An Open Letter To The “Bring Back Legends” Star Wars Fans
Note: none of this post represents my publishers or the Star Wars universe, and I have literally no special knowledge or power in this regard. All the opinions below represent me, not Del Rey, not Lucasfilm or Disney. Just little old me.
Hi, Expanded Universe / Legends fans.
It’s me. Your pal, Chuck Wendig.
If your emails and tweets and YouTube videos about me are any indication, you care very little for me, and that’s fine. I wish you’d be a little nicer about it, but hey, you do you.
I wanted you know that I saw that thing you did with the billboard, and really, it’s pretty cool. It got you press. It’s a way to demonstrate what you love in a fairly positive way. It shows the power of crowdfunding. One could argue that you might’ve made the same impression or better if you organized the money to go to charity (Force For Change, after all, is a Star Wars-based charity), but what do I know? Thing is, what you did is pretty nifty and it shows the collective power of an engaged, interested fandom.
I talked about this a bit on Twitter yesterday, and I have been accused now and many times before of somehow being a Legends-hater (also: a prequel-hater, apparently). I don’t hate the prequels and I don’t hate Legends (or what was once the Expanded Universe). I loved Zahn’s novels and Stackpole’s, though I never really read much deeper than that because, well, for me, there were other books to read. I didn’t want to be reading Star Wars novels only, and I was a pretty diverse reader across genres. But some folks were and still are fairly deep into the Legends/EU line of stories, and those are stories that linked books and comics and games in a not-quite-canon-flavored way, and that’s honestly kinda great. I want to tell you that I get it. I understand why you want more. Stories have power over us. Star Wars in particular is a storytelling universe that has really enveloped our own — this is pop culture that has threaded its way into our narrative DNA. It’s part of us. The EU came up at a time when we thought we weren’t getting more Star Wars stories. That universe seemed dead, inert, done-zo, and suddenly here comes the start of a whole new universe of stories. Where once there were three movies, suddenly there were dozens — eventually hundreds — of books. And comics. And games.
That single bulk of narrative material outweighs most other universes. One could argue that it even outweighs what we get with the films, at least in terms of sheer storytelling girth. Some of the books were great. Some of them, nnnyeah, okay, maybe not so great. But it was a huge legacy, a massive obelisk of material, and it was worthy of worship.
And then, it came crashing down.
That universal lineage, that massive branch of the Star Wars storytelling tree — it broke off, fell to the ground, and you feel like Disney woodchipped it and shoved the splinters in a box marked “Legends.” Some books ended up cancelled. Some games, too, maybe even comics. Fade to black, and then the curtain parts again and now there are new movies and new books (ahem, Aftermath), and they either ignore the Expanded Universe stories or they pick ideas and characters from them to use now or later.
I get it. It’s the same feeling when a TV show you love gets canceled (looking at you, Firefly). Or when one of the big comic companies takes an entire universe and ends it, or changes it, or reboots it. Shit, I get pissed when Target stops selling a cereal I like, or I discover that a t-shirt or sneaker I like is discontinued. Sneakers, I mean, shit, if Nike or Reebok release a sneaker and you wear it and you like it, next season that sneaker is already on a burning trashpile in the Pacific Ocean and replaced with the next upgraded model and that model sucks because it’s not the shoe you jolly well fucking liked in the first place, and now your brand loyalty for that company is cut off at the knees because they stopped making the thing you like.
So, let me just say: I support you. I hope you get what you want. I have literally no power to make it happen. And I’m sure they wouldn’t hire me for the job anyway because if they hired me to write the Expanded Universe at least a half-dozen of you would probably burn down Disneyland. But I’m all for more stories in the world, and I’m certainly all for more Star Wars stories. Here’s me. Giving you a thumbs-up with a big smile and a glint of hope in my eye.
But, of course, I have some caveats.
1. If it does happen, I’d expect it to be a limited series. “One last trilogy” sort of thing. Again: I have no insider information in this regard, and I have no reason to believe this is even happening. I’m just saying, if it does happen, I would expect it to take the form of a bone thrown in your direction rather than a revivified Legends directive.
2. It also probably won’t happen at all. You need to prepare yourselves for that. The reasons it probably won’t happen are many. For instance:
a) It takes a lot of ecosystem to fire up a new publishing line, and that’s sort of what’s happening here. It takes staff, it takes money, it takes time out of a publishing schedule. Publishing is slow. It’s already understaffed. I speak from experience. This isn’t a case of JUST FLIP THE SWITCH AND BRING BACK LEGENDS. Mountains need to be moved.
b) Right now, Disney has a pretty sweet thing going, and seeing them switch gears — even temporarily — would surprise me. The new movie did huge numbers. The books are selling well — and despite some who want to assure me that Aftermath did not sell well, it, ahh, it really did. It sold big. It lingered on the bestseller charts. I have a very small royalty percentage compared to my other books (most tie-in work offers you no royalties), and even with that truncated royalty, I just got a royalty check that was bigger than some of my advances. I don’t say that to brag (okay, humblebrag, maybe), but just to clarify: the book sold well and continues to sell well even now. So, it’s hard imagining why Disney would have interest in suddenly returning to stories that don’t connect to the larger narrative.
