Disney purchased Lucasfilm and all it encompasses on October 30th, 2012. This week, to mark the ten-year anniversary of this momentous acquisition, AIPT will be reflecting on Disney’s impact on what is one of the most popular and influential media franchises to ever exist – Star Wars.
There are fans on both sides of the Disney vs Pre-Disney Star Wars divide and many of them are willing to die on their own tiny hill. I am not one of those people. I can appreciate both eras of Star Wars for what they are and what they have given us. I can also appreciate that both eras have some major flaws in them and nothing is perfect. That being said.…
The first official Star Wars canon began in 1991 with the release of Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire novel. To be fair, the canon actually started in 1976 with the release of the Star Wars novelization (ghost written by Alan Dean Foster), but the official “Legends” (as it is now known) canon began in 1991 with the release of the Heir to the Empire. Comics, books, games, tv series, and movies had all come out prior to 1991, but there was no overarching plan in place. That changed in 1991, which is also the time that Dark Horse comics had started to come out with their first comic series, Dark Empire, also taking place in the same time period as Heir to the Empire.
Eventually as the Legends continuity started to expand and grow, the older material was eventually enveloped in, like a long lost child finally being brought home. And with the ever growing Legends continuity and the enveloping of the 70’s and 80’s stories, continuity hiccups took place. Stories overlapped or reiterated plot points from the films. How many pieces of the Death Star plans were there? While the continuity errors were numerous, I know many authors reveled in the prospect of making everything line up. And so we got some of the most ambitious stories whose entire point was to take all the disparaging plot points and make them align.
Initially within the continuity, creator George Lucas had limits placed on the various eras for the story tellers because he was always unsure when his movies would occur. He blocked off the period before A New Hope for a time as well as about 35 years after Return of the Jedi. This was for the sequel trilogy that he never made. Eventually those constraints were released and we ended up with stories that ranged from well over 25,000 years before the original Star Wars films to over 300 years after the movies. Within that time frame we had thousands of comics, hundreds of novels, well over 100 video games, and an uncountable amount of short stories amounting to well over 3,000 individual stories within the Legends continuity. It was a lot.
Were all of the stories in Legends great? Oh hell no. Were all of them even good? No, no, no. There were stories in there that almost made me quit Star Wars all together they were so terrible. I’ve read close to every Legends story ever released and, while I greatly enjoyed most of them, some of them were a chore, even for a Star Wars obsessive.
One defining trait of the Legends continuity was its ambition. They wanted to do everything and anything, explain every little detail seen in the movies, give the background on every little character seen off in the distance — and it was fun! It seemed like the authors had almost free reign at times, but it was a mainly print media expansion of the movies. Aside from the video games, the stories were almost all written down.
As we got closer to the Disney purchase of Lucasfilm, the stories started to be retold, or presented in such a way that they were “accessible.” This means limited tie-ins with other stories. As someone who had read the other stories, I absolutely loved the tie-ins. This started to make the stories feel… weird. Like they didn’t belong anywhere but they could also go anywhere. It felt like we were reaching a crashing point, and indeed we did.
Shortly after the purchase of Lucasfilm in 2012, Disney decided to scrap the whole Legends continuity in favor of a new canon, here known as Disney Canon. Only the movies and The Clone Wars series would be carried over (and the novelizations as far as they followed the movies). This opened up Disney’s Star Wars to the future. While I personally was sad to see the Legends be tossed aside, I was excited because now we wouldn’t know what would happen next. The next movies could literally be about anything. They weren’t hamstrung by previous stories. We were also given the promise (“promise?”) that the books and comics would now be held on par with the other materials such as movies and television shows.
By creating its own canon, Disney also increased the scope of Star Wars and exponentially increased the amount of Star Wars content. Prior to the Disney purchase we had six movies, four television shows, two TV movies, one TV special, and a theme park ride (in 35 years). Since the buyout, we have gotten over five new films, nine streaming series, an entire theme park land with two major rides, and an immersive LARPing hotel — and that’s all in less than a decade! Disney’s primary focus has clearly been on the mass audience appeal because that’s where the money lies.
Despite the huge contributions to the Star Wars franchise by the Disney behemoth, there is clearly a noted discrepancy between the focus of the Legends continuity and the Disney canon focus. Legends was primarily a print media while Disney’s output is in audio-video media. Much of the print in the Disney canon is focused around the already present audio-video media where the print stories provided deeper looks and backstories on characters we were introduced to in the movies and TV shows. Rarely were we provided with groundbreaking stories in the new Disney Canon that were primarily in the print media alone. The events surrounding the Battle of Jakku were the exception that proved the rule.
However, all of that began to change in the beginning of 2020 when we were introduced to the first new era in the Disney canon that was primarily driven by the print media, The High Republic. This era has been the main focus of the publishing arm of Lucasfilm over the last two years and provides us with events taking place over 200 years before the Skywalker Saga. While this is no 25,000 years, it is still a previously untouched time period where we get mostly new characters and events that can shine on their own.
Over the 30 years that Legends was allowed to thrive we were provided with an exceptional amount of great content. Story lines that I feel were some of the best Star Wars has ever done came out of the Legends continuity. Tales of the Jedi is one of my favorite comics and The New Jedi Order is clearly a blueprint for The High Republic. We were introduced to countless alien species, planets, and characters, many of which are slowly being brought back into canon.
But Disney is doing something different that hasn’t been done before. They are trying to integrate the print media with the audio-video media. Although we were presented with comic and book characters transferring into the visual media (such as Aayla Secura) prior to Disney, it was rare and noteworthy. As we progress along in the Disney era we are seeing more and more of these crossover characters. Krrsantan is one of the notable examples of a character transitioning from the comic page to the live action scene but he is not the only one, and far from it.
There have been issues though where the “everything is equal” line was clearly disregarded and print media stories were thrown out in favor of the audio-video media stories, with the Ahsoka novel taking the brunt of those decisions. But, again, this is the exception that proves the rule. It doesn’t happen often, and it should indeed be called out because this is not what we were promised. But it appears we are generally moving in the right direction.
One thing that Disney could do is to extend an olive branch to the Legends fans. Continue the stories that were cut short in the Legends continuity. Finish the cliff hangers that were left behind. Release the books that were written and haven’t seen the light of day. There is so much content out there ripe for the picking and Disney needs only to create it. And while it would never be a majority of the sales they make, they would go a long way toward satisfying the disgruntled fans feeling left behind.
Overall, I would say that we are in a good place with the new Disney Canon. The old Legends stories are still there and could easily join Disney’s. Authors have frequently been sliding characters and events into Disney canon so often that there is practically a blur between the two continuities. If the advent of an entire theme park land, two major theme park rides, and an immersive hotel experience aren’t enough to get you excited about the future of Star Wars, then I don’t know what to tell you. And for those who can’t afford to experience those (because the price tag is not to be ignored), we still are getting nearly a constant stream of new content weekly through Disney+. We are living in the Golden Age of Star Wars now, and we should live it up while it’s still here.
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