Not so long ago in our own galaxy, a novel by the name of Heir to the Empire was released. It was the first of its kind—the first time an author was allowed to “expand” the Star Wars universe and write a novel that took place the events of the original films. The novel and its sequels, Dark Force Rising and The Last Command, performed well beyond expectations, and the Expanded Universe was born.
The novels, as acclaimed as they are, suffer from a fatal flaw—certain topics, such as the identity of Luke and Leia’s mother, the Clone Wars, and Anakin Skywalker’s fall to the dark side, were off limits, and they continued to be so until the prequel trilogy was released. Because of this, the galaxy far far away was shaped in a way that did not necessarily mesh with what we learned from the prequel trilogy. Even more, Luke and Leia were left in the dark for many years about their mother as well as the events surrounding Anakin’s fall (even though Obi-Wan Kenobi could have most certainly told Luke much more information about his past during their discussion on Dagobah during Return of the Jedi or even later visits).
Today, the post-Return of the Jedi Expanded Universe is a very different place than during the New Republic era. This is somewhat understandable, as some 35 years have passed in the timeline since Heir to the Empire. But, even more, the landscape has been changed irrevocably by the knowledge gained from the prequel trilogy. The unique Jedi Order that Luke created, and the government that Leia helped shape, has given way to an almost carbon copy of what was presented in the prequels.
The Bantam Era: Tabula Rasa
Picture a time when Star Wars fans did not even know the name of Luke and Leia’s mother. I remember those days very well—when any snippet of information I found regarding the prequel era was welcomed with what can only be described as utter glee. I believed that what was presented in the Return of the Jedi novelization was gospel: that Obi-Wan took Luke to Tatooine because it was where his brother Owen lived, and that Anakin fell into a molten pit.
Okay, so the latter is nearly true, from a certain point of view. The former, however, was one of the pieces of backstory that fell by the wayside in the wake of the prequels.
As previously stated, Timothy Zahn avoided certain topics in the Thrawn Trilogy, but that didn’t stop discrepancies from forming. The biggest one is the incorrect dating of the Clone Wars, which was given to Zahn by Lucasfilm. (Obviously Lucas changed his mind on the timeline.) Another issue was Zahn assuming that the clones were the antagonists during the Clone Wars. Of course we now know that the clones fought for the Republic.
An important thing to note is that it was still uncommon knowledge that Darth Vader was Luke and Leia’s father; otherwise Thrawn would not have sent the Noghri after Leia and Mara would have known from the beginning about Luke’s parentage. (The revelation that Vader is Luke’s father is a huge turning point for her in The Last Command.)
As we journey on in the timeline, we see Luke trying to create a new Jedi Order in the Jedi Academy Trilogy by Kevin J. Anderson and I, Jedi by Michael Stackpole. Anderson introduced us to the lovely idea of the “nub,” meaning a part of the brain that you push on to determine Force sensitivity. There was also a scanning device used. Luke had not yet learned of the concept of midi-chlorians, which could be a good or bad thing. In I, Jedi, we get more backstory for Force sensitive pilot Corran Horn, which states that his father was 10 years old when he went into hiding at the end of the Clone Wars. This is impossible, as Corran is only a few years younger than Luke and Leia. A retcon for these dating issues has yet to be presented.
Some background for the Jedi Order was presented in The Courtship of Princess Leia by Dave Wolverton and Children of the Jedi Barbara Hambly, where we are introduced to the idea of traveling academies. While Courtship is not entirely inaccurate, as it describes the Jedi Order as having a main headquarters, wouldn’t Luke have known about the Jedi Temple on Coruscant? It’s not as if Mon Mothma or other senators would have been unaware of the temple. And they most certainly would have informed Luke of the Jedi prohibition on marriage—and shouldn’t he have learned that from Yoda, anyway? (He knows of this in the novel Survivor’s Quest, but we’ll get to that later.)
And then there’s Luke’s wild bantha chase for his mother in the Black Fleet Crisis Trilogy by Michael Kube-McDowell. There’s not much to say about this plotline other than it ends with Luke, unsurprisingly, finding nothing new. It is not unreasonable that nobody in the galaxy, for example Mon Mothma, would know the identity of Luke and Leia’s mother. However, this is another area where we are left to wonder why Luke never asked Obi-Wan or Yoda about his mother. And, if he did, what did they tell him?
These issues are why I tell fans to check publication dates before they read older novels. You might find yourself thinking, “But I thought that Owen was Anakin’s step-brother, not Obi-Wan’s brother! This novel sucks!” And then you realize that I, Jedi was written four years before Attack of the Clones, and at that time that’s what we all believed.
The New Jedi Order Era – Incorporating Prequel Ideas
After the release of The Phantom Menace, ideas from the Old Republic began to seep their way into the post-RotJ Expanded Universe. The New Jedi Order series, begun in 1999 with the novel Vector Prime by R.A. Salvatore, introduced Master/Apprentice relationships to Luke’s Jedi Order, with Mara training Jaina Solo and Luke training Jacen and Anakin Solo. (The upcoming novel Scourge, by Jeff Grubb, will feature a Master going in search of information regarding the death of his former apprentice. This novel will take place between 19 ABY and 22 ABY, so Luke must have been using the Master/Apprentice idea early on, even though it seemed to me that in Vision of the Future, he was the only Master.)
