What is the Expanded Universe?
interest and focus of this series will be the analysis of licensed properties
which have sought to expand the Star Wars
story. While these works contribute to the same fictional universe as the Star Wars
movies, they are not
necessarily considered part of the story’s official timeline. Since they are
not granted the same level of credibility as the movies, any works classified
as “expanded” works make up a fictional universe all their own, one with a much
richer history than what was exclusively established by the films.
The Star Wars
Expanded Universe began with
Edward Summer, a fellow filmmaker and friend of George Lucas who served as a
marketing consultant on the original Star
film. Lucas and producer Gary Kurtz were extremely interested in
Disney’s marketing model. Summer, who had a number of Disney press kits in his
collection, showed many of them to Lucas and Kurtz. According to Summer, the
marketing of Peter Pan
particularly masterful and stood out to them. That film enjoyed a massive
amount of marketing and merchandising, including comic books, toy tie-ins, and
games. This initially served as the model for how they intended to market Star Wars.
Although none of them
realized it at that time, it also served as the genesis of the Star Wars
oversaw the creation and publication of countless Star Wars
stories in printed media, during the production of the
original films and long after. The effort was less structured at first, but
eventually these stories developed their own intersecting storylines,
legitimizing them as genuine contributions to the Star Wars
universe. This ongoing effort to maintain the Star Wars
mythology outside of the films
was branded, and is now popularly known as, the Expanded Universe.
Like our own
universe, the Star Wars
an ever-expanding and sometimes contracting world of limitless possibilities.
Also like our universe, there are conflicting theories and debates concerning
how or why (or even if) this occurs. It sounds more like physics than fiction,
but that parallel is one of the reasons I find myself fascinated with the subject
in the first place. When fiction creates worlds, mythologies are born.
So the question
As a point of
clarity, I am defining the mythology of a story based on the themes and motifs
discussed in the works of Joseph Campbell, specifically The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Any story that creates worlds and
explores universal themes within those worlds is, to some extent, a mythology.
What we will focus on as we examine the Star
Wars mythology is how that story creates for us a new expression of the
mythical hero’s journey. This is in part because Campbell’s work on the subject
is as definitive as any work I know, but also because his study of the hero’s
journey was a direct influence on George Lucas when he created Star Wars.
The existence of
an expanded universe in any franchise hints at the existence of a greater
mythology in the core story. While often enough “expanded” works offer little
more than repetitions of the larger story in a smaller medium, some franchises
have managed to advance the mythology even in the absence of an ongoing
incarnation of the core story.
Put simply, that
means that franchises like Star Trek
can be sustainable even
during considerable periods of time where there are no movies or television
series being produced. Stories told in other media - such as novels or comic
books - fill in the gaps between larger productions, even though such stories
rarely enjoy any attention or contribution by the original creators of the
Mythology at the
most basic level comes down to two things: The complexity of the universe that
is built around the story and the simplicity of the themes explored within the
story. The universe in which Star Wars
place could not be more alien to us cosmetically, but when we examine the problems
and dreams of Luke Skywalker, we cannot help but feel that at his core he is
not very different from us.
The core story
in a fictional universe is focused on themes that are to some degree universal
to all audiences. The story at this level is told in mainstream media that will
appeal to the largest audience, for obvious reasons.
So before we go
into the thematic construction of mythologies, it’s more important for us to
focus on the process of world-building. The mythos of a story is determined by the
scope of the universe it creates and the richness of that universe. Scope
defines size while richness defines detail. An epic story requires scope, but
its mythical qualities are defined in the details.
The scope of a
story is defined and ultimately regulated by rules that determine both the
potential and the limitations of the world they govern. These rules are not
overtly stated and are generated over time by events that occur within the
framework of the story. As these events unfold, they create an intuitive
understanding of what is and isn’t allowed in that universe. If this is not
part of a larger plan (which it usually isn’t), how do these universal laws
just organically manifest?
I think in order
to answer that question it’s important to explain the difference between
continuity and canon, because they are the most commonly cited governors of
mythological world-building. Often these terms are used interchangeably, but
they are not the same thing.
refers to the level of consistency that can be expected from one installment of
the story to the next. It is quantitative in that it governs the basic
constants of the universe. That James Kirk’s middle name is Tiberius is a
matter of continuity, as is the fact that he is from Iowa and he serves on a
spaceship called the USS Enterprise
in the twenty third century. Someone has to remember from one episode of Star Trek
to the next that these are
part of the story’s universe. If this is not done, then the universe is only as
big or as small as it is in the episode you are currently watching, and your
investment in the story is managed accordingly.
Continuity is essentially the
record of what has happened in the history of the story, incorporating all
information contributed to the universe in the course of those events. When
previously established details are later contradicted, the integrity of that
history is called into question and the story illusion is jeopardized.
Canon performs a
similar function, but is a much newer construct as a storytelling device. Canon
is less concerned with specific content as it is with the context of the story
as a whole. Continuity is quantitative, describing the timeline of what
happened. Canon is a qualitative concept, informing our abstract understanding
of the message those events are meant to communicate. In its subtler form,
canon guides our perception of what transpires within the continuity of the
story. In its more intrusive aspect, canon is also used to determine whether
certain events belong in that continuity, regardless of whether or not those
events occurred in an episode of the story that has already been presented to
the audience. Canon sometimes follows the dubious pretext that what was heard
is not always what was said.
enough when this process follows the events within a single story, even if the
story unfolds in an ongoing series of individual episodes. When you’re dealing
with a franchise that spans several media outlets and formats, many of which
are not created or directly supervised by the original author of the work,
there comes the question of how a story in the expanded mythology is to be
considered. Specifically: What makes a story canonical (meaning that it is
officially regarded to have actually happened)?
