Five Ways to Expand the Current Star Wars Universe

Five Ways to Expand the Current Star Wars Universe

Hi folks, Nathan here, filling in for Kiri while she gets into the groove of this whole motherhood thing. All the best to Kiri and her little Jedi as they start this journey. May the Force be with you for sure!

Okay, so let’s talk about the old Expanded Universe. It was just over two years ago that this collection of novels, comics, and game narratives loved (and occasionally loathed) by Star Wars fans was relegated to the status of “Legends”. In that time, a great deal of digital ink has been spilled decrying Disney’s decision as well as talking about all the critical pieces of the EU that should have been kept canon.

And none of it has mattered. At the end of the day, I understand why Disney made this call. The EU became a convoluted collection of Galaxy ending disasters occurring every other week and an indistinguishable knot of interpersonal relationships. Some of it had to be jettisoned in order to create stories that were still fresh and compelling and accessible to new audiences.

However, the EU was still home to a bunch of great ideas. No small indication of that is how The Force Awakens borrowed some of them, at least conceptually, to fill out its characters and places. One example is Starkiller Base which certainly recalls The Sun Crusher. And of course there’s the reveal that Kylo Ren is in fact Jacen Solo, er, I mean Ben…

In the wake of The Force Awakens, I want to look at aspects of the EU that are ideas that can still be used to fill out that Galaxy far, far away. The idea here isn’t that Disney should lift these five things whole cloth from the pages of our favorite Star Wars novels. Rather, I believe these five concepts should be used to help flesh out the new canon, even if not in the exact form we’re familiar with.

Lando’s Bad Luck

You remember the bustling mineral business from Nomad City on Nkllon? Or the Galaxy famous theme parks of Cloud City? Or the time Lando fought a rancor for priceless Meek artifacts?

No? That’s because in the EU Lando had a long history of betting big, and failing bigger. It was part of the old space pirate’s enduring charm. He was always out for the big score, even if that was going to land him in more trouble than it was worth.

It does appear that so far in canon stories of Lando will fall along the same vein. His appearance on the Rebels show involved many shenanigans leading to the revelation that he’s going to be using puffer pigs to root out valuable minerals. Also the Lando comic series (I’ll be talking more about this soon!) starts with Lando acquiring a certain trinket to pay off a debt, only to have the term familiarly “altered” at the last minute. Let’s keep Lando out in front of some of the Galaxy’s most magnificent schemes, and maintaining his winning smile when the dust settles from the eventual crash.

Black Sun and Prince Xizor

In the late 90’s, Lucasfilm was looking thinking about releasing new Star Wars films into the world. There were ideas floating around, but the Prequels were still a few years off. The media company had formed many relationships in the nearly two decades since the Original Trilogy, but questions were being asked how these various media entities could work around a single big release. Could they work in conjunction to release materials in multiple formats that would compliment each other and continue to build on the Star Wars fan base? The answer to those questions was the Shadows of the Empire multimedia project.

It started as an experiment to see if Lucasfilm and its partners were ready for a major motion picture release. For the first time, we as fans received new stories that explored the period between Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. We were introduced to new heroes and new villains. Among those were the Black Sun crime syndicate and its indomitable leader, Prince Xizor.

Black Sun exists within the current canon. They were a faction with Darth Maul’s Shadow Collective, but I feel like they lack some of the teeth they had when introduced through Shadows of the Empire. Perhaps that has to do with the enigmatic, over the top Prince Xizor. Xizor was written to be the ultimate badass. And while I don’t think the canon needs a character exactly like him (pure evil complete with rapey seduction pheromones), a powerful crime lord that rivals the Hutts and is confident enough to scheme around the Emperor would be a very cool addition.

The Courtship of Princess Leia

The Courtship of Princess Leia was the first EU novel I read as teenager. The story of a lovesick Han Solo essentially kidnapping Leia, to woo her on a planet he won in an underground sabacc game. A planet that just happens to be home to rancors and a lost race of “magical” force users that leads to squaring off against the strongest of the Imperial Remnant, Warlord Zsinj. All the while Han is pursued by Luke and the jilted Prince Isolder attempting to prevent civil war within the fledgling New Republic.

It was truly a soap opera in space writ large, and I devoured it as a young Star Wars fan. Courtship was a fun, fast read. It had its flaws and these days doesn’t rank quite as high among my favorite EU novels, but it was really my first big introduction to the EU and for that it will always be adored.

What I would love to keep from The Courtship of Princess Leia is that it is going to take a big, raucous adventure, and maybe risking everything our heroes have fought to build, for Han to admit his feelings and decide to ask Leia to marry him. Because one thing about Han Solo, and this has been established in the canon, its going to take an awful lot for him to consider family life. You know.

