What Leland Chee's Legends tweet says about Star Wars storytelling today
It has been a while since I posted a written article to TheExpandedUniverse.com! It has been a busy time getting prepped for all of the upcoming events this year over at Twin Suns Foundation, the first of which should be launching relatively soon after this post makes it onto the website! Hopefully I can get a few more articles pulled together in the coming months as they seem generally well received!
But that is enough about that for now. Today I wanted to address a story that has been making the rounds on the internet, specifically the Lucasfilm story group’s Leland Chee on Expanded Universe/Legends characters making their way into canon stories.
For those who have not seen the tweet it can be found here:
In the tweet, Leland teases about Legends characters cropping up in various media in the coming months, specifically mentioning Tag & Bink, a couple of characters that were actually not canon in the original Expanded Universe timeline, but hinting that there would be other surprises.
There is a lot that can be taken from the tweet. You could focus on how this is not the first time Legends characters would be brought into the Disney timeline. We all remember when Thrawn was brought into canon, after all. You could focus on the wording of “various media” and what that might imply. Really, you could focus on so much!
Or, like me, you could focus on two other things.
First, this is obviously an attempt to draw in Legends fans. There really are no other reasons for them to specifically hype it up this way. Like with Thrawn before, it will be a partially successful move, varying on who is actually brought into the new canon of course. But more importantly it is clearly something that people within the Expanded Universe Movement have not been asking for.
In fact, many parts of the movement have made it clear in the past that this is not what interests fans like them. They simply want the Legends timeline continued. That their characters are being imported into a different timeline simply does not matter to them.
Too, it has long been the position of the movement that when Lucasfilm brings a character from the Legends timeline into the canon timeline they must fundamentally change various aspects of who they are to fit the story. They can become unrecognizable to the Legends fan, a shadow of what they once knew. Perhaps that shadow is grander than the character that cast it, perhaps not. It does not matter to that fan as it is not in the timeline nor is it the character that they love.
On the other hand, as Legends fans we can at least appreciate that by pulling characters from the Legends timeline into the Disney timeline, these characters, though altered, are being introduced to a whole new segment of the fandom. That means new potential fans becoming interested in the timeline Legends fans already love. That also means demand for the Legends timeline increases. In a roundabout way, it actually does bring us closer to our goal of getting that official continuation of the Legends timeline we have sought for nearly four years now. So it is not all doom and gloom as some might have you believe.
Now to the other part of the tweet I am focusing on, how much this decision (and previous similar decisions) differ from the storytelling methods we are used to in the days of the Original Expanded Universe timeline.
What do I mean? I am so glad you asked!
Ask yourself this, “What made Star Wars storytelling so effective up until 2014?” You could list any number of things, true, as there was much that could have been credited with the franchise’s success up to that point. However, I would suggest to you that one fact above all others is responsible for that success and that is that the stories within the original Expanded Universe timeline were driven by the characters.
Want some examples? Look at almost any Legends Fan’s top Expanded Universe stories list. It is an almost certainty that most of the following would be on there. There is the ever-popular trilogy by Timothy Zahn, Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising and The Last Command. These stories are driven by one character above all others who was introduced to the Legends universe within their pages, Grand Admiral Thrawn. I would go into detail about what happens in those stories but most of you have likely read these books. Instead I will simply say the plot of these stories was largely driven by Thrawn. That was how these stories were designed, around his actions. In fact, the fans make that point perfectly clear as this trilogy is almost universally known as the Thrawn Trilogy.
Another example? Bioware’s famously popular Knights of the Old Republic RPG. This story is of course driven by, SPOILERS, Darth Revan. Again, a story that develops based on Revan’s actions (both before the game actually started and during it!).
Another popular book, Darth Plagueis. Again, a story surrounding the character within the title. Yet another example? Look at my personal favorite book, I, Jedi. This story is Corran Horn’s through and through. The Rogue Squadron and Wraith Squadron books? Yep, those are largely thought of as Wedge’s story, though many characters within the squadron help drive those books forward too. NJO? The focus shifts a bit from book to book, but almost always on a few heroes, predominantly Jacen and Jaina Solo.
Perhaps the greatest example of Star Wars storytelling being character driven is found within the original six Star Wars movies, The Phantom Menace through Return of the Jedi. It is no secret to any longtime Star Wars fan that these films were driven by one character above all others, Anakin Skywalker. The original films were not the story of the Star Wars galaxy in which was a being that went by Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader. No, these movies were the story of Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader and how his actions reverberated around the galaxy.
So yes, character driven storytelling defined the Star Wars franchise up until April of 2014. The quick examples I have already provided are but a few of the many to call upon.
So why point this out? How does it connect to Leland Chee’s tweet about Legends characters finding their way into canon? Actually, for that answer I would like to present a clip which I was shown a couple months ago. The clip is of Kathleen Kennedy, currently the president of Lucasfilm, explaining the post April 2014 approach to storytelling at Lucasfilm.
Give it a quick watch (then keep reading!):
Give the video clip a watch? Yeah? Give it a second view as it was pretty quick so you might have missed it.
Back again? Good.
From the President of Lucasfilm herself, you now know the current approach to Star Wars storytelling. It is the exact opposite of what drove the franchise to success up until 2014. Today, Lucasfilm crafts the story first, then decides what characters to insert where. In other words, the characters are tailored to the tale Lucasfilm wants to tell. They have little real influence beyond their involvement in that story.
Now, there is nothing wrong with this particular method of crafting a story. It has worked quite well for many authors throughout history. That said, it is patently not the method through which Star Wars stories have always been told, especially not the most beloved or memorable Star Wars stories.
This approach does explain quite a lot with what is going on today in the Star Wars franchise, however. It explains why Lucasfilm believes they can pick and choose Legends characters for their story and why they have no second thoughts about altering those characters to fit whatever spot they are looking to fill in that story.
And hey, maybe this new method of storytelling works for some people. After all, the new stories have plenty of fans. But to me, that is not how you craft as Star Wars story and I suspect that is why Lucasfilm is starting to show early signs of struggle with their new timeline. Maybe that will change for the better in the future. Maybe this method of storytelling will catch on.
Or maybe Lucasfilm will realize that their approach to telling stories in that galaxy far, far away is the exact opposite of all those that came before and make a change. Who can tell. Always in motion is the future!
What do you think about Leland Chee’s tweet? Do you think Lucasfilm’s new approach to storytelling is causing problems? Do you prefer this storytelling method to the older method? Let us know in the comments!
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