What Could Disney Salvage From the Star Wars Expanded Universe?

An interesting rumor popped up within the circle of Star Wars / Disney news sites recently: Disney is reportedly looking to cast someone to play Grand Admiral Thrawn in a live-action capacity, potentially for a live-action series of his own.

This is the type of rumor that I treat with liberal amounts of gourmet sea salt: fan sites aren’t typically as plugged into the entertainment industry as the trade magazines like Variety, Deadline, The Hollywood Reporter, or The Wrap are. And it’s worth noting that none of those sites have reported the rumor.

But such a rumor begs an interesting question: what parts of the Star Wars Expanded Universe could be adapted or repurposed into the new canon?

Thrawn being brought to life is something that does seem plausible for Lucasfilm to do at some point. We’ve already had word from reputable sources that we’ll be seeing characters from The Clone Wars and Rebels make their way into the upcoming season of The Mandalorian later this year: Temuera Morrison will reportedly play Boba Fett (and maybe Captain Rex), Rosario Dawson has reportedly been cast to play Ahsoka Tano, Katee Sackhoff will reportedly reprise her role as Bo-Katan Kryze, and there are rumors that we’ll see other characters from those shows as well.

Disney is currently working hard on new content for its streaming service, and we know of three live-action Star Wars shows in the works right now: a new season of The Mandalorian (and apparently a third), one about Obi-Wan Kenobi, and another about Cassian Andor. Former Disney CEO Bob Iger also noted back in February that they’re contemplating character spinoffs from The Mandalorian. Marvel Studios already has an impressive slate of projects lined up for the platform (The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, WandaVision, Loki, What If?, Hawkeye, Ms. Marvel, Moon Knight, and She-Hulk), and it stands to reason that Lucasfilm might try something similar: building out the franchise with additional TV shows that explores new and existing characters.

To do that, you need a lot of characters, and while the new canon has diverted from the older Star Wars Expanded Universe, there’s plenty that’s made its way over thus far. Grand Admiral Thrawn is one such example: he first appeared in 1991’s Heir to the Empire, and was later brought in as a principle villain in Rebels (and has been featured in his own trilogy of new novels). Indeed, Mandalorian creator Jon Favreau noted that they’ve had conversations about bringing in some of the older SWEU characters.

The SWEU was (charitably) a bit of a chaotic mess when you look back on it, with plenty of books and stories that are probably best left behind—Luke Skywalker falling in love with a resurrected Jedi inhabiting the body of one of his students, or Han Solo drugging and kidnapping Princess Leia just don’t feel like solid choices in 2020—but there are also plenty of others that really did shine.

One potential that I’ve been sounding the drumbeat on for a while now: Michael A. Stackpole and Aaron Allston’s X-Wing series. Set in the aftermath of Return of the Jedi, this series explores the efforts of the New Republic to push back against the Empire, featuring a brand new set of characters that would later go on to become fan favorites, like Corran Horn. While you couldn’t retell the story exactly, there are certainly elements that you could borrow—characters and some of the missions, all of which could be made to work.

Kevin J. Anderson’s Jedi Academy trilogy could also be a candidate, although this feels like one where you’d want to strip for parts: we saw in the sequel trilogy that Luke did set up a Jedi Academy, and while I don’t think you could introduce a character like Kyp Durron (who goes on to fall to the dark side and destroy a whole bunch of solar systems), you could borrow and adapt some of the challenges that Luke faced, as well as the larger cast of characters.

If we wanted to return to the Clone Wars, how about bringing in Karen Traviss’ Republic Commando series? We’ve seen commandos within the larger Clone Wars series (Delta Squad made an all-too short appearance, and well as another named Gregor). The episodic nature of that series means that you could easily insert a short animated arc somewhere, and seeing Traviss’ Omega Squad in action would be fantastic.

Finally, there’s Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy, which could be the perfect opening for bringing the character back in some form. His origin in the recent canon novels lines up nicely with the original novels, and Lucasfilm could set up a series or project about how he causes some problems for the New Republic in the aftermath of Return of the Jedi, although we’ll have to see how Zahn’s upcoming Thrawn Ascendancy trilogy turns out.

That’s just some of the major storylines: there are plenty of characters that Lucasfilm could grab from any of the books and transplant into the new canon in some form: taking their appearance and rough outline of their identity to bring back at least some of the legacy that they’re best known for.

In any case, it seems likely that we’ll continue to see elements of the older SWEU in some form or another at some point—either as a deliberate nod to long-time fans, or a reimagining of a character to fit some story arc. Hopefully, a live-action Thrawn will be in the mix somewhere.

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