How the Abandoned 'Star Wars' Expanded Universe Inspired 'Force Awakens'
[Warning: This story contains plot details from Star Wars: The Force Awakens that could be considered spoilers. Read further at your own risk.]
Fans of the Star Wars Expanded Universe — the spinoff novels and comic books that were pushed out of canon last year — might have found Star Wars: The Force Awakens an even more nostalgic experience than the majority of viewers, thanks to a number of "new" concepts in the movie calling back to ideas that were explored in the EU a long time ago.
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Those involved in the new movies have previously said that the Expanded Universe is "not off-limits" when it comes to inspiration for the newly established Star Wars canon, and here are some ways in which The Force Awakens proved that to be true.
Kylo Ren Is Jacen Solo
The son of Han Solo and Leia Organa who turned to the Dark Side after being trained by Luke Skywalker? That not only describes Adam Driver's Kylo Ren, but also Jacen Solo, one of three children of Han and Leia in the Expanded Universe chronology. Jacen was at the heart of many EU stories, including the Young Jedi Knights YA prose series — which, as the name suggests, centered around Luke's class of new Jedi — and the later Legacy of the Force series, which tells the story of his transformation into Darth Caedus, a Sith Lord at odds with his family and ultimately killed by his twin sister, Jaina. (Also worth noting: Kylo Ren's birth name was Ben, after Ben Kenobi. In the Expanded Universe, Ben is the son of Luke Skywalker.)
Luke Is A Terrible Teacher In Every Timeline
As can be seen above, Luke's attempts to rebuild the Jedi Order have unfortunate effects in both the canonical Star Wars saga and the Expanded Universe. He was, however, far luckier in the EU, where Jacen managed to go rogue without pushing Luke into exile as a result. Indeed, in the EU timeline, Luke did succeed in his mission, with the Jedi once again rising to prominence throughout the galaxy with Luke as its leader. In both new canon and the Expanded Universe, Yavin IV — the moon that was the home for the Rebel Alliance in the original Star Wars movie — became the home base for the new Jedi Order; it remains to be seen if Luke returns there in Star Wars: Episode VIII to try again.
Starkiller Base Is the Sun Crusher (And Is Also Named After Luke Skywalker)
Starkiller Base — the planet-sized weapon that the First Order control in The Force Awakens — is far from a new concept in Star Wars lore; it is, after all, a bigger (and more destructive) Death Star at heart. No surprise, then, that something along these lines has popped up in the Expanded Universe. The difference is the Sun Crusher, the threat at the heart of the Jedi Academy prose trilogy, was the size of a regular star fighter ... but still contained the capability to destroy star systems, albeit by destroying the sun and leaving the surrounding planets to collapse in the aftermath.
The name of the Force Awakens base is also all over the EU — it's the codename of Darth Vader's apprentice in the Force Unleashed video games and tie-in stories, as well as a starship, a (separate, unrelated) destructive weapon and one of Luke's childhood friends on Tatooine. Why does it appear so often? Because it was an earlier version of Luke Skywalker's name in one of George Lucas' first drafts of the Star Wars screenplay.
Finn Is a Name I Haven't Heard In a Long Time
John Boyega's character might not have had a name before Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) gave him one, but the name "Finn" has an almost-Starkiller-like history in Star Wars mythology: in the Expanded Universe alone, there was a Sith Master with that name millennia before the events of the prequel trilogy, as well as a soldier who fought an invading force years after the events of Return of the Jedi (in the Star Wars Tales and Star Wars: Invasion comic book series, respectively), as well as characters in The Clone Wars animated series.
Similarly, Finn's backstory parallels the Expanded Universe history for Han Solo, who was an Imperial pilot before becoming a smuggler, as well as Kyle Katarn, the lead character of the Jedi Knight videogame series who was a Stormtrooper before defecting to the Rebellion. (Like Finn, Katarn used a lightsaber at times, going on to become an instructor at the Jedi Academy.)
The First Order Is The Nagai
Unsurprisingly, the notion of the remnants of the Empire forming a new opposition to the Republic is an idea that appeared before The Force Awakens. In Expanded Universe mythology, the Empire staggered on for a decade or so after Return of the Jedi before essentially collapsing to in-fighting less than half a century later, but in Marvel's original 1980s comic books — which continued for two years after the release of Jedi, marking the first time anyone had attempted to tell a "What Happened Next" story in the series — a number of Imperial forces were co-opted by a group of aliens called the Nagai. They also had a Sith Lady amongst their number, pre-dating The Clone Wars' Asajj Ventress by decades — to torment the new Republic just as it was coming together.
In the larger Expanded Universe, the position that Supreme Commander Snoke holds in The Force Awakens — that is, the leader of a post-Empire Imperial organization — is taken first by Grand Admiral Thrawn, an Imperial officer with grand ambitions, and later a clone of Emperor Palpatine himself, who managed to temporarily tempt Luke Skywalker to the Dark Side of the Force. Both, as is tradition, were defeated and order was (temporarily) restored to the galaxy.
Chewbacca Is Lucky This Time Around
While Han Solo was sent to the great trash compactor in the sky during the climax of The Force Awakens, it was another Millennium Falcon pilot who died in the Expanded Universe — in fact, Chewbacca was killed in the 1999 novel Vector Prime while saving the life of Han Solo's son, strangely enough (No, not Jacen; it was Anakin, Han and Leia's youngest). His death was commemorated in a 2000 comic book series called Star Wars: Chewbacca, which told the character's life story, introducing a new version of his wife and child from the much-maligned Star Wars Holiday Special.
Given that Han canonically had a wife pre-Leia thanks to the current Marvel comic book series, it'll be interesting to see if Han receives a similarly revelatory comic book tribute after his death, or if that portion of his life remains the purview of future movies — although any movies could easily pull as much inspiration from the character's Expanded Universe history as The Force Awakens has managed to use for the galaxy at large.
by Graeme McMillan
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