Star Wars expanded to other media includes all Star Wars fictional material produced by Lucasfilm or officially licensed by it outside of the original theatrical Star Wars films produced by George Lucas. The spin-off material was moderated by Lucasfilm, and Lucas reserved the right to both draw from and contradict it in his own works. This includes an array of derivative Star Wars works produced in conjunction with, between, and after the original trilogy (1977-1983), prequel trilogy (1999-2005), and sequel trilogy (2015-2019) of films, and includes books, comic books, video games, and television series.
Non-film material produced prior to 2014 was collectively known as the Star Wars Expanded Universe (SWEU or EU). It was later rebranded to Star Wars Legends and declared non-canonical to the franchise, with the exception of the CGI-animated The Clone Wars film and TV series of the same name. Most works produced after April 2014 are part of the official canon as defined by Lucasfilm.
Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker, Alan Dean Foster's novelization of the original 1977 film Star Wars, was released six months before the film in November 1976. Based on George Lucas's 1976 version of the screenplay, it was ghostwritten by Foster but credited to Lucas. Lucas commissioned Foster's subsequent 1978 novel Splinter of the Mind's Eye as the basis for a potential low-budget sequel to Star Wars if that film proved unsuccessful. Foster's works were followed by the film novelizations The Empire Strikes Back by Donald F. Glut (1980) and Return of the Jedi by James Kahn (1983), as well as the two trilogies The Han Solo Adventures by Brian Daley (1979-1980), and 1983's The Adventures of Lando Calrissian by L. Neil Smith.
Running from April 1977 to May 1986, the Star Wars comic book series from Marvel Comics met with such strong sales that former Marvel editor-in-chief Jim Shooter credited it with saving Marvel financially in 1977 and 1978. Marvel's series became one of the industry's top selling titles in 1979 and 1980.
Two spin-off television films focusing on the life of the Ewoks, creatures introduced in Return of the Jedi, aired in 1984 and 1985. The 1985 animated television series Star Wars: Droids (released on DVD in 2004 as Star Wars Animated Adventures: Droids) featured the exploits of R2-D2 and C-3PO, the droids who have appeared in all the Saga films. The series takes place between the events which were to be depicted in Revenge of the Sith and the original Star Wars (by then subtitled, A New Hope). In 1986, Marvel Comics' Star Comics imprint published a comic book based on the cartoon series under the name Star Wars: Droids. The bi-monthly series ran for eight issues. The American/Canadian animated television series Star Wars: Ewoks aired for two seasons between 1985 and 1986. In 1985, Star Comics published a bi-monthly Ewoks comic, based on the animated series, which ran for two years, ending with issue #14. Like the TV series, this was aimed towards a younger audience. It was produced along with Droids, which was based on the Droids animated series.
First Star Wars video games also were created during the time period.
In 1987, shortly after the release of Star Tours at Disney Parks, West End Games began publishing Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game, and the subsequent ancillary role-playing game material such as sourcebooks, gamebooks, and adventure modules. These have been called "the first publications to expand greatly beyond what was known from the vintage era of the movies". The material was used as a resource by some novelists that later followed, but for a time, the release of spin-off media was halted. Also in 1987, the fan newsletter Bantha Tracks was absorbed by the official Lucasfilm magazine, which focused on the company's projects outside of Star Wars. Some fans feared that the franchise had come to an end, and the period between 1987 and 1991 has been called "The Dark Times". The lack of new material ended with the release of Timothy Zahn's novel Heir to the Empire and the Dark Horse comic Dark Empire.
The 1991 Timothy Zahn novel Heir to the Empire, which reached #1 on the New York Times Best Seller list, began what would become a large collection of works set before, between, and especially after the original films. StarWars.com wrote in 2014 that the novel "jumpstarted a publishing program that endures to this day and formalized the Expanded Universe". It introduced, among others, the popular characters Grand Admiral Thrawn and Mara Jade, and was followed by the sequels Dark Force Rising (1992) and The Last Command (1993). The Thrawn trilogy is widely credited with revitalizing the Star Wars franchise. In The Secret History of Star Wars, Michael Kaminski suggests that this renewed interest was a factor in Lucas's decision to create the prequel trilogy.
