The Expanded Universe in Movies: Why It Won’t Work

Posted January 15, 2014 by Jean-Luc Botbyl in Nerdy Bits

As we close the gap to the release date of Star Wars: Episode VII (we’re barely a year away from having new Star Wars in our theaters), the speculation about what stories will see is being taken to a new level. Everyone I’ve talked to, and everything I’ve read, has been about how much people want the Expanded Universe to be translated into the movies. The problem is, that simply cannot work. As much as I would love to see a direct adaptation of the entire Expanded Universe, it would require two or three Star Wars movies per year for a couple of decades. Not that I would complain, and I’d be waiting outside days in advance to get tickets, but I’m one of very few people in this situation. I’m also one of very few people who would still care at that point.

There’s a very simple reason that it would require so many movies to get even one EU story line does, and that’s the amount of character work that would be required. The EU is a series of very character driven stories, and everything builds on what came before. For example, you can’t read Legacy of the Force and appreciate it without having read the New Jedi Order, and you can’t read and appreciate the New Jedi Order without reading Young Jedi Knights. The voyage of characters like the solo twins begins almost at the same time as the EU, and still isn’t completely over. For those who have read the books, this is fine. We already care about the EU characters. We’ve known and loved them for years, but I would say that that isn’t most people.

For example, let’s look at the Darth Caedus story line, Jacen Solo’s character arc that (SPOILERS!!!!!!!!!!) sees him fall to the dark side of the Force and become a Sith Lord. For those who don’t know, this happens in the Legacy of the Force series, one of the more recent stories, and, aside from the Legacy comics and the Fate of the Jedi series, it is the furthest removed from the end of Return of the Jedi, beginning in the year 40 ABY*. At this point, we’ve seen the signs of Jacen’s inevitable fall. We’ve seen his character evolve from the playful teenager of the Young Jedi Knights Years, to a capable Jedi Knight at the onset of the Yuuzhan Vong War**, to a battered war prisoner who never fully came back from the events of the war. These aren’t events that can be brushed over in a single movie, no, these events would take dozens of movies before we even got to the end of the Yuuzhan Vong War, and then there’s still the Swarm War*** to deal with.

Star Wars EU article Caedus

Way too much history here to explain easily.

That’s all to say nothing of where the other characters are. Luke, Leia, Han, and Chewbacca have changed a lot since the end of Return of the Jedi. They’ve gone through so much, and at this point, are different from the versions at the end of Return of the Jedi in all but name. There would be nothing for casual fans to latch onto here, and the theater would be full of people leaning over to the resident EU expert wondering what the hell happened, and this is a problem. It’s a lose-lose situation. If they keep parts of the EU intact, and tell a good story in the upcoming trilogy, there’s no doubt in my mind that EU fans would feel cheated. That isn’t to say they would hate the movies, but they might, if Abrams and co. really screwed up one of the stories we’ve come to love so much.

Star Wars EU article Luke

He isn’t the Luke Skywalker you know anymore.

In the eight years since Revenge of the Sith, the Star Wars universe has rapidly expanded, changing more and more every year. This is in no way a bad thing; in fact, it just goes to show how well this universe was put together if it can still be built upon now. The thing is, the hope for any sort of movie adaptation of the EU got shot to hell by the fact that the New Jedi Order series spanned 19 novels, 2 e-books, and 16 issues of a comic book series. There’s no way that all of that can be adapted, and even if they were to only adapt the important elements of the series, it would fall apart. While it’s easy to pick out which pieces of the series are important and which aren’t as important, it isn’t a series where you can just skim over certain events. Every little thing matters, and any little plot thread could be picked up on at any point in the future.

Star Wars Eu article Vong

That much content for a war with these guys.

It may sound like I’m betraying the Expanded Universe, and maybe, to an extent, I am. But I feel that, more than anything, I’m defending it. Like many, I would love nothing more than to see everything from the X-Wing series to the Tales of the Bounty Hunters be adapted for the big screen, but ti just wouldn’t work out. It’s sad for me, but what would be even sadder would be walking into the theater with high expectations, and then getting something that completely slaughtered the Expanded Universe canon, and butchered everything that made its characters the characters that so many know and love.

Plus, we’ve seen the results of JJ Abrams’ attempt to pay homage to the past in his Star Trek movies. While the first one had subtle nods to the original series, Into Darkness was essentially Wrath of Khan 2.0, and that didn’t work out at all. Not that it was a bad movie, per se, it just wasn’t anything we hadn’t seen before. My biggest gripe with Into Darkness is that the new Star Trek movies were supposed to be movies for my generation, a generation of younger people who’s parents grew up on Star wars and Star Trek, and, as a result, so did we. I wanted a Star Trek for my generation, and now, I want a Star Wars for my generation.

Star Wars EU article Ben and Vestara

Star wars for a new generation? More like Romeo and Juliet for Star Wars fans.

Some would argue that we’ve already gotten that in the EU, and, to an extent, that is true. But the EU wasn’t made for us, nor is it the kind of thing that attracts many people in my generation. People who read the EU comics and novels are people like me who sit around lecturing others about the importance of the Great Hyperspace War. But our generation deserves a Star Wars that we can call our own, and that certainly wasn’t the prequel trilogy. I don’t mean to sound entitled, but, as good as all the Star Wars movies are, they were made in a different time. As much as I love them (it’s my favorite franchise of all time) I want a new Star Wars, one that my generation can identify with.

In order for that to occur, we need the sequel trilogy to tell original stories. Sure, they should take nods from the EU, but they shouldn’t be completely adapting EU novels or comics. Instead, we should see the writers, director, actors, and everyone involved create a new story, a story for a younger generation. What Episode VII should be, ideally, is a story that respects its past, while at the same time, boldly moving into the future with new stories and characters that we’ve never seen before. The great thing is? The EU will still be there for us when we get back from the theater.


Ok, fine. This never happened in continuity.

*After the Battle of Yavin

**Which takes place in the New Jedi Order series

***Joiner Trilogy

About the Author

Jean-Luc Botbyl

Jean-Luc is a grizzled veteran of We the Nerdy. Most days, he just wonders why he hasn't been formally fired. Follow him on Twitter at @J_LFett to make him feel validated.