"A satisfying sequel is difficult to pull off. Many geniuses have defeated themselves through hubris."—Abed Nadir, Community
"Objection, your honor. The pod race was pretty cool."—Lawyer, Clerks: The Animated Series
The idea of a spoiler, much like the Ewok Nanta, slain in the Battle of Endor, is dead. Despite all protests to the contrary, audiences love advanced knowledge of a dramatic work and its intricate plot details.
Scientific research backs this up. In a study by UC San Diego's psychology department, readers reported experiencing greater levels of enjoyment when they were aware of the eventual outcome in stories that relied on an “ironic twist” for their ending. Dramatists, and their audiences, have been aware of this for centuries. That's why the play is called The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet and not What Happens to Romeo and Juliet? It’s why Titanic is one the highest-grossing movies of all time even though everyone knows the ship sinks. And it’s why any right minded individual gives items in their refrigerator both a visual and nasal inspection before consumption. People who truly don’t like spoilers probably drink a lot of rotten milk.
This is why hints of rumors about the upcoming Star Wars sequels are consumed whole—here we have a new reason to comb through and re-examine the tremendous catalog of information available in the “expanded universe,” the books, video games, graphic novels, television specials, and more ancillary products that cover the history, and future, of the Star Wars universe.
Lucasfilm confirmed that the upcoming trilogy will be set thirty years after the original trilogy and will feature a trio of young leads. Current speculation is that the new stories will focus on the next generation of Skywalkers, Darth Vader’s grandchildren. In Star Wars lore Anakin Skywalker has four grandchildren: Jaina, Jacen, and Anakin Solo (the children of Princess Leia and Han Solo); and Ben Skywalker (the son of Luke Skywalker and imperial dilettante, Mara Jade). If the new trilogy treats on the story of the Solo Twins, and the birth of Darth Caedus, it is arguably the most electrifying story in the Star Wars universe.
Those familiar with the expanded universe have already begun speculating that there is a strong possibility the Solo twins are candidates for at least two members of the “young trio.”
Like the other Jedi in the Star Wars universe, Jacen is tempted by and falls to the Dark Side although, as with Anakin in the original (sequel) trilogy, Jacen’s fall is only a means to protect his family. After marrying his high school sweetheart, Jedi Tenel Ka Djo, Jacen eventually transitions into Darth Caedus.
It is after his Darth Caedus transformation that Jacen’s Nazi-esque evil deeds reach their apex, including his relationship with, and eventual murder of, a force-sensitive cyborg named Lumiya, who carries a lightwhip instead of a lightsaber, and with whom he attempts to rebuild the fallen Empire. In the book Sacrifice from the Legacy of the Force series, Darth Caedus kills Luke Skywalker’s wife, Mara Jade, when she realizes her nephew has become too evil to save and attempts to stop him.
Jaina Solo, who turned to Empire and Jedi fan favorite Boba Fett for assassin training, became a full Jedi Master and married former imperial officer, Jagged Fel. After surviving a similar Dark Side temptation, Jaina Solo becomes something of a demi-god, with New Republic commanders referring to her as “Yun-Harla,” “Goddess,” or “Great One.” Ultimately, Jaina is forced to confront her brother after he kidnaps his daughter, Allana, and threatens the child’s life if his wife does not join him on the Dark Side. In the book Invincible, Jaina stabs Jacen through the heart.
In an 2012 interview with expanded universe author, and sci-fi legend Timothy Zahn told Entertainment Weekly, “The original idea as I understood it—and Lucas changes his mind off and on, so it may not be what he’s thinking right now—but it was going to be three generations…and if there was another 7th, 8th, or 9th film, it would be Luke’s children. The Thrawn Trilogy really would have fit into the gap.”
The Thrawn Trilogy Zahn mentions is a small fraction of the expanded universe, but its stories, released between 1991 and 1993, cover the years between the end of Return of the Jedi and the consolidation of the new Republic’s power as they subjugate the last remnants of the Galactic Empire (represented by the evil Emperor Palpatine and Sith apprentice Darth Vader). The bulk of the story treats on the continuing adventures of Luke, Han, and Leia including the birth of Han and Leia’s children, the aforementioned Solo twins.