Around this same time, the comics license was transferred to Dark Horse Comics, whom launched a number of series set after the original film trilogy, including the popular Dark Empire sequence (1991-1995) by Tom Veitch and Cam Kennedy. The comic launched months after the first Thrawn novel and was a sequel to those novels, the comic resurrected the film characters of Emperor Palpatine and Boba Fett. Zahn disagreed and was critical of the concept of resurrecting Emperor Palpatine through cloned bodies, feeling it undermined and contradicted the meaning of the ending of Return of the Jedi.
In 1993, Dark Horse also published Tales of the Jedi, expanding the fictional universe to the time of the Old Republic, 4000 years before the films. The series spawned many other productions, including books and comics, and a popular online role-playing game.
In 1994, Lucas Licensing's Allan Kausch and Sue Rostoni discussed the relationship between Lucas' creations and the derivative works by other authors:
Gospel, or canon as we refer to it, includes the screenplays, the films, the radio dramas and the novelizations. These works spin out of George Lucas' original stories, the rest are written by other writers. However, between us, we've read everything, and much of it is taken into account in the overall continuity. The entire catalog of published works comprises a vast history--with many off-shoots, variations and tangents--like any other well-developed mythology.
The 1996 Steve Perry novel Shadows of the Empire, set in the as-yet-unexplored time period between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, was part of a multimedia campaign that included a comic book series and video game. The multimedia project was largely meant to reinvigorate the franchise ahead of the prequel trilogy, along with Lucas's 1997 Special Editions of the original trilogy.
In 1999, Star Wars book publishing moved from Bantam Spectra to Del Rey Books. A new series set 25 to 30 years after the original films, The New Jedi Order (1999-2003), was written by multiple authors and introduced a new threat: the Yuuzhan Vong, a powerful alien race attempting to invade and conquer the entire galaxy. The first novel in the series, R. A. Salvatore's Vector Prime, killed off popular character Chewbacca.
Before 1999, the bulk of Expanded Universe storytelling explored the time periods either after Return of the Jedi or long before A New Hope (i.e. the Tales of the Jedi series). Lucasfilm specifically prohibited development of the time period shortly before the original trilogy--including the rise of the Galactic Empire and the personal histories of Anakin Skywalker and Emperor Palpatine--to avoid conflict with Lucas's own plans for a potential prequel trilogy. Lucas eventually released Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999), Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002), and Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005), punctuated by the 2003 animated series Clone Wars, which explored the titular conflict in more detail. Subsequent novels, comics, and games were set before, concurrent with, and after the events of these works.
Lucas brought some minor elements from the Expanded Universe into the film continuity. Dash Rendar's Outrider from Shadows of the Empire appeared in the Special Edition release of A New Hope. He also used Coruscant, the New Republic capital planet created by Zahn in the Thrawn trilogy, in his prequel trilogy of films and the Special Edition of Return of the Jedi. The character Aayla Secura, introduced in 2000 in the Republic comic book series, appeared in Attack of the Clones.
Originally, Lucasfilm tracked the storylines and content of the Expanded Universe in story bibles. In 2000, Leland Chee was hired as Continuity Database Administrator for Lucas Licensing, and implemented a database called the Holocron, a term used within the fictional Star Wars universe for "ancient repositories of knowledge and wisdom". Lucasfilm's Holocron consists of over 55,000 entries for franchise characters, locations, species, and vehicles.
