With Disney’s “Solo: A Star Wars Story” about to hit theaters, fans might be interested in digging into the Legends source material. It dates back quite a ways: Six of the first seven “Star Wars” spinoff novels chronicled these rogues during their early days with the Millennium Falcon, in “The Han Solo Adventures” (1979-80) and “The Lando Calrissian Adventures” (1983).
In some ways, spinoff novel authors have less freedom than movie writers. For example, we know Timothy Zahn is not going to kill off John Connor in “Trial By Fire” (July 2010). On the other hand, as “Salvation’s” John Brancato reveals in a blog post, screenwriters can be handcuffed, particularly on blockbuster movies, owing to the perception that simpler stories draw wider audiences. As such, his idea that John Connor be replaced with a Terminator/human hybrid at the film’s end was scrapped.
Even as Fox deemed the “Terminator” franchise not popular enough to renew “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” for a third season, the movie wing of the franchise was betting the TV network was wrong. From the ashes of “Chronicles” rose the “Terminator Salvation” franchise, which would eventually rank second only to the “T2” franchise in pumping out the most spinoff materials. I personally don’t think it was better than “Chronicles,” but apparently it was more commercially successful, or at least more aggressive. (“TSCC” spawned no spinoff materials at all.)
As “Rebels” moves the Disney timeline into the era of non-clone stormtroopers, it’s a good time to look back at the definitive novel about Legends stormtroopers, Timothy Zahn’s “Allegiance” (2007). More than merely allowing a reader to relate to the bad guys by telling the story from their perspective, “Allegiance” makes a strong case that the particular Imperials we follow here – five stormtrooper deserters in one thread, and Emperor’s Hand Mara Jade in another — actually ARE good guys.
Earlier this year, Disney announced that its Lucasfilm Story Group would make sure every new story fits with the new Disney timeline. The opposite approach was taken with Dark Horse’s anthology series “Star Wars Tales” (1999-2005). It was an outlet for writers and artists to do whatever they wanted. Stories could fit with the established continuity of the time (now known as Legends) – and many of them did – but they didn’t have to.
I don’t know if it’s coincidence or correlation, but Timothy Zahn’s first five “Star Wars” books (the Thrawn trilogy and “Hand of Thrawn” duology) were great, and those were set at the end of the timeline as it stood at the time. His last five books (the “Outbound Flight” duology and the three post-“A New Hope” books) were weaker, and he squeezed those into the existing timeline. The logical conclusion is that he writes better with fewer continuity constraints.
“Outbound Flight” (2006) offers Expanded Universe fans the thrill of learning previously hinted-at “Star Wars” history. It’s similar to what “Episode I” offered to mainstream fans. Actually, as the “New York Times Bestseller” label on the front of the paperback attests, contradicting the party line of Disney, EU fans are no niche group. A lot of people had been looking forward to Timothy Zahn lifting the veil on the Outbound Flight Project throughout the 15 years since it was first mentioned in “Heir to the Empire.”
Because Lucasfilm is shifting its focus away from the Clone Wars era, we’re not likely to see a paperback anthology called “Tales from the Clone Wars” anytime soon. However, if you still have your back issues of Star Wars Insider, you can pretend you are reading a couple volumes’ worth of Clone Wars tales. The magazine published 20 short stories from issue 62-88 (2003-06); 12 were set during the Clone Wars, with two more shortly after that period. (Insider wouldn’t return to short fiction until issue 124, when it would once again become a staple of the magazine.)
“Mara Jade: By the Emperor’s Hand” (1998-99) marked Timothy Zahn’s first foray into comics, but he apparently got good guidance from friend and collaborator Michael A. Stackpole. In this six-issue series, Zahn wrote the overall story, Stackpole wrote the scripts for issues 1-3, and Zahn wrote the scripts for 4-6. It reads very much like a meaty novella (the duo had collaborated on “Side Trip” before this and would go on to do “Interlude at Darkknell”), yet it also leaves room for Carlos Ezquerra’s art to shine.
Thematically, “Tales from the New Republic” (1999) isn’t all that different from “Tales from the Empire” — both collections chronicle the little guy, either amid the galactic war or amid everyday life in the galaxy far, far away. It’s also about the little guy in “Star Wars” publishing. West End Games’ Star Wars Adventure Journal was canceled in 1997, but a few lucky authors saw their stories get salvaged here (along with some of the best works that had already been printed in the journal) in the very last book of Bantam Spectra’s “Star Wars” license.