The current state of universe-building within big licenses is exciting if not a bit restrained. There are some options yet to be fully explored and some leaps of faith yet to be taken, with cross-media continuity standing at the forefront. Star Wars is getting ready to more decisively tackle this idea with a new slate of books aimed at guiding fans towards the December release of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. These books will be released between October and December of this year.
One of the standout titles from the lineup is Star Wars: Resistance Reborn by science fiction writer Rebecca Roanhorse (Trail of Lightning). Roanhorse is of Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo and African-American heritage. The book follows Rey, Finn, Poe Dameron, and General Leia Organa as they rebuild the Resistance after its defeat by the hands of the First Order in The Last Jedi. While the story seems to be a chapter unto itself, the promise of continuity and setup for Rise of the Skywalker makes it required reading to fully understand the last chapter of this new trilogy.
Another book that looks to bring back the Force to its former glory is Star Wars: Force Collector by Kevin Shinick, about a restless teenager with Force powers. His powers are somewhat of a mystery to him and new mentions of the Jedi drive him to a search for answers.
From the comic book side we have Rise of the Skywalker: Allegiance, written by Ethan Sacks and illustrated by Luke Ross. Leia looks to old allies, the Mon Calamari, in an attempt to strengthen the Resistance using shipyards that once served the Rebel Alliance. Continuing the Resistance rebuilding process is IDW’s The Rise of Skywalker: Star Wars Adventures, which features stories surrounding the Wookiees’ role in the war and features a droid team-up story where C-3PO, R2-D2, and BB-8 engage in espionage for the Resistance.
Special mention goes to Caitlyn Kennedy and Eda Kaban’s The Galaxy Needs You. This hardcover picture book looks to empower young readers as heroes-to-be by following Rey’s own hero’s journey. It aims at further explaining the core messages and ideas of the Star Wars universe to emerging fans and what said journey symbolizes in a way that would make Joseph Campbell proud (author of the classic The Hero’s Journey, which largely informed George Lucas in the creation of the original trilogy).
Disney’s approach to the new saga has resulted in a quickly expanding line of books, comics, and picture books that have attempted to flesh out the mythos behind the license in a tightly synchronized way. With The Force Awakens, for instance, certain plot elements that were criticized by some as glaring plot holes were actually tidbits of story that were explored in books that came out just before or quickly after the movie’s release.
For example, Finn’s stormtrooper past is developed and explained in detail by Greg Rucka (Lazarus, Batwoman) in the YA anthology book Star Wars: Before the Awakening, where we learn that Finn’s stormtrooper name is FN-2187, what his relationship with fellow troopers is like, and just how important of an influence Captain Phasma is in the events leading up to Poe Dameron’s capture in Jakku at the beginning of Force Awakens.
This storytelling model is intriguing, and its scope is impressive, but it has to be more explicitly advertised and the connections between expanded universe and movie universe made clearer. Star Wars is everywhere, in all formats. It must find a way to make its supporting stories compulsory reading if it hopes to effectively interconnect all of it to create the ultimate Star Wars experience.
The goal should be to get a constant stream of Star Wars content from just about everywhere to give the sense of a living, breathing universe that is steadily growing around the movies. Disney seems to be capitalizing on this, despite rumblings of Star Wars fatigue in the Twittersphere. Better communicating the cross-media aspects of the license through diversified ad campaigns, that range from movie theater and TV commercials to book events, can result in a kind of social experiment that has the potential to revolutionize universe-building in the pop culture market.
And yet, there’s seems to be a reluctance to fully commit to this approach. Marvel struggles with this as well, although Star Wars is definitely more invested in the cross-media storytelling model. Marvel treats its movie-verse like its own independent entity and doesn’t seem to be interested in merging with the comic book universe to create a storytelling structure that seamlessly covers all media. Sure, we have the movie tie-in comics, which act more as loose prequels rather than independent chapters that fill in certain blanks between movies, but more often than not these mini-series are just recaps that get readers up to speed for the next movie.
Marvel encourages movie-goers to buy the graphic novels that inspire the movies, but there are no Journey to Avengers-type books that allow the universe to grow and connect to other elements of the MCU. Just look at Agents of SHIELD, a series that makes subtle connections to the movies and stays on its own lane the majority of the time. The same could be said of the Netflix series. As of yet, no one’s seen The Defenders duking it out with Thanos’ army in Endgame, and even Howard the Duck made it to the fight.
Star Wars and Marvel don’t necessarily need additional content to ensure box office or critical success. These are not licenses on the brink of failure should they not embrace stories found in other media. But there is an opportunity to change the face of storytelling by asking its fans to read new books that enhance and even setup important plot points in anticipation of the movies. Star Wars is already giving this idea a good try. It just needs to promote it more aggressively.
For the full lineup of Journey to Rise of Skywalker books, click here.
Ricardo Serrano is a Social Studies teacher with a Master’s Degree in Comic Books from the University of Dundee in Scotland. He’s also the co-creator of Se Habla Comics, a Puerto Rican podcast geared towards Spanish-speaking comic book readers.