We’re now two movies into the Star Wars sequel trilogy produced by Lucasfilm under Disney, which bought the studio and the iconic space opera franchise back in 2012. Despite some increasing dissonance between fans and critics, The Force Awakens and the Last Jedi have been box office successes so far.
But to be able to tell the story playing out now, between the Resistance and the First Order and the awakening of a new hero in the Force, Disney chose to throw away a great wealth of material from books written before this time, something “traditional” Star Wars fans bemoan.
See, before the Disney acquisition, in fact before George Lucas even started work on the prequel trilogy, there used to be a whole line of Star Wars novels that related the further adventures of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia and others following the events of Return of the Jedi.
These books saw events like Han and Leia having several Force-sensitive children, Leia herself becoming a Jedi, Luke opening a New Jedi Academy, and the Empire remnants trying to re-establish themselves. And the Jedi-Sith battle continues. Also, invaders from outside the Galaxy come and mess up the whole story setting.
These books formed what was originally the Star Wars “Expanded Universe.” When Disney got Star Wars and Lucasfilm, they consigned the wealth of story events and world-building in the books to non-canon status, preferring to build their own narrative from Episode VI. The once-Expanded Universe became the Legends continuity instead.
Leland Chee, a writer for Lucasfilm and part of the “story group” supervising the direction of Star Wars film canon, gives a reason for the studio deciding to start clean without blatant input from the Expanded Universe in the sequel trilogy. It’s rooted in the death of a character: Chewbacca.
Yep. In the Expanded Universe novel Vector Prime (1999), Chewbacca died saving one of Han and Leia’s Jedi children. Without spoiling further, he was killed by a planet’s moon falling on him. Fortunately Chewie’s own son survived and became a Jedi, but an original main character died and never returned.
At least that was how it went in the old EU/Legends. Chee believed the editorial decision to kill Chewbacca in the books was due to his limited vocabulary options (just growls that need translation) especially in print form. It’s his book death that spurred Disney/Lucasfilm to create a new canon.
“There’s no way that I’d want to do an Episode VII that didn’t have Chewbacca in it,” spoke Leland Chee during his guesting at the Fandom Files Podcast on SyFy. “And if we were going to overturn a monumental decision like that, everything else was really just minor in comparison.”
So there: To keep Chewie alive for The Force Awakens onwards, Lucasfilm began writing a different canon rather than adapt from the EU. Two movies in, we have Han and Luke dead. Leia probably will follow soon. There are reasons for killing them off, but it’s a whole other story.