In the first part of this three-part series, we looked at how the “multiverse” within the Star Wars franchise was born. Today, we’re going to take a “brief” look at the novels themselves within the Legends Universe (as it is known today).
Overview of the Legends Universe
The Legends Universe, known as the Expanded Universe (or EU) at the time, was officially started in 1991 with the release of Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn. This eventually became a trilogy that is often referred to as the “Thrawn Trilogy” since there is no official title for the books.Since that point, over a hundred adult novels have been released within the Legends Universe. Adult novels meaning that the novels are geared toward the adult reading audience, not that they have “adult content” in them. Several young adult reader series had also been released to add their own stories to the universe, but for this discussion, I will stick to the adult-only novels, which were released by Bantam Spectra beginning in 1991, until the license shifted to Del Rey in 1999.
Starting with the release of Heir to the Empire, a concerted effort was made by LucasBooks (a division of Lucas Licensing which handled … the books) to provide a consistent continuity so that books, comics, video games, and any other stories fit into one narrative. This narrative eventually enfolded the novels and comics released before 1991, which includes the Han Solo Trilogy, Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, the original Marvel Comics run, as well as other stories.
By the end of the principle Legends publishing period (in 2014), the Legends Universe had expanded to include seven “eras”:
- Before the Republic
- This era encompassed stories from 37,000 to 25,000 years Before the Battle of Yavin (BBY).
- The Old Republic
- This era encompassed 5,000 to 67 years BBY
- Rise of the Empire
- This era encompassed 67 to 0 years BBY
- This era encompassed 0 to 5 years After the Battle of Yavin (ABY)
- The New Republic
- The era encompassed 5 to 25 years ABY
- The New Jedi Order
- This era encompassed 25 to 40 years ABY
- This era encompassed 40 years and beyond ABY
Timeline from inside one of the last Legends novels, ‘Crucible.’
The 90s Novels
During the 90s, essentially before 1999 (the year that The Phantom Menace was released), there was a ban on writing novels set before the Original Trilogy. This was because Lucas had his sights set on that time period for the Prequel Trilogy and he didn’t want anything trampling on his playground. And for the most part, this was adhered to. Some earlier novels like the Han Solo Trilogy delved into that time period, but did not have any major impacts at the time. The most significant occurrence was for Boba Fett’s backstory, which was hinted at and mentioned in several short stories, and ended up being completely rewritten with the advent of Episode II: Attack of the Clones.
Most of the 90s novels were written primarily following Return of the Jedi, with a few instances of novels being written during the Original Trilogy, with Shadows of the Empire being the most notable of these stories. Shadows takes place between Empire and Jedi and was meant as a multimedia event, a movie without a movie (meaning it had a video game, a novel, even a soundtrack), that told the story between those movies. And although the story itself has many detractors, it was a unique way of storytelling, where the same story was told with three different perspective characters (in the comics, novel, and video game), enriching the experience far beyond what has ever been done before or after.
The post Jedi novels were often written in trilogy arcs, highlighting a theme that the Original Trilogy set and many people felt provided a Star Wars-like feel (stories contained within three books). However, these trilogies often featured what has since been referred to as the doomsday weapon of the week. Each trilogy often included some massive, galaxy-destroying weapon, with Han and Leia’s kids getting kidnapped or threatened in the middle of it. Most of the novels in this time period ranged from the fantastic (The Thrawn Trilogy being the most notable) to the dismal “Callista Trilogy” (my own name), which is a loosely based trilogy by two separate authors (Children of the Jedi, Darksaber, and Planet of Twilight) that focused partially on Luke’s love life. There are some real gems in this time period (I, Jedi, the Hand of Thrawn duology, the X-Wing series to name a few) but there are some novels that are forgotten once they are done.
Novels from 1999 to 2014
After 1999, Lucas opened the floodgates, allowing many, many novels and other stories to be told within and before the Prequel Era. The highlight of this era was the story cohesion for the Clone Wars, which occurred in the time period between Episode II: Attack of the Clones and Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. This was an era of unseen communication between the comics, novels, TV Shows, and video games. Giving the audience a month to month, and sometimes a week to week, timeline for events that occurred during the Clone Wars, leading up to the release of Episode III.
