What Star Wars Is about: The Cyclical Struggle of Good and Evil

Films Focus on Anakin's Fall While Expanded Universe Explores Cycles

Darth Vader
The emergence of Darth Vader in Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. Lucasfilm Ltd.

The Star Wars Original Trilogy is the story of the Hero's Journey. The Star Wars saga taken as a whole follows the rise, fall, and redemption of Anakin Skywalker as a tragic hero. These classic, timeless plots, updated into epic space battles, have helped Star Wars make a major impact on millions of fans, crossing generational and cultural lines. The symbolic meaning of these stories changes, however, when you consider them in the context of the Star Wars Expanded Universe.

The Expanded Universe

The EU began — with "," the early West End RPG books, and other early media — as an exploration of the Original Trilogy era. It built up the world of Star Wars, adding new planets, new aliens, character backstories, and explanations of Star Wars technology. Gradually, the timeline expanded in both directions, showing both what happened after "Return of the Jedi" (beginning with the Thrawn Trilogy novels) and the early development of the Jedi and Sith thousands of years earlier (with the "Tales of the Jedi" comics).

The Expanded Universe today keeps spreading out to cover new eras and time periods, including the Old Republic (with the video game of the same name) and the Sith Empire that rose over one hundred years after Palpatine's (with "Star Wars: Legacy"). Although some eras are more densely packed with media than others (particularly the Clone Wars era), there are plenty of time periods that are largely unexplored and have room for plenty more Star Wars media.

What is the Story?

To George Lucas, Anakin is the story, and his death is where the story ends. In a 2001 interview for Cinescape, Lucas called the EU "the parallel universe," stories that "don't intrude on my world." In a 2008 interview with Total Film, he said, "The Star Wars story is really the tragedy of Darth Vader. That is the story. Once Vader dies, he doesn't come back to life, the Emperor doesn't get cloned and Luke doesn't get married."

But Lucas can't have both creative control over his universe and the moneymaking power that comes with the licensed material; and so the Expanded Universe has continued to grow and explore, while Lucas is confined to making more tweaks to the movies for each new release. The sheer volume of the Expanded Universe eclipses the six movies at its core. For some fans, the EU is Star Wars, even more than the saga itself.

Shifting Focus

Both the mere existence of the Expanded Universe and its prevalence, however, shift the focus and meaning of the Star Wars story. When you only consider the Star Wars movies, the story of a man's internal struggle with darkness and of a small army's struggle to defeat an evil empire feel weighty and epic. Each moment has an impact on so many other characters and events in the story, and the final moment of Vader turning back to good lends a finality to the struggle of good against evil.

If you zoom out to the universe as a whole, however, Anakin's story is a mere blip in history. Anakin did not bring balance to the Force for any meaningful length of time. The Sith have always returned and will always return; the struggle between Sith and Jedi is cyclical and endless. Each individual battle over the course of the movies and Expanded Universe becomes small and meaningless.

What Does It Mean?

This is a cynical point of view, to be certain. From an in-universe perspective, it is the view of the Sith, who see struggle as a fact of life and the universe. From an out-of-universe perspective, it seems like writers keep copying the same archetypal plots in different eras because they are out of other ideas.

But the expanse of the universe and the cyclical nature of its history give it a greater impact. There are no truly happy endings, and perhaps good will never truly win, but good people don't give up because of it; they continue to fight for a just cause. With the Expanded Universe in place, Star Wars is less of a legendary epic and more a reflection of real life. And that makes it all the more meaningful.