The Multimedia Worldbuilding of the Star Wars Legends Franchise
What do the Star Wars comics, games, and novels offer this multi-layered franchise? Go in-depth to discover how diverse storytelling can build a universe.
“People are going to read too much into it.” A line from Sir Alec Guinness in his 1977 interview with Sir Michael Parkinson. How little did he know.
There perhaps has been no greater media sensation than Star Wars. Since its inception, it’s dominated pop culture discourse with no signs of slowing down. More than a staple of American iconography, it’s also a global phenomenon. Even those who have never watched a Star Wars movie are likely familiar with the film’s famous motifs, such as Darth Vader’s breathing.
Star Wars entered at a time when sci-fi was no longer the goldmine the genre had been in post-war Hollywood. Major studios were shying away from the genre in fear of financial risk. Then out of nowhere, George Lucas, a new director hot off American Graffiti, brought forward a film that would quickly change cinema as we knew it, for both filmmaking technology and the way films were marketed.
Building the Movie Franchise
Despite the franchise establishing itself among fans like a newfound religion, since the Prequel Era (the films from 1999 onward), there’s a reoccurring element within the Star Wars fandom. and that is “nobody hates Star Wars more than Star Wars fans.” At first, the phrase may seem like a playful prod at fans who may be overly analytical towards new installments, but to some extent, it’s also true.
Analyzing audience scores, the critical consensus, and general online chatter, since the 1999 release of The Phantom Menace, only The Force Awakens and Rogue One have generally been well-received by the audience and critics alike. All other theatrically released movies (The Phantom Menace, Attack of The Clones, Revenge of the Sith, The Clone Wars, The Last Jedi, Solo, and The Rise of Skywalker), were critically scorned or loathed by audiences and, in some circumstances, both.
If you have enjoyed these films, then perfect! I too have enjoyed many movies that fuel heated discussions. I’m a child of the prequel era, and as such, Revenge of The Sith stands high in my Star Wars rankings.
But, that doesn’t seem to be the consensus with diehard fans.
The prequels, well, as one fan put in this snippet from The Phantom Menace 20 years Later, “George Lucas owes us a public apology.” Now the sequel trilogy, sometimes referred to as the Disney Trilogy, has continued to divide fans and critics with each installment. Solo bombed at the box office, forcing Disney to revaluate their trajectory with the spin-off films titled A Star Wars Story. Even the Return of The Jedi, which often sits near the top of most people’s Star Wars rankings, received mixed responses due to the departing of the grounded nature found in the first two films. Film theorists often attribute this to the departure of the producer Gary Kurtz, and to Lucas’ attachment to the lucrative toy industry as well.
We can’t ignore how fans of the original trilogy feel disappointed with the ever-growing digital additions to the original films. As recently as November 2019, was there yet another change to A New Hope, and still no sign of the original unaltered movies being released.
However, Star Wars is Star Wars. It’s a literal visualization of good vs. evil, with little poetic symbolism to cover its bluntness. But, it’s certainly not a story to hold under scrutiny for its merits of artistic expression. It’s fun escapism. However, when a franchise delivers films that leave a substantial portion of fans frustrated, you must ask, what’s going on?
Legends: What the Expanded Universe Offers
However, away from the starfield of films and into the reach of TV, comics, books, and video games, Star Wars continues to thrive in creating new characters, stories, and events. What’s more, for the most part fan reaction is extremely positive.
- Jon Favreau has recently unleashed a dominant pop-culture hit with The Mandalorian (how many times per day do you still see Baby Yoda?)
- Critics declared Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order from Respawn Entertainment as the best Star Wars game to date.
- Marvel continues to publish hit after hit with their Star Wars comics line. These comics also introduce new fan favorites such as Doctor Aphra.
- Dave Filoni is an icon within the animation division.
- And the novels continue to expand on the lore outside of the films, bringing in excellent hits and the reintroduction of the beloved villain Thrawn, created by Timothy Zahn.
While a number of these mediums may produce fan favorites, there are also numerous duds. Some comics may not score well, books may be tedious, and games may not have the force with them. But, we don’t hear the same level of anguish from fans as we do with films. I think it’s crucial to analyze what the extended media does to understand why. For the most part, it introduces stories, events, and characters that exist either outside of the Skywalker bubble, or hundreds and sometimes thousands of years prior. We may learn what Leia, Han, and Luke were up to during the events between movies, but elements of the core trilogy are not altered. The extended media uses the foundation established by the original films and builds upon it. It doesn’t restructure or alter it.
Star Wars: Battlefront Twilight Company
In Star Wars Gamer 6, Former licensing editor Sue Rostoni said:
Canon refers to an authoritative list of books that the Lucas Licensing editors consider an authentic part of the official Star Wars history. 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.
However, for most films past Return of The Jedi, each entry into the Star Wars film franchise has sought to change an element of the original trilogy or add to it. The prequels showed us that the Force is not a mystical entity, but an intelligent microscopic life form called midichlorians. Thought Luke was the most optimistic action hero ever to grace our screens? The Last Jedi changed that path. As Mark Hamill said ‘“Who is this guy? How did the most optimistic, hopeful character in the galaxy turn into this hermit who says it’s time for the Jedi to end? I read that, and I said, ‘What?’”
While the extended media will do its best not to change the fabric of the original trilogy, the films often do precisely that.
For the New York Times, Annalee Newitz writes:
The Star Wars franchise is among Disney’s most lucrative properties. But each new installment has escalated conflicts between fans over everything from character arcs to the diversity of its cast. Filmmakers are torn between catering to the base, with its rabid nostalgia for the 1970s and ’80s movies, and striking out into new territory that feels more relevant to the 21st century. The cinematic results are uneven at best.
And I think ultimately that’s where the issue lies. Every throwback to and dependence on the original trilogy risks upsetting fans. But, it seems that for the moment at least, the filmmakers are unwilling to let that era go in hopes of reigniting the spark that started it all.
The extended media, however, continues to publish each month, furthering the lore and creating new characters. And if you don’t like that month’s book? You can pick up the next one. Overall, it’s a small story from the far reach of the galaxy, and the impact on the original media is nil.
Want to learn more about the relationship between movies and games, and about the Star Wars franchise itself? Check these out.