Building a Galaxy: Unexplored Territory

While the Star Wars franchise is best known for its films, it's also well-known for its sprawling novel series, the Star Wars Expanded Universe. While it's no longer canon, it kept Star Wars going for decades, and still retains a loyal following.

Building a Galaxy: Unexplored Territory

George Lucas's prequel trilogy was something that had never really been done in the history of science fiction cinema: explore the origins of the beloved story, and fill in the gaps of the existing history. While 1999's The Phantom Menace was met with frustration by many fans, Lucas continued with work on the next installment of the trilogy, Attack of the Clones, which promised something that had long been hinted at, but never seen: the Clone Wars.

Fans knew of the conflict since the first film when Luke Skywalker questioned Obi-Wan Kenobi about his father in A New Hope. But the conflict — and for the most part, any prequel, had been off limits to the authors writing the novels that expanded the universe. With a new film on the way, there was new opportunities to explore.

Read Part One: Origin Stories, Part Two: Heir to the Trilogy, Part Three: Expanding the Universe, and Part Four: New Publisher, New Direction

Attack of the Clones led up to the momentous event: Anakin Skywalker, now a Jedi Knight, was tipping toward the Dark Side of the Force, all while some unseen figures in the background were maneuvering the Republic toward war. In the film's climax, war breaks out as breakaway Separatist forces attacked Anakin, Obi-Wan, and Padmé Amidala. At the last minute, thousands of newly-discovered Republic Clone Troopers descend on the battlefield and save them, kicking off the war.

Del Rey was in the process of wrapping up its big event series, The New Jedi Order, and renewed its license with LucasFilm with an arrangement for 18 new novels through the end of 2008 — nine hardcovers and nine original mass-market paperbacks, three of each to be published per year. The agreement covered an arc of novels following the events between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith.

As with earlier collaborative settings such as Shadows of the Empire, Del Rey had to work closely with their fellow licensees producing movie tie-in merchandise. Along with Dark Horse Comics and Cartoon Network, an overarching story emerged: the Clone Wars Multimedia Project. This would be a new era for the publisher; they now had two reference points from to work within  as well as other partners to coordinate with.

The first novel to appear in the Clone Wars project was Matthew Stover’s Shatterpoint, which hit stores in June 2003. Del Rey invited him back from The New Jedi Order to write a novel about Mace Windu, and he spent several months trying to figure out exactly what to write, “getting rejection after rejection until they finally told me they wanted ‘a horrors-of-war story, like Cold Mountain or All Quiet on the Western Front.’ I said, ‘Have you actually read All Quiet? Everybody dies!’ Which is problematic in Star Wars, especially when you’re writing a continuing character. But in the end, with that to go on, I came up with a one sentence outline: ‘How about Apocalypse Now with Jedi in it?’”

That sold Del Rey, and Stover constructed a novel heavily inspired by Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness. Stover worked briefly with Steven Barnes, who was slated to write the next novel in the series, The Cestus Deception, mainly to make sure that they weren’t going to contradict one another.

Stover and Barnes' novels weren't the only stories that fans were getting in the crossover project: Star Wars Insider, the franchise's official fan magazine, had been a source of shorter stories and in May 2003, led with a new Timothy Zahn short story serial, Hero of Cartao, which helped explain an element from his Thrawn trilogy, published more than a decade earlier: how the Republic was able to grow so many Clones. Other authors followed, like Aaron Allston, who wrote a short story, The Pengalan Tradeoff and League of Spies, which featured a group of clones with some unique skillsets, Mike W. Barr's 'Death in the Catacombs', and Karen Traviss's 'Omega Squad: Targets.'

Meanwhile, Dark Horse Comics was producing its own line of stories, using its long-running Republic series bring a new set of characters into the conflict. Comic author John Ostrander and artist Jan Duursema helmed some of the best-known stories, following characters like Jedi Knights Aayla Secura and Quinlan Vos, and new characters like Advanced Recon Commando Alpha, and others like Commander Bly as they fought their way across the galaxy against villains like Durge and Asajj Ventress.

At the same time, Lucasfilm partnered with Cartoon Network and animator Genndy Tartakovsky to produce a series of short cartoons called Star Wars: Clone Wars, featuring characters like Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker over the course of three seasons, and brought in characters from the comic series, like Asajj Ventress

In 2004, authors Michael Reaves and Steven Perry, wrote two novels, MedStar I: Battle Surgeons and MedStar II: Jedi Healer, about Jedi Master Barris Offee, fighting on the front lines. Perry, who had originally written Shadows of the Empire, returned to the universe after the Bantam Spectra contract upheaval that had pushed him out, and along with with Reaves, they pitched a novel that he described as “M*A*S*H in space, and a chance to do a little stuff with oddball characters, some of whom show up in subsequent books.”