A major change in Luke’s Order is the reformation of the Jedi Council during the novel Destiny’s Way by Walter Jon Williams. It is different from the original, in that it contains politicians as well as Jedi. (This concept is later discarded for the traditional Jedi Council.)
Luke later discovers the remnants of the Jedi Temple in Rebel Stand by Aaron Allston. Later, in the additions to the end of Return of the Jedi in the 2004 DVD release, we learn that the Jedi Temple was still standing as of the events of the film. Perhaps the Vong destroyed it, but at the time of the novel’s release (2002) it seemed clear that Luke had never been there before. This is interesting to note as the in-universe text The Jedi Path, written by Daniel Wallace, is said to have been found by Luke prior to the events of the New Jedi Order series, which would explain why Luke suddenly has so much more knowledge about the old Jedi Order.
Two novels released during the time of the prequels directly connect with ideas put forth in those films. First we have Tatooine Ghost by Troy Denning, in which Han and Leia travel to Tatooine and Leia learns information about Anakin Skywalker’s past. She learns about him being a slave and what happened to her grandmother, Shmi. I enjoy this novel greatly, but I always want to smack Luke when Leia comms him to tell him that Anakin Skywalker was a slave, and Luke replies something like, “Yeah, I knew that already.” Way to tell your sister, Luke! But even though Leia learns all this information about her father, she still does not know the identity of her mother, in keeping with the Black Fleet Crisis trilogy.
The novel Survivor’s Quest by Timothy Zahn explores the idea of Jedi marriage. Luke has been married to Mara Jade for three years, and is wondering what makes his Order different from the old. By the end of the novel, he concludes that whatever restrictions the old Jedi Order placed on marriage were no longer relevant. This makes me wonder when Luke first learned of the restriction, and if he knew it before getting married, why he didn’t consider the consequences back then.
This was an interesting period for Star Wars novels, as Del Rey experimented with a long series and went further into the timeline than ever before. While prequel ideas were incorporated, they did not take over the unique galaxy that many authors created.
Post-NJO – Everything is the Same
And lo, Revenge of the Sith was released upon the land, and it was good. And lo, we finally knew the truth about Anakin’s fall, all the intricacies, everything that could never be discussed before in the Expanded Universe.
First order of business? Why, have Luke and Leia find out about the identity of their mother from R2-D2, of course!
Let me explain. For so many years, since first learning about Padme Amidala myself, I wanted Luke and Leia to find out who she was. They deserved to know about their mother. But this subplot was shoehorned into the Dark Nest Trilogy by Troy Denning. At one point, Jacen Solo views a hologram of his grandfather and thinks that he wasn’t such a bad guy. This, my friends, is what we call foreshadowing.
Personally, I would much rather have read a standalone novel in which Luke and Leia travel to Naboo and learn about Padme. Not to mention, meet their cousins, the Naberries. (It is established through other sources that Luke and Leia traveled to Naboo after the Swarm War and met the Naberries, although Leia and Pooja already knew each other from their days in the Imperial Senate. However, the Naberries have not appeared in any other EU novels.)
Also during this series, Luke declares himself Grand Master, a position carried over from the prequel-era EU.
After Dark Nest, Del Rey released two nine-book series, Legacy of the Force and Fate of the Jedi. It is not uncommon for prequel-era characters to be name-dropped or even appear in novels, for example Plo Koon and Aurra Sing, respectively. As of Fate of the Jedi, the Jedi are located mainly in the Jedi Temple on Coruscant, and seem to be an almost carbon copy of the old Jedi Order, with the exception of the Jedi prohibition on marriage.
To me, this is very sad. The Bantam era, as flawed as it was at times, created a wonderful universe that was different from what we came to find in the prequels. Different does not equal bad. I understand the desire for the post-RotJ novels to have some similarities to the prequels, in order to appeal to new fans and bring in even more readers. But Luke created a Jedi Order that was unique, where every Jedi had his or her own strengths to bring to the table. Now, it seems as if all the Jedi are exactly the same. And I really, really miss the Jedi Academy.
Should the characters know everything about the prequel era? It makes sense that Palpatine would have destroyed information. It also makes sense that the characters would learn new information over time. Of course, it would have made the most sense if the characters knew everything to begin with, but such is the downfall of starting the post-RotJ EU before the prequels were released. (The Original Trilogy also suffered the same problem—again, why didn’t Obi-Wan tell Luke about Padme on Dagobah?)
When people bring up the idea of a reboot, they often do so because they are unhappy with the direction of the post-RotJ EU. I, on the other hand, would really only support a reboot because it would allow authors to write novels with the events of the prequels in mind. (Many fanfiction authors do this, including myself.) Luke and Leia could know about Padme from the beginning. There would be no discrepancies with dating, or what we know of the Clone Wars, or Boba Fett’s many backstories.
The question is—would that necessarily make things better?
The first years of the post-RotJ EU were a fabulous time to be a Star Wars fan. The fandom was growing by the year, and there was anticipation for the Special Editions and later the prequels. Fans like myself sucked up every new book they could get, even the Jedi Prince young reader series. It was, for lack of a better word, fun.
So I say keep things the way they are, discrepancies and retcons and all. They are what make Star Wars novels unique and interesting.