Tag: expanded universe


Posted on by Scott Delahunt

Continuing from two weeks ago, franchises lead to two other forms of adaptation. The first is the cinematic universe, where the work is adapted to a new medium with its own continuity based on the original but allowed to go in its own direction. The main advantage is that there is no continuity lockout for the general audience, at least at first, and catching up means watching the previous installments instead of trying to find forty to eighty years of stories.

The second form is the expanded universe. Unlike the cinematic universe, the expanded universe allows for works beyond the original medium to build up the setting. Different aspects can be explored that couldn’t be delved into in the original, either because of where the focus was or time limitations. Continuity lockout can become a problem, but there are ways to avoid it. Expanded universes are typically associated with franchises; popularity and demand allow for the original to expand. While Star Wars has the enduring popularity to support a universe far beyond the original movie, Manos, The Hands of Fate does not.

Franchises have a number of ways to manage expanded universes. Going back to Star Wars, Lucasfilm managed levels of canon, from the core movies to the books and games to the older animated series. If a work in the expanded universe contradicts a movie that came out later, then the older work is either considered wrong or considered true, from a certain point of view. The only exception may be the work done by West End Games; WEG worked with Lucasfilm to fill out the Galaxy Far Far Away for use in the RPG. Paramount, though, treats the Star Trek expanded universe differently. The only canon sources are the TV series and the movies; all other works have no influence, at least officially. Even the animated series is generally non-canon, except when it is canon, like “Yesteryear”. At one point, Paramount forbade different licensees from collaborating, probably after FASA worked with John M. Ford, author of The Final Reflection*, on the Klingons and their history and culture.

The advantage expanded universes have is that they can provide information that otherwise doesn’t appear in the original work. Going back to Star Wars, the names of the aliens in the Mos Eisley cantina didn’t come from the movie; they came from the action figures from Kenner. The credits don’t list the names, and the only alien who rates a name was Greedo, who didn’t get to see another scene afterwards. The rest, including Hammerhead and Walrus Man, had their names on Kenner’s packaging. Even R5-D4, the astromech that blew a gasket after being bought by Luke and Lars, was just “this R2 unit” in the movie and only got a name in other media.

Whether ideas from the expanded universe make their way into the main works depends on the franchise. As mentioned, Paramount places restrictions when it comes to Star Trek; FASA’s explanation of the differences between Klingons from the Original Series and Star Trek: The Motion Picture never appeared in any Trek series since, not even when the difference was pointed out in Deep Space Nine‘s “Trials and Tribble-ations”. Lucasfilm, though, maintains control on what gets placed into the expanded works, so it is possible to see an items from a comic to make an appearance in a TV series. In fact, Lucasfilm provided the WEG sourcebooks to Timothy Zahn when he began his Heir to the Empire series, and Brian Daley’s Han Solo books introduced the Z-95 Headhunter, which has appeared since Han Solo at Star’s End was published in video games and in Star Wars: The Clone Wars.

Continuity, especially when the different expanded works can share information, becomes an issue if not managed well. Fortunately, there are ways around the problem. If it’s equipment, like the above mentioned Z-95, then just have it appear without explanation. This works best with gear that isn’t too specialized. Audiences are familiar with the idea of new technologies appearing in real life, from cars to phones, so something like that happening in the expanded universe adds a layer of verisimilitude. Characters, though, do come with extra baggage. Their previous appearances will have shaped them, How the character is handled may depend on the medium. Comics have a history of footnotes referring to past issues, but other media may either have to either ignore the background and just present the character as is or take time for a flashback. With novels, an author can spend a page filling in readers without losing the flow. Movies and even television can’t spend that much time unless the information is plot-relevant. But if information isn’t plot-relevant, does it need to be brought up? Introduce the character properly and the personality will let the audience in the know feel comfortable with the portrayal and the rest of the audience isn’t left scratching their heads.

The benefit of an expanded universe comes down to income. If a work is popular, fans will pay for more about it. However, fans will also recognize when the expanded work is sub-par and will avoid it. Creative types who are engaged to work on the expanded universe, though, are likely to be fans of the original, so will put in an honest effort. The catch, though, is that as the original’s universe expands, new fans may come in through one of the expanded works and may not be aware of the origins.

Expanded universes aren’t for every franchise. The setting of the original has to allow for the expansion. With Star Wars and Star Trek, there is a vast setting beyond what was seen in the original works. The 007 expanded universe – video games, comics, and novels by authors other than Ian Fleming – keeps the focus on James Bond; adding a new 00 agent wouldn’t have the impact and the new character may be better served in his or her own original work instead. Likewise, not every franchise creator wants to expand. The Harry Potter universe is popular, but, outside the movie and video game adaptations, there isn’t much beyond the original books except for the stage play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and the film Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. JK Rowling isn’t interested in expanding to the degree Lucasfilm has, and she maintains control of the Potter-verse.

The line between adaptation and expanded universe is much like the line between adaptation and franchise, very fine and mostly exists from perception. The main differences is that the expanded universe can influence future works even in the original medium and that fans are aware that there is more than what is presented in the original. This pushes the expanded universe from adaptation to continuation, and will be noted in future reviews.


* However, Ford’s creation of the Klingon “Black Fleet” in the afterlife appeared in the pilot episode of Star Trek: Discovery. As an expanded universe grows and matures, new writers will incorporate ideas from even areas that aren’t canon if the ideas are good.

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