Some of the work in fleshing out the Solo twins fell to Word Fire Press and its founders Rebecca Moesta and her husband Kevin J. Anderson in their series Young Jedi Knights. The books tell the story of Jacen and Jaina Solo as they begin their training and develop into master Jedi. Along the way, familiar characters, or their children reappear including Lowbacca, the son of Chewbacca; Ailyn Vel, the daughter of Boba Fett; and Lando Calrissian, the familiar ex-mayor of Bespin, the cloud city, and hero of the Battle of Endor.
In 2011, Moesta told rowena-cory-daniells.com “most of [our] research came from watching the original three movies again and again. Every book had to be thoroughly outlined so it could be approved by a continuity committee at Lucasfilm, but that didn’t seem too restrictive to me. After all, I was playing in George Lucas’s sandbox with his toys.”
“I was one of the first to write in the expanded universe,” Anderson told The Daily Beast, “so I had far less backlog than one of today’s cadre faces. Even so, there were many comics, game handbooks, and computer games to take into account.”
Because their works were some of the first to deal with the training of young Jedi, Anderson and Moesta took care to disassociate Jedi padawan’s from actual child soldiers. In a 2008 interview with the Star Wars wiki, Anderson said, “The characters needed to be thrust into real danger and face genuine situations, rather than ‘kiddie adventures.’ If the young Jedi trainees were being trained with lightsabers, that’s the equivalent to giving them submachine guns.”
When asked to elaborate in 2014, Anderson said, “They are teenagers with Jedi abilities that needed to be focused and developed. My point in that comment was to emphasize that lightsabers are not mere colorful toys but dangerous weapons and should be treated with respect, not something to be goofed around with.”
Moesta remains modest about her creation becoming a part of the Star Wars film canon. In an interview with TheForce.net in 1996 she said, “If Lucas ever gets around to making a third trilogy (and this seems to be a rather BIG "if"), he has absolutely no obligation to use the characters or stories created by the authors, nor any intention to do so, from what I've heard. This would probably be at least ten years down the road, so it's hard to speculate. I don't expect to see any of our characters appearing, but we'd be flattered if they did.”
Anderson said, “My first Star Wars novel, Jedi Search, was published in March 1994, and my books were part of the new books reviving interest in Star Wars after a long fallow period following Return of the Jedi. When I wrote my Jedi Academy trilogy, there was no talk (only fan hope) of further Star Wars films, but the Star Wars publishing program was a smash hit."
Anderson and Moesta have retired from the Star Wars universe, but they continue to produce works in other established sci-fi worlds, including the Frank and Brian Herbert’s Dune series and their own Crystal Doors, just reissued through Word Fire Press. Anderson describes the series as “a group of teens are whisked to an Atlantis-like island of magic and steampunk technology, which is at war with an undersea kingdom.”
Other writers who took up the Star Wars mantle include authors Karen Traviss, Aaron Alston, and Troy Denning, who wrote about the corruption and fall of Jacen Solo in the series Legacy of the Force.
Fans of the original series and prequels should expect a morally complex environment. Even among dedicated fans of the expanded universe, Traviss’s work met controversy when she compared Jedi’s (and their nemesis, the Sith) to Nazis. The comparison drew harsh criticism from the Star Wars fanbase. Most of the posts relating to the controversy have been taken down, but Travis still has at least one response posted to her personal website.
Former Lucas employees, and executive producer of the new film, Kathleen Kennedy, insist that the new trilogy would be an all new story. The prequel trilogy, released from 1999 to 2005, relied heavily on both the expanded universe and Lucas’s original Star Wars notes. Places like Naboo and Coruscant were in the original outlines, as was Anakin and his relationship with soon to be emperor Palpatine (at the time called Cos Dashit), Padme’s decoy princess, and even the Sith.
If the dizzying array of names, places, and events is confusing, prepare for the new Star Wars to double down on the likes of Jedi jargon such as midichlorians, Living Force, and Yuuzhan Vong. But the new series will also feature the return of Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi co-screenwriter, and longtime Lucas collaborator, Lawrence Kasdan.
Aside from the success of Empire, and the brilliance of Kasdan’s later, more intimate work (The Big Chill, The Bodyguard, I Love You to Death) the new Star Wars represents the first time Kasdan has written sci-fi in over a decade. His last film about outer space, the notorious Dreamcatcher (adapted from the Stephen King novel of the same name), left him "[w]ounded careerwise" and shattered poor William Goldman (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, All the President’s Men, The Princess Bride).
