A Case for Starting Over, Part I: The Road to Coruscant

Imperial_center_ROTJ

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.

Ysanne Isard did more to bring about the Empire's downfall than most rebels.

Ysanne Isard did more to bring about the Empire’s downfall than most rebels.

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.

Why settle for just one Death Star when you can have two?

Why settle for just one Death Star when you can have two?

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.

More than Yavin or Endor, this should feel like the moment the rebellion truly won.

More than Yavin or Endor, this should feel like the moment the rebellion truly won.

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.

Remember when guys like these were the face of the Empire's leadership?

Remember when guys like these were the face of the Empire’s leadership?

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.

9 comments

  1. Tommy Amundsen says:

    Great read with alot of valid points.Think fans in general would enjoy something like this.

  2. Michael says:

    Agreed, great article.

    I’ve read the Expanded Universe fiction for years, but after recently re-reading the X-Wing books I had a “duh” moment. I knew the Thrawn Trilogy was first, but I never really comprehended the publishing date of the other books and what impact that must have had on reading through the progression of events after ROTJ.

    When I first read everything, it was (almost) in chronological order, so it never occurred to me that the taking of Coruscant was anti-climatic.

    And don’t even get me started on Dark Empire. I recently read that for the first time, and had a headache trying to understand it’s placement in the timeline.

    Still, I’m an avid EU fan, so it’s going to be hard to let that go (in some form).

    One method I think would help to reconcile the existence of the EU and the new films (and Rebels, and countless other media to be rolled out) will be to compare it to how we learn about ancient civilizations.

    We like to think that we know a great deal about ancient Rome, Greece, Egypt etc, but the reality is, for each civilization we only have a few snapshots of life and events.

    In the case of Rome, we basically only have a few written histories, and scraps of papyrus here and there. And yet we base our entire understanding of Roman civilization on these documents.

    Imagine if 1000 years from now, history students only had a few thousand Tweets to study, a few copies of Shakespeare, The Great Gatsby, the Transformer Films, and a few civil war textbooks. You’d be missing a lot of what happened, right?

    I like to think of Star Wars and EU in the same way. We have a few stories of a galaxy a long long time ago, and every now and then a new “story” will pop up. Usually it fits in (canon) and sometimes not. When the new films are released, and depending on their story, I’d like to imagine them as the same as a massive discovery of new trove of Roman papyrus. Something that will alter our understanding of the Star Wars universe, and while not necessarily erasing everything before, simply providing a clearer picture.

  3. I can’t say I agree with this story. The Empire should be dead, buried, and the corpse incinerated in a pyre suspiciously resembling the one they burned Darth Vader’s corpse on. The fact the Empire continues to survive in the “Old EU” even to the point of becoming a group of protagonists in SW:L doesn’t fill me with a warm fuzzy feeling.

    The Empire died at the Battle of Endor, they even state that in the Thrawn Trilogy. Fans reluctance to let go of the Empire as a threat is one of the more curious elements of the EU with Ysanne Isard forced to poison the citizenry in the “X-Wing” novels because she is unable to hold Coruscant.

    The Empire is broken, simple fact.

    I hope the ST provides us with a new set of villains rather than rehashing the old and we’re able to move past Palpatine’s legacy.

  4. Michael Lind says:

    The premise of this argument, and presumably subsequent arguments in this series, boils down to two points: 1. I think the EU isn’t very good. and 2. Therefore, we should scrap it and make it better.

    This premise is faulty. Point 1 is completely and totally subjective. Though you marshal viable points in support of it, I could easily marshal ten times as many the other direction, and we could argue forever.

    Point 2 is equally a complete shot-in-the-dark bet. It is based on the premise that re-doing everything will make it better than it was before. This is anything but guaranteed, in fact, the evidence of the Star Wars franchise so far suggests that further tinkering generally only makes things worse – via the special editions and to some degree the prequels themselves.

    If you destroy the EU you have only a very slim chance of producing something that is obviously, measurably superior as a Star Wars construction. Far more likely is producing something that is largely indistinguishable, quality wise, or actually substantially worse. That is taking on a whole lot of risk, and destroying an astonishing amount of background material that has evolved into one of the most vibrant and complete space fantasies ever made, for a very minor gain at best.

