Star Wars has been expanded to media other than the original films. This spin-off material is licensed and moderated by Lucasfilm, though during his involvement with the franchise George Lucas reserved the right to both draw from and contradict it in his own works. Such derivative works have been produced concurrently with, between, and after the original, prequel, and sequel trilogies, as well as the spin-off films and television series. Commonly explored media include books, comic books, and video games, though other forms such as audio dramas have also been produced.
With the exception of the CGI-animated The Clone Wars TV series, non-film material produced prior to April 2014 was collectively known as the Star Wars Expanded Universe (EU). Lucasfilm later rebranded the Expanded Universe as Star Wars Legends and declared it non-canonical to the franchise. Most works produced after April 25, 2014, are part of the official canon as defined by Lucasfilm, although a handful of Legends media has been released after that date.
The first Star Wars spinoff material was Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker (1976), the novelization of the 1977 film. Lucas later commissioned Alan Dean Foster, who ghostwrote the novelization, to write a sequel, which resulted in Splinter of the Mind's Eye (1978). Lucas originally intended to use this as the basis for a potential low-budget sequel to Star Wars, but when it became one of the most successful films of all time, Lucas decided to write his own story for the film sequel, The Empire Strikes Back (1980). While this was in production, Lucas approved the Star Wars Holiday Special (1978), which he had limited involvement with.
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. The series became one of the industry's top selling titles in 1979 and 1980. An adaptation of the third theatrical film, Return of the Jedi, was released as a separate four-issue limited series (1983-1984).
Two novel trilogies with original storylines were written, The Han Solo Adventures by Brian Daley (1979-1980), and 1983's The Adventures of Lando Calrissian by L. Neil Smith. Daley also wrote radio dramatizations of the original trilogy, which aired in 1981, 1983, and 1996.
Two spin-off television films focusing on the life of the Ewoks, introduced in Return of the Jedi, aired in 1984 and 1985. The furry creatures were also the subject of an American/Canadian animated television series produced by Nelvana, which ran for two seasons between 1985 and 1986. A sister series, Droids, features the further adventures of R2-D2 and C-3PO. In 1985, Marvel Comics' Star Comics imprint published a bi-monthly Ewoks tie-in comic, which ran for two years, and in 1986, published an eight-issue Droids series. The two series featured a crossover storyline.
Following the series' 10th anniversary, the release of Star Wars spin-off media was largely halted. 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".[according to whom?]
There were some bright spots in this era, however. In 1987, 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 later novelists.
The lack of new Star Wars material ended with the 1991 release of Timothy Zahn's novel Heir to the Empire.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 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, who 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; it notably resurrected the film characters Emperor Palpatine and Boba Fett. Zahn 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.
The Jedi Prince series of young-reader novels, released between 1992 and 1993, depicts Luke, Leia, and Han about a year after Return of the Jedi.The Truce at Bakura (1993) depicts the immediate aftermath of the aforementioned film. In 1993, Dark Horse published Tales of the Jedi, expanding the fictional universe to the time of the Old Republic, approximately 4,000 years before the films. The series spawned many other productions, including books, further comics, and eventually the Knights of the Old Republic computer roleplaying games.
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 also 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. Lucas incorporated elements of the Expanded Universe into the Special Editions; for example, Coruscant, the New Republic capital planet created by Zahn in the Thrawn trilogy, made its film debut in the Special Edition of Return of the Jedi, before being featured more heavily in the prequel trilogy. An eponymous comic book series, later subtitled Republic, launched in 1998 and introduced Ki-Adi-Mundi ahead of his appearance in the films.
In 1999, Star Wars book publishing moved from Bantam Spectra to Del Rey Books. A new series set between 25 and 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 (e.g. the Tales of the Jedi series). 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) was left open for Lucas to develop in the form of a prequel trilogy, which begin with Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999).
The character Aayla Secura, introduced in 2000 in the Republic comic book series, appears in Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002). The 2003 animated series Clone Wars and various spin-off books, comics, and video games explore the titular conflict in more detail leading up to Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005). Ahead of the film's release, Lucas announced a 3D "continuation" of Clone Wars, which was released as the animated film The Clone Wars (2008) and a television series of the same name (2008-2014). These reveal that Anakin had a Padawan learner, Ahsoka Tano, during this period. Various characters seen only briefly in the films or in other spin-off material are featured in more depth. At this time, Lucas denied any plans to ever make a Star Wars sequel trilogy.
Originally, Lucasfilm tracked the narrative content of the Expanded Universe in story bibles. In 2000, LucasArts lead tester Leland Chee was hired as Continuity Database Administrator for Lucas Licensing, and developed a database of franchise continuity based in part on 1998's encyclopedic Star Wars: Behind the Magic .[a] The database came to be known as the Holocron, a term used within the Star Wars universe for "ancient repositories of knowledge and wisdom". The 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."
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 US$4.06 billion (equivalent to about $4.52B in 2019). Subsequently, Lucasfilm formed the "Lucasfilm 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 the 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 the death of Chewbacca in Vector Prime was a key factor in the decision.[b]
On April 25, 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.[c] 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 CGI-animated television series Star Wars Rebels, which was released a month later. Marvel began publishing new Star Wars comic book series in January 2015, and the Journey to Star Wars publishing initiative included books and comics tying in to the sequel trilogy films.
The first sequel trilogy film, The Force Awakens, was released in December 2015. 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.Rebels supervising director Dave Filoni reintroduced popular Legends character Thrawn into the canon in the 2016 third season of Rebels. Timothy Zahn was hired to write new canonical novels about the character. Since co-creating The Clone Wars, Filoni has followed Lucas (who incorporated Expanded Universe elements into the Special Editions, prequels, and The Clone Wars) in incorporating multiple spin-off elements into his series. Some cancelled The Clone Wars episodes were adapted into canon books and comics in The Clone Wars Legacy multimedia project.
After The Force Awakens, multiple films have been released, the anthology films Rogue One (2016) and Solo, (2018); as well as the second sequel trilogy film, The Last Jedi (2017), and the third, The Rise of Skywalker (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 premiered in late 2019 on the Disney streaming service Disney+; and a final season of The Clone Wars animated series, which is also featured on the streaming service.
In February 2020, it was announced that a new line of books and comics, labeled The High Republic, would begin publishing starting in August. The line takes place 200 years prior to the events of The Phantom Menace and will not overlap any films or series currently planned for production.
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.