The Sequel Trilogy and the Expanded Universe

Note: I will not be surprised if Episode VII bulldozes the entire post-Return of the Jedi era Expanded Universe. But that’s not the point of this post.

Lately I’ve been seeing people argue that Episode VII can’t and shouldn’t use elements from the Expanded Universe, else the story idea will be limited. I certainly understand that argument. Also, we already know that Episode VII will follow an original storyline, meaning Episodes VII, VIII, and IX won’t be The Thrawn Trilogy or some other EU book. People point to that statement as evidence that the Sequel Trilogy won’t use anything from the EU, because it would be too difficult to explain who these new characters are.

To that, I say bullshit.

Mara Jade in Vector Prime. Illustration by Darren Tan for the Essential Reader's Companion.

That’s not to say I expect Mara Jade to show up in Episode VII. After all, Lucas has said in the past that he doesn’t envision Luke being married. But for argument’s sake, let’s assume Luke is married in the sequels (because Lucas has been known to change his mind, and he isn’t writing this story). If they take place forty or so years after the Battle of Yavin, when the characters are about the same age as the actors who portrayed them, Luke would already be married with children. What would be the point of having him married to someone other than Mara Jade? They’d have to introduce a “new” character to the movie audience anyway, so why not just use the character EU audiences know?

Now that doesn’t mean they’d have to stick to her entire backstory. All we really need to know about her is that she’s a Jedi and maybe that she used to serve Palpatine. She could have a throwaway line at some point about how the villain seems familiar. She and Luke could have some witty dialogue about a previous situation: “You and I remember Myrkr very differently!” And there you go. Backstory established, we can get on with the plot.

Of course, Mara’s dead in the EU, so they could just stick to that and have Luke’s kids have red hair or something. Have him say some sad line about their mother being so proud. The end.

You’re probably rolling your eyes and saying “yes Nanci, we know you love Mara Jade.” Well yes, I do, and I’d love for her to be involved or at least mentioned in the sequels. But other characters can be involved, too! Let’s take the Solo kids. We’ve all heard the rumors that the sequels will involve either Solo or Skywalker children. The EU gave us three Solo kids, so why not just use them? That’s not to say they have to stick to the story the EU gave us. Jacen and/or Anakin could still be alive and kicking butt alongside Jaina. That would be pretty awesome, right?

I fully understand not wanting the sequels to be restricted to the story the EU has given us. After all, the point is to have something new, right? But I don’t understand why that automatically means nothing from the EU will be included. Even if it’s just character names and traits—Jaina can fly, and Mara’s sarcastic—why not use them if they’re already there? It’s like Coruscant. Everyone who read The Thrawn Trilogy prior to the prequels knew that the galactic capital was named Coruscant. When The Phantom Menace came out, I was overjoyed that they kept the name. Lucas could have changed it, and it would certainly have been his right to do so, but why bother?

I just don’t get the argument that it would be too difficult to explain EU characters and elements. Movies do this all the time. Look at A New Hope: we get establishing information in the crawl about the Empire, Rebel Alliance, Death Star, and Princess Leia. Within ten minutes we’re introduced to C-3PO and R2-D2 and get a gist of their relationship. Darth Vader appears and we know he’s the bad guy just from his posture. Luke shows up and it’s obvious within less than two minutes that he’s a whiny farm kid (but I still love him). Obi-Wan appears, and he’s very mysterious and has a history with Vader and Luke’s father. We don’t know what that history is yet, but it’s something big.

Of course they hadn’t been written yet, but A New Hope made no attempt to explain the entire backstory of the prequels, and we still knew exactly what we needed to know to enjoy the story! It’s called exposition, dialogue, and acting. If you need another example, look to The Avengers. That movie took characters from several different movies and combined them into one cohesive story, and you didn’t have to see any of the other movies to get what was going on.

TL; DR: If Episode VII comes out and includes Mara Jade or any other major characters from the EU, I will be very pleasantly surprised. But if Episode VII comes out and includes absolutely nothing from the EU—no references, no character names, no planets, etc.—I will be even more surprised. There’s no reason why Michael Arndt and J.J. Abrams can’t use elements from the EU and still not be beholden to it.

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11 thoughts on “The Sequel Trilogy and the Expanded Universe

  1. This actually touches on something I bitch about a lot in the podcast, which is that you don't need miles of exposition to establish characters and situations in a film. You can drop the audience into an unfamiliar situation with unfamiliar characters, and if the writing and acting are solid, you will understand everything you need to understand without having a character's life history laid out in front of you. Show, don't tell, as the saying goes, and any screenwriter worth their salt can show us who a character is without resorting to telling us.

    • Definitely. Same with novels. One of the reasons I love Zahn so much is his ability to give exposition without having info dumps.

    • I also agree. And, to continue to bolster the argument, Indiana Jones was always running into people he knew but who were unknown to the audience and we never needed to know much about them to accept them as part of his life. We knew all about his relationship with Belloq just by the way he said his name.

  2. So basically, from what I've been hearing, if Disney disregards NJO and onwards (at least in terms of major deaths), then everybody is happy. And we could have Mara on the big screen.
    To this I say...please, Disney? You've taken away so much, it's only fair to give us something good for it. Please?

  3. I've heard the argument that the EU cannot be included in the sequels a lot, as well, and I not only agree with you that it would be easily possible to include some elements, I even think that it should be possible to keep all or most of the EU canon. If they move 40 years into the future, there is just the setting at the end of the FotJ series, and that is not so restricting (the GA (whichever name), the Imperial Remnant (which could play a big part or none at all and it would still be canon), the Jedi Order, a pool of characters to use or not to use). If they just jump 30 years into the future, they have Solo twins and a married Luke to play with, and it would "only" make all the EU material following the NJO non-canon (which I personally could live with).
    It is not as if they have to use everything and everyone, but they could just ignore things they don't want. If Luke for example is not supposed to have a family, well, 40 years ABY his wife is dead and if they don't mention a son, most viewers will simply assume that he has none. And for the EU fans a novel can explain that Ben is on some mission in the unknown regions or something like that. The movie could start with a line "after 30 years of peace in the galaxy..." and with just this sentence destroy all the EU, or it could start with "30 years after the death of Emperor Palpatine..." and no harm would be done. And for most viewers, it would be exactly the same.
    There are certainly some stories that can't be told without disregarding the entire EU, for example if there was no new Jedi Order, and Luke still the only Jedi around, but as all the EU material is licensed, I would expect them to respect at least the general development the GFFA has taken in the EU (not every character and every event). Yes, that is probably naive :-(.

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  5. This is plain common sense and I agree full heartedly 😀 Also, as Petra says, there's really no reason why Arndt should wreck the EU deliberately - if the story starts at quite another point, they can just let it be. *shrugs* And even if they have to, because of some major point, they can pull a Marvel and use the existing characters in a different plotline.

    And I agree in the plead - please, Dinsay - show us Mara on full screen or at least have Luke be widowed from her!!!

    BTW - there should be statements too that Lucas DID intend Luke to be married 😀

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  7. Actually Lucas did write the story treatments for Ep VII-IX. He wrote them (or had been writing them) and decided to sell to Disney with the understanding that they be made. And Disney bought only because there was material that could be turned into films in the very near future.

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