With Marvel taking over the Star Wars license again and Disney helming a whole slew of new movies starting in 2015 could it possibly be time for Star Wars to start from scratch? Now, let us be clear, I do not think that Disney would actually just chuck out the entire Extended Universe, but in fairness I do not think many people thought DC would reboot their entire comics universe (or that they would do it so poorly… more on that in another post). But what if they did?
In May 1991 a brand new Star Wars novel came out from author Timothy Zahn, titled Heir to the Empire. Set five years after Return of the Jedi, Heir was the start of a new trilogy of stories that starred Luke, Leia and the rest of the gang of heroes we loved from the movies. A new villain, in the form of the alien Thrawn, threatened the galaxy and pretty much single-handily restored the Empire to its former glory and squashed out the New Republic. At the time it was assumed that Star Wars as a franchise was pretty much done. The original trilogy was pretty much all there was, outside of a few spin-offs like the Ewoks movies, some cartoons and a handful of books — none of which had done anywhere near as well as the movies. The prequels were still just a hypothetical at that point, and even if they did come out would take place before the original trilogy, so anything coming after was fair game. The Heir to the Empire trilogy, combined with Dark Horse’s Dark Empire comics, revitalized the franchise, and the Extended Universe was born.
Move forward thirteen years and the number of comics, games, television shows and books set in the Star Wars universe has exploded. There are stories set thousands (even tens of thousands) of years before the original trilogy, dozens of stories set between the movies and books that extend the timeline about forty years past the movies (and some comics that extend it even farther than that). If Disney wants to keep the books as part of the Extended Universe they are going to have to bend over backwards to fit the new movies in somewhere, or find an easy way to explain what has happened to everyone not reading the books.
Almost every single year between the Battle of Endor and the most recent Star Wars novel (Crucible, set forty years after Endor) is accounted for. You could certainly set a book after that, which may fit with how the original actors have aged since the movies, but a lot of stuff has changed for the characters since then — not the least of which is the death of Chewbacca. There has been no official word on whether or not Chewie will be back for the sequels (although a casting call has gone out for suspiciously Wookie sized actors…), but if he is that either means it happens before Vector Prime (twenty years after Return of the Jedi) or he is not dead at all. Keeping an eye on Peter Mayhew’s status as a cast member may very well lead us to clues on the plans for the series.
But would starting over really be that bad a deal? When you get down to it there is a vast library of Star Wars literature out there, and eliminating it from continuity would definitely annoy the people who have put so much time into collecting and reading. Certainly some of it is very good (like the aforementioned Heir to the Empire trilogy, which are probably still the best Star Wars novels around), and conversely there are some which are significantly less good (looking at you, anything written by Kevin Anderson). You cannot ask people to just set aside continuity that they have invested in (and paid a lot of money for). It cheapens the impact of the events by making them feel unimportant.
On the other hand, though, the continuity that exists has gotten rather convoluted. Who is dead, who is alive, who is married to whom… all of this needs to be explained over and over again for new readers. This is exactly why we have seen DC reboot their entire universe multiple times, and ultimately fail in the efforts to do so. Seventy years worth of continuity can not just be flushed down the drain, so DC has tried to find a happy medium between reboot and maintaining existing stories, but with dreadful results. Marvel has largely avoided it, but they did create the Ultimate line back in the early 2000s to create a continuity free line of comics that would be accessible. The problem there is that in time it has developed its own continuity and made itself completely inaccessible to anyone who has not been reading it for a few years.
So is there a solution? Probably not, and no matter what happens someone will be upset. More than likely Disney will take what exists and work around it without really referencing it except in broad strokes. Marvel will probably have more freedom in the comics, but what will happen with the books? I do not know how much longer the current contract is valid for with their current publishers, but they should be worried about it when their deadline comes up. Disney may not have a fully-fledged in-house publishing business, but you can bet they are going to want to retain control of the property with an iron fist.
Ultimately, should Disney reboot the license and say that anything outside of the six core films no longer counts? Probably not, but I have to admit I do not think I would mind. Strip everything down and give it a clean start. It did work for Battlestar Galactica after all (even though the new show was horrendous), and franchise reboots in Hollywood have done fairly well (think Bond and Batman, for example). If there ever was truly a time for it, it would be now. The ball is in Disney’s court.