Star Wars has been in the shared universe game for longer than just about any other property - but Disney/LucasFilm is taking things to the next level in order to launch the new version of that galaxy far, far, away. The big headline is that Episode VII is in production under the guidance of J.J. Abrams and an impressive cast; but before that film arrives around Xmas 2015, there is going to be a new foundation already established for that film to stand on.
All auxiliary materials (expanded universe) have been cleaved from the main canon; official new chapters of the Star Wars saga begin with the novel A New Dawn, which will be a precursor to Star Wars Rebels, a cartoon series that bridges the time period between the prequel and original trilogies.
It's long been suspected that elements Rebels introduces into the mythos would have direct ties to Episode VII's story and characters - and now Star Wars Rebels executive producer Simon Kinberg (X-Men: Days of Future Past) is elaborating on what some of those ties will be. The Rebels animated series begins after the events of Episode III, where we find a rag-tag group - including a young boy with Force powers, a former Jedi masquerading as a smuggler, and a sassy droid - who are thrown together as they try to survive during the rise and conquer of the Galactic Empire.
It's been confusing to see how the Star Wars universe shepherds will connect Rebels with Episode VII, as anything that happened on the animated series would've logically had to turn up in the original trilogy, right? Kinberg was well aware of the intricacies of the basket they are trying to weave, as he explained to EW:
“It’s a very integrated process, there’s real communication between all the filmmakers because we’re all part of a larger timeline. There is absolutely communication and integration between the different stories. We are very aware of what they’re doing in VII, and we also have to click into place with Episode IV.”
People who watched the Clone Wars animated series will probably tell you that the showrunners got better and better at introducing classic Star Wars Easter eggs into the series as the show went on. By the final few seasons, characters from the Original Trilogy were being introduced at younger ages in different states that made for compelling storytelling and juxtaposition.
Clone Wars also managed to introduce new (or at least, lesser-known) aspects of the Star Wars Universe into the show, without disrupting the overall continuity of the series. In fact, there's been rumor that characters or elements of Clone Wars could conceivably resurface in Episode VII.
That's all to say: Rebels can indeed meet all the goals that Kinberg is describing above - especially since it has a lot of the same creative elements behind it.
As for the Star Wars shared universe? Well, as it said up top: this franchise has been in this game longer than just about any other. Since its inception Star Wars has had movies, TV series, books and video games all continuing the story of that far far away galaxy - but it's never been this creatively synchronized before. As we saw with the old Expanded Universe, it quickly becomes a monumental task to keep track of it all - for fans and creators, alike.
However, in the end, Star Wars has thrived this long because of its ability to continually immerse fans right back into its universe. Anytime you start to see the lightsabers, or hear the iconic music starting to play more and more often, you just know it: Star Wars time is coming. And we are usually glad for it.
Star Wars Rebels premieres with the one-hour special “Star Wars Rebels: Spark of Rebellion” on Disney XD on October 3rd, 2014 at 9 p.m. ET/PT. It begins its regular series run a week and a half later on October 13th (also at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Disney XD).