While movie audiences were left to wonder about the world of Star Wars that lived outside of the films, readers of the franchise's 'Expanded Universe' had dozens upon dozens of novels rounding out each corner of the universe with George Lucas' blessing. But when Episode VII executive producer Kathleen Kennedy explained that in order to give their upcoming films some freedom, they would not be following the future presented in the novels - thereby rendering the Expanded Universe non-canonical - fans were understandably upset.
As a result, the only canon stories that exist as fact in the Star Wars universe are the films, The Clone Wars animated series, the upcoming Star Wars Rebels series, and future novels. A selection of senior staff was on hand during Comic-Con 2014 to explain why fans shouldn't see the EU as dead or meaningless - since they themselves still view it as a valuable resource.
When the decision was first made to not follow the story of Han, Leia, Luke, and their children that was laid out in the novels (and hailed as some of the better novels in the EU), many saw the move as essentially wiping the slate clean. The slight concession was made at the time to maintain the existence of the Expanded Universe under the banner of Star Wars 'Legends,' with writer Simon Kinberg (providing story direction for the franchise as a whole) promising that those stories could still be used as "inspiration" for canon projects.
Del Rey publisher's Editor at Large Shelly Shapiro explained that fans shouldn't be defensive, or see the move as an attack on the novels released under her supervision. The EU, she believes, is still important:
"Well first of all, we don't want to just disappear stuff that everybody read and loved - including myself. Legends are things that are often told over generations so they're not... they change constantly with the telling, so you can't actually attribute an author to any particular one. Often it wasn't someone who was actually there. You can go back to any of the legends... they're pretty sure there was a 'King Arthur,' but most of the stories probably did not happen. But that doesn't mean there aren't kernels of truth in it.
"Even though they would no longer be part of a Star Wars official history, they're still stories that mean something, and they can mean something to you, even if they didn't 'happen.' That they are legends. And legends are big, and legends are exciting, and legends are special, and you can read them, and tell them, and love them. And then we also read history, and we retell that, and love it, and that gets retold until it's a legend too.
"So that's why we called it Legends... So it wouldn't get shoved off too far to the side, and treated like it never happened."
The ways in which the fate of the original trilogy's heroes (and their children) will or will not take their cues from the EU are not yet clear, with the first new dose of canonical Star Wars fiction coming with Star Wars Rebels and its prequel tie-in novel Star Wars: A New Dawn.
Luckily, Rebels is being crafted under the guidance of Dave Filoni, supervising director of the other canonical animated series, The Clone Wars. He's no stranger to the pressures of adding to the core series canon, and at the panel, Filoni explained quite plainly that no matter what decisions are made by Disney or the filmmakers, the stories embraced and shared by fans won't simply cease to exist:
"When I was making Clone Wars, I always knew we were doing the 'canon bomb,' or the 'continuity bomb,' and I'd go into the office and be like: 'wait until you hear what the Mandalorians are like according to George.' And I would know a year or more in advance what that was going to do. But to be honest I still work the same way I did when I worked with George, which is: there's an amazing group of talented artists and writers creating all of this stuff, and I still mine it all the time.
"When I see stuff I like I try to figure out how to get it in there. You can't un-know this stuff; you can't un-know stories that you've read. So when we come across ideas, all of those things are considered. We worked that way on Clone Wars all the time to include what we could... I think we try to keep the heart of things alive, no matter what."
The continuing impact of George Lucas was something Filoni repeated, also citing the fact that stories concocted with the creator for Clone Wars are already planned to be explored in future novels. The producer of Rebels went on to explain that part of the fun with his previous series was including nods to the novels for fans, even if they had little impact on the story being told.