I finally got around to reading From a Certain Point of View, a collection of short stories written by a Who’s-Who roster of big name SF authors, all from the perspectives of side- and background characters in the original Star Wars movie. Most of them offer backstory or imagine what happened leading up to various scenes in the movie. Some imagine what was happening elsewhere in the universe.
This collection is a gimmick and it reads like one. The stories are all pretty good (some are excellent, none are bad) but very few of them would stand on their own merits. It’s an entertaining read, certainly, but mostly forgettable.
But it did get me thinking more about the Star Wars Expanded Universe and my ambivalence toward it. I love the movies but I’ve never bothered about the EU. There are a couple reasons why.
I grew up on the original Star Wars trilogy. It forms part of the bedrock of who I am. It helped teach me how to imagine. They’re among the most important stories of my life.
I remember playing Star Wars with my friends on the playground at school, playing with the action figures and toys all around my house and in the sandbox in my backyard. The universe these movies created was a wonderful playground, it begged for us to imagine new stories, what came before and what might happen after.
The Star Wars Expanded Universe exists precisely because so many people wanted to play in the Star Wars Universe. Because it offers so much space and opportunities to explore and create. So from a certain point of view, it seems odd that I’ve never had any interest in the Star Wars EU.
Initially, I didn’t like the novels in the EU because they didn’t match what I had imagined for myself. But over time, I realized there was a deeper disconnect.
Consider the contrast between Star Wars and Star Trek: most people seem to agree that Star Trek is science fiction and Star Wars is fantasy. I take it even farther—Star Wars is a fairy tale: “Once upon a time in a faraway land…” with a princess and knights and monsters and magic. Lucas wanted to create a modern myth.
Fairy tales and myths depend on a degree of mystery for their power. There needs to be an aspect of the ineffable in them. They shouldn’t try to explain everything. This, I think, is ultimately why Star Wars invited so many of us to imagine so deeply—because it didn’t try to explain everything.
The Star Wars EU makes me uncomfortable because it tries to explain everything. It wants to fill in every last detail. To quote the inestimable movie critic, Bob Butler:
“This is a fairy tale, after all, and pilling too much psychological realism on top of fantasy is self-defeating.”
From his review of the live action “The Lion King” posted on July 18, 2019
The EU might not be concerned with psychological realism but too much explication destroys the fantasy. I never wanted every bit of the Star Wars Universe explained.
Another major effect of the Star Wars EU was to transform Star Wars from fantasy into science fiction. But Star Wars isn’t science fiction. As science fiction goes, it’s not very good. As a fairy tale dressed in science fiction clothing, it’s brilliant.
As the Star Wars EU grew, Lucas Inc. wanted to maintain continuity. They established an official canon and any proposed EU projects had to be vetted and approved to ensure they didn’t violate it or contradict each other. The EU began because Star Wars invited us all to imagine and play in this universe but then Lucas Inc. insisted on controlling every inch of it.
The playground got gated off and only a few people were allowed inside. We went from playing on it ourselves to watching other people play on it. If anything, they’ve doubled down on controlling the EU with the new trilogy and the brand new canon.
There’s nothing wrong with this. It’s Lucas’ right to control his creation. And many of the stories told in the EU are imaginative and powerful. More like watching TV than playing on the playground—not what I wanted but still good stories. If I wanted to keep playing on that playground, I could have done the work to earn my right to get through the gate.
And no one is stopping me from imagining whatever I want in my own head.
I adore the movies. The EU just doesn’t interest me.
Which brings me the long way back around to From a Certain Point of View: the authors in the book were given the freedom to imagine pretty much whatever they wanted without any requirement to maintain consistency across the collection. Several imagine back stories for background characters that explicitly contradict each other. Several imagine series of events leading up to famous scenes that are mutually exclusive. There’s no enforced canon here.
At first, this inconsistency frustrated me. I’m used to a Star Wars Universe that’s very careful about maintaining consistency. I wanted to be able to fit all these stories together in a coherent way. But I gradually realized this inconsistency is the greatest gift the book has to offer:
It opened up the playground and let the authors imagine whatever they wanted. Just like I used to do with my friends when we were kids.