I've given you all a month to enjoy The Force Awakens and while this isn't a review it will contain spoilers. Today I'll be talking about the Canon works in Star Wars, how they work uniquely to Star Wars, and the vast amount of lore that was adapted and wrapped into the new film. Having this discussion a few times already I feel it important to state just what is meant by canon works. Canon is a literary term that means anything that is part of the official story line and universe. Within English Literature the Canon works are basically the "Classic Novels" and authors of various era's that define the fiction and writing of their time. For Star Wars this gets a bit tricky because of how the story evolved.
We all know that Star Wars was originally slated to be a write off of a film who everyone was betting against. It only received studio funding because the studio was planning on using it as a tax write off. When its popularity exploded so did the absolute NEED for more beyond even what the sequels of the original trilogy could satisfy. We were totally in love with this amazing universe and needed to know everything. How many Jedi were there? What was the Clone War? Who is this Emperor guy and why does he look like that? That dude in the green armour was cool, what's his deal? Thus was born the original takes of the Expanded Universe. Starting off with a tidal wave of merchandising following the release of Empire Strikes Back we got little character stories to flesh out some things and this was extremely effective. Consider: how often you hear the names "Boba Fett" or "Palpatine" in the original trilogy? And yet immediately after reading those names you knew exactly who I was talking about and this was prior to even the Prequel Trilogy. We knew Senator Palpatine was going to become the Emperor when we saw him in Episode 1 and we only knew that because of the EU.
With the merchandise came a slew of comics and books, especially after the release of Return of the Jedi, that filled in space between the films and even continued on afterwards. It was here that the first problems arose. Lucas had nearly no control over those first story lines and while the ones between the films were hemmed in by having to hit plot points to make the continuity of the movies continue to make sense. The post film stories did not have any structure or goal in mind and so the initial ones were, well, terrible. Lucas put his foot down and most of those works were either retconned or canned and the golden age of the established EU began.
From this we got the Sith Era comics, the Thrawn trilogy and several other phenomenal works and brilliant characters. For the most part the canon took place after the films with continuing stories and characters, growing families and new threats. The time before the films was largely not developed so that Lucas would have essentially carte blanche when it came to making the prequels. Then the Prequels were utter shite and the EU exploded again, this time to fill in the gaps left by the new films. The books and comics suddenly became critical to understanding the sheer mess that the Prequels were and making them work with what we'd been told of the past by Obi Wan in the Original Trilogy.
What you need to understand about the Star Wars EU is that it fulfills a specific function. The EU makes the movies make sense. Believe it or not this has always been the case. Even the Original Trilogy does a fairly poor job of explaining itself and there are many questions and plot points that require addressing. The EU explains inconsistencies and answers questions within Star Wars. This is totally fine, until Disney hits. When Disney purchased Star Wars there were stories stretching out to 40-50 years after the Battle of Yavin in A New Hope. All of it had been done and when the announcement was made to continue the films with the original actors there was no choice but to remove large chunks of the canon works so that original stories could be made. The problem with this is that they swept ALL of the EU under the rug. All of the games, all of the stories, EVERYTHING IS GONE.
All is not lost however because if you were a fan of the post-film EU quite a lot of it was adapted into the new movie. This is a bit of a list so hang in there.
Ben Solo- An amalgamation of Jacen Solo and Ben Skywalker Jacen was the eldest of the 3 Solo children from the EU. Similar to the film he was trained by Luke and eventually fell to the dark side and started dressing like his grandfather going so far as commanding his very own specially commissioned Star Destroyer and turning the New Republic into a police state for the greater good. Jacen was also ludicrously powerful in the Force. He took several years to study Force talents from around the Galaxy and was able to manipulate memories, redirect a storm of blasterfire from several gunships and even project his presence forwards and backwards in time, all of these abilities that no one else could do. Similarly Kylo Ren is able to sift through minds at will where other Force users can just sense emotions and general thoughts, and catch blaster bolts IN MID AIR with his mind; something else we've never seen before. They took the Vader legacy from Jacen and slapped Luke's son's name onto the front end.
The First Order- Within the original stories there was a great deal of support for the Empire's policies and political/military views. Over several decades of war the Empire became the Imperial Remnant. A military power to be sure but one that held just a few dozen worlds in its own little corner of the Galaxy. They and the New Republic were at peace for several decades and even became allies on several occasions. This is essentially what the First Order is but that's not all they borrowed from. Above I mentioned the Thrawn Trilogy. Grand Admiral Thrawn was a Chiss military mastermind who came from an area of uncharted space called The Unknown Regions to the galactic northwest. He managed to unite the various Moffs after Palpatine's death and through sheer military strategy and tactical brilliance almost destroyed the New Republic. The First Order is made from former Admirals and Moffs who fled to the Unknown Regions and reconsolidated their power.
