“Without a trustworthy chronology, history would be but a darksome chaos.”
“I’m absolutely BLOWN AWAY by this timeline . . . .
It’s a Herculean task, and what you’ve done is astounding.”
“Oh, yeah. Down here, I’m considered the apotheosis of cool.”
“He’s right, and he’s right … they can’t both be right.”
“You know, you are also right.”
Fiddler on the Roof
“The more you define, the more you confine.”
“Our life is frittered away by detail… Simplify, simplify.”
Henry David Thoreau
I heard the call, and answered. “In what order do I read these stories?” has to be one of the most frequently asked chronology-related questions. I decided it was time someone addressed this in earnest. Other timelines, much more impressive in scope, focus on relaying the Expanded Universe franchise in toto, breaking down stories into their constituent chapters, some even going so far as to include page numbers and paragraph references for precision of historical accuracy. Yet very few are designed to quickly and simply answer this one basic question. Moreover, the complexity of these approaches can actually make the timeline bloated and unwieldy, and difficult to use.
Therefore, my purpose in constructing this chronology has been quite different. Initially fashioned after the primitive timelines that most of us began with (themselves a framework for the abbreviated official timelines available now in the novels and on the Dark Horse Comics website), and refined to be more stylistically consistent with the Comics Companion and Essential Reader’s Companion publications, I have attempted a much simpler, back-to-basics approach that incorporates both simplicity and sophistication. The Star Wars Expanded Universe Chronology has gone through many iterations, but until recently, failed (in my opinion) to address the fundamental needs of the fan. I have studied everything from gospel harmonies to world history chronologies in order to come up with a system that seemed to answer most of the necessary requirements for readability and understandability. History, archeology, and paleontology have taught me how to be flexible when it comes to dating and understanding of eras and years (I don’t believe that truth is relative or that the actual events of history are subjective, but I do know that understanding of past events vary greatly, and thus color our interpretations. But that’s another subject altogether, and is relevant only insofar as to say that while time is the medium in which this project exists, it is also a fluid enough medium in the fictive world to allow for a number of seemingly irreconcilable differences to coexist). As official decree is given regarding some of the more difficult-to-reconcile continuity issues, this timeline will no doubt change radically in the future, but in the meantime, I think you will find it one of the most user-friendly chronologies out there.
What makes this timeline unique:
1. An adherence to text and substance of the story, rather than official placement. All too often, the “official” Lucasfilm decrees are arbitrary, and conflict with the stories as we read or view them, and the statements of the creators. Like a biblical scholar, I give the original text priority over commentaries (reference books and internal Lucasfilm retroactive continuity fixes, or “retcons”). While official decree may require the overwriting of a story, I still prefer authorial intent inasmuch as shifting continuity will allow. In such cases, the deviation is noted.
2. A focus on accuracy rather than precision. This may seem contradictory, but for a full explanation, please see the special note on the Clone Wars section.
3. A quick reference system that assumes a certain amount of familiarity with the subject. As previously stated, this is not the place to read detailed history. This is a document designed with the sole goal of guiding people through the already-existing media with a maximum of clarity and minimum of fuss.
How do I use this document?
Look for shaded boxes. Each story is represented by a single entry, placed chronologically (and for those that cannot be placed strictly chronologically, it is placed optimally for continuity and smoothness of storytelling). It contains the series title, the writer/author, and the publisher. The various media are color-coded for quick and easy reference. Any text following that box relates to the story, and will primarily include information related to placement and continuity (though certain entries warranted more random musings or commentary than others). Live links point either to that title's home on Amazon (if it can be purchased) or to free resources like archived short stories, YouTube videos, etc. If you are interested in a straight read-through, just follow the trail of boxes and ignore the text. Alternate placements, flashbacks, etc, will be noted, but only the main entry box indicates the recommended placement.
On stories taking place concurrently or over large periods of time:
For tales that take place concurrently with others, I have typically chosen to place them directly after their “source” (usually, but not always, a film) and in sequence with each other. For stories spanning a great deal of time, I have chosen to place them in one spot that seems to make the most narrative and dramatic sense. Generally, this is at the point at which the story ends, rather than begins, as it tends to minimize spoilers that way.
On flashback tales:
With very few exceptions, I have placed narratives that take place in multiple time periods at the dramatic locus of the frame story. I have attempted to make note of the times in which chapters of a novel are given out of sequence, but only for the sake of context and clarity.
On Role Playing Games (RPGs):
After much consideration, I have eliminated all but linear works of fiction from the timeline, with the only exceptions being anything that truly advances the fictional narrative. The very nature of Role Playing Games (and indeed video games) keeps them from being entirely locked into any sort of canonical status.
On canceled and unpublished stories:
My criteria for including these are similar to that which I use for including fan works. If the story was written by someone who has been officially published or worked with Lucasfilm, it is included as part of their body of work, even if it is not considered canon, because frequently these unpublished tales complete dramatic arcs that were left unfinished in their original publication. I have taken this one step further, and included only those stories that are available in some form or another (usually online). Check the live links for these.