There are a lot
of different approaches to how the canon of a fictional universe is developed,
but in the broadest sense it is generated by an indirect creative collaboration
between the story’s creators and its audience. Writers put forward certain
ideas and they are either embraced by the audience and therefore ratified, or
they are rejected and eventually overwritten. This shared concept of what makes
the fictional universe function is generally recognized as its canon.
Canon is not a
function of the mythological aspect of storytelling because if a story is
mythological in tone, the themes within it should already be inherently
understood by the audience. For this reason I will go over what is considered
canon as we discuss various expanded works, but the relative canonicity of
those works will not in any way impact my analysis of them or their place in
the Star Wars
mythology. I’m more
interested in the content of the stories as it was originally presented.
is a movie. Star Wars
is a series of books. Star Wars
is a series of comic books and
newspaper comic strips as well as television movies, series, and specials. In a
universe that broad, what is “real” and what isn’t? Is all of it real? What if
one story contradicts another? What if a future movie contradicts what is said
in one of the expanded stories? These are not questions that really got asked
back in 1977, but people were slowly starting to decide that they should be.
and Star Trek
were the first major franchises to address the question
of a comprehensive canon because they were the first franchises to fully
develop their own expanded universes. Corporate entities licensed out
properties as a marketing tool long before Gene Roddenberry and George Lucas
came along, but in the case of Star Trek
we see the first instances
where the original creative force behind the story worked to retain enough creative
control to insure the overall integrity of their fictional universe.
They approached the
challenge in distinctively different ways. Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek
, considered the television
series and subsequent films to be “Star
fact” (canon) and all licensed properties like the myriad novels and
comic books to be “Star Trek
(non-canon). The creative teams behind the licensed properties were forbidden
to maintain any continuity of characters and events with each other or indeed
to develop original characters and continuity on their own. The Star Trek
Expanded Universe, such as it
was, served merely as a money machine for the various corporations that owned
it. Gene Roddenberry had his research assistant, Richard Arnold, work with the
Paramount licensing office to make sure the expanded works didn’t contradict
the film canon, but there was no concept of an expanded canon that could stand
on its own.[ii]
The same could
be said for the Star Wars
Universe, but the methodology was significantly different in how it would be
regulated. An absolutist would argue that the only true Star Wars
canon would be the films, and everything else is just a
different interpretation of what might have happened outside the films. But
this is not the case in terms of how expanded stories are classified in Star Wars
It all comes down
to control. The amount of control that Roddenberry and Lucas wanted to exert
was roughly the same, as were their reasons for it. They believed in their
creations and wanted to protect the brand they represented. But Gene
Roddenberry didn’t own Star Trek.
role in terms of how its canon was developed was almost ceremonial. He was a creative
consultant, but Star Trek
licensed out to unrelated corporate entities with or without his approval.
On the other
hand, Star Wars
was owned by a single
Century Fox owned the original film, but George Lucas
owned and controlled all interests concerned with licensing and merchandising.
Because Lucasfilm controlled the Star
Expanded Universe, Lucas Licensing could put a lot more effort into
developing it. To that end they created a model that would be more flexible to
the creative process of its contributors and a lot more satisfying to the fans.
George Lucas was just as concerned with protecting his story as Gene
Roddenberry had been with his, but Lucas also had a financial interest in assuring
that the licensed properties had enough creative freedom to be successful in
their own right.
At times it felt
like Gene Roddenberry would deliberately hamstring the creative teams working
on Star Trek
because the expanded works were a necessary evil whose success was of no direct
benefit to him.[iii]
The Star Wars
Expanded Universe was a
departure from that methodology because Lucas had full creative and financial
control of it. That distinction is significant, because it meant Lucas had the
unique opportunity to construct a fully-functioning multi-platform fictional
universe with himself as the final judge of what would go into it and the
primary beneficiary of everything it produced.
The Star Wars Expanded Universe was the
first consciously engineered and carefully cultivated expansion of a fictional
mythology. Because its success as an entity has always been a priority, we as
an audience have benefited from the creative directions the Expanded Universe
was allowed to take. Its actual contribution to the overall mythology has
always been questionable, but it was allowed to be self-sustaining as a
microcosm within that mythology, and that’s worth studying too.
READ EXPANDING UNIVERSE VOLUME 1 NOW!
In the Hailing
Frequencies Open editorial page of Star Trek #1 (DC’s 1989 comic series), series editor Robert
Greenberger explained some of the restrictions dictated by Paramount’s
licensing team and Gene Roddenberry’s office, including a prohibition against
using any original characters created for their previous Star Trek comic book. The decision had also been made that the Star Trek animated series, which had
previously been considered canon, was no longer considered canon and therefore
the characters from that series were also off-limits.
In the Hailing
Frequencies Open letters column of Star Trek #5 (DC’s 1989 comic book series), a fan letter condemned Gene Roddenberry’s research assistant Richard
Arnold for forcing the DC creative team to dump their original secondary
characters and focus only on main characters. Robert Greenberger was quick to
clarify that Richard Arnold spoke on behalf of Gene Roddenberry, so those
dictates did not come from Arnold but from Roddenberry himself.