Starkiller Base- It's the Galaxy Gun. Near the planet Biss Palpatine was resurrected as his spirit took over a clone body of his and he unleashed this superweapon in a comic story that saw Luke fall to the Dark Side for a little while. The Galaxy Gun was a massive battle station longer than even Super Star Destroyers and would fire a torpedo nearly the size of the Millenium Falcon. This torpedo would then travel through Hyperspace to any location in the Galaxy, hit the star of whatever system it ended up in and cause it to go supernova. It also didn't do dumb things like EAT A STAR.
Luke in Exile- The last major novelized series prior to the Disney acquisition was Fate of the Jedi taking place some 50 years after the events of A New hope. At the beginning of the tale Luke and his New Jedi Order all live on Coruscant in the rebuilt Jedi Temple. By the end of the first book, due to political pressure Luke leaves the order and he and his son Ben go on a journey to retrace the steps of Jacen Solo to see where he was corrupted by the Dark Side and if anything could have been done. While he's gone many Jedi are killed and the Order nearly implodes as the Temple is lain siege to by government forces sick and tired of Jedi always messing things up and being above the law. At the conclusion of that story the Jedi actually leave their Temple and relocate to the planet Ossus. This is very similar to the way Luke leaves the fledgling New Republic after the destruction of his New Jedi Order at the hands of Kylo Ren.
Han Solo's Death- The New Jedi Order book series started with the novel Vector Prime and featured the death of Chewbacca. Also, when Jacen turned to the Dark Side he killed Luke's wife Mara Jade Skywalker to finalize his transition into a Sith. Up until that point he had only been using the Dark Side. It was only when he became irredeemable that he became a master of it and took on the Darth title. With Han's death Ren has gone over and so Snoke can complete his training.
Leia and Han split- Remember above where in the EU Chewie died? After that Han runs away from his family and starts smuggling again. His reaction very nearly tore the Solo family apart and his reverting to type was the obvious influence for both he and Leia going back to what they know best.
General Leia- Within the EU Leia actually became the first Chancellor of the New Republic and continued to serve as a major political force before formally joining the Jedi Order. She left politics eventually because of the corruption that quickly re-asserted itself within the halls of governance. It appears that in Force Awakens a similar issue happened but rather than joining her brother's order she went back to her Rebellion roots to oppose the First Order.
Maz Kanata- A nod to many characters actually Maz, while Force sensitive isn't a Jedi or a Sith. The EU is populated my many groups of Force users that stay neutral or away from the broader issues of the Galaxy but have their own teachings and Force talents. It has even been said in the old EU that many people may be sensitive in the Force without realizing it. Being untrained they tend to have better intuitions about people and situations and you see that with Maz.
FN-2187- Also a mix of a few characters. There have been several members of both the Republic and Imperial armies that have either defected or left their wars behind them and Fin is certainly a nod to how this used to happen in the old EU, notably in the Karen Traviss Republic Commando novels. In fact, an old novel Allegiance sees a squad of 4 Storm Troopers leave the Empire after the massacre of a village of innocents. Sound familiar?
Now this is all fine and good because as I said above, we were never going to get both the original actors AND those original stories. You'd have to skip over all of Thrawn and the New Jedi Order series for the actor's ages to make sense and there isn't a film maker alive that would have been able to pull off a Legacy of the Force story without the groundwork from NJO. We are however in trouble when it comes to all the other EU that's been discounted. Or has it?
Remember that the Star Wars EU's function was to make the movies make sense and nothing in The Force Awakens actually contradicts any of the previous EU. While it is no longer officially Canon it only supports the current canon. So what should we do? I propose we ignore the official word on these works. Like all creative art the opinion of the viewer hold just as much weight as the intent of the creator. We can choose to ignore Disney's stand on this issue and what's more, Star Wars is better for it.
There have been rumours circulating that Disney will be going back and re-doing all of the EU but until that happens, because the EU in its current form still supports the films and other media, why don't we continue to consider it as canon until it is retconned by Disney? Again, these stories allow for the movies to make sense with explanations as to why only Jedi can properly wield and make Lightsaber blades, why the Kessel Run is measured in distance rather than time, why there can only ever be two Sith at a time and why Palpatine alone is powerful enough to imbalance the Force when there are thousands of Jedi, why Luke and co wait for years to rescue Han from Jabba's Palace. Until those stories are remade and new explanations given you lose nothing by continuing to treat the pre Return of the Jedi lore as all remaining in canon.
That's what I'm doing and it makes me a far happier nerd.