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The Star Wars universe has been undergoing some significant changes lately: the purchase of the franchise by Disney, moving the comic book rights to Marvel, and the promise of a new movie in 2015 with J.J. Abrams as the director. It’s enough to leave even the most dedicated fan a little overwhelmed.

But fear not, Wars fans. In an effort to help keep everything straight, George Lucas and his partners have established a Lucasfilm Story Group, whose primary responsibility is to determine what material constitutes the Star Wars canon, and what does not. For casual fans, this effort might seem easy, or even unnecessary. But the popular lore and mythology that have grown up around Star Wars means that there are multiple layers, contested story lines, and conflicting histories available. The battle over what takes precedence is serious and myth-making for those consumers whose interests go far beyond Luke, Leia, and Han Solo.

Thus categories have long been contested, though two main groups generally get cited: the official Star Wars universe versus the Expanded Universe (known as the EU on most fan sites). The official universe comprised the six Star Wars movies. The Expanded Universe was everything else—including vast scores of licensed and approved books, games, comics, and television shows, as well as unauthorized spoofs, spin-offs, and monuments to the popular series. Any contested content then got submitted to a simple rule, in which the official universe had the final say. If an event in a book conflicted in time with an event in the movie, the movie was the correct version.

Although this classification has worked to some extent, it has left some fans unsatisfied—and some executives confused about how to sell new products. Therefore the Lucasfilm Story Group plans to gather any and all Star Wars–related material it can find and classify each piece as part of the canon or not. Creating a cohesive, well-defined canon should not only help resolve the ongoing debates on fan sites but also guarantee a more consistent brand image.

Such a move is particularly important in the face of Disney’s purchase of the franchise and the hiring of Abrams (perhaps best known for directing the recent iterations of the Star Trek movies) to take on the highly anticipated Episode VII, slated for release in 2015. That movie is, in one critic’s terms, “the most predetermined blockbuster since” the last Star Wars release. The studio knows fans will come. But it also realizes that it needs a way to mollify those fans who are more skeptical than excited about the changes that appear poised to take place in that galaxy far, far away.

Source: Graeme McMillan, “‘Star Wars’: Now the Spinoffs Will Matter (Some of Them Anyway),” The Hollywood Reporter, January 7, 2014; Scott Mendelson, “Disney’s Marketing Strategy for ‘Star Wars’ Should Be ‘No Comment’,” Forbes, January 14, 2014, http://www.forbes.com/

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