As of 2004, over 1,100 Star Wars titles had been published, including novels, comics, non-fiction, and magazines. Then-president of Lucas Licensing, Howard Roffman, estimated that there were more than 65 million Star Wars books in print. He said, "The books are a way of extending the fantasy of Star Wars. The movies have had a really profound effect on a couple of generations. Star Wars has become a cultural touchpoint, and our fans are avidly interested in exploring more stories." The animated television series The Clone Wars ran from 2008 to 2014 and was set between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. This new series grew from earlier Clone Wars lore, such as Anakin having been knighted early in the war instead of later in the war, characters such as Even Piell, Adi Galia, and Assajj Ventress having different fates, and Anakin now being assigned a Padawan learner, Ahsoka Tano. Due to being constantly asked, Lucas discussed ideas for a sequel trilogy several times after the conclusion of the prequel trilogy, but denied any intent to make it after completing the prequel trilogy.
Regarding the Holocron database in 2012, Chee said: "What sets Star Wars apart from other franchises is that we develop a singular continuity across all forms of media, whether it be the films, TV series, video games, novels and comics, and the Holocron is a key component to Lucasfilm being able to do this." The Holocron was divided into five levels of canon (in order of precedence):
Lucas Licensing's managing editor Sue Rostoni said in 2001, "Our goal is to present a continuous and unified history of the Star Wars galaxy, insofar as that history does not conflict with, or undermine the meaning of Mr. Lucas's Star Wars saga of films and screenplays." Director of Fan Relations Steve Sansweet clarified:
When it comes to absolute canon, the real story of Star Wars, you must turn to the films themselves--and only the films. Even novelizations are interpretations of the film, and while they are largely true to George Lucas' vision (he works quite closely with the novel authors), the method in which they are written does allow for some minor differences ... The further one branches away from the movies, the more interpretation and speculation come into play. LucasBooks works diligently to keep the continuing Star Wars expanded universe cohesive and uniform, but stylistically, there is always room for variation.
In August 2005, Lucas said of the Expanded Universe:
I don't read that stuff. I haven't read any of the novels. I don't know anything about that world. That's a different world than my world. But I do try to keep it consistent. The way I do it now is they have a Star Wars Encyclopedia. So if I come up with a name or something else, I look it up and see if it has already been used. When I said [other people] could make their own Star Wars stories, we decided that, like Star Trek, we would have two universes: My universe and then this other one. They try to make their universe as consistent with mine as possible, but obviously they get enthusiastic and want to go off in other directions.
In October 2012, The Walt Disney Company acquired Lucasfilm for $4.06 billion. Subsequently, Lucasfilm formed the "Star Wars Story Group", which was established to keep track of and define the canon and unify the films, comics, and other media. Among its members are Chee, Kiri Hart, and Pablo Hidalgo. To prevent a planned sequel trilogy from being beholden to and restrained by the plotlines of the Expanded Universe works, the choice was made to discard that continuity. In particular, Chee said that the death of Chewbacca in Vector Prime was a key factor in the decision. Among other significant things wiped out were all post-Return of the Jedi events, such as the existence of characters like Luke Skywalker's wife Mara Jade, Han Solo and Leia's children, Boba Fett's survival, and the Yuzhaan Vong species. Also erased were the Ewoks movies for television, the 2003's Clone Wars animated series by Gendy Tartakovsky, and videogame originated characters like Darth Vader's apprentice Starkiller, Knights of the Old Republic set thousand years before the films, Shadows of the Empire's Prince Xizor, and ex-stormtrooper turned Jedi Kyle Katarn.
In April 2014, Lucasfilm rebranded the Expanded Universe material as Star Wars Legends and declared it non-canonical to the franchise. Chee said in a 2014 Twitter post that a "primary goal" of the Story Group would be to replace the previous hierarchical canon (of the Holocron) with one cohesive one. The company's focus would be shifted towards a restructured Star Wars canon based on new material.
Lucasfilm explained that the only preexisting works to be considered canonical within the franchise would be the primary episodic films, and the 2008 The Clone Wars film and TV series. The announcement called these works "the immovable objects of Star Wars history, the characters and events to which all other tales must align." It was also made clear that a planned Star Wars sequel trilogy, and subsequent works developed within the restructured canon, would not be based on Legends material but could possibly draw from it. The first new canonical novel was A New Dawn by John Jackson Miller, published in September 2014, acting as a prologue to the animated series Star Wars Rebels, which released a month later.Marvel Comics began publishing a series of Star Wars comic book titles in January 2015. The Journey to Star Wars projects started publishing works that tied with the upcoming sequel trilogy films.