Grand Admiral Thrawn and the Chiss.

You knew he would make the list. Grand Admiral Thrawn is one of the most enduring elements of the EU. Timothy Zahn’s seminal trilogy elevated the Expanded Universe. No small part of that was due to the strength of Thrawn as such a fascinating character. He was a brilliant strategist and a blue skinned alien that had risen to Grand Admiral in the notoriously xenophobic Empire. Next to perhaps the reborn Emperor, Thrawn was the Empire’s best chance at reestablishing its former glory.

With the First Order’s clear similarities to the Empire, it seems obvious that the Imperial Remnant didn’t fade away after the events Return of the Jedi. Having a strong, brilliant presence similar to Grand Admiral Thrawn would go a long way to explaining the Empire’s continued influence 30 years later.

If that character were to have ties to a mysterious faction in the Outer Rim that has its eyes set upon extending its dominance into the Core Worlds, that would add even more intrigue. The Chiss Ascendancy would be a fascinating foil to both the plans of the Alliance and Empire.

Add to that the fact that Luke, Leia, and Han appear to have a less influential roles in the Galaxy after Ben Solo’s betrayal, and threats from the Imperial Remnants and the Chiss would require a new set of heroes to face them. Some of those heroes could be members of…

Rogue Squadron

Talk to me about Star Wars fandom, and it won’t take long for me to reveal my love for Rogue Squadron. I’ve said before that Wedge Antilles is possibly my favorite character. He certainly is outside of the Original Trilogy’s main heroes. In my late teens and early twenties, I just could not get enough of these scrappy men and women who accomplished the impossible without any Force to aid them (mostly). They relied solely on their Incom T-65 X-wings, their exceptional skill on the stick, and each other. Corran Horn said it best, “I’m with Rogue Squadron. Impossible is our stock in trade, and success is what we deliver.”

Rogue Squadron does exist in the current canon. Technically. It was the designation used by Luke and Wedge’s snowspeeder group on Hoth. I’m going to be watching the development of Rogue One very closely. I hope the use of the moniker there can somehow develop into a collection of the Rebellion’s best fighter pilots. I also like what I’ve seen of Black Squadron in the Poe Dameron comic series, but it’s not quite the same to me. I’m really hoping for a Star Wars universe that includes the Rogues.

What about you? What from the Expanded Universe would you like to see make the jump to Disney’s current canon at least conceptually?

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Guest post: Love and Theft – A Review of Star Wars: Scoundrels by Timothy Zahn

I am pleased to announce my first Guest Post!  I have no problem with letting people share their thoughts on anything Star Wars and using my blog as a platform.  As I’m especially busy right now, I offered Nathan a chance to review a Star Wars novel that came out recently: Scoundrels.    I don’t read much EU anymore so it’s nice to have a shakeup in my posts.  Personally, I think Nathan is a great writer and seems to have more time to organize this thoughts than I do when I write – so maybe we can convince him to start his own blog?  Enjoy his book review and I hope you guys comment!

Han: "Now, Lando, no hard feelings about Wukkar?"  Lando: "Right...  C'mon, there's somebody I want you meet."

Han: “Now, Lando, no hard feelings about Wukkar?”
Lando: “Right… C’mon, there’s somebody I want you meet.”

I love Star Wars.  No surprises there, we’re all here reading Kiri’s Star Wars blog after all.  I love heist films, such as Ocean’s 11, The Sting, and The Brothers Bloom.  I love Han Solo… in a completely plutonic man-crush sort of way.  And I love Timothy Zahn’s writing.  The Thrawn Trilogy and his non-Star Wars Conquerors Trilogy remain some of my favorite science fiction.  So, when I heard that all of these elements were coming together in the recent release of Star Wars: Scoundrels, I was excited to jump towards that far, far away galaxy.

First off two confessions: This is my first foray into the Expanded Universe in several years.  There was a time that I rabidly consumed stories from Outer Rim to the Core Worlds, but eventually attention waned in favor of other literary pursuits.  It was definitely the concept of a heist story set in the Star Wars Universe that interested me.  A smaller-scale, character driven story seemed like a good counterpoint to the galaxy-threatening space opera I’d already read often.

My second confession is that I “read” this book in audio form.  I’m a chronically slow reader and always on the move, so the audiobook format worked well for me to finish Scoundrels in a timely manner.  But, more on the audio performance later.

Scoundrel’s takes place almost immediately after the events of the Battle of Yavin shown in A New Hope.  Han Solo and Chewbacca have recently left their new Rebel friends and promptly their reward money was stolen.  Now, Han has a Kowakian monkey-lizard to get off his back, namely his debt to Jabba the Hutt.

