When Disney first announced their acquisition of Star Wars, fans were trepidatious. What changes would they make to the Star Wars universe? Then Disney announced the new movies, including a sequel trilogy and stand-alone films, and fans were ecstatic. But now that Disney has killed LucasArts, we’re seeing the Dark Side of Disney’s Star Wars — and this is probably only the beginning. Lando Calrissian said it best: “This deal keeps getting worse all the time.”
First, let’s admit one simple truth: There’s no way Disney is going to force J.J. Abrams or any director to adhere to the Star Wars Expanded Universe, as established through decades of books, comics, and videogames. The EU is too big and unwieldy, and furthermore, it’s too focused on Luke, Leia and Han to allow any kind of freedom to explore the characters anew — characters we already know are going to be in Episode VII at the very least.
The sequels will all totally ignore the EU to do whatever Disney and the filmmakers want, so in a very real sense, the Expanded Universe is already in trouble. The question, will Disney destroy it outright, or is the EU too far below their notice to care?
The former seems to be an all-too-likely possibility, especially with yesterday’s announcement that Disney has shut down LucasArts. The game developer was working on 1313, a tale of bounty hunters down in Coruscant’s lowest, seediest levels, whose previews were universally acclaimed and which was designed with next-gen consoles in mind. No doubt LucasArts had spent a lot of money on the game, and it was getting good press. Disney might have wanted to pare down LucasFilm to its core strength, but this isn’t something they did with Marvel when they purchased it.
Furthermore, we already know Disney has ended the very popular Clone Wars cartoon. Now, they could have simply moved to show to their own channel, Disney XD. In fact, they should have — the show’s established audience would give their channel an immediate ratings boost. But no, they choose to end the show completely, and begin work on a new series.
And we can’t dismiss the persistent rumors that Disney might be taking away the Star Wars comic license, presumably to give it to Marvel. If it happens, it could simply be consolidation — moving Star Wars to their own in-house comics publisher to maximize profits — but it would also be a terrific opportunity for Star Wars to start over on this front, too.
If Disney isn’t planning to scrap the current Expanded Universe entirely, making way for the Star Wars sequels (as well as their own cartoons, comics and video games), then that doesn’t mean the EU is out of trouble. The only way the EU will survive is if it’s beneath Disney’s notice — if the books and comics are so inconsequential to Disney that they don’t care if they keep coming out and potentially contradicting the new movies.
Then, as the new movies generally take a wrecking ball to the EU, it'll be up to the authors, editors and Wookieepedia writers to somehow try to reconcile the old universe with the new. The absolute best case scenario for fans of the EU is if Disney tells the book and comics guys to only stay away from any stories that take place post-RotJ. Whether they care enough to officially reboot the EU or not, Disney probably won't want contradictory material coming out alongside the movies — but does a novel about Darth Maul taking a spa vacation before the events of Episode I really count as contradictory?
(One random thought: I bet my Count Dooku lightsaber that Disney keeps Clone Wars as part of the canon. Not only is it the most visible portion of SW after the movies, it’s safely tucked in-between Episode II and Episode III, while Disney is clearly primarily concerned about post-Return of the Jedi. I bet it’s going to be safe from the purge.)
No matter what decisions Disney makes, part of the EU is about to be destroyed, and this will have fans screaming. We’ve seen fans get mad on the Internet before, but this will be something new and enormous — partially because the EU products have been so prevalent over the years, but also because it’s Star Wars. But these people, no matter how vocal, will still only be a tiny portion of the Star Wars movies’ potential audience, and the chances of them buying tickets anyway, no matter how mad they are, is about 98%.
And there’s no real downside to Disney pulling the plug and starting over — but they’ve got a lot to gain. A new continuity means new characters, which means new stories, which means — most importantly — new merchandise. Unfortunately, since Disney just killed one of those potential new stories in LucasArts’ 1313 game yesterday, more than likely for the sole reason it was being made under the old regime, I think the writing is on the wall. This is all pure speculation for now, but it makes sense.
Characters like Thrawn and Mara Jade may still pop up — they're part of the valuable IP that Disney bought — but if so, they'll be part of a rebooted chronology. You shouldn't be too surprised if we hear that Timothy Zahn's classic trilogy never happened — at least, not in exactly the way that Zahn told the story. J.J. Abrams already rebooted one continuity with Star Trek — so it might not be too surprising that he could be part of rebooting another, with Star Wars.