“As to your dates, that is the biggest mystification of all.”
Dr. John Watson
On dating conventions:
The dates given are based on the basic system of utilizing the Battle of Yavin as a zero point, so everything prior to Star Wars Episode IV is dated B.B.Y. (Before the Battle of Yavin), and everything after it A.B.Y. (After the Battle of Yavin.) Since the introduction of the in-universe dating system utilized in The Old Republic video game, I have decided to put these dates in parentheses next to the more common dates. Thus, B.T.C. (Before the Treaty of Coruscant) and A.T.C. (After the Treaty of Coruscant) are listed as alternate dating conventions. Special exceptions are made for months after the Battles of Geonosis, Yavin, and Endor, in order to more precisely place stories.
On relative chronology vs. absolute chronology:
In creating The Star Wars Expanded Universe Chronology, I realized that there are two basic factors that go into placing a story:
1. The dates involved, either in-text or otherwise assigned to the story from an official source (absolute chronology)
2. The events and characters involved (relative chronology)
With a relative chronology, the focus is primarily on the events. With an absolute chronology, the events are fixed within the context of precise dates and historical information. I have attempted to use an absolute chronology wherever possible, and resort to a relative chronology whenever necessary. The revision of the events of The Clone Wars mandated a change from an absolute to a relative chronology for that entire portion of the timeline, and examples of this are noted throughout the entire document.
On levels of canon:
October 30, 2012 will live on in Star Wars history. On that date, we heard what was, to Star Wars fans, the announcement of the century. Lucasfilm sold to Disney, and plans for new Star Wars films every 2-3 years, starting with Episode VII in 2014.
Fan reaction was mixed, ranging anywhere from amusement to horror, and Facebook and other outlets were soon glutted with parody memes and jokes. My personal reaction was largely positive. People, it seemed, had forgotten that Star Wars has always been a family franchise, and Lucas was interested in having the legacy of family-friendly films preserved. I had no doubt that the saga of the Skywalkers will continue in a vein worthy of the name.
Then, on April 25, 2014, came the news we had all been expecting, and many were dreading: The Expanded Universe was pronounced Legends. All books and comics henceforth would be part of a single canon determined by the Lucasfilm Story Group, each with equal weight to the films. For the last several decades, the licensed properties had been instructed to maintain, inasmuch as possible, a single continuity. Now, the slate has been cleared, and everything except the films and Clone Wars television show have been declared apocryphal. That does not mean that nothing except the films “really happened” (in the sense that anything “really happens” in a fictional universe, of course), but it does mean that the Story Group would not be expected to adhere to anything except the films. The creators are free to draw from or ignore whatever they choose from the previously published material.
But how much has really changed? Kevin Anderson, in the foreword to the Dark Empire graphic novel, wrote,
When you read Dark Empire, or any of the other novels, remember that although Lucasfilm has approved them, these are our sequels, not George Lucas’s. If Lucasfilm ever makes films that take place after Return of the Jedi, they will be George Lucas’s own creations, probably with no connection to anything we have written.
I think those words seem almost prophetic now. Because George Lucas never gave his writers a story bible (standard practice for television; something every major creator does if they want the canon to stay consistent across the board), and held his cards close to his chest when it came to writing his own stories (read: allowed himself the freedom to contradict himself if he wanted to), it was clear to me that he never had any intention of letting the EU be anything other than what he claimed it was in the first place: a universe secondary to the films.
To further cement the point, Lucas showed with The Clone Wars that he didn't mind drawing from the EU, but neither did he mind overwriting it. So many published stories were contradicted by that series that it isn't even funny. And LFL has said that they are still free to mine the EU for ideas, just as they did before, so there may yet be stories that fit loosely into the overall scheme. So I really don't see this as anything but a continuation and clarification of the status quo. In fact, technically, the only thing that has changed is that all of the books, comics, and movies that come out from this point on are considered equal canon level. And that's not a bad thing.
Probably the worst thing for fans of the EU is the fact that the EU will not be continuing, as such. But, and this is just my personal opinion, I have felt that it was spinning off in the wrong direction for some time anyway. We had a good run, and I find it ironic that just as the reins were about to be handed off (in Crucible), the reins were handed off in real life to Disney. Am I happy about the whole of the post-ROTJ stuff becoming apocryphal? No, I can't say that I am. But to have the whole cast back together for the next trilogy does make sense (and there is no guarantee that we will not see allusions to our favorite stories in some form or another; my understanding is that the EU is to be retrofitted based upon future canonical revelations). Granted, I agree with many of the more vocal fans that we showed LFL that there was still interest in Star Wars, and that was definitely what got the prequels made (for better or for worse). But we have to remind ourselves that the average moviegoer has not been spending hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars on the franchise, and needs to see movies that stand on their own, without the need to have read a vast, interconnected series of comics and novels in order to understand them.