The Force Awakens was released in December 2015, and marked the beginning of the sequel trilogy of films. There was some minor fan backlash against the restructured canon, with one group successfully campaigning to buy a billboard pleading for Lucasfilm to continue the original non-canonical Expanded Universe separately from the canon. While defending the restructured canon, Rebels supervising director Dave Filoni listened to the complaints, and addressed them by reintroducing popular Legends character, Thrawn into the canon in the 2016 third season of the CGI-animated television series Rebels (with original creator, Zhan, returning to write canonical novels about the character). Since his previous work in 2008's The Clone Wars, Filoni had previously used multiple characters and elements from Legends works in his series. Filoni explained how Lucas incorporated Expanded Universe elements into the prequels, "Special Editions", and The Clone Wars. Saying, he would followed Lucas's viewpoint and example, in considering the films and television as the main canon, while being open-minded towards incorporating Legends elements into the canon. Albeit reworked to fit into the reworked canonical timeline, while being careful to not turn it into an altogether different thing. In the same interview, Dave Filoni said that George Lucas told him, that the movies and The Clone Wars television series, were the only thing Lucas considered canon, as in before the restructuring. And that he always developed the series with such mentality, due to Lucas influence. Saying that he wouldn't change his mentality inherited from Lucas, until the canon restructured to only develop sequels and prequels to what Lucas considered canon. And that despite the announcement that new comics and novels would hold the same canonical weight as the films, he initially he struggled considering them canon, until The Clone Wars cancellation, led him to help adapt many of his unfinished episodes scripts into some of the first comics and novels of the restructured canon.
After The Force Awakens, multiple films have been released, including spin-offs Rogue One in 2016 and Solo: A Star Wars Story, in 2018; as well as the second sequel trilogy film, The Last Jedi, in 2017, and the upcoming third sequel film, The Rise of Skywalker, in 2019. The new expanded universe has continued to grow since then, including dozens of novels; comics from Marvel and IDW; and new games like Battlefront II. In addition, multiple new series have been announced, including Resistance, an anime-inspired television series which premiered in fall 2018;The Mandalorian, a post-Return of the Jedi live-action series written by Jon Favreau which will premiere in late 2019 on the Disney streaming service Disney+; and a final season of The Clone Wars animated series, which will also be released on the streaming service.
Fantasy Flight Games's Star Wars: Armada, a table top miniatures game released on March 27, 2015, has mixed elements of both Star Wars Legends and the current canon (including the latter's expanded universe). As an homage to Legends, starfighter command upgrade cards in Armada are named after the main characters from the Star Wars: X-Wing flight simulator series. Armada has added expansion packs for additional vessels, such as Admiral Raddus's MC75 Star Cruiser from Rogue One that was released under Disney ownership of Lucasfilm, and Grand Admiral Thrawn's Star Destroyer Chimera from the new expanded universe. Fantasy Flight's Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game, which was released in 2012 prior to Lucasfilm's rebranding, initially drew its expansions from Legends such as the TIE Phantom (from Star Wars: Rebel Assault II: The Hidden Empire), while later additions were inspired by the new canon such as the TIE/fo Fighter and TIE Silencer (both from Star Wars: The Last Jedi).
In the most conservative terms, it is inarguable that the success of the Star Wars comics was a significant factor in Marvel's survival through a couple of very difficult years, 1977 and 1978. In my mind, the truth is stated in the title of this piece.
The industry's top seller? We don't have complete information from our Circulation Scavenger Hunt for the years 1979 and 1980, but a very strong case is building for Star Wars as the industry's top-selling comic book in 1979 and its second-place seller (behind Amazing Spider-Man) in 1980.