The Star Wars Expanded Universe: 5 Things That Made it Matter

We look back at our favorite Star Wars Expanded Universe stories...before everything changes in anticipation of Star Wars: Episode VII.

The Star Wars Expanded Universe is about to change drastically. After over twenty years, Lucasfilm announced that any Star Wars stories told outside the confines of the films and cartoons are now subject to canon change. Fair enough. They’re only stories, after all. But the Star Wars Expanded Universe has been a remarkable accomplishment that has spanned media from novels to comics to video games over the twenty-plus years of its existence, and we’re going to be sorry to see its current form become one with the Force.

Join us as we celebrate our favorite moments…

Star Wars: Jedi Knight 2: Jedi Outcast

John: Even before I started reading the books, Star Wars video games had already become my Episode VII. One particular entry in LucasArts’ great (but brief) history bridged the gap between the end of Return of the Jedi and the beyond — the Holy Grail of Star Wars lore for any boy who carried a green plastic lightsaber to school and hoped to one day become a Jedi. That game was Jedi Outcast, the story of an ex-Jedi turned mercenary named Kyle Katarn who has severed his connection with the Force after falling to the dark side while exploring a Sith temple (events that occurred in Mysteries of the Sith).

Jedi Outcast has everything you could possibly want from Star Wars: exotic planets, dastardly villains, superpowers, duels, a great score (a mash-up of John William’s great work for the Original Trilogy), a love story, and a scoundrel to root for. This game does more than pick up the story where it left off. It feels like the next logical step: a new Jedi Temple on Yavin 4, an Imperial Remnant trying to regain their former glory, a cult of Dark Jedi (since there aren’t any Sith left…or are there?), and a new kind of Jedi that is as comfortable using a blaster as he is a lightsaber. Less hokey religion, and way more adventurer.

Ad – content continues below

This game also had an awesome sequel called Jedi Academy that let you create your own young Jedi and go on the adventure of a life-time!

The Thrawn Trilogy

Mike: It’s all about context. There was a time where there was no such thing as a Star Wars Expanded Universe. Sure, we had a Droids animated series, some Ewoks TV movies, an inconsistent Marvel Comics series, a Holiday Special (cough), and a handful of Han Solo and Lando Calrissian novels…but none of them seemed to carry any real weight. Many of us subsisted on the (excellent) Star Wars RPG Sourcebooks from West End Games, which were a wealth of information. But what fans wanted…what we needed, were stories that moved beyond Return of the Jedi in powerful, meaningful ways. We got that with the first book of Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy, Heir to the Empire.

At the time, we had no indication of just how much this Star Wars publishing empire would grow, and we welcomed the pacing and dialogue that were clearly and unapologetically Star Wars but somehow didn’t feel like cheap attempts to cash in on the franchise’s popularity. Zahn’s books read and felt like proper science fiction novels, but with old friends speaking to us from every page, and new characters that were as mesmerizing as the ones we already knew.

The Star Wars Expanded Universe went on to encompass countless novels, comic books, and video games over the next twenty years, many of them quite good…even groundbreaking. But for Star Wars starved fans in 1991, wondering if we’d ever get another serious look at this world, Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising, and The Last Command, were greeted almost as enthusiastically as Episodes VII, VIII, and IX might have been.

Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor

Megan: For the hero of the Original Trilogy, Luke Skywalker hasn’t gotten many books focused on him in the recent EU. After a selection of Luke books were received with middling success by the fans (The Truce at Bakura, Children of the Jedi), the New Jedi Order expanded the cast and told excellent stories, but with a Luke 30 years removed from Tatooine. In 2008, fans were ready for a swashbuckling new story about the farmboy-turned-pilot-turned-Jedi set when he was still in awe of the idea of being a hero.

The stakes in this book are high – both the Republic and Luke’s innocence and hope are on the line. Luke struggles to find what it means to be a Jedi in a world where none are left. Matthew Stover’s prose is in turns intense and funny, and he continues the story of one of his own characters from Shatterpoint as well. Stover is a master of writing about the Force, illustrating it as something cosmic and overarching, always able to put an image to a nebulous concept.

Ad – content continues below

At the same time, Shadows of Mindor is also a gentle joke at the Expanded Universe’s expense. The title echoes the “holodramas” which characters watch in the galaxy far, far away, in which Luke Skywalker is portrayed as an unstoppable, miraculous warrior. Stover also pokes fun at long-established EU plot points like Luke marrying a redhead. The villain is “Lord Shadowspawn,” but the campy name is played with and embraced and played with again. Stover created a perfect balance of tongue-in-cheek commentary about the EU and serious, moving space opera story.

The Star Wars Tales Anthologies

Marc: There may have been more high profile Expanded Universe novels like the Thrawn Trilogy or New Jedi Order, but Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina, Tales of the Bounty Hunters, and Tales from Jabba’s Palace (all edited by Kevin J. Anderson) really stand out to me as the pinnacle of the Expanded Universe. As a lover of all things Kenner, I have as many memories of spending long summer days with my Hammerhead, 4-LOM and Ree-Yees figures as I did my Han, Luke, and Vader. Years later, the Tales books fleshed out some of these characters and gave them three-dimensional personalities. Now, I might be alone in this, but reading about the history of the Rancor Keeper was pure heaven, or seeing the origin and innermost thought of Dengar was a special type of nerd pleasure.

The anthologies were filled with some of contemporary sci-fi’s most exciting voices such as A.C. Crispin, Kathy Tyers, Barbara Hambley, and the Shakespeare of the Expanded Universe, Timothy Zahn. It was so awesome seeing the background characters of the Galaxy Far, Far Away become much more than just figures on my toy shelf.

To me, the magic of the Expanded Universe was to take those characters that added flavor to Lucas’ world and make them living, breathing entities, and the Tales books did just that. All of a sudden, Bossk reeked of danger, Jabba’s minions now had stories of their own, and the wretched hive of scum and villainy teemed with a narrative life.

The good news is that these three wonderful anthologies still exist, they still sit on my shelf waiting to be reread and enjoyed, canon or not. Erasing them from canon gives other writers a chance to explore their interpretations of these great aliens and creatures…because one can never have enough Snaggletooth.

The New Jedi Order

John: When people talk about the best EU books of all-time, they often mention the usual suspects: Timothy Zahn’s stellar Thrawn Trilogy, The Courtship of Princess Leia (fucking Jedi witches, son!), and/or the awesome X-Wing series created by Michael A. Stackpole. I don’t know if people are truly talking about The New Jedi Order as the best Star Wars adventure on the page in history, but if they aren’t, I feel like one cool cat. The series arrived during The Phantom Menace craze, and silently rocked the New Republic and Luke Skywalker’s Jedi.

Ad – content continues below

Truly gaining momentum with Stackpole’s heart-stopping Dark Tide duology (although R.A. Stackpole’s Vector Prime is a fantastic start to the series), which brought back several of his X-Wing characters, including pilot turned Jedi Corran Horn, The New Jedi Order introduced a new deadly enemy that crippled the established order. We’re not talk old Sith trickery. Meet the Yuuzhan Vong, a race of warriors out to conquer anything in their path. Slipping out of the Unknown Regions, the Vong laid waist to all planets in their path, enslaving and killing mercilessly the people of the Republic.

This was a bold new direction for the series. No longer prudish, the Star Wars universe was ready to kill off some of its most beloved characters…And the series laid the foundation for several big stories that came after it, including the revival of the Sith!

What about you? What are your favorite Star Wars Expanded Universe moments? Tell us below!

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for all news updates related to the world of geek. And Google+, if that’s your thing!