I have read very little fan-fiction.
Fan-fiction exists as a wonderful outlet - a way for fans enamored with an aspect of pop culture to continue the story as they would like to see fit, or to improve their writing style before tackling a story of their own design. But truthfully, I just never saw the point of reading it myself. I didn't want to know what someone else thought should happen to characters that I've loved - I wanted the true story. I don't begrudge fan-fiction writers, and I have the utmost respect for what they do. It's just never been my cup of tea.
The Star Wars Expanded Universe has spent the last 30 years crafting a single story that stretches for thousands of years - with the entries falling into a strict continuity. If a character died - that character was dead in all future books. If a war broke out, later books would reference the events that transpired during that war. Despite small bumps in continuity along the way - which required retcons to explain the contradictory nature of certain events - the overall Star Wars Expanded Universe stayed intact. That is, until Star Wars: The Clone Wars launched. In the six seasons of that show, many elements of the Expanded Universe were used - but often contradicted the Expanded Universe. The Mandalorians went from warriors to a peaceful people, the character of Quinlan Vos was completely warped, and characters that died in Expanded Universe stories appeared and (sometimes) died in different ways! The fragile continuity of Star Wars grew strained, and some fans felt it would only be a matter of time before the Star Wars Expanded Universe was rebooted.
On April 25, Lucasfilm announced that almost every single entry in the vast Star Wars Expanded Universe wouldno longer tell the true story of the continuing Star Wars saga. Instead, the Expanded Universe would fall into the Star Wars Legends moniker. In essence, this meant that every story that came before would no longer be part of the official Star Wars canon - although all future stories will be a part of the official Star Wars universe. Instead, the Expanded Universe will exist as if in an alternate universe - although characters, planets, and other Expanded Universe aspects can be utilized and appear in future "official canon" stories. As of now, there are no plans to continue telling stories in the Star Wars Legends universe - but that may certainly change in the future. The "new" Expanded Universe experience will begin in September 2014 with the aptly titled A New Dawn by John Jackson Miller.
And, strangely, I find myself very satisfied with that.
I am a child of the 1990s. I discovered Star Wars on VHS, and the first adult novels that I ever read were the novelizations of the Original Trilogy films. I was almost an avid comic book fan, and devoured the Star Wars comics as fast as they came out. I adored Shadows of the Empire, and how different aspects of the same story were told between the novel, comic, and video game. The Star Wars films came out in Special Edition format, and I saw every one of them in theaters. I grew up craving the next appearance of Expanded Universe characters like Corran Horn, Mara Jade, and Wedge Antilles. Truly, the '90s were a great time to be a Star Wars fan.
The Star Wars Expanded Universe was also my constant source of comfort in a childhood that had its fair share of unpleasant aspects. Until high school, I had a lot of trouble making friends. My love of Star Wars became a linchpin for bullies, and I was regularly ridiculed for bringing Star Wars books to school to read in my free time. I would often return to class from a bathroom break to find the book I was reading missing from my backpack and hidden somewhere in the classroom - sometimes even resting in the trashcan. Kids can be cruel, and in spite of the teasing, I grasped even tighter to the Expanded Universe. I made the transition from private school to public school at the same time The New Jedi Order started, and the experience was a shock to my sheltered system. At the end of the first book, Vector Prime, Han Solo - who had just experienced the death of his closest friend, Chewbacca - felt as though his bubble of safety had popped and nothing would ever be the same again. In many ways, I felt the same way. Reading the 19-book series and seeing the main characters struggle against impossible odds before eventually overcoming and winning, it was the perfect parallel for how my life felt during that time.
I stopped reading the Expanded Universe stories, because it reminded me of my friend
For almost 20 years, I have deeply enjoyed the Star Wars Expanded Universe. Through thick and thin, the Expanded Universe has been one of the few constants in my life. I grew up with it, and in some ways, it grew up with me too. I own, and have read, every single book. I have read almost all the comics, and have played almost every single video game. I am, without a doubt, a diehard fan. If the Expanded Universe were a living person, it would be my closest and most dear friend. And yet - I am very happy with the news that the Expanded Universe will be turned into the Star Wars Legends line.
I've never been a fan of stories that are compromised. I like to be completely surprised and delighted. In some ways, the Prequel Trilogy lacked a measure of surprise - because we all knew that the story would end with Anakin Skywalker becoming Darth Vader, Senator Palpatine becoming the evil Emperor, and all the Jedi (except Obi-Wan and Yoda) would be killed. The path to that destination was unknown, but the ultimate ending was established. For the Sequel Trilogy to follow the Expanded Universe, there would be no surprise. There would be too much to explain (i.e. the Yuuzhan Vong War, Chewbacca's death, Legacy of the Force, etc.), and we would still know that the stories would eventually lead to the Legacy comics. So to preserve the integrity of the new films, and to make them stand apart and still dazzle and amaze viewers, the decision was made to treat the Expanded Universe as if it never happened.
I think that's fantastic! For the first time in a long time, the Star Wars universe is brand new. Every fan is experiencing it from the beginning. There aren't 100+ books to read, or an obscure video game that needs to be played to understand something. Everything is a blank slate, and our preconceived notions about what we think should happen based on the Expanded Universe will likely lead to our expectations being completely shattered. As overwhelming as it seems, this is the first time since the 1990s that the Star Wars universe has felt so fresh and full of potential.
I don't begrudge Expanded Universe fans that feel slighted or cheated. To spend decades growing to love certain characters, only to discover that they no longer exist in the world of the films - it's a major blow. There is understandable anger and outrage at discovering that instead of experiencing the true story, you were experiencing what some people will now deem equal to fan-fiction. But there are important aspects to consider. Lucasfilm is committed to the stories that have been told in the Expanded Universe, announcing that they will be reprinted under the Star Wars Legacy banner. These are not stories that will simply disappear from record and memory, and fans of the Expanded Universe shouldn't forget them. For decades, these characters have touched the hearts and minds of countless fans. Even with a simple decree that these stories never happened... we still experienced them. These stories have touched our hearts. We have laughed, loved, and even been angered by the events that unfolded. Nothing will ever take that experience away, and nothing will stop that experience from continuing with new fans that grow up interested in devouring every aspect of Star Wars available - even if the stories have no impact on the "true" Star Wars story. The Star Wars Legends moniker promises exactly what says - the Expanded Universe stories will live on as legends. They will live on as myth. The characters will continue to inspire, and the stories will continue to shock and amaze, regardless of their canonical status.
If you want to say that the experience of reading the Expanded Universe is the same as reading fan-fiction... then consider me a convert.