Star Wars lost and found: the evolution of the Expanded Universe

When is Star Wars Rebels set? What is Rogue One? And is any of it worth watching anyway?

Back in 2012, one multi-billion dollar company bought another multi-billion dollar company and it was as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.

Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm for US$4.05 billion brought with it new fears for Star Wars fans already reeling from the indignities of Episodes I, II and III. Was this Mickey Mouse outfit really the right choice to safeguard the series' legacy? 

Well, you need only read our review of The Force Awakens to see that it's making a good start. Moreover, Disney already has experience of this kind of thing through buying the Marvel catalogue in similar circumstances. As with the world of The Avengers etc, Disney has paid huge attention to the Star Wars Expanded Universe, a wider body of work that was beginning to grow seriously unruly. 

The Expanded Universe consists of a multitude of stories explored through comics, novels, and television series. Some date back to the early '90s, there are hundreds of the things, and not all are consistent with one another. Disney's solution? Declare a load of them to be no longer official Star Wars canon, then build a whole new world around the few things that were left.

So what's still included? What's still to come? And how does it all fit together?

Canon: The original trilogy

Episode IV: A New Hope

For obvious reasons Disney has chosen to retain this film and its two sequels in the official canon. Originally titled ‘Star Wars’ without the episodic tomfoolery, this is where it all began. Imagine the pitch: "So, there’s this galactic superweapon operated by guy in a kinky black outfit who can choke people from 20 yards." It probably didn’t sound like a hit, but great on-screen chemistry and never-seen-before special effects carried A New Hope to giddy heights.

Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

A New Hope was a massive hit, but The Empire Strikes Back refined the formula. It ironed out pacing issues and built the whole film around a pitch-perfect tale of personal woe and family conflict. 

Episode VI: Return Of The Jedi

The most divisive of the original trilogy, people either love it or hate it, mostly on account of the ewoks. Depending on your stance they're either adorably cute creatures who give the film a real lightness while saving the universe, or they're the second most annoying alien lifeform ever to hit the big screen.

Canon: The prequel trilogy

Episode I: The Phantom Menace

Of course, the title of ‘first most annoying alien lifeform ever to hit the big screen’ goes to Jar Jar Binks. Not only was he a CGI nightmare, but he also spoke like a racist caricature and was so incredibly, awkwardly slapstick that it's impossible for any scene featuring him to have the slightest bit of gravitas. But he's not the only reason why we’re sad that Disney didn’t de-canonise this one. The plot was uninspired, it ruined Jedi spiritualism with midi-chlorian nonsense, and some of the acting was downright awful.

Episode II: Attack Of The Clones

An improvement on The Phantom Menace, if not up to the standards of the original films. George Lucas’ love affair with CGI led to some impressive battles, but Anakin’s transition to adolescence was awkwardly done, the plot became increasingly tied up in convoluted Senate debates and the acting and dialogue was again less than brilliant.  

Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith

The end of the Jedi Order and rise of a nefarious galactic dictatorship is the stuff that storytelling dreams are made of, and as a result Revenge Of The Sith is comfortably the pick of the prequels. It's very dark in places, but that's no bad thing, and the all-action nature of the film means that there's less opportunity for the dialogue and acting to spoil the fun.

Canon: The sequel trilogy

Obviously The Force Awakens fits into Disney's new official Star Wars universe, and the same will be true of the forthcoming Episodes VIII and IX. What do we know about those two films? Not a lot. Or rather, not a lot that we can mention without risking spoilers concerning The Force Awakens.

So we'll leave the plots aside and merely say that Episode VIII is due for release in May 2017, with Looper director Rian Johnson writing and directing it. Johnson will also supposedly be writing (or at least co-writing) Episode IX, with Colin Trevorrow of Jurassic World fame directing the final instalment.

Canon: Rogue One

In addition to Episodes I to IX, Disney plans to release a set of standalone films (known as the Anthology Series) that exist outside of the main story arc, the first being Rogue One in 2016.

DId you ever wonder how those all-imporant Death Star plans got into the hands of Princess Leia in the first place? Rogue One will follow the journey of a rag-tag band of Rebels as they risk all to save the galaxy from the ultimate superweapon. We all know how it ends - with a poorly designed exhaust port and a massive explosion - but this film will tell the story of how it starts.

Canon: Han Solo film (as yet untitled)

We don’t know exactly where it will fit in the timeline or any of the plot details, but we do know that a film dedicated entirely to the life of a young Han Solo is in the works, and forecast for release in 2018.

We know what we’d like to see: the beginnings of his relationship with a younger (and presumably adorably fluffy) Chewbacca, his acquisition of the Millennium Falcon, and maybe his first dealings with Jabba the Hutt. Presumably Harrison Ford won't be starring in this one. 

One man who will definitely be involved in it though is Lawrence Kasdan, who co-wrote The Empire Strikes Back, Return Of The Jedi and The Force Awakens and who will also be co-writing the Han Solo film. Which bodes well, as far as we're concerned.

Canon: Boba Fett film (as yet untitled)

There's even less known about this film. What we do know is that it will be about the feared bounty hunter and that it will (presumably) be included in the official Star Wars canon. What we don't know is who will be involved in it, what the plot will be or even when it will be set, with rumours ranging from 'between Revenge Of The Sith and A New Hope' right the way through to 'between The Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi'.

