Star Wars, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the Canonicity Debate
More galvanizing than the release of the final amazing Godzilla trailer! More shocking than a future-book-spoiling episode of Game of Thrones! Yes friends, the most shocking news of all this week was Disney’s declaration that the oft-debated canonicity of Star Wars’ expanded universe content was debatable no more. It’s official: henceforth, only the movie trilogies and the Clone Wars animated series will be considered canon. Many hardcore Wars fans see this as a threat to the fandom, but I am staunchly in Disney’s camp on this one.
As far as I’m concerned, Admiral Thrawn, the Sun Crusher, Mara Jade, and the death of Chewie can all go take a dive.
Let me start by saying that I am, by any measure, a Star Wars fanboy. I’m not a toy collecting, cosplaying, fanfic writing faboy, but I definitely have some Star Wars cred. I’ve sampled extensively from the Expanded Universe of novels and comic books. I’ve played the PC games for decades now, up to and including Star Wars the Old Republic. Hell, my single longest running tabletop roleplaying game, with regular sessions spanning over two years of real time, was a campaign I ran using West End Games’ classic d6 Star Wars RPG. I love the Star Wars universe.
So it is with all that love in my heart that I say, “good riddance” to the Expanded Universe.
The Star Wars Expanded Universe is, in a word, enormous. Actually, a more apt word would be ginormo-hugantic. It ranges from video games, to comics, and of course, the novels. Oh, the novels, which range in quality from ‘pretty good’ to ‘thinly veiled fanfic.’ That is a huge pile nebulously varying gobblety-gook to have to manage in the course of creating new content. Decoupling themselves from that mess just makes good sense from a creative perspective, and is ultimately a boon for the fans, in my opinion.
Consider the example of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (also a Disney property, incidentally). Marvel is laden with more canon than the Star Wars universe by far—an artifact of 60 years of continuous publication—not to mention the fragmentation of their film properties between various rights-holders, and its affects on their storytelling capacities. Still, Marvel has taken the opportunity to use the films as a way of creating cohesion and growing the brand, not pandering to a core of grognards who expect to see the comics precisely replicated on the big screen. The consequence of their decision: the MCU films are consistently well reviewed, top grossing, and with a few limited exceptions (The Dark Knight and the Watchmen for instance), are more or less at the top of comic book movie adaptation pile. Why should we assume that this strategy will be any less effective for Star Wars than, say, the Avengers?
From a fan perspective, I’m grateful that we’re not going to see Dark Empire or the Thrawn trilogy on screen, nor are we going to see content that simply elides it. The EU content exists (and thanks to those lucrative licensing deals, will likely to persist in new and varied forms for decades to come), it and can be appreciated on it’s own merits (such as they are). For my part, I am excited that the new films will challenge my expectations by default–perhaps more excited than I’ve felt about the Wars since Jar-Jar Binks more or less put a kibosh on that.