Over the course of this series, we’ve examined many aspects of the Expanded Universe and how they might be improved by a potential (hard or soft) reset of the franchise’s accumulated continuity: the rebellion’s struggles to establish its legitimacy in the aftermath of Return of the Jedi, the long-term prospects of the New Republic and the Imperial Remnant, the recent dysfunctional nature of the New Jedi Order and its failure to reach the (rather low) bar set by its predecessor, and the universe’s persistent inability to let go of the torch and let it conclusively pass to a new generation of heroes.
Most of these topics have been fairly broad, dealing with overarching plots and themes that involve entire arrays of characters and span dozens of books and several decades – both in- and out-of-universe. For our final act, however, we’ll be coming down from our bird’s-eye view and taking a more personal approach at evaluating the paths our heroes’ lives have taken since they last appeared on-screen in 1983.
When we last left Luke Skywalker, his future was clear. As the sole inheritor of a tradition stretching back over a thousand generations, he was the last of the old Jedi and the first of the new, charged with bringing the ancient order back from the brink of annihilation and ensuring peace and justice throughout the (now post-Imperial) galaxy. Of all the heroes of the Original Trilogy, his path was the best defined, and this lack of ambiguity likely contributed significantly to the fact that his character has remained more or less intact in the current Expanded Universe.
Though we have discussed ways in which the restoration of his order might be improved and his legacy salvaged, his own life has drawn relatively little complaint – one might even say that his wife and son have been unexpectedly well-received (with exceptions) for tie-in characters tacked on to the Skywalker family tree.
Han Solo, unfortunately, has had a much rougher run of things than his brother-in-law. His off-screen career began with an undeniably impressive start: Brian Daley’s The Han Solo Adventures were among the Expanded Universe’s first works ever published, actually predating the releases of Return of the Jedi and The Empire Strikes Back (at least in the case of the first two books).
While these stories provided us with compelling tales of Han’s early career and how he came to be the sitting in the Mos Eisley Cantina one day, the same unfortunately cannot be said for his life after Endor. With the primary exception of Aaron Allston’s X-Wing: Solo Command and a few other scattered cases, very little attention has been paid to his promotion to general and subsequent military career.
More often than not, Han has spent a troubling amount of time trying to fulfill a smuggler-like role without actually doing any smuggling. It feels a great deal like authors are attempting to preserve the image we came to associate him with in the films, without being able to accept that his character arc would logically take him to a very different place after Endor.
Captain Solo was an interesting character. General Solo has a great deal of potential that has gone unexplored. Han the token non-Jedi is a waste of one of the most popular and iconic characters in the franchise on multiple levels, as his virtually nonexistent career in the New Republic military was followed by his graduation to the position of the galaxy’s favorite metaphorical whipping boy – first losing his long-time friend and co-pilot, Chewbacca, then his youngest son (both in the same war), and then his other son (to the dark side and his sister’s lightsaber).
At this point, it’s less a matter of whether his life could be improved than a question of if it could possibly get any worse. At the beginning of the saga, Han is a man who cares for little beyond the confines of the Millennium Falcon. By the end, he’s just beginning to transform into someone who is willing to be relied upon by others and give his best effort to live up to their expectations.
The Expanded Universe first saw him regress from his character development to the role of miscellaneous errand runner for all things underworld-y and driver on family road trips, and then proceeded to take joy in stripping him of what little was left that he cared for. Of the Big Three, Han is the character with the greatest distance between where he starts and finishes, and yet the novels persist in placing him much closer to the former than the latter, at the expense of every trace of growth he experienced during the saga.
Leia has managed to fare somewhat better than Han, at least. As befitting the only one of our heroes with actual political and legislative experience, she was granted a prominent position in the New Republic administration, eventually being elected Chief of State. After a number of quite turbulent years in and out of office and more attempts to abduct her children than anyone cares to count, her (ultimately brief) retirement was quite rudely interrupted by the invasion of the galaxy by those extragalactic religious fanatics, the Yuuzhan Vong.