Several other novels appeared around the same time: military science fiction authors David Sherman and Dan Cragg released Jedi Trial in 2004, a war novel that followed a single battle. One novel, Escape from Dagu, which would have focused on a Jedi Knight named Shaak Ti, was cancelled, and replaced with Dark Rendezvous by Sean Stewart, which focused on Yoda, a first for the literature world.

The Clone Wars also bled into the world of video games. In 2005, LucasArts produced Star Wars: Republic Commando, a video game that followed an elite unit of clone troopers called Clone Commandos. The game introduced fans to Delta Squad at the Battle of Geonosis, which was made up of Delta-38 (Boss), Delta-62 (Scorch), Delta-40 (Fixer), and Delta-07 (Sev). Alongside the video game, Lucasfilm brought in author Karen Traviss to write a tie-in novel for the game, Hard Contact.

Traviss had recently published her debut novel just the year before, a military science fiction story called City of Pearl. Traviss's story wasn't a typical tie-in that followed the events of the game. Rather than focusing on Delta Squad, she introduced another, Omega Squad, as they were dispatched to a distant planet to help rescue a missing Jedi Knight. Her approach brought about a consequential approach to the Clones: rather than cannon fodder or Jedi with special powers, she focused on them as individual characters, giving the conflict a new human face. She quickly found an audience, and followed up with several sequels in the following years: Triple Zero, True Colors, Order 66, and Imperial Commando: 501st.

By 2005, Del Rey and its partners were running up against the clock as the final installment of the prequel trilogy, Revenge of the Sith neared. After his work on Shatterpoint, Shelly Shapiro called Matthew Stover to write the novelization of the final film.

Stover noted that the project was entirely different from that of writing a regular novel: “You have a lot of freedom in a basic tie-in—a lot of stuff in those two books is entirely my own invention. In the novelization, I was working directly from Mr. Lucas’s final shooting script. There is very little freedom at all, except in hypothesizing how going through these events would feel for the characters—and maybe a little bit in elaborating backstory.” Stover interviewed George Lucas for his thoughts on how Revenge of the Sith had come together, and worked with Luceno to help him construct Labyrinth of Evil, a direct prequel to Revenge of the Sith, which hit theaters in 2005.

2005 marked the end of another Star Wars trilogy for Lucasfilm, but unlike the aftermath of Return of the Jedi, Lucasfilm had no intention of slowing down. Prior to the release of Revenge of the Sith, George Lucas announced that he'd be creating a new animated series called The Clone Wars, and pre-production kicked off in 2005.

The series would retain some of the look and feel of Tartakovsky's series, but would be animated with CGI. Over the next couple of years, the team worked on the series, which would be set between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, and would borrow some elements from the existing books, comics, and games. Lucas initially wanted to bring in Alpha from the comics, but opted against it because they were introducing a new character, Ahsoka, and felt that the alliteration would be distracting. Instead, the series introduced Captain Rex, a member of the 501st Legion (canonized in Revenge of the Sith, and named for the fan costuming group).

But the series represented a problem for the company: it had worked for years with its partners to maintain a certain level of continuity between its various stories, but needed the flexibility to tell its own stories for television. The result was an difficult-to-reconcile continuity that essentially gave the TV series full priority of the canon story over the existing works. The series brought in elements from those comics and novels: characters like Asajj Ventress and Commander Bly were brought in, as well as the concept of ARC Troopers, planets like Dathomir and Force Witches, but those stories were sort of left to the side.

That had consequences: Traviss, who had authored the official Clone Wars novelization and a sequel, No Prisoners, left the franchise over the inability to reconcile some of the elements that she'd spent years building up in her Commando series, leaving it unfinished.

But The Clone Wars brought in a new generation of fans from the point when it debuted in 2008, and with it, a whole host of new characters and adventures for the franchise that helped support and build upon the characters in the feature films.

By the end of the prequels, Del Rey had undertaken and brought to a close two major ongoing projects: The New Jedi Order, leaving a radically changed Expanded Universe in its wake, and the Clone Wars era had examined the previously off-limits part of the canon.

Those projects were radically different from where Bantam Spectra had started back in 1991, going beyond single novels and trilogies to bridge entire eras with complex, interconnected stories and characters.

These advances were necessitated by the sheer growth of the Expanded Universe, and would serve the company well as they moved beyond the prequel trilogy and the New Jedi Order, and explored the future of Star Wars.

This feature was originally published on Barnes & Noble's Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog. I've reprinted it here with some edits and minor corrections.