Episode VI was released in 1983. Episode VII is currently set to be released in 2015. In our own world, thirty-two years will have passed between the two films. Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher will be more than three decades older than they were at the end of the original trilogy. Barring any Jeff Bridges-in-Tron: Legacy digital rejuvenation, Luke, Han, and Leia will have aged accordingly. In those three intervening decades, it is beyond any doubt that the galaxy far, far away will have undergone a great number of significant changes. The Rebel Alliance will likely have restored the Galactic Republic, or at least founded a successor state of their own. Luke will have reestablished the fabled Jedi Order and begun training a new generation of Jedi Knights. Our heroes will have children, who now go on to face their own challenges. All these things have occurred at one point or another in the Expanded Universe that has been growing since the day A New Hope was released. Some hope that these stories will be respected by the sequel trilogy, and accepted in one form or another as the true history of what happened after Endor. Others feel that it is inevitable that the current continuity will be overwritten, and new stories invented to replace the old. I believe the latter will be the case, but I do not dread it – I choose, instead, to embrace the possibilities it offers us.
When Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire was published in 1991, it marked a major step forward for the franchise. Not only had the rebellion evolved from a ragtag band of revolutionaries into a legitimate government, but they now held in their possession the bright center of the universe itself – Coruscant! The story of how they came to wrest the world from Imperial control, however, was left to be told another time – more specifically, in Michael A. Stackpole’s 1995 novel X-Wing: Wedge’s Gamble.
Unfortunately, the actual details of this momentous and historic event proved to be somewhat anticlimactic – the world fell into the hands of our heroes more by Imperial design than rebel ingenuity and effort, part of a diabolical scheme hatched by the Director of Imperial Intelligence, Ysanne Isard. A mere two Star Destroyers were left to defend the world, a laughably insignificant fraction of the vast armada the rebels faced at Endor. For the capital of the Galactic Empire to fall so easily does a great disservice not just to those whose responsibility it was to hold it, but also to the rebellion that worked so hard and for so long to reach this point.
In George Lucas’ rough draft of Return of the Jedi, the fateful battle at the end of the trilogy did not occur in the orbit of the remote forest moon of Endor, but rather over the world of Had Abaddon, the Imperial capital itself. Not one, but two Death Stars hung ominously in its orbit, and the confrontation between Luke Skywalker and the Emperor took place deep in the volcanic bowels of the Emperor’s own palace. Lucas’ intentions were obvious – this was to be The Final Battle. A victory for the rebellion here would be crippling for the Empire, for not only would it face the loss of both its ruler and finest legions, but the beating heart of the entire galaxy would fall into rebel clutches – along with most of the Empire’s senior bureaucrats and administrators.
When the decision was made to relocate the action to a more remote location, a change of scenery and the opportunity to introduce the cuddliest warrior race of all time were not the only side effects – it also stripped what was to be the rebellion’s greatest triumph of a great deal of its significance. The Empire has never been portrayed as the simple snake to be decapitated, but rather as the many-headed hydra of Greek mythology. Even if you succeed in toppling the Emperor from his throne, how many Tarkins and Vaders might still be waiting for the opportunity to take his place?
The rebellion’s situation immediately after Endor is a precarious one. The Truce at Bakura, the primary novel dealing with this time period, felt the need to introduce the reptilian Ssi-Ruuk as a new threat, but I would propose that their addition to the Expanded Universe was an unnecessary one. The Emperor’s death and the destruction of the second Death Star merely marked the beginning of the rebels’ greatest challenge of all: the long and difficult path to legitimacy. The losses they suffered during the battle of Endor were significant: an Imperial counterattack could still be potentially disastrous. If the Imperial fleet chooses to retreat, then it carries with it word of the Emperor’s death and a warning to the Moffs and Grand Moffs to fortify their worlds and prepare for war.
If the rebels wish to realize their claim of being the legitimate galactic government, then they can no longer afford to merely strike out at the Empire where and when they choose: they must start openly liberating entire worlds for themselves, and do so before the Empire is able to regain its balance.
This is a core element of the Galactic Civil War that I feel has been underused for far too long. If killing the Emperor is considered sufficient closure for an entire trilogy of films, then it would seem only fitting that the fall of Coruscant and the birth of a new republic be the culmination of a series dealing with the rebellion’s post-Endor struggles. Their challenges would be manifold: they must obtain shipyards to replenish their depleted fleet and the resources necessary to fuel their growing war machine, they must convince worlds to align themselves openly with their cause, and they must wage wars of propaganda to win the hearts of the populations they seek to liberate. The Empire held near-absolute control over the galaxy for a quarter-century: undoing that is not simply a matter of raising your flag on the right piece of ground and setting off the fireworks. If this is Star Wars, then let it live up to its name. Let us see the rebels earn their stewardship of the galaxy, and the Empire fighting them every step of the way. The value of a victory is decided not by the rewards it brings, but rather by the effort required to obtain it.
Perhaps even more neglected is the Empire’s reaction to the catastrophic events at Endor. The Empire was designed to revolve entirely around the Emperor – his untimely demise was not considered sufficiently likely for there to be any plans in place to deal with its aftermath. The positions of his subordinates were constantly in flux – the Empire’s hierarchy an ever-shifting chessboard designed to prevent any one ambitious underling from amassing too much power and influence.
The sudden power vacuum in such an environment could easily provide material for dozens of stories. Do they choose to conceal the Emperor’s death, and attempt to carry on with business as usual? Do they restore the Senate to name a new Emperor, to demonstrate continuity of leadership and emphasize their legitimacy? Do military officers and regional governors turn to opportunistic warlordism, attempting to carve their own pocket empires out of the chaos, or even make their own plays for the Imperial throne? Let the Alliance and the Empire stand as two sides of the same coin: as the rebellion fights to obtain legitimacy and transition from guerrilla tactics to conventional warfare, let us see the Empire struggling with the first true threat it has faced in its entire existence.
Given the complicated nature of the early development of the Expanded Universe, I don’t think its vision of the galaxy after Return of the Jedi is a bad one. I do, however, believe that we are fully capable of doing better, and that the sequel trilogy offers us the perfect opportunity to demonstrate that. It is the chance for a fresh start – a new road from Endor to Coruscant, written with the benefit of hindsight and a willingness to seriously explore concepts that have, until now, mostly been the domain of essential guides and role-playing game sourcebooks. Rather than bemoaning missed opportunities and theorizing about how things could have been better handled if only they had known how successful Star Wars would be, we now have the chance to fully explore the potential of those early years, and reestablish the Expanded Universe’s status as something that contributes as much to the saga as any of the films.