c) That larger narrative is actually part of the problem for Legends — it’s quite a big deal that, at present, everything coming out regarding Star Wars is connected. That’s not true really with anything else, I don’t believe, at least not at this scale. It is all, relatively-speaking, “canon.” To suddenly introduce these other stories that aren’t connected opens Disney up to branding confusion. People yelling at them on social about how they thought Han and Leia had only one kid and is Rey actually Jaina and wait is Kylo and the Knights of Ren in these books and HOLD UP IS MARA JADE REY’S MOM. You’re fans, so you understand the difference. But the average reader doesn’t see the difference. They have a limited view of canon and think that if they pick up a new Star Wars book it’ll probably connect to the movies or the other new books. When that fails, that creates disappointment.
d) It bears repeating: Disney probably wants to avoid branding confusion. At all costs. At least until all the movies are out and that part of the story has been told.
e) You may not have the numbers to demonstrate support for the continuation of Legends. The Indiegogo campaign had 146 backers and raised $4,784. No small feat and really cool. But 146 people is not enough to support a line of books. And 1,146 people isn’t enough. And maybe, 11,146 people wouldn’t do it, either. They want to sell 100,000 copies of a book.
f) A lot of “fan-demanded” projects actually don’t earn out. Serenity eventually made it on DVD, but in the theater, was a bomb. When a TV show comes back based on fan demand, it often ends up getting canceled again anyway because the reality is, core fandom isn’t enough to support big meaty narrative universes. Fandom by its nature represents the most excited members, sure, but most big properties thrive on non-fans — people who don’t want to read 100 other books to understand this one they just bought. Narrower, niche properties can live on the support of fandom. But Star Wars is not a narrow, niche property.
3. If it doesn’t happen, I might encourage you to summon peace with that reality. There does come a point when your energy can best be spent elsewhere. Share your love with other great stories, even if they’re not inside Star Wars. This isn’t me smacking your hand and saying JUST GET OVER IT, LOSERS. But it is vital to recognize the reality that you neither own nor control this stuff, and you still have hundreds of great Legends stories that you can still enjoy. That’s huge. And I know it’s not fair, but life is frequently full of unfair things and part of our skillset as human beings is how we inoculate ourselves against disappointment.
4. Also, hey, you can sorta take ownership and control of the Legends continuity through the power of fan-fiction. Fan-fiction informed me and I don’t look down it. Nor should anybody. It’s a great way to be creative and also continue exploring a narrative universe that either left you behind or you left behind. It allows you to continue engagement with that world. So rad.
The Final Caveat
Many of you are nice and passionate. Thanks for being fans — if not of mine or my work, then of Star Wars in general. It’s a universe under a big, big tent. That’s a good thing.
Sometimes, though, in fandom, passion becomes tainted — shot through with the sepsis of frustration. And further, sometimes fandom attracts people who are, mmm, maybe not the finest specimens of humanity, and when that happens, harassment occurs. As it has occurred amongst the Bring Back Legends movement.
You need to get your house in order.
What I mean is, harassment is not a good way to get what you want. It is, in fact, a very good way to be dismissed. It is a great way to be seen as bullies. And nobody wants to give you more Legends if the way you get it has been by protracted campaigns of harassment or even by rogue members of your campaigns and Facebook groups demonstrating very bad behavior. Some other fans who operate fansites have felt harassed and bullied (for instance: this post at Tosche Station). I’ve seen it in person. I’ve seen it online. I’ve seen what happens at the Star Wars Books public Facebook page (and whoever runs that page has the patience of the saint and is hopefully paid a merciful six figures). Threats to spoil The Force Awakens came out of an Expanded Universe group. This is not unknown. It is real.
I know I’ve been on the end of harassment — not just for the content of Aftermath but sometimes because I am somehow held responsible for having ended the EU, or because I’m not Timothy Zahn or because I supposedly hate Legends, or, or, or. I get emails. People tweet angrily at me every week. I get hate and harassment flooded in my direction just because I wrote a book. It’s not awesome, and it’s certainly not endearing. The public relations manager of the Indiegogo campaign for the billboard made this video about me, which — *whistles* — I don’t even know what to say about that except I hope he’s okay. It is not his only video of… dubious content.
It’s not fun. It’s not funny. It’s harmful to your cause and to the victims who endure. And I know that it’s #NotAllLegendsFans, but that doesn’t really salve the sting of harassment that both fans and professionals have felt.
I hope you get more books. Sincerely. I cheer you on. More stories is more goodness.
I also hope some of you stop your worst behaviors and your worst members. Because they have dominated this conversation and poisoned your efforts from within. It’s time to grow up and be better. Demonstrate your desires with love and outreach, not hate and spite. Even if that doesn’t get you what you want, it at least keeps the slate clean and ensures that nobody feels harassed.
Best of luck.