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Star Wars and the Shared Universe

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The other day I was chatting with my agent recently, going over our strategy of which publishers to contact for my new book, and she mentioned Disney Hyperion. This of course led us down the trail of how Disney has been buying up a lot of IPs recently and our fears of what may happen to Star Wars. Of course, as I pointed out to her, I’m not sure they can do anymore damage than what Lucas has already done.

Now, let’s step back for a moment and consider how weird that thought really is. Lucas, in the eyes of the fans, damaged the Star Wars brand. How can that be? It’s his creation and we’re all along for the ride. Who are we to dictate to him what is and is not good for Star Wars? Certainly we have the right to not like it and we can disagree with his creative choice, but in the end it’s all his vision.

But is it really?

In the writing community there is a concept of the Shared Universe. It is where several authors get together and co-develop a universe and then go off to write individual stories within it. They’ll confer with one another to make sure things stay consistent — character names, dates, and the like. It is my belief that Star Wars, after RotJ ballooned into such a massive force (ha!) that it became a shared universe without Lucas’s realizing.

There is so much in the Expanded Universe. So much in fact a close friend of mine has several bookshelves dedicated to just Star Wars novels. And within those novels is The Thrawn Trilogy. Which many consider to be episodes 7, 8, and 9. Think on that for a moment. A book series written by another author is elevated to the point of being on par with the original films. That’s saying a lot. In my opinion, that series was the tipping point, moving Star Wars from being George Lucas’s world, to being a shared universe among the fans themselves. It grew bigger than him, and unfortunately people forgot to tell him.

Of course that movement started well before the books with The Empire Strikes Back. Don’t believe me? Hit up IMDB and take a gander at the writer/director for A New Hope. Yeah, as we would expect it’s George Lucas. Now jump over to The Empire Strikes Back and you get a very different picture. There, in the late seventies it had already begun — the transference from a single man’s vision to a shared universe. A new director, new writers, and a sense of co-development between them all.

Which ultimately brings me to the bigger question, what’s a creator to do when their creation becomes bigger than themselves? It’s your work, something you’ve spent years and potentially decades developing, and now a mass of people are telling you what it all means and how it should go. The collective fan base will stamp their feet and yell foul if you take a direction they don’t feel is right. But who are they to dictate that to you, the creator?

It’s a sticky question. Because what is art — in this case Star Wars — without an audience? Without them, it doesn’t mean a thing. So we could argue that the audience does have some amount of ownership. And with that comes a sense that they should have a say in it’s direction. After all, it’s their experience and they want the most out of it.

I wish I had an answer to all of this. With luck, my own series will reach a tenth of Star War’s success. What artist wouldn’t want their work enjoyed on that kind of level?

As for Lucas, well all I know is that he came back to the Star Wars franchise in the 90s and made some terrible fanfiction. So come on Disney, we’re all in this shared universe together, let’s bring back the magic … er … Force.

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