Yesterday, the official cast for Star Wars VII was announced over at StarWars.com. The “Big Three” will be back, as well as a cast of new faces, most of whom I hadn’t even heard of except for Andy Serkis, who played Gollum in Lord of the Rings and Captain Haddock in Tintin. I wonder who he’s playing…? (And I know you were probably expecting me to include a picture of Gollum here, but I didn’t. Ha! And let that be a lesson to ye!)
Not long before that, Kathleen Kennedy and Lucasfilm announced that to “give maximum creative freedom to the filmmakers and also preserve an element of surprise and discovery for the audience,” they will be officially discrediting the Star Wars “Expanded Universe” of books to make way for the Star Wars: Rebels TV show and Star Wars VII. That means, Timothy Zahn’s post-Episode VI supercool Thrawn novels, the adorable Young Jedi Knights series for teens, and all of the subsequent (generally depressing) books about Han and Leia’s kids are now gone.
(In hindsight, that was probably why the Star Wars website’s character database stopped referencing EU content last year or so when the site was revamped. They’ve been planning this as cunningly as the Emperor planned Order 66 for all those years, huh?)
According to the article featuring Ms. Kennedy’s announcement, George Lucas endorsed the Expanded Universe as merely an “official” fanfiction outlet for writers and nothing more than that. He wasn’t going to commit to the timeline writers had set if (and when) he decided to make more movies. But to so many readers, the Expanded Universe, starting with Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy, became our non-film sequels to the original trilogy.
Considering just how much it’s been built up over the last twenty-odd years, I think it’s a bit extreme to throw the entire Expanded Universe down a black hole just like that. BUT, not only does it make sense to me that they wouldn’t adapt the Thrawn Trilogy into episodes VII, VIII, and IX, I’m also relieved that they’re not adapting any of the Expanded Universe books into movies.
Whenever Hollywood makes a movie based on a book, they always change details here and there. Sometimes, the changes made are so minor, the movie is still tolerably similar to the original book. More often than not, though, the screenwriters change next to everything and the finished product ends up being completely different to the point that it’s sacrilegious.
Take Ella Enchanted, for example. It was a cute movie, but I had to pretend it just happened to have the same title as an awesome book by Gail Carson Levine in order to enjoy it. I know people who won’t watch the movie because it was so different, and then some who wouldn’t even read the book because they were so afraid it would be like the movie they’d just seen. (Rest assured, there are no giants singing classic rock songs in the book.)
On the other hand, with the exception of shrieking eels vs. sharks in one scene/chapter, The Princess Bride was very true to whichever medium it was released in came first. (I have reason to think the movie came first and the book was written afterwards.) I liked The Princess Bride and was impressed by its inter-medium consistency. But that sort of thing is super-rare in Hollywood.
That is why the odds (which we’re never going to tell Han) of a Star Wars movie based on one of the EU books being 100% true to its original medium are really, really low. Just think of what would happen then. There would be inconsistent plot points, disputes among fans about which version of the story is truly canonical, and other terrible things.
As extreme as it seems, in the long run, Lucasfilm is making a pretty good decision to just start fresh with the post-Return of the Jedi timeline. It looks like there will still be room for some minor overlap, but we’ll probably just have to accept that a dramatic new path is being paved for Star Wars canon — and fandom as well.
P.S. What makes me happy is, so many new characters will be getting a new shot at life. Chewbacca, it seems, is one of these lucky beings. I’m really hoping for Jacen Solo, who was pretty much ruined by the time he reached young adulthood by authors who wanted to spin a macabre Star Wars storyline at his expense.