For many fans, the only Star Wars stories ever told were the six core films. For thousands of others, however, Star Wars has been home to countless stories: legends of the Old Republic, smaller stories of smugglers and bounty hunters during the Galactic Civil War and tales of the heroes that formed the New Republic once the Empire was defeated. For nearly 30 years, the Star Wars universe continued to expand, and it transformed the franchise into something far greater than a series of films.

However, no one expected to ever see a third trilogy of films, and the announcement of Episode VII created more than a few issues. There was a huge number of stories about what happened following the destruction of the second Death Star; how could the new films possibly find their way around it all? Or would they end up being adaptations of pre-existing Expanded Universe content?

The answer was, surprisingly, neither...and it was one of the most divisive decisions to ever hit the Star Wars universe. Before we get to that, however, it's time to look at what the Expanded Universe really is - and why its ultimate fate is so important to Star Wars as a whole.

What is the Star Wars Expanded Universe?

Back in the '70s, the world was still reeling from the release of the first Star Wars movie. It was a space opera unlike anything anyone had ever seen before, and the film's producers were looking for a way to expand the franchise fruther. There was plenty of merchandising, sure, but there had to be some way to bridge the gap between theatrical releases. It would be another few years before The Empire Strikes Back hit theaters, and people clearly wanted more Star Wars.

In 1978, a novel titled Star Wars: Splinter of the Mind's Eye was released, and it would go on to become the first major release in the Star Wars Expanded Universe. It told the story of Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia outside of the films, and it served as one of the first glimpses at the universe outside of the movies. More importantly, it was considered part of the same official, ongoing story of the Star Wars films.

From there, the Expanded Universe exploded: the Dark Empire series by Dark Horse comics and the Hand of Thrawn novels popularized the idea of a Star Wars universe surrounding the movies. Soon enough, different properties were borrowing from other stories in an effort to truly create an ever-evolving universe outside of the films. As long as it fit in with the Star Wars story and didn't contradict other events within the Expanded Universe, any story released would be considered a part of the canon.

For more than three decades, the Star Wars universe continued to grow. The films stood on their own, but anyone hoping for more stories that officially continued the timeline had dozens of different options. The Star Wars Expanded Universe was one of the biggest of its kind...but that soon came to an end. 

Life After Disney 

When Episode VII, VIII and IX were announced, Star Wars fans around the world were overjoyed. It would finally be a true return to the universe that everyone loved...though many began to question how it would fit in with the decade's worth of Expanded Universe history. After all, it's not like Disney would just erase it all...right?

On April 25, 2015, posted a press release stating that the upcoming Star Wars films would not look at the Expanded Universe for content, nor would it consider the stories taking place after Return of the Jedi as canon. The new films needed to tell their own stories - unfortunately, decades upon decades worth of Expanded Universe content just didn't leave enough room. After nearly 40 years, the Star Wars Expanded Universe came to a close.

However, LucasFilm didn't want to throw everything away: while it would no longer be considered canon, the Star Wars Expanded Universe would be reformed into Star Wars Legends. All of the Expanded Universe stories would be a part of their own, separate continuity - and, while the changes were still hugely divisive with fans, it showed the LucasFilm didn't want to invalidate decades of Star Wars storytelling.

So, what parts of Star Wars are canon?

As it stands, the films are once again the largest source of canon material in the franchise. However, while Episodes I-VI act as the main story, some Expanded Universe material does still count as canon: Star Wars: The Clone Wars (in both film and television form), make up the bulk of the Expanded Universe content, while the newer Star Wars Rebels acts as the new bridge between the Prequel Trilogy and the Original Trilogy.

A series of books is also set to continue the story, with the upcoming novel A New Dawn set to act as a prequel for Star Wars Rebels. The new Star Wars series published by Marvel Comics is also considered canon, as are the numerous spin-off titles.

In chronological order:

Episode I: The Phantom Menace
Episode II: Attack of the Clones
The Clone Wars (Film)
The Clone Wars (TV series)
Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
A New Dawn (Not yet released)
Star Wars Rebels
Episode IV: A New Hope
Marvel's Star Wars
Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
Episode VII: The Force Awakens (Not yet released)

Star Wars is home to one of the biggest fictional universes of all time, with or without the Expanded Universe. There are still plenty of fans out there who are upset with LucasFilm's re-writing of the Star Wars canon, but when you think about it, the move makes a lot of sense: Episode VII is ushering in a new generation of Star Wars films, and the folks behind the universe want to make sure it's accessible to absolutely everyone, not just those who've made their way through the Expanded Universe. After all, no one wants to read 30+ years worth of novels just to understand a new movie.

For more on Star Wars and the newly reformed Expanded Universe, check out our interview with Wikia's Senior Community Manager Brandon Rhea.

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens hits theaters on Dec. 18.

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