For a long time I pondered over what made the new alternative Star Wars continuity (that came into operation in 2014) feel so different to the original Expanded Universe (EU). Then, while I was on holiday this year, it hit me – the original EU material was more like high-end genre fiction. It developed out a new landscape to be explored through extended storytelling with a defined accompanying historiography (see below). The alternative continuity output since 2014 by contrast is being developed as a patchwork quilt of approaches and styles, leaping about from time period to time period.
The original EU material by and large adhered to a general formula. We almost always got a main cast of characters deployed within ensemble pieces. They managed “the collective” story well even if that was delivered as a trade off against a focus on more extended personal character stories. In doing so they captured that essential Star Wars “essence”, that lightning in a bottle that replicated the feel of films. Characters matched in with how they behaved in the films. I think this is why Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy is so revered: it effectively gave us a sequel Trilogy and translated the feel of the films into book form – not an easy task. In the cinemascope of our minds we could see the scrolls and hear the John Williams soundtrack. That process was replicated through other story-arcs that followed.
In addition, and in the main, a lot of the previous continuity sequentially progressed the story beyond Endor so that there was an historical development of characters. This captured legacy. When Chewbacca died (Vector Prime) we saw in the subsequent books how the characters that we knew gradually came to terms with that loss both as a collective and individually. We watched the Solo kids grow up throughout the first few blocks of books and we could eventually see the baton passed from one generation to another within the saga. The overall canvas widened as we got more and more characters entering the dramatis personae. It evolved pretty naturally until the Prequel era films after which the process continued alongside additional supplementary chains of stories set in earlier time periods. We did get later periodic standalone books (Kenobi, Plagueis) but I think most people would perceive those as atypical of the overall original EU style.
By contrast as the new continuity came into being in 2014, a different approach was taken. The books hopped from time period to time period. We saw more personal accounts (Bloodline, Tarkin, Thrawn, Lords of the Sith, Dark Disciple, Heir to the Jedi), books which completed a bit of the overall puzzle (A New Dawn, Twilight Company, Inferno Squad), books that gave a sense of general events (Aftermath Trilogy) and books which provided a lead in to new characters in the standalone films (Catalyst). The books are being deployed as cement surrounding the overall brickwork. They are standalone books (Aftermath Trilogy aside) that seem to be attempting to create “literary fiction” within a Star Wars setting.
It’s perhaps also because these books are being released part-way through a new sequel Trilogy of films that the current approach has been made necessary. There are no exciting and courageous continuous directions that can be taken such as the New Jedi Order story arc, the Fate of the Jedi story arc, the Legacy of the Force arc, etc. While we wait for the bits of the puzzle to be assembled in Episodes VIII and IX I think we can expect the piecemeal approach to continue. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing – some of the new books have been great – but it looks like the era of the standalone book is here to stay for a while.
If that’s the case then I’ll start lobbying now for some more books set deep in the Prequels era – Dark Disciple was a delight!
Save the Dream. Save the Rebellion.