I’m going to preface this by saying that, despite the flaws I’m about to expound upon, the old Star Wars EU is vastly better than what we have as Disney canon now. Just wanted to make that clear. That said, the old EU was very much a mixed bag, and made a fair number of choices which, in my opinion, were rather poor. For the purposes of this article I’m not going to touch too much on the ever-present continuity and canon/non-canon issues that plagued it from the get-go, though it is relevant to one of my larger points that I’ll detail more at the end.
One major problem of the old EU, that bothered me even as I read the books years ago, was that it simply couldn’t leave well enough alone. What I mean by that is that while they didn’t outright character assassinate the legacy characters as Disney has, by constantly continuing things with them at the center, things essentially turned into a depressing soap opera. (Spoilers for old books.) While Luke, Han, and Leia all survive the various wars that took place, the same can’t be said for those around them. Two of Han and Leia’s kids die (one after turning evil), as does Chewbacca and Mara Jade, Luke’s wife. Call me sentimental or whatever, but it simply wasn’t fun seeing them suffer through all of this in what was previously a fun space opera adventure (which was still serious and with its dark moments.) I want the characters I like to be able to have their “happily ever after,” as do, I think, many other fans who were not pleased with that or with what Disney has done.
This brings us to an adjacent point. While it’s obviously not a good choice to butcher and sideline the classic characters as Disney has, it’s also a poor choice to do what the EU did, and constantly keep them in center stage. There is a balance to be had between getting rid of older characters and passing the torch along to a new generation. Those legacy characters, now no longer the main focus, can still be present in the universe, and appear on a regular basis. But at some point you have to let their stories end. While the EU did a much better job at making the Star Wars galaxy feel vast, it was still tightly wedded to those classic characters, to its detriment. There was so much room for stories completely unrelated to the “main plot,” which was only explored on occasion.
Another problem with always keeping the same major characters in focus (though it can be a separate issue as well) is that you necessarily have to keep upping the stakes, which eventually leads to the decidedly unfun New Jedi Order series and the Yuuzhan Vong War.
Let our beloved characters enjoy their hard-fought victories, let the torch pass to others, be it side characters from before, the main characters’ kids, or anyone. Again, maybe I’m just overly sentimental, but I want to see the characters I like succeed, and be happy, eventually, not endure tragedy after tragedy, bigger and bigger wars with little peace.
This isn’t a good plan if you truly want longevity and variety within a genre that basically has unlimited story possibilities.
A big reason that this happened, I think, is that there was no solid plan in place for the universe at almost any point. With the original trilogy, Lucas had no idea it’d take off, and thus didn’t plan very far. Then, it took some time once writers were brought on to write in the EU for proper oversight to be established, and then a lot of that was upended by the poorly planned prequels.
Now to the other aspect of this post’s title, how to avoid these problems.
The most obvious and simple thing is to actually have a plan. In planning my Galaxy Ascendant series, I had a plan for the initial seven book series very early on, and now, as I near the end of that, I have numerous planned spin-off series and more direct continuations.
Beyond a general plan, you also need to know what the end point for you legacy characters are, what you want for them, and how that works into the overall universe. Obviously, you want pro-active characters to not shut themselves away from outside events or kill them–Disney did this with Luke and Han, respectively, and it was terrible–but you also need to have a plan for taking them out of the spotlight. Doing this serves two purposes. It makes the universe feel bigger, rather than centered around a handful of people, and it allows you to tell “smaller” stories, with stakes a bit lower, following different characters. You can still have the legacy characters make appearances where it makes sense, and, when you eventually do tell another large-scale, high stakes story that sees the return, in a secondary capacity, of those classic characters, it’s all the more exciting. Seeing those characters in a different light also allows for more creative possibilities, potentially even a story or two featuring them every so often. But they don’t overshadow the newer characters, and don’t become the center of the universe. I have plans for what I’ll do with most of the main Galaxy Ascendant characters already.
Furthermore, making things less tightly focused on the same few characters makes it easier to branch out, tell more stories that aren’t directly tied to a major ongoing plot, further adding to the depth of the setting.
You don’t want to rely on the same characters, the same imagery forever. While I’m generally wary of doing prequels, in small doses, and when thought out well (not telling stories that don’t need to be told, maintaining continuity, and not trying to make everything part of some single long con) can accomplish this.
This post has already gone fairly long, so I’ll wrap up now. The Star Wars EU had many great moments, but also major flaws, flaws which I hope to learn from and avoid in my own work.
Keep the stories fun, have plans for the universe as a whole and your legacy characters in particular, don’t let yourself get stuck in the mindset of needing to focus everything on the same people, and on constantly upping the stakes. “Happily ever after” isn’t a bad thing for stories, and you absolutely can give your characters happiness without leaving the universe around them aside.
The space opera genre grants you almost unlimited story possibilities. Take advantage of it! Don’t pigeonhole yourself within your own story and characters. Learn from the mistakes of others, to avoid them yourself. And remember, your characters may be fictional, but they still are people in their own world, who deserve some measure of happiness after their hard work–and I think readers who fell in love with those characters would agree. Keep things fun, even if the stories are serious.
I endeavor to do this with my Galaxy Ascendant series. I am now crowdfunding books 4 & 5 in the series, in which things escalate further, and seeds are laid not only for the last two books in the series, but also much of what is to come once this initial series is concluded. There is a lot of very fun stuff planned, but in order to ensure that I can afford to keep releasing great books at a quick pace, I need your support! Back today, and you can receive not only great books (in either ebook or print formats), but you can also help shape the Galaxy Ascendant via the Galactic level tiers that allow you to play a role in the creation of a character or the design of a ship.
Hope you can join me!