Enter Eanjer, a heavily bandaged man that offers our favorite smugglers a chance at a fortune, a cut of 163 million credits to be exact.  All they have to do is sneak into the high security vault of Avrak Villachor on Wukkar, a man who turns out to be no less than a Black Sun sector chief.  Han balks that he and Chewie aren’t really thieves and safecrackers, but Eanjer insists “surely you know people…”

And apparently Han does.  He soon begins assembling a team of scoundrels to knock off Villachor during Wukkar’s weeklong Festival of Four Honorings.  The team involves experts in information gathering, ship boosting, explosives, misdirection, and notably the experienced “ghost thief” (i.e. cat burglar) Bink Kitik and her techie twin sister, Tavia.  A few faces familiar to longtime Star Wars fans even fill slots on the teams roster:  Rebel superagent, Winter, signs up as a security expert and future Wraith Squadron pilot, Kell Tainer deals with explosives.  Also Han’s estranged friend, Lando Calrissian, mysteriously gets the call to be the team’s frontman.

Of course, things can never go too smoothly for our heroes and these scoundrels face plenty of challenges along the way.  During the festival, Villachor is playing host to one of Black Sun’s nine vigos, a Falleen named Qazadi.  His presence also draws the attention of Dayja, an Imperial Intelligence agent, and his handler.

The majority of the book deals with Han and Company setting up for the heist while various pieces move around the board.  These stories typically involve a large cast of characters and Scoundrels is no exception with 11 members on Solo’s team.   While that number makes it difficult to flesh out each character, Zahn does a good job of balancing the action across his cast so everyone has important parts to play.  Han and Lando are really the stars here, but Bink Kitik is a welcome addition to the Expanded Universe as the feisty, flirty and competent ghost thief.

Zahn typically does a great job of giving his villains more substance than mere mustache-twirling evil doers and he continues that trend.  Agent Dayja manages to be something other than simply an agent of evil.  He feels more like a cog in the Imperial machine, a law enforcement officer working with lethal efficiency.  Villachor is probably the novel’s most surprising character.  Possessed of a lethally short temper, the man is pushed to the brink of breaking as he tries to walk the tightrope that Qazadi’s presence demands while dealing with pressure from the Imperials and threats to his estate’s security.

Eventually, the picture comes into clearer focus as Han’s plan is executed.  We find that the heist is a satisfying flurry of action and suspense making the previous chapters of build up worthwhile.  The book as a whole is peppered with nods to classic and fan favorite Star Wars highlights, right up until the last few lines.  Even a particular swashbuckling archeologist gets a wink during the climactic heist scene.

The only major qualm I had with the book is that sometimes the characterizations felt forced by the story or continuity rather than natural.  Winter was rightly upset by Alderaan’s recent destruction, but it seemed as though we were being told how it upset her rather than ever experiencing it.  Dozer Creed became the character that projected doubt in a successful operation.  He had reason to doubt himself from the beginning and that doubt growing to encompass the heist as a whole became his character’s one tune.

And then there was Han Solo.  Occasionally, he just felt out of character.  Rarely did the cocky Han who would charge singlehandedly after a squad of Stormtroopers show his face.  In this story, he was far more contemplative.  Han responded flatly to Bink’s flirtatious overtures throughout the story.  Often his thoughts revolved around Leia, alternatively considering her a royal pain in the hiney and pining about how she might feel about him.

That being said it was interesting to consider how this adventure might be an important turning point for Solo.  In A New Hope, it was Han, Chewie, and the Falcon against the Galaxy and he liked it that way.  But in Return of the Jedi, we see that he is a general chosen to lead one of the most important land assaults of the war effort.  Could it have been that on Wukkar Han rediscovered his ability to lead talented individuals into difficult situations…?  I digress.

Finally since I got the story in audiobook format, I promised to touch on the sound production.  Star Wars: Scoundrels gets top marks on this front.  Marc Thompson did a great job with the narration.  His voice work for the classic characters was easily recognizable by their respective cadences.  Each member of the large cast had a distinct and fitting vocalization.  The audiobook also featured sound effects to mimic Wookie yells, blasters, and airspeeders.  While the effects were occasionally cheesy, the overall effect was one of an old fashioned radio drama rather than a simple book narration, and that tone fit the novel very well.

So, there you have it.  All told Scoundrels by Timothy Zahn is another fun adventure in the Star Wars Universe.  Very little Expanded Universe knowledge is needed to enjoy this tale set in the middle of the Galactic Civil War, but longtime readers will enjoy the several homages.  Despite its few flaws, the climactic heist makes it a worthwhile read, especially if you’d like your Star Wars with a slow build and a little more suspense.  But… you don’t have to take my word for it.  (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)