Most of the eras listed previously were created following 1999 and were fairly focused in content. The most notable and cohesive era (in my opinion) was the highly divisive New Jedi Order (NJO). This era was an effort made by Del Rey, upon regaining the license (Del Rey initially had the novel license back in the 70s and 80s before Bantam Spectra gained it in the 90s), to provide a cohesive multi-book story arc that eventually spanned 19 novels from 1999 to 2003.18 of the 19 books in the NJO.
In many ways, Star Wars fans were divided on their feelings for this era. In the NJO, Del Rey wanted to get away from the New Republic/Rebellion vs. the Empire and the Jedi vs. Sith storylines that had been done “to death” in the 90s. So in response, the NJO introduced a new villain previously unseen before, the Yuuzhan Vong. The Vong were an extragalactic species (coming from outside the Star Wars galaxy) that abhorred technology and created all of their weapons, ships, and everything else, using genetically altered biological organisms. The one big thing about them was that they couldn’t be felt in the force, rendering the Jedi helpless (at least initially) against them.An image of the Yuuzhan Vong as portrayed on the Vector Prime cover, the first of the NJO series.
By the end of the NJO, several planets in the universe had been destroyed or monumentally changed, and many beloved characters had been killed off. This was something unheard of before. They even started the series by killing off everyone’s favorite Wookiee, Chalmun … no wait, that wasn’t it. Oh, right, Chewbacca was the one killed off (spoiler warning).
Star Wars fans were also put off by the length of the series, stating it made it hard to jump into. For this reason, as well as others, after the NJO the publishing cycle was shortened to two nine-book series following the events of the NJO into the Legacy Era. The first nine-book series, Legacy of the Force, focused first on the fall of Jacen Solo to the dark side and the second series, Fate of the Jedi, focused on a dark side aberration, Abeloth, a being tied to the Mortis Arcs of The Clone Wars TV series. As with everything Star Wars, each series has its good points and bad points, but overall I found them enjoyable.
The Final Legends Novels
The final novel released within the Legends Universe was Honor Among Thieves, a story about Han Solo that was meant to be the second book in a loosely aligned trilogy focusing on the Big Three (Han, Luke, and Leia) under the banner: Empire and Rebellion. The first book in the trilogy Razor’s Edge focused on Leia, while the last book in the trilogy was eventually moved into the new Canon. These books had a unique distinction of being “continuity light”, meaning that they didn’t impact, and were not impacted, by many, if not any, events surrounding them. A trend that had become far too common in the waning days of the Legends publishing line. This allowed for a new reader unfamiliar with the decades-old Legends Universe to step into the books without feeling like they are missing something. While I hate that kind of storytelling (I prefer stories to be interconnected), it has its advantages. When the continuity changed to the “Canon Universe,” the third book in the trilogy (a Luke-centric story entitled Heir to the Jedi) was able to be brought over without many (if any) changes to the story.While being the final book released within the Legends Universe, Honor Among Thieves was not the novel furthest along in the timeline. That honor goes to Crucible, which was billed as the final adventure for the Big Three. An adventure where many fans hoped that some of the Big Three would actually be killed off. This is something that seemed destined to never happen. After the NJO, LucasBooks seemed reticent to kill off any of the main movie characters, by an apparent directive from Lucas himself. So even in this “last big hurrah,” all of the characters survive to fight another day.But that is mostly the end of the Legends Universe. Besides some small stories that were sporadically produced here and there, as well as The Old Republic MMO (a huge video game that is currently still ongoing) nothing new has been produced for Legends, especially novels. So, in the next and last part of this trilogy, we are going to move on to look at the new Canon Universe and see how it stacks up against the well fleshed out Legends Universe.
Check back Tuesday, April 18 for the final part in this three-part series!