If someone pressed me to name my favorite Star Wars characters my first thoughts would undoubtedly go toward Han and Chewie. But then my short list would include characters like Mara Jade and Jaina Solo.
Wait. Jade Jaina Mara Solo who?
Yes, I fully admit that Mara Jade and Jaina Solo are deeps cuts, having never appeared in any movie. Instead, both characters are from what is called the Star Wars Expanded Universe. So what is was the Star Wars Expanded Universe?
After the Return of the Jedi, fans were hungry for anything Star Wars. So by the late 80s Star Wars fans were treated to comics and books that told new stories and introduced new characters. But while it was a trickle at first, in the early 90s it turned into a torrent.
In 1992 the Thrawn trilogy of books were released and the story was so good that many fans stayed awake at night to dream about how those 3 books could be turned into movies 7, 8 and 9, continuing the story after Return of the Jedi.
Alas, George Lucas gave us the Phantom Menace instead.
But, luckily, the Extended Universe kept fans satisfied by cranking out new stories. Dozens of books were written that would follow characters like Han and Luke, but also allowed new characters like Mara Jade Skywalker (Luke’s wife) and Jaina Solo (daughter of Han and Leia).
But books weren’t all. Dark Horse comics produced story after story (and they were excellent). Even video games like Knights of the Old Republic got into the action. In short, the Expanded Universe was HUGE, so big that it spawned sites like Wookieepedia to keep track of it all, the stories telling tales decades into the future after Return of the Jedi, featuring the children of Han and Leia, and Luke and Mara.
It was Star Wars fiction compiled over 30 years and it’s hard to overstate how important it was to fans. Case in point, I bet I’ve read 40 or more of the Expanded Universe books. For years it was my tradition that whenever I’d go on vacation, I’d read a Star Wars book. On a trip to Africa, I read a book on the flight over and one on the way back. During a week in Cancun, I read 4 of them. (EU Timeline)
So it’s not hard to understand how a character like Mara Jade could be my favorite, even though she’s never been in the films. I’ve spent dozens more hours with her character than I have with the characters that appeared only in the movies.
But things have changed.
Expanded Universe stories are no longer canon. For all extents and purposes, fans can consider stories like Thrawn’s as highly marketed fan fiction.
But let’s get more specific. Canon refers to how authoritative an event is in the Star Wars storyline. Movies carry the greatest canonical weight. The rule of thumb is that if anything in the Star Wars films conflicts with Expanded Universe material, the movie wins.
For example, if a Star Wars video game character ever says something that disagrees with something depicted in the movies, the movie account is regarded as official and accurate. And obviously, Expended Universe characters like Mara Jade no longer exist in official canon.
That doesn’t mean that ideas from the Expanded Universe won’t be Kessel mined for ideas that feed the new official movies and books. There have been hints from Disney that seem to indicate that material originally created for the Expanded Universe will probably make it into the new films, though undoubtedly with a twist. In fact, precedent exists for this in the prequels, which borrowed the name of the Republic capitol world, Coruscant, from the Thrawn books.
So what will this old non-canon material be called? Legends.
Legends is the new classification for all the Expanded Universe material. Since the new Disney Star Wars films will significantly alter the story told in the Expanded Universe, all previous Return of the Jedi story materials (alas, including Thrawn), are now regarded as Legends, and non-canonical. (Here is all of it on Amazon.)
The Legends designation is designed as a way to clearly differentiate between the main Star Wars story and the stacks of Expanded Universe stories they’ve been selling for years. The movies, as always, trump the Expanded Universe, but now there’s a very clear line between the old sequels and the new one. Episode 7 is a clean new beginning to the post-Return of the Jedi Star Wars universe.
Is the new Star Wars Movie considered canon?
Anything produced by Disney from here on out will be sanctioned and considered every bit as authoritative as the films. That means that any new Star Wars novels, TV shows, (like Rebels) and media are 100% pure un-Legendary Star Wars canon.
Disney appears to be using this opportunity to clean up the sometimes messy web of Star Wars lore. Plus, with heaps of new books and comics hitting the shelves, Disney will gradually rewriting the mythology previous depicted in the Expanded Universe materials. Who knew Luke faced Darth Vader before their fateful encounter in The Empire Strikes Back? With the sanctioned release of Marvel’s Star Wars #2, a pre-Bespin face-off between father and son is now canon.
tl;dr – The six Star Wars films and Star Wars: The Clone Wars are now the core canon. New additions (like Star Wars Rebels and any new books or comics) created from here on out will all be canon. Previous EU stories are Legends. And hardcore Star Wars nerds like me will never see Mara Jade or Jaina Solo in a Star Wars movie.