A brief history of the Expanded Universe (Star Wars geekery)

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BY JAYSON PETERS/TRIBUNE

What does a diehard Star Wars fanatic do when he’s not watching the Trilogies or blogging about the upcoming television series (plural) set in a galaxy far, far away? He curls up with a good Star Wars book, of course!

They have books, you say? Yes! I answer. Star Wars has a long tradition of spin-off media, known collectively as the Expanded Universe, or EU to hardcore fans or haters. Of which there are many. If you think it’s tough keeping track of all the characters in George Lucas’ movies, just wait until you throw in thirty years of follow-up adventures!

Back in 1991, before anyone had heard of Jar Jar Binks, Star Wars returned seemingly from out of the blue with the publication of Heir to the Empire, the first book in what was later unofficially dubbed the “Thrawn trilogy.” Written by Timothy Zahn, it started five years after Return of the Jedi and told the story of a mysterious and brilliant Imperial admiral who rallies the remnants of the Empire against the New Republic that was established by the Rebels after the Battle of Endor. The trilogy continued with Dark Force Rising and concluded in The Last Command. It was a brilliant work, and Zahn’s style made it feel like Star Wars as told by Tom Clancy – technical and robust with nonstop action.

But the EU goes back further even than 1991. In 1978, the year after Star Wars came out in theaters, came the release of Splinter of the Mind’s Eye by Alan Dean Foster (who also ghost-wrote the novelization of the feature film for George Lucas). Folklore says this book, a jungle romp with no space battles, was intended to be the basis for a sequel to 77’s Star Wars if the film flopped and Lucas could only afford a modest follow-up. He really needn’t have worried, but Splinter is an enjoyable novel that incorporates elements from early drafts of the Star Wars saga, and it’s back in print as well as in graphic novel form from Dark Horse Comics.

On the flip side, there have been many forgettable volumes in the EU (The Courtship of Princess Leia, with the unfortunate Han Solo line “Kiss my Wookiee,” springs to mind). But the EU has also shaken up the Star Wars galaxy in memorable ways: the death of at least one major character from the films; the birth of Jedi twins Jaina and Jacen Solo (and, later, their younger brother Anakin); an invasion by sadistic aliens from outside the galaxy (in the 27-volume New Jedi Order series); and, most recently, the re-emergence of the Sith in the current novel series, Legacy of the Force. That’s right, Jacen Solo goes down the path his grandfather took and becomes known as Darth Caedus – a name chosen by readers in an online contest.

swrevelation.jpgKaren Traviss’ Legacy of the Force novel Revelation recently topped the New York Times best sellers chart for paperback mass-market fiction. It’s the penultimate chapter in the Legacy of the Force, and the Skywalker and Solo families are split by a new galactic civil war. The final chapter, Invincible by fantasy author Troy Denning, will hit shelves in hardback May 13.

This timeline helps to sort out what happened when – a version of it appears in pretty much every Star Wars novel published, too. You can also catch up on the latest happenings in the EU Cantina Web site and podcast.

Related post: Star Wars turning Japanese (I really think so!)