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Star Wars 101: What Is the Expanded Universe, Anyway?

Say you’re hanging out with your Star Wars fanatic friend. Casually, you mention that you’re excited about the upcoming movies. Suddenly, your friend starts ranting about Rogue Squadron, Admiral Thrawn, the Sun Crusher, and The Truce at Bakura.

“Don’t even get me started on Crystal Star,” she says.

Don’t panic. You’re not alone. Not everyone spent their adolescent years ravenously devouring every Star Wars novel, comic book, and video game. You might not know Wedge Antilles from Mara Jade—not yet, anyway—but don’t worry. We’ve got you covered.

As its name implies, the Star Wars Expanded Universe is rather vast, so we’ll be releasing a new article every now and then which introduces Star Wars lore in tiny, easily digestible chunks. For now, let’s start with the Expanded Universe itself.

So, what is the Expanded Universe/Extended Universe/Legends?

The Expanded/Extended/Legends Universe is any officially licensed Star Wars material—aside from the 6 original films—released prior to April 25, 2014. This includes any video games, comics, toys, television series, and books.

That’s a lot of material, but it’s not actually that messy. Every piece of the Star Wars Expanded/Extended Universe was created with the previous works in mind, so there are surprisingly few continuity issues.

Now, for the pointless debate over the name:

Most official sites list this side continuity as the Expanded Universe, but some people called it the Extended Universe. Either way, most people just called it the EU. See? Pointless.

Why are you using the past tense? And what is Legends?

That’s because those stories are no longer called the Expanded Universe/Extended Universe/EU. As of April 25, 2014, the EU is considered part of the Legends line, and the stories no longer count as official Star Wars continuity.

That must have pissed some people off.

You should have seen the message boards.

Why would Lucasfilm do that?

I don’t have any insider knowledge, but I can speculate.

Once Disney and Lucasfilm decided to create a sequel to the original Star Wars films, they had two options:

  1. Stick with the EU and create movie versions of the storylines that the fan base was already familiar with.
  1. Set the EU aside, and create an empty sandbox for storytellers to play in.

They chose number 2.

To be clear, Lucasfilm didn’t just throw the old stories out. They re-branded the EU material as “Legends” so that people wouldn’t get wound up about their favorite storylines being discarded. This also gives Disney and Lucasfilm the option to use elements of those stories – be it backstory, technology, character arcs – in the new Star Wars canon.

So, it’s like an alternate timeline?

Yep. Or you can think of it as the mythology and urban legends of the new Star Wars canon. Hence the occasional borrowing of ideas from the old EU.

What should I call it?

That’s up to you, but from here on out we’ll refer to it as the Legends EU.

If the stories don’t count, why should I care?

Because it’s fun? Also, with two timelines comes twice the Star Wars. Don’t like where JJ Abrams took Luke Skywalker? There’s a whole universe of other Luke stories to delve into. (You get it. I like Luke Skywalker.)

Plus, the more you know about the Legends EU, the better you’ll be able to follow all of the discussions about the Force Awakens and the Star Wars spin-off films.

Where should I start if I want to explore the Legends EU?

I’m sure you’ve heard this one before, but while Splinter of the Mind’s Eye by Alan Dean Foster was technically the first Legends book, Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire is really the place to begin.

Heir to the Empire really kicked the Legends EU into high gear because, in short, it’s really good. Despite its massive page count, it’s a well-written, engaging, fast read, and it contains what I maintain is the most believable characterization within the Legends EU of Star Wars’ original three heroes (i.e. Luke, Leia, and Han).

After Heir to the Empire, you can continue reading some of the many (many, many, many) other books, dive into some of the comics (Dark Empire is controversial but exciting), or go play some video games. Might I recommend Knights of the Old Republic?

Honestly, it doesn’t matter how you start – it’s pretty much all good. Except for the Young Jedi series. Avoid that.

Star Wars Star Wars 101

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