it to the invading force.

Further along those lines the series was relatively happy to kill off major characters, including those whom had appeared in the films as well as those introduced by previous expanded universe entries.

A few interesting themes are explored in the series including the conflict within the New Republic over resistance or submission to the invaders, where the Jedi Order fits  in with the New Republic and how dependent they are upon the Order (a thread that echoes through later series). Ultimately the resolution to the series felt a little mismanaged and was somewhat disappointing, however the series is worth noting given the impact it had on the setting.

So there you have some of my most memorable entries into the Star Wars expanded universe, a few other notable mentions would include Shadows of the Empire, and the Rogue Squadron series of books and comics.

Certainly not all of this is going to survive continuity with the arrival of new films and we’ll likely see the evolution of a new expanded universe. Having said that given the variety of directions the Star Wars franchise could go now, we may yet see a live action Star Wars film set during the Knights of the Old Republic era which is an exciting prospect.

In the meantime however if you’re a Star Wars fan let us know your favourite releases outside the films, be they novels, comics or video games!

Leith spent most of his formative years growing up on the coastal fringes of Western Australia without a cinema in sight. There he grew up on the wonders of home rentals before relocating to Perth and gaining access to a proper cinematic experience just in time for the Star Wars Special Edition re-releases. From there Leith's love of movies expanded to volunteering on a Star Wars fan film, reviewing films, writing about film news, and attending film and pop-culture related conventions on the other side of the world. Leith's favourite films are too many to mention but all start with the Star Wars saga, Back to the Future, the Dark Knight trilogy, Indiana Jones, Lord of the Rings and all things Kevin Smith. With an insatiable appetite for all things pop-culture related Leith also has an unhealthy addiction to the world of comics and can often be found buried under a pile of unread back issues madly trying to catch up on a number of titles coming out from mostly DC and Darkhorse.
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