This crisis was so badly mishandled by her successor, self-serving Bothan politician Borsk Fey’lya, that the New Republic itself was eventually declared dead and buried, and had to be replaced by the (eventually even more dysfunctional) Galactic Federation of Free Alliances. Somewhere in all of this she found the time to take up the study of the lightsaber and the Force, but she’s never quite managed to attain the same level of meteoric success as her brother.
Unfortunately, the franchise is already buckling under the weight of its numerous Jedi protagonists, Leia’s own children included, which makes her new career choice a somewhat redundant one. Not having served in any official capacity in decades, her claim to galactic relevance remains dubious at best, save perhaps for her role as the mother of the second coming of Darth Vader.
More disappointing, however, is the near-complete abandonment of what was once an integral part of her character: her status as Princess Leia. Though her world may have been destroyed, the Expanded Universe has frequently taken the time to point out that there still exists a significant Alderaanian remnant, even gifting them an entire world to settle on. The number of times which she is seen meaningfully interacting with them, however, can be counted on one hand, possibly with fingers still left over. Even if she retired from galactic politics, there’s still plenty to do to rebuild Alderaanian society and ensure a prosperous future for her people.
Much has been made of the fact that Anakin, Jacen, and Jaina are the children of the Chief of State, but when was the last time someone recognized them as the heirs to the royal house of Alderaan? There’s an entire other context of their family that has never been touched upon that offers them roles well beyond the rather narrow set that have been made available to them as Jedi.
In all the talk about the legendary trio, it’s often overlooked that there’s a fourth hero of equal importance. No, not Chewbacca. I speak, of course, of Lando Calrissian. Despite being a major character in the Original Trilogy, the Expanded Universe has very rarely treated him as a main character in his own right, even though he already more than proved his worth early on in The Lando Calrissian Adventures, just as Han did.
When he does put in an appearance, it’s usually running some sort of unusual enterprise (again) or otherwise providing material support for the heroes. At best, he might hope for a small but memorable subplot, as he received in The Black Fleet Crisis. His treatment has been so superficial that the authors didn’t get around to giving him a child until he was past seventy. It’s very much as if there’s a determination to keep him as a businessman, but to shuffle him off to the background because readers think business is boring.
As has been noted elsewhere, there’s a great deal that could be done with General Calrissian, but there’s also no shortage of ways to make use of his particular set of skills in more exciting contexts. Jedi find themselves battling crime lords and corrupt politicians all the time: there’s little reason Lando couldn’t be an equally compelling protagonist doing so in the context of being an traveling economic resurrectionist on behalf of the New Republic. It would certainly be a better use of his talents than rigging elections.
It’s quite fitting that, at the moment of finishing this article, the announcement is made of a new dawn for the Expanded Universe. Of all the possible options with how to deal with the existing continuity going forward, they chose the one that I believe offers the greatest chance at achieving success equal to or greater than the existing continuity. It’s not a guaranteed thing by any means, and we still have a very long way to go before we’re on equal footing with what has now been labeled Legends, but the novels announced so far make for an excellent new start.
I don’t expect this series to have convinced anyone truly dedicated to the old continuity, no more than I could expect they could convince me of the need to preserve it, or than I would think to persuade someone to switch political parties. Ultimately, whether or not you think the opportunity is worth the cost is a matter of personal preference: what I have attempted to do is not just offer reasons why the reboot might be beneficial (it was going to happen whether we liked it or not), but also how. Simply wiping the slate clean is not enough: we must follow through on that by pursuing a path worthy of the sacrifice and by producing stories even better than those that came before.
Just rehashing old concepts benefits no one: for the Expanded Universe to truly live up to its name, we must embrace the concept of an entire galaxy of tales encompassing thousands of diverse characters, hundreds of alien species, and stories told in genres well beyond just what we’re accustomed to. The Sequel Trilogy, and now the continuity reboot, offer us an opportunity to get it right from day one this time: let’s not squander it.