Yes, in theory, they could have made stories that fit within the boundaries of the EU. But because of the tone the EU eventually took, and the fact that they went so far into the future, I can see how Lucas or even LFL might have felt too constrained by the properties to feel that they could properly tell the cinematic story they wanted to tell. I would love to have seen the Thrawn Trilogy made into movies, but they would almost have had to be animated in order to deal with the age gap better. And there are a lot of gems in the novels, but there are quite a few stinkers, too.
I am trying to look at this as I would any other pastiche. I know that there is only one true Sherlock Holmes canon, but that doesn't stop me from enjoying the hundreds of other stories that have been written about him, and I know that many of those contradict each other (not to mention several that contradict the originals). I realize that the EU is not the same, and that it has been the most elaborate licensed fanfiction out there in history. But it has been and always would have been secondary to the films. Episode VII just made that fact real.
“Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future.”
Where do we go from here?
In truth, I have my doubts about this new canon being that much different from the old. That is to say, most of the problems with the Expanded Universe stemmed from having far, far too many cooks spoiling the broth. What will keep this from happening in the reboot? Nothing, so far as I can see. Regardless, The Star Wars Expanded Universe Chronology celebrates the return of Star Wars to the big screen, and looks forward to the future of full-canon storytelling. Time will tell how these new tales will be integrated into the timeline, or whether an all-new timeline will be required. For now, I have integrated a branching feature into this all-new blog version that will allow people to choose the continuity. I have not yet separated out things like the Clone Wars, mostly because I see no need to. My recommended viewing order would not be substantially different from what I have come up already, so for now, the pre-Episode IV stands as it did prior to the "Legends" announcement.
I suspect that one of the primary reasons that people are upset over this so-called “reboot” is a fundamental misunderstanding about the role that the Expanded Universe played in the first place. I highly recommend this site to help put the whole nature of canon levels into perspective. As far back as The Empire Strikes Back, comic and novel author Donald F. Glut declared that the films were “gospel” and the novels and comics were “gossip.” Moreover, the Expanded Universe, while attempting to maintain a kind of continuity, was not bound by everything that had been published prior to the Bantam Spectra/Dark Horse era. Though there was no technical “reboot,” the general attitude that any stories published henceforth would be consistent with each other, but not necessarily with what had gone before. To wit:
We have what we call Canon, which is the screenplays, novelizations, and other core works that are directly tied into the continuity, and then there are a lot of marginal things, like the old Marvel Comics series, that we don't really try to work into the continuity when we're planning new projects.
―Allan Kausch on Shadows of the Empire
It is important to note that Expanded Universe, while technically including the “Infinities” and “Classic Star Wars,” also frequently overwrote those stories. In a similar fashion, George Lucas’s canon (films and television) borrowed liberally from the Expanded Universe, but did not maintain strict continuity with it.
Thus, the canon levels used in this timeline, instead of being lumped into "Legends" or "Canon," instead follow this basic principle:
Lucasfilm or Lucasfilm Story Group: “Trumps” all other levels. As always, free to draw from or ignore any of the Legends material. This represents the “history” of the Star Wars universe. Lucasfilm includes the films, The Clone Wars television series, and Lucasfilm Story Group includes all books and comics written under LSG oversight.
Legends: Includes all of the Expanded Universe. As the name reflects, it represents the “legends,” that which may or may not have actually happened. The Expanded Universe includes the following three categories:
Legends: (proper) The licensed materials starting with the Bantam novels and Dark Horse Comics, up through the last of the Del Rey novels, etc.
Infinities: Exclusive to Dark Horse Comics and the British reprints of Tokyopop’s Manga comics, tales of varying degrees of canonicity. Also falls under Legends.
Classic Star Wars: Anything prior to the Bantam/Dark Horse/Del Rey era of interconnected continuity. Includes the original Del Rey novels and the Marvel comic book run, and also falls under Legends.
A final note before delving in:
I am most grateful for the feedback I have gotten on this chronology over the years, and the patience of my fans as I have structured and restructured it multiple times to fit my level of discontent. There is no perfect Star Wars timeline out there (though some come very close), but it is my goal to provide you with one of the most accessible. Thank you, as always, and suggestions are more than welcome. I hope that you have enjoyed the journey. Keep the feedback coming, and May the Force Be With You!
All titles, images, and terminology specific to Star Wars are the property of the respective publishers. This is a not-for-profit fan publication not affiliated with Lucasfilm, Ltd.
Robert Mullin is a seasoned cryptozoologist who has traveled three times to Africa in search of a possible living dinosaur, and was featured on the History Channel show MonsterQuest. He is also the author of Bid the Gods Arise, the first novel in a science fiction/fantasy epic available from Crimson Moon Press.