Wookieepedia Made Me a Better Fan

I have a confession to make: I was never much of an Expanded Universe fan.

Don’t get me wrong. I can certainly understand its appeal, as it added a great deal to the saga and continued the stories of some of our favorite characters, but it never felt real to me. It always seemed like something that was tacked on and largely bereft of stories worthy of being the true Star Wars canon.

That was one of the reasons why I welcomed the decision to rebrand the Expanded Universe as the non-canon Star Wars Legends. Not only that, but, as Lucasfilm itself acknowledged, it gave the creators of the new films, television shows, and spinoff material the chance to write a new story, one that was in line with the future that the creative team had imagined for the franchise. Audiences unfamiliar with the Expanded Universe wouldn’t have to wonder why Chewbacca was killed off screen, or why major galactic wars and the deaths of two Solo children all occurred in books that the vast majority of Star Wars fans never have and never will read.

All of that seemed obvious to me. I knew that Expanded Universe fans would prefer that it not be de-canonized, but nothing could have prepared me for the intense and passionate feelings of anger and betrayal that many of them expressed. Using language like that still seems somewhat silly to me when we’re dealing with ancillary material, but it’s the truth about how many EU fans felt on April 25, 2014, when Lucasfilm announced that the EU was now Legends.

HTTE-LegendsThe trouble is, I didn’t think to look at why people felt that way. I didn’t ask why the thing that seemed like an obvious decision to me, one that benefited the films and the future of the franchise, was difficult for many fans to accept. I was dismissive of them for awhile. “This is the right decision,” I would think to myself. “Anyone thinking clearly could see that, right?”

It was, of course, never that simple. When dealing with Star Wars and the passion that fans have for it, nothing ever really is that simple.

That began to change once I joined the Wookieepedia community. Wookieepedia has long been made up of a group of people who largely joined because of their love of the EU. The films are so ingrained in our cultural zeitgeist, but it’s the EU that really makes people want to dig for more information about the larger Star Wars universe, which inevitably leads them to Wookieepedia. Millions of people read it. In some cases, those readers become editors and join the community.

I also think it’s fair to say that, in certain circles (including here on Eleven-ThirtyEight), Wookieepedia has somewhat of a reputation, rightly or wrongly, for being stubborn. Add that together with the deep love of the EU and you have a recipe for disgruntled feelings towards the Legends decision. Even today, over a year later, those feelings still exist on some level, even as Wookieepedia prepares for the future by building its library of fully canonical information.

When I joined the community a little over a year ago, I still assumed that these feelings were those of nonsensical stubbornness. Couldn’t Wookieepedians, long the unofficial lore keepers of the Star Wars universe, see that this was the right decision for the future of the franchise? Were the books really that important? When I actually started to talk to people, though, it became apparent that the books, as well as the games, comics, and more, really were that important and that, to many EU fans, a future without those stories being part of the canon was not something to look forward to.

Some Wookieepedians said that the continuity issues were overblown, and that a great Star Wars film could be created without having to twist itself into knots over the EU. Others told me that they never asked for new movies, so why should they accept that the EU is non-canon for the sake of movies they never wanted? Others understood and accepted the decision, even if they would have preferred that the EU remain canon.

soteThose reasons all shared one very important truth: to so many people, the Expanded Universe is Star Wars.

The conversations I’ve had with Wookieepedians showed me a lot about what people find important in their own Star Wars fandoms. One person told me that Shadows of the Empire, as a bridge between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, is just as important to him as Empire. Another person told me that Darth Revan is their favorite character in the entire saga, more than any other film character, and that the revelation that the main character of Knights of the Old Republic was Revan himself was their “I am your father” moment. Others still have said that the stories of such characters as Mara Jade, Jaina Solo, and Darth Caedus are what gave them their love of Star Wars, and that those stories could stand toe to toe with all of the films.

Once I realized this, I knew I wasn’t dealing with unreasonable people. I was talking to people who invested their heart, soul, and, yes, their wallets into the story of the Expanded Universe, a story that they were told was the true history of Star Wars, even if it was ranked slightly lower than the films and television shows.

