Monday, January 20, 2014

Disney's Star Wars is shaping up to be very different from Lucas'

Sharpen your no. 2 pencils kids, there will be a test after!
Much has been made of the recent revelation that Disney intends to trim the ever-burgeoning Star Wars expanded universe (EU), in recent weeks. Some even welcome the imminent slaughter, which will no doubt cast much of the existing EU from the summit of Space Mountain like fleas off a wookie's backside. But this all raises a much more interesting series of questions, beginning with....

What sort of expanded universe will Disney create for Star Wars?

First, a not-so-quick recap. We'd heard last year that, beginning in 2015, there would be a Star Wars sequels, taking place after the original trilogy. These would seem to invalidate--at least partially--the canon status of a good chunk of the (very popular) novels, games, and Dark Horse Comics-era comics that also take place in that time period. We hear rumors of Skywalker-Solo children, and even the return of the big baddie himself, Emperor Palpatine--but not as a clone as the EU had resurrected him.

Cutting the Cord to the EU

It started a while back we when we heard of some "spin-off" films that would be produced in the Star Wars universe, but focusing on on a single character. A different points, Yoda, Han Solo, and Boba Fett were mentioned. Another red flag: early reports pegged them as origin stories calling into question the backstories of popular characters in the saga--not a good sign for EU-established story arcs.

Then a few weeks ago confirmation (everyone knew it was coming) that Dark Horse would relinquish Star Wars. The license, in 2015, will revert back to Marvel, which is now Disney's in-house comics publisher.

Dark Horse has had hits and misses, but their Dark Empire series really brought the Jedi angst.

The Purge Begins

Meanwhile, Disney went on a project killing spree, pulling the plug on the phenomenal-looking Star Wars 1313 video game and--shockingly--the ardently watched and highly rated Clone Wars TV series. This seemed like a pre-emptive strike to take out any current or future competing content from what is essentially a wide stream of "official" Star Wars storytellers.

Shoulda' been a slamdunk success, like shooting a dianooga in a holding tank.
Inevitably, word finally came last week: Disney will be paring down the EU, getting Star Wars ready to fit into a new Disney mold. This purge is likely to ignore the nearly decades-long efforts to flesh out that far-far away galaxy in greater, grander detail. Arguably, the most well-received and ubiquitous EU tales came out of Dark Horse. Not all agree. These stories would likely see the trash compactor (NOTE: Consider snapping up what you can from booksellers now, seeing as how those stories will likely never see print again.)

A New Hope Backstory 

This week, another revelation: Boba Fett solo film scribe Lawrence Kasdan (yes, THAT, Larry Kasdan) says he's looking at rebooting Fett from the origin up. Like most of us, he wasn't won over by Lucas' attempt at an origin story, so he's come up with an idea to kill the clone and make off with the mask. This is essentially another nail in the EU, since most of Boba Fett's escapades between films (and much more after) all weigh rather heavily on non-film storylines.
Soon to appear in "Spaceballs the Sequel: The Search for More Money"
It's been stated that this won't affect the established canon of Star Wars--but in a way it already has. The mere mention that the clone origin wasn't solvent enough to make an impression is essentially rewriting the Star Wars saga in what Lucas has looooooooooong said is the ONLY storyline that matters: the movies. Of course, that too is about as clear as mud.

To make things more the powers that be are now denying the spin-offs are set up from a single character's point of view--seen as hint by some that the films will focus on totally new characters. When she's not completely confusing the fanbase, Star Wars head honcho Kathleen Kennedy tries to reassure folks that the real story is the Skywalkers. So then why even make these other stories if they're not "really" part of the Star Wars canon? ("Money," yes, of course is the answer....)

Where will the EU get most of it's material?

So how will Disney's Marvel handle the EU? Will they be forced to ignore the earlier storylines by Marvel--the ones that saved their bacon in the 1970s? Will Marvel be expected to retain any of the Dark Horse content or will they straight-up reinvent the saga, starting from 5 minutes after Return of the Jedi. And what about the Star Wars of "thousands of years" a.k.a., Knights of the Old Republic? How much are EU are we talking about?

Before sequels, there was Howard Chaykin and Carmine Infantino.
Probably the biggest question though is, who is the torch-bearer for the EU? Currently, it's Dark Horse--most of the stories germinate or pass through that keyhole. So will Marvel take up that role? Or will Disney double-down on their videogame success and put the focus there?

One answer has cropped up in all the reports, it seems that the new EU will be canon:
"A primary goal" was to ensure that there was no hierarchy between the movies and spin-off material, but instead one cohesive canon across the entire franchise, adding that "more so than ever, the canon field will serve us internally simply for classification rather than setting hierarchy."
From that standpoint, the re-canon-ing everything into a single, meshed storyline seems like a great idea. I'm sure fans who revel in the wild and briar-like threads on Wookiepedia and are wont to disagree.

