Kelly Lynn Thomas
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, before Disney bought Lucasfilm, before the Star Wars Story Group, before even The Clone Wars, we had the Star Wars Expanded Universe.
Now referred to as “Legends,” its content no longer canon, the Star Wars Expanded Universe comprised the many official novels, comic books, video games, and other media that took the stories and characters of Star Wars beyond the big screen.
But if you’ve been knocking around the Star Wars fandom for awhile, even if you’ve never read a Legends story, you’ve probably gleaned that many of us still love this continuity and its characters.
While these “legends” are no longer official canon, they are a huge part of Star Wars history and helped make the franchise what it is today. The Expanded Universe gave us more Leia, and more Padme, but it also gave us plenty of new female characters to fall in love with: Mara Jade, Tenel Ka, Tahiri Veila, Jaina Solo, and many more.
As a woman who grew up with the EU and its women, they are all close to my heart and I plan on spending extra time exploring their stories here. So whether you’re interested in reading every Legends story ever published, or just want to get an overview, this primer will help orient you to the wonderful—but sometimes confusing—world of Star WarsLegends!
What Is Legends?
Star Wars Legends includes any novels, short stories, comics, video games, or other narrative content published between 1976 and 2014. This also includes movie novelizations published during this time period and the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special.
The Star Wars films are, of course, still canon, along with The Clone Wars. Any content produced and released after 2015 is also canon. This includes novels, comics, video games, and TV shows like Rebels, Resistance, and The Mandalorian.
Why Did Disney Reboot the Canon?
In an announcement on StarWars.com on April 25, 2014, Lucasfilm explained that it would “reset” the Star Warscanon in order to ensure that all aspects of Star Wars storytelling would connect and be consistent moving forward. To facilitate this, they created the Story Group, which would oversee content across all formats.
This reset, solved a longstanding and rather large issue: the previous canon contradicted itself in many ways. “Lucas always made it clear that he was not beholden to the EU,” the announcement says—and it showed. A major example is how Mandalorian culture in The Clone Wars contradicted the culture Karen Traviss established in her Republic Commando novels.
Additionally, some older stories like Splinter of the Mind’s Eye (1978) were considered canon, while the original Marvel Star Wars comics (1977–1986) were not. Even some of the novels produced during the “rebirth” of Star Wars in the 1990s, such as the Jedi Prince series by Paul Davids and Hollace Davids (1992), were later deemed to not be part of the canon.
Stories had to be broken down in “levels” of canon, from the films (the end-all, be-all), to the decidedly not-canon, with plenty of gray areas in between. Keeping track of it all was a Herculean task even for the most dedicated galactic historian.
Two Visions of Legends
While Legends gets a bit messy when you drill down into the details, most of what was published between 1991 and 2014 was fairly consistent and featured many of the same characters across novels, comics, and video games.
Now, when most people talk about Legends, they’re talking about the post-Return of the Jedi story arcs that continued the adventures of Leia, Luke, and Han, and later, their children.
But Legends also refers to stories such as the original run of Marvel comics that were discarded even from the pre-Disney canon, the original newspaper strips, and other bits of nearly forgotten lore.
Ultimately though, everything that came out before 2014 is part of Legends (excepting the films and The Clone Wars), and everything after is official canon.
What’s the Big Deal?
Now you hopefully understand what Legends is. But with hundreds of stories of varying levels of quality, why should you care? And why did so many fans essentially revolt when Disney announced the reset?
At its worst, Legends regurgitated tired stereotypes and sci-fi tropes. The books fell into the “superweapon of the week” trap more than once, and the galaxy never saw a moment of peace (Not one!). Primary characters remained very white and very straight, and were human more often than not.
But at its best, Legends, ahem, expanded what Star Wars was and could be. It introduced new female characters and finally made Leia a Jedi. It explored the Force and connected the Jedi and Sith to a thriving galaxy of Force users, Force sensitives, and Force devotees. It imagined the future and the past, and took some surprising risks that paid off beautifully.
And, I’d argue, it proved that media tie-ins could be more than blatant cash grabs. They could contribute meaningfully to the franchise and do what all good stories do: help us escape, make us think, and show us what really matters.
These stories may no longer be canon, but they certainly still have value. Welcome to the world of Star Wars Legends. These are your first steps.