The former seems a more likely - and interesting - prospect than the latter, but it's all a guessing game at this stage. There's not even a confirmed release date, although indications point towards 2020.

Non-canon: The games

Probably one of the greatest losses of the great Disney cull, Disney has removed every single pre-2014 game from the Star Wars canon. So while you might still enjoy playing them, you'll be doing so in the knowledge that you're living a lie. 

The biggest crime is the removal of The Old Republic from the official canon. When games developer BioWare jumped into the Star Wars timeline with this sprawling MMO, it did so thousands of years before the original films. This chronological distance allowed The Old Republic to create a universe that was both familiar and foreign, complete with its own rules and unique lore.

Upon release The Old Republic was the largest voice-acting project in history, so its removal is a spoken-word massacre of epic proportions. Hopefully Disney will change its mind and bring Darth Revan and company back into the fold one day.

We'll also mourn the loss of Rogue SquadronX-Wing vs TIE FighterKnights Of The Old Republic and the cluster of games which spanned from Dark Forces to Jedi Academy, plotting a period of time after the original trilogy when the remains of The Empire, known as The Remnant, were battling hard against The New Republic.

Non-canon: Clone Wars

LucasFilm made surprisingly few forays into the animated world, and Clone Wars was easily the most deft. This microseries relayed the enduring struggle of the Jedi against General Greivous in a section of the time just before Revenge Of The Sith.

Its stylised visuals and superb animation captured everything that made the Jedi cool - something the films of the same period entirely failed to manifest. 

Want evidence? Look no further than the video above, in which Mace Windu busts up an entire army of droids with his fists. [Note - Disney, I will never forgive you for disavowing this as non-canon]

Canon: The Clone Wars

Not to be mistaken for 2003’s Clone Wars (above). Yes, it’s thoroughly confusing, and yes, Disney will definitely do a better job of marketing Star Wars than LucasFilm did.

The Clone Wars is one of the only pieces of pre-buyout media to survive the Great Disney Purge. Its five series (and one film cobbled together from various early episodes) plot the arc leading right up to the events of Revenge Of The Sith, ie the exact same period as 2003's Clone Wars, with lots of ominous foreshadowing of Anakin’s inevitable fall from grace.

It’s not received the critical acclaim of its earlier cousin, but it retains a cult following.

Canon: Rebels

Rebels was one of the first bonafide Star Wars products to be shipped by Disney and as such was subject to an inhumane degree of scrutiny. It’s not our favourite animated series in this list, but it explores an interesting time between Revenge Of The Sith and A New Hope, when the Rebellion is still trying to find its feet.

Rebels has also graced the new canon with, er, Kanan, one of the more interesting characters to arise from the great upheaval. His dark past is now being explored in an eponymous comic book series, which is well worth a read.

Canon and non-canon: The books

Literary tie-ins. Yep, our thoughts on the topic are equally cynical, but the Star Wars franchise has produced some great reads over the years.

The Grand Admiral Thrawn Trilogy, for instance, is a fantastic series which introduced the titular post-Empire villain along with dark-apprentice turned Jedi Mara Jade, who would later go on to save Luke from boinking his sister by marrying him.

Other fan favourites include the Darth Bane Series, which follows a dark lord living 1000 years before the events of the films. Most Sith are guilty of fairly PG-13 rated crimes but Bane truly is a sadistic son of a bantha, which made him a unique (if spoiled) gem in the Star Wars universe. 

These books are precious and who knows how long they’ll still be in print. Yes, you guessed it, DISNEY RETCONNED THEM ALL INTO NON-EXISTENCE. In their place, Disney is commissioning a series of books which take place within the 60-year timeline of the films such as Tarkin, which explores the life of the exceedingly posh b*****d who blows up Alderaan in A New Hope. Also worth noting is Heir To The Jedi, a novel in which Luke attempts to master his newfound powers before The Empire Strikes Back.

Canon and non-canon: The comics

Unfortunately, the Star Wars comics, which were often directly connected with the expanded universe that the books had created, were also removed from history in Disney's purge.

And, as with the books, some great stories have been lost. In 1991 the Dark Empire series detailed the resurrection of Emperor Palpatine in clone bodies that once again hunted for Luke and Leia after the events of Return Of The Jedi, even seeing Luke temporarily turned to the dark side.

The Star Wars: Vector was another jewel lost: it plotted the perils faced by those involved with a Sith artifact, the Muur Talisman, over a period of 4000 years. It was one of the only pieces of Star Wars media to connect the ancient time period popularised by BioWare with that of the original trilogy.

In place of these gems a new slew of comics are being released under the Marvel name, such as the Darth Vader series written by former PC Gamer journalist Kieron Gillen and the four-part miniseries Shattered Empire, which details what happens after Palpatine's demise, paving the way for The Force Awakens. There’s hope for the comics yet, but a great deal that once was is now gone.

Non-canon: everything else

Some individuals spend years of their own time contributing to the universe for no reward adnd we would be remiss not to mention the overwhelming amount of fan-made content out there, some of which is truly excellent.

Whether you’re browsing YouTube or perusing the pages of DeviantArt, you can easily find myriad ways to satisfy your Star Wars cravings. The YouTube short above, TIE Fighter, is one such example of what a single individual can do with time and passion. Produced during the evenings and weekends over a period of four years, it brings together '80s anime style with Star Wars spaceships.

Obviously it was never officially sanctioned anyway, but that doesn't make watching it any less enjoyable.