What I once saw as intractability revealed itself to me as a deeply passionate fandom. In realizing it, I remembered that understanding why people love what they love, even if you were never of fan of it, is vitally important in the Star Wars fandom. Far too often, we hear more about the dividing lines between fans than the shared love we all have for this universe. There are fans of the original trilogy, the prequels, The Clone Wars, Rebels, the EU, and more, and there are those who aren’t fans of some of those things. But not being a fan doesn’t mean you should dismiss those who are. People like what they like. What you think sucks may be an important piece of someone’s life and someone’s fandom, and we should always respect that.

Wookieepedia helped me remember that, and I’m a better fan for it.

7 comments

  1. Eric J. Brown says:

    Well said!

  2. John says:

    Did interacting with people from Wikipedia change your opinion on the “Legends”-ization of the EU? Because I’ve gone through my own experience of appreciating different fans’ points of view (largely through my interaction with fans in the video game “The Old Republic”), but still think that Lucasfilms’ decision was the right one. I understand that it’s not the focus of your piece, but I’m curious whether new perspectives have altered your perception of Lucasfilms.

    • Brandon Rhea says:

      Great question. It hasn’t changed my opinion on the creation of Legends. Since the day Episode VII was announced, I was saying that they not only would de-canonize the EU, but that they had to. It’s just impractical to have the studio create a whole new set of films that have limited consequences due to most of the post-Jedi storyline already being written. Not to mention the fact that the Star Wars: Legacy series comics meant that, no matter what happened in VII, VIII, and IX, you knew what would happen 100 or so years later. Plus, they will sure go back and do films in more ancient eras at some point, hence pulling the plug on all 35,000+ years of EU history.

      Star Wars is a film franchise first and a multimedia franchise second. It’s all important to people, but film considerations are always going to trump books, as well they should.

      The only perception I would say is changed, if I was going to call it that, was regarding the canon tiers that were in place before the Legends announcement. It was always clear that the film and TV canon, which at the time was the George Lucas canon, trumped everything else. George Lucas, Dave Filoni, etc could make whatever decisions they wanted, regardless of what books, comics, or games said. At the same time, Lucasfilm maintained that, even though George Lucas didn’t see the EU as his canon, it was all canon anyway, just with varying degrees of canonicity. I think that was unsustainable, and it was a case of trying to have their cake and eat it too. New films were inevitable, which meant the de-canonization of the EU was also likely inevitable as well. But by not being straight with people, and just being clear that some things counted more than others and that the whole thing could go away at some point, it led to the outrage that we saw from a lot of EU fans.

      It’s entirely possible Lucasfilm didn’t foresee the EU ever ending, of course, but I think some anticipation for that could’ve been built into how they discussed canon, even if the possibility of an EU reboot was remote at the time.

      • John says:

        Fascinating reply – thanks! I agree entirely about the necessity of removing the Legends EU to make more movies.

        I also think that the inconsistencies of the later Legends EU prepared me for de-canonization. Everything from the Dark Nest Trilogy forward is basically a giant re-boot ignoring the events of NJO (with some minimal tie-ins). The Old Republic and its associated material have completely reinterpreted the original Tales of the Jedi and KOTOR stories. After the Prequels came out, the Jedi Order in all time periods became distinctly prequel-ized, even when this made absolutely no sense (i.e., Luke’s Jedi Order is suddenly all angst-y about “relationships” and “attachments”). And The Clone Wars certainly played fast and loose with the previous EU canon. The canon had some consistency to it in the 90s when it was a relatively small group of authors writing the continuing adventures of the Skywalker-Solo clan, but by the end of the 2000s most of that consistency had already gone out the window.

        By the end, I think that the need to remain “canon” was actually decreasing the storytelling quality of the Legends EU. I recognize that a lot of people will miss the good old days of Heir to the Empire and Wraith Squadron (heck, I miss them, too). But if creating the “Legends” canon means I can ignore everything after NJO and enjoy some new movies in the process, then I’m totally down.

  3. SirChazbot says:

    I quite literally read the first 50-100 pages of Heir to the Empire before I’d seen a film. I put the book down, corrected that, and was hooked. But it would be years before Episode I. For me, Star Wars was informed, early on, by the EU, most notably the novels and WEG material. It was how I consumed the universe.

    I was hurt when the decision was made to invalidate the previous canon but I can only agree – trying to adhere to it would have only hurt the brand in the long run. I’d rather have more Star Wars than to have only MY Star Wars.

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