Perhaps that’s why, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times blog Hero Complex he said, “I’m trying to start fresh…There are certain pleasures that we think the saga can bring to people that they’ve been missing, and we’re hoping to bring them that, and at the same time, have them feel that it’s all new.”
[At this point, it should be noted that Kasdan, who wrote one of the most famous scenes in American cinema, in which Luke Skywalker learns that Darth Vader is his father, now has a son (Jake Kasdan) who is also a director (New Girl, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, Zero Effect). Neither Kasdan has ever stated publicly if the decision to go into filmmaking was the result of a saber-related hand removal.]
The return to a familiar universe, and familiar characters, is a common theme in Kasdan’s work, telling IGN in 2003, “There is a thing…which is that even our best friends, we wonder have they changed? Sometimes it can be because they’ve moved away, or they've been successful, or they’ve been unsuccessful, they’ve gone bad on us. It's where the power of the Body Snatcher movies come from, because it’s a kind of metaphor for, ‘Are you still the person I thought you were?’ And everybody wonders that about the people in their lives.”
So at least one settled point about the new Star Wars films seems to be the participation of the old cast in their familiar roles. Longtime Freddy Krueger actor Robert Englund confirmed that his friend Mark Hamill is currently working out to prepare for his return to form as Luke Skywalker, who in the time after defeating the Galactic Empire, has started his own Jedi School on the fourth moon of Yavin, commonly referred to as Yavin 4 (the location of the secret rebel base and intended target for the first Death Star in Episode IV: A New Hope).
Expect some of both Lucas and Kasdan’s earlier work from the series to reappear, either as lip service to loyal fans or as a long overdue debt on the part of one filmmaker to the other. Some of the most memorable scenes from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom were part of Kasdan’s first draft for Raiders of the Lost Ark. “After the success of Raiders, nothing was too expensive, and probably nothing was too outlandish,” Kasdan told IGN in 2003.
In a 1981 interview with Starlog Magazine, Kasdan said “George had the story very well outlined, but there were sections in his script which, when I read them, made me say to myself, ‘I can’t believe that George wrote this scene. It’s terrible.’ I later learned that George wrote stuff like that simply so that whoever did the next draft would know that a scene covering approximately the same kind of material that his sequence dealt with belonged at that point in the script. My job was basically to take George’s story and make it work through altering dialogue and structure.”
Lucas biographer Dale Pollock, who, while researching in the 1980s, has seen the outlines for all 12 movies (yes, that means one more trilogy after this trilogy) told TheWrap.com that parts 7-9 are the “three most exciting stories...They had propulsive action, really interesting new worlds, new characters. I remember thinking, ‘I want to see these 3 movies.’” Even some unexpected characters may return to the new trilogy, as both Darth Vader, Emperor Palpatine, and Episode I villain Darth Maul all return as ghosts or clones in one Star Wars book, movie, video game, or another. As this excellent analysis of the original trilogy from Cracked shows, the only group for whom death seems to be final are the Ewoks.
With over a year before hitting theaters, speculation about the upcoming trilogy is still wild. As Screen Rant has reported, the Jedi may even be the villains in the upcoming films.
The coming months will see information leak that even the most recent series of films never had to face. Between social networking sites like Instagram and Twitter, it will be more interesting to see what remains secret than what secrets are to be had. Trilogy director J.J. Abrams is no stranger to the challenge of keeping secrets, but even well guarded properties, like the Lost finale and the monster models for Cloverfield, were leaked online.
In a more recent interview with IGN, co-writer on the new film and creative consultant Simon Kinberg said, “As a fan, I wouldn’t want to know too much. I know that’s impossible because it’s not the '70s or '80s anymore, but part of what was so exciting about A New Hope for me was I was entering into a universe I didn’t know. Even in Empire, I was surprised by a twist I never would have seen coming. But it’s different nowadays. I understand the excitement, and I’m happy that people are interested, obviously. But I’d rather people have something left to discover when they go in.”
No matter how much information gets out, the good guys on the side of “light” will overcome the “dark.” The toys and tie-ins will be legion. And the fans will still queue up in costume, days ahead of time, if only to be the first to say how the original trilogy was better.
George Lucas created a universe so robust, that Star Wars can't be spoiled. Even by a great disturbance in the force.