One of the reasons why I love Star Wars so much is because it is more than a series of movies, and it is more than a compelling story. I love Star Wars because it is an entire universe. Growing out of the original movies, stories upon stories developed. It was unique compared to other fandoms because of how much Star Wars fans took this concept of Star Wars being a universe. Starting fairly early on in the late 70’s books, comics, and other media explored the Star Wars universe. However, the extended universe really took off with the run away success of Heir to the Empire, the first book in the Thrawn Trilogy. It was remarkable how deep this grew. For instance, in 1998 a book was published caled I, Jedi. It’s main character was Corran Horn. A character introduced in the Rogue Squadron series of novels. These books followed the post Return of the Jedi exploits of Wedge Antilles, who was a minor support character from the movies. These additional stories in the Star Wars universe were prolific. In 2004, it was reported that over 1,100 unique Star Wars titles had been published.
Collectively, these additional Star Wars stories being told were called the Expanded Universe. All of these stories created the Star Wars universe, but both the fans and Lucasfilm wanted the universe to be consistent. To do this a hierarchy was established. At the top was the canon. The canon initially consisted of the movies. This formed the core of the Star Wars universe that everything else had to conform to. Behind the canon there were extensive hierarchies of materials. The reason for this is if a contradiction ever arose whatever was higher on the hierarchy would be what be considered more “official.”
In recent years there has been some controversy over the expanded universe, as Disney, the most recent owners of Star Wars, reset the canon and expanded universe. That happened in 2014, but since then the new expanded universe has begun to grow again with several new books, comics, and TV series adding to it monthly.
In the realm of media, Star Wars pioneered the idea of universe building by having a canon and an expanded universe that built upon that. However, that concept could have been borrowed from Christianity. As Christians we also have a canon in the Bible. The canon of the Bible is the unalterable, inspired word of God. Yet, we also have an extended universe called tradition.
While this is an overly simple definition, tradition are the collected works and writings by various authors that churches have found value in. Different denominations place differing levels of value on tradition. Many denominations also put tradition in hierarchies of importance. For instance in the United Methodist Church, we might wisdom and value in the writings of St. Augustine but it is Wesley’s collected sermons that are part of doctrinal standards.
For many Star Wars fans, the expanded universe allowed them to dive deeper into a universe that they were passionate about. For Christians, tradition allows us to dive deeper into a faith we are passionate about. For Star Wars fans the expanded universe did not replace the Star Wars movies, but instead augments their enjoyment, knowledge, and appreciation of the canonical movies. In the same way, writings in the Christian tradition can not replace the scriptures. Nothing will ever reveal the character of God and the salvation of the gospel like the holy scriptures. However, these supplemental writings can augment our enjoyment of the faith, increase our knowledge, and deepen our appreciation of the Bible.
One of the great appeals of the extended universe is that it allows the fans to more fully immerse themselves into the Star Wars universe. The same is true with reading the “Christian extended universe.” The church tradition allows us to more fully immerse ourselves into the theology, doctrine, ecclesiology, and praxis of Christianity. For instance St. Basil was influential in helping the early church come to an understanding of how the scriptures present the Holy Spirit, and his original work On the Holy Spirit can be read today. Modern classics, like The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, have been immensely influential on the faith of many of the people who have read it.
There are many people who have completely ignored everything outside of the core movies, yet they still consider themselves Star Wars fans. They sadly though have no idea who Mara Jade or Dr. Aphra are because they have not taken the time to read or learn their stories. In the same way, there are many people who have completely ignored the authors of Christian tradition, yet still have a vibrant, biblically grounded faith. Taking time to delve into this expanded content is worth it. It is so worth it, that John Wesley expected his preachers to spend up to five hours a day reading. If you have never read any of the well-respected authors of Christian tradition, then I encourage you to do so and take your first step into a larger faith world.