    Additionally, this essay focuses almost entirely on the novels alone. The novels, of course, are only a fraction of the EU. Many EU sources do indeed deal with factionalism in the Empire post-Endor, the rise of the New Republic, and so forth. One of those sources is Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II, which is one of the most famous EU sources there is.

    • Eric J. Brown says:

      Rather than couch this in terms of “the EU isn’t very good” – perhaps we should think of it as the EU is very muddled and confused. Because it is – you have so many different projects done by so many different people – it’s a bit messy. Add into it the fact that most of the original EU material (everything pre-1998) contradicts and messes with what we learn from the Prequels… it’s chaotic.

      It’s not so much that the EU will get a reboot – but rather, it’s going to have to drastically align with the new films… and the new films will not be beholden to the EU, any more than the prequels. Will some stuff be taken – sure. Lucas let Coruscant be the name of the Capital World. Will some stuff be ignored – most certainly.

      And while there are things that we love in the EU that will be ignored… that’s okay. I enjoy the book “I, Jedi” and am re-reading it now… and in that book it is noted that Tatooine is Obi-wan’s home world, and there’s an interesting discussion there about why Luke is raise there with the Skywalker name and then planning on applying to an Imperials academy. I enjoy the book – but it doesn’t mesh that well. Oh well.

      There will be something new in terms of the time line — and I hope that the folks on the film take what is exemplary from the EU and come up with something nice and clean and with plenty of room for New-EU materials to fill in the blanks. But the EU as “the history”… if the films don’t treat it as such, it’s done.

      And that may not be a totally bad thing. Think of it as new lines for authors to color in.

  5. […] The blogside. At the Star Wars Blog, Rich Handley and Abel G. Peña conclude their look at The Wheel. Tosche Station’s Bria has some thoughts on redemption in the recent EU. And Alexander Gaultier at Eleven-ThirtyEight has a case for starting over. […]

  6. Brett Riley says:

    The problem is that if the films definitively and absolutely indicate the Expanded Universe is dead wrong, then the concept of the Expanded Universe itself is dead.

    The premise of a “new” EU seems to be with the understanding that it will somehow mesh with the movies. But that won’t be the case. The movies are not going to acknowledge or share with the secondary media, so the “new” EU will have to either (a) accept it will be contradicted at any point, meaning that it was pointless to shred the “old” EU or (b) avoid stepping on the toes of the movies by not having any real consequences, plot advancement or character growth. In either case, that’s not an Expanded Universe. That’s the traditional approach to secondary tie-in media that most shared franchises approach. And that would be a shame for Star Wars to abandon a somewhat unique approach to end up like everyone else.

    • Zachary Skaggs says:

      Exactly, which is why all of this talk of the ST intentionally not conform in any way, shape, or form with the EU is completely insane to me. Star Wars is the only fictional universe, besides several of the more recent video game franchises, that have even tired to have all forms of media mesh together. So to have the EU be invalidated would absolutely make the concept of the EU itself die, and why things like TCW, TFU, and the post-NJO are such tremendous disservice to the universe as a whole.

  7. Michael Lind says:

    I think much of this sort of speculation stems from the assumption that the ST is inevitably going to directly invalidate at least some portion of the EU simply because it is likely to be set at a point chronologically that there are pre-existing stories on either side.

    For example, if you set the ST in, say, 41 ABY (which would align Mark Hamill’s age with that of Luke Skywalker’s exactly) it is going to be pretty much impossible to square the ST with LotF and FotJ, and the unforeseen long-term consequences of the ST are liable to detonate the Legacy comics no matter when the series is set.

    As a result, unless the ST is miraculously set post-45 ABY the best-case scenario for the EU involves carving out some portion of the chronology and saying that ‘everything that happened after such and such a date is now Infinities.’

    There seems to be a common strain of reasoning that considers this sort of parsing completely unacceptable and that if some small portion of the timeline has to be invalidated we might as well destroy everything. I find this very strange. It makes far more sense to me to preserve everything that can be preserved and move on as before. This is especially true considering how little of the overall EU is set during the vulnerable period of the timeline. Given the age of the principle actors we are most likely talking about the NJO and beyond or simply the post-NJO in the firing line. This is not a large percentage of the EU as a whole.

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