Are Expanded Universes Hindrances or Necessities?

As film and literature franchises grow in scope and popularity, audiences often crave additional material from creators that supplements the world of the main story, frequently known as an expanded universe (EU). Both Harry Potter and Star Wars are hugely successful franchises that feature expanded universes; however, audience reception to this extra material can vary greatly.

Before its acquisition by Disney, the Star Wars EU featured literally hundreds of books, video games, and comics by various authors that explored character backstories, recounted new adventures, and even created entirely new characters and eras of Star Wars lore. Importantly, the old EU was never considered canon by Lucasfilm (although Lucas did take elements from EU material and incorporate them, sometimes directly, into his canonical movies). It was generally well-received by fans and critics, so much so that elements from the old EU are continually being reworked into Disney-era Star Wars material today, such as the character Grand Admiral Thrawn. "Harry Potter" author J.K Rowling has also continued to produce supplementary material for her books, including continuous posts to Harry Potter fan website Pottermore as well as the Fantastic Beasts films. However, Rowling is often derided for her additions to her canon, being criticized that she is simply trying to retroactively "fill in" what she forgot to include in her books instead of add to the lore (the most famous example being her revelation that Dumbledore was gay the whole time). Some even feel this is harmful to the integrity of the original books themselves.

Why is there such a difference in opinion concerning expanded universes? Is it due to the authorship of supplementary material (Star Wars’ EU was penned by multiple authors and NOT by Lucas, while Rowling’s only comes from her)? Does canonicity of the material matter? Is it the length of time audiences have had to process it? Is it genre? Most importantly, does having an EU truly add to or detract from the main franchise material, i.e. the most important aspect of the franchise? Other famous expanded universes include the Marvel and DC Cinematic Universes, Doctor Who, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Star Trek, etc.

  • Very interesting topic. It's important to note that expanded universes aren't a strictly modern phenomenon: in the early days of cosmic horror, for example (so, late 1800's-early 1900's) writers borrowed from each other's work all the time, to create a much more elaborate pantheon of creepy deities than any of them could have come up with alone. I sort of think that they're inevitable with any long-running series that attracts a large-enough fandom, and one reason for their staying power is that the fans themselves enjoy "filling in the blanks" and seeing how everything fits together. So, expanded universes are really the inevitable result of an interaction between a set of creators and their fans (categories which are certainly not mutually exclusive either). – Debs 5 years ago
  • Shout to the mention of Thrawn, one of the most significant Extended Universe/Legacy character in Star Wars. He is an interesting choice because he arguably is an improvement over many imperial antagonists and a great addition to the Star Wars mythos. Such a shame that Thrawn's first trilogy is no longer cannon. His second trilogy just finished up, but was not nearly as acclaimed (though the 2017's Thrawn is one of the best Star Wars books since the Disney purchase). – Sean Gadus 5 years ago

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