While growing up, I had the good fortune to live in two consecutive homes that were each a block away from their town’s respective libraries. From fourth grade through junior high, I had easy access to books, tapes, videos, and even video games available for check out. I spent a lot of time in the library, browsing and grazing, checking out volumes piled higher than I could ever read in the time allotted.
Among those many books were the Star Wars novels of Timothy Zahn. Now known as “the Thrawn trilogy,” they began with 1991′s Heir to the Empire. Set several years after Return of the Jedi, the Thrawn trilogy continued the adventures of Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and Han Solo as they fought the remnant of a collapsing Empire and confronted a new disturbance in the Force.
Zahn’s novels triggered an explosion of new Star Wars fiction spanning books, comics, video games, and more. In 1996, collaborators went so far as to develop a “movie without the movie” called Shadows of the Empire. The idea was to create merchandise around a story as if promoting a film. There was a Shadows novel, a video game, and even a fully orchestrated soundtrack for a film which was never actually produced. The story connected the events of The Empire Strikes Back with Return of the Jedi.
In later years, the timeline of this Expanded Universe became jam packed with stories detailing the fates of “the Big Three” along with their friends and offspring. Jacen and Jaina Solo, twin children of Han and Leia, joined their brother Anakin and their nephew Ben Skywalker on perilous and transformative adventures which spanned several stories across many mediums.
So when Disney acquired the Star Wars brand in 2012 and announced plans to produce Episodes VII, VIII, and IX set in a time period well covered by the Expanded Universe, obvious questions emerged. How would they work around the existing stories? How would they present the offspring of Luke, Han, and Leia? How would they tell consequential new stories without trampling upon established lore?
Lucasfilm has finally provided an answer, and it comes in the form of a soft-reboot. Precedent can be found (perhaps not coincidentally) in J.J. Abrams previous major sci-fi refurbish – Star Trek.
With Trek, Abrams and his writing team devised a way to have their cake and eat it too. They used the plot devices of time-travel and parallel universes to effectively reset the Star Trek universe, enabling future stories to take creative new directions without adhering religiously to established canon.