Over a half a year ago, we wrote about the place of Luke Skywalker in the new expanded universe or rather, the absence of Mark Hamill’s character. Since then not much has change, unfortunately, and the shadow of Skywalker’s absence has only grown larger over the expanded universe set after Return of the Jedi. On February 21, the final installment of Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath trilogy was released, Empire’s End. While our review of Wendig’s story is yet to come, in short, it concludes the Galactic Civil War between the New Republic and the Galactic Empire one year after the Battle of Endor. The trilogy updates readers to the whereabouts of all our heroes, Leia, Han, Chewbacca, Lando, and so on, with one major exception, Luke.
In fact, as noted last time, the only reference we have for Luke after the Battle of Endor remains Marvel Comics’ Shattered Empire, which details a mission by Luke and Shara Bey set three months after the battle to retrieve a tree sacred to the Jedi. After its successful completion, Skywalker vanishes into references made by other characters, never to be seen again until the last minute of The Force Awakens. Empire’s End represented the last best chance to offer Star Wars fans a glimpse of Luke’s whereabouts approximately thirty years later. No additional books or comics, currently scheduled are set to take place in that time period. The only reasonable explanation is The Last Jedi.
The Last Jedi, the second film in the sequel trilogy, is set to begin exactly where its predecessor ended, Rey and Luke on Ach-to. The Luke Skywalker shaped vacuum in the expanded universe tells us one important thing about The Last Jedi, we are going to learn a whole bunch about what Luke’s been doing since he retrieved that tree with Poe Dameron’s mother’s help. It also continues the trend began in The Force Awakens that the films take preeminence when it comes to storytelling in the Disney overseen expanded universe. Nothing that might diminish the impact and success of the films will be revealed before the affected big screen release, which makes sense as the films are the biggest presence the franchise has in mainstream culture. At the same time, for fans who dip their toes into the expanded universe, or plunge in over their heads, the result is a frustrating delay in pulling back the curtain over a time period that came to define the old expanded universe.
It was Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy which relaunched the expanded universe in the early 1990s and helped create a new generation of passionate Star Wars fans. For those fans especially, the newness of Star Wars came with every new addition to the expanded universe, something older generations had experienced with the release of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. In a way, that expanded universe became just as important as the foundation films, its characters as endearing as Luke, Leia, and Han. The story of what happened after the Battle of Endor was not just one story in the franchise, but the launching point for every new beloved adventure. The adventures covered new threats to the young New Republic and wove the stories of our heroes’ continued lives, complete with love, loss, and children who would become heroes (and villains) in their own part. Hence, the anguish of many when Disney announced that the expanded universe they loved had become legend, and that a new history would be written over the space once occupied by the old.
What was done remains done, but what also remains true is that the time period following the Battle of Endor period will always be the one of most interest for those who cared so passionately about it. The Force Awakens, Bloodline, and the Poe Dameron comic series don’t represent an installment in that history, so much an end of an epoch. The death of Han Solo officially brought to an end the adventures of the characters who survived every perilous moment after another. His death ripped away the immortality of their importance to the continuing franchise, leaving them vulnerable to stories yet to be told. Any new adventures which happen will cease to be simply background to the characters brought into the present in the sequel trilogy and something more akin to obituary entries.
Nevertheless, while one novel after another, one comic book title after comic book title, and films are released which begin again to fill in the gaps that exist between films prior to Return of the Jedi, they simply will not scratch the itch caused by the emptiness that follows the end of the Emperor and Darth Vader. An emptiness that remains empty, in part because the story of Luke Skywalker to be told in The Last Jedi, and out of the economic necessity to keep the past of the franchise’s characters empty in exchange for freedom to use that vacated space as the foundation for events in the future.
For those who love the stars of the original trilogy, the path to new stories set after the Battle of Endor lies ironically in death. Only when the heroes have died and their story’s end written can the chapters that preceded their final moment on the Star Wars stage have their chance to be told. Thankfully, that death doesn’t necessarily have to be literal in nature, but can instead reflect a decision by the powers that be that the character’s place in the storytelling age of the Resistance and the First Order has come to an end. If such a decision would be made, without resorting to killing off the character for dramatic purposes, is a question that will not be answered until it does or doesn’t happen. Ultimately, the answer may come by 2019, when the sequel to The Last Jedi is released. Will that signify the end on film of the majority of characters from the original trilogy, and in effect, the freedom to turn to the twenty odd years that separate the Battle of Endor from Bloodline? Check back in 2020.