How will Disney owning the property affect other licensors?

You know, a year ago, I was more than a little reticent to support Fantasy Flight Games' snagging Star Wars for miniature and RPG games. Wizards of the Coast (Hasbro) let the rights expire. I was worried they wouldn't be able to fill Wizard's shoes.

Boy was I wrong. They have a verifiable hit with Star Wars X-wing, miniature game of starfighter dogfights. It's by all accounts fantastic and growing quite an exuberant audience.

Look at all those funny dice!
 The Star Wars RPG likewise looks fantastic and is getting great reviews. I've not played it yet (mostly because my house is overrun with RPGs--more on that and the spousal embargo later) but again, another win for FFG. Honestly, I couldn't be prouder. Fantasy Flight is located here in the Twin Cities and it's sort of awesome to have a local company be an integral part of the Star Wars family.

Will these changes from Disney--a family-oriented media company--end up undoing the work and achievements that FFG has so deftly accomplished? I was maybe too harsh on Fantasy Flight in that previous post. I'd feel gutted now if they lost the license due to some Disney legal dickery.

In my original post, I'd indicated doubts about Fantasy Flight being too adult-oriented. I don't think Disney would or could do better when it comes to RPGs or mini games. Quite the contrary, my fear is that they would do the opposite--kill them entirely in favor of very kid-oriented fare.

Disney Infinity, a mini-to-online adventure video game (patterened after the mega hit Skylanders) is being lauded a huge success for the Mouse. Is there room at the Magic Kingdom for two kinds of game audiences? Or will they decide to foreclose on FFG's aged gamers in favor of a younger, more online-synced audience?

So is Goofy-bacca canon or what?

Other unanswered questions:

If Star Wars were ever to be sold to another studio, would it undergo another purge?

Could this ever happen again? Hopefully I'll long be one with The Force before that happens, but I can only imagine the disastrophy that would ensue from redoing another entirely new take on Star Wars. Perhaps by then the whole thing will be public domain anyway? (One can dream!)

Will other big franchise transfers be handled similarly?

Say that Paramount were to lose the mess that is the Star Trek license, and be bought by another studio (let's say Dreamworks). Does the Disney hitting the reset button on Star Wars set the tone for how other studios might rework a previously-established license with decades of EU history? Other companies may be watching closely to see how the biggest media reboot in history pans out.


How the hell am I supposed to explain Star Wars EU to my kid? Seriously, she's not even a year old. All of this will have come and gone by the time she's old enough to see the original movie.
ME: So here's a really cool Star Wars comic, it takes place after Return of the Jedi!

KID: Cool! Is it before or after Episode 7?

ME: Neither, it doesn't fit with that movie. It's about Luke turning to the darkside and the emperor coming back as a clone.

KID: The emperor is a CLONE??!

ME: No, uh, not really....See it's part of the EXPANDED UNIVERSE.

KID: The spin-off movies?

ME: No.

KID: The Marvel comics?

ME: No, this is when Dark Horse did the EU.

KID: So how does it fit in now?

ME: It doesn't.

KID: So why am I reading this?

ME: It's like an alternative take--like Star Wars Infinities!

KID: Infinities?

ME: Nevermind.
All I'm saying is, it's a LOT of franchise baggage to be lugging around.
Okay enough whining--to the comments!


  1. Not a fan of Disney. They'll screw Star Wars up completely. The EU revision is just normal for Disney. They are the masters of revisionist history. They ruined The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Pochahontas, et. al. ,ad nauseum. Disney movies are banned in my house. I guess the "new" Star Wars will be too.

  2. I can't say that I see it as being quite as bleak--I'm definitely willing to give Disney a fair shot. But I'm really curious as to how they'll untangle the current EU and what the new one will look like. Right now, there are parts I love and others I don't care for. Time will tell, I guess!

  3. The task of explaining might not be as difficult as you think. My daughter picked up on the concept of a multiverse around the age of 3 or 4. And at 5, she's still relentlessly internalizing several contrasting mythologies of fairies.

    So I'm not sure the "validity" of a particular story within a given fractured universe will be as important as how cool it is or how you present it to your own offspring.

    1. Peter that's great that she's picked up the nuances of the different mythologies! Though I was partly kidding, I do have somewhat of a concern that explaining all this stuff wil end up being a turn off. So "go slow" will likely be the mode I'll be operating in. It the sequels are good, perhaps I don't even need to mention that the prequels exist! ;)