The trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens is here, and for longtime fans, it’s impossibly exciting. We know a few of the new characters, or at least their names. The young woman with the adorable droid is Rey, played by Daisy Ridley. The figure with the red-hilted lightsaber is Kylo Ren, played by Adam Driver. The X-Wing pilot is Poe Dameron, played by Oscar Isaac. And the young ex-stormtrooper is Finn, played by John Boyega. And of course, there’s Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Peter Mayhew as Han Solo, Princess Leia, and Chewbacca, respectively.
But Mark Hamill, Luke Skywalker, is nowhere to be seen. For casual viewers, this is interesting. For fans, it’s a mystery. Why is Luke missing? And what’s the relationship between the new cast and our old heroes? At this point, the only thing we can do is speculate. But we aren’t searching in the dark.
When Disney purchased Lucasfilm and announced a new trilogy, it also closed the door on the Expanded Universe, a long line of comic books, novels, tabletop games, video games, cartoon series—and the occasional movie—that expanded the scope and reach of the Star Wars franchise. It’s impossible to summarize the whole of the EU—I’ve spent my life consuming Star Wars media and there are whole swaths I’ve never touched—but there are a few storylines and characters that define the almost 30-year experiment in collective worldbuilding.
There’s Timothy Zahn’s tale of a resurgent Empire led by Grand Admiral Thrawn; the fun and fast-paced adventures of Rogue Squadron; the ancient history of Knights of the Old Republic. And there’s the tragedy of Jacen and Jaina Solo, twin children of Han and Leia. Both become Jedi. Both fight to defend the galaxy against a terrible invader. But Jacen falls to the Dark Side of the Force, to become Darth Caedus, the grandson of Darth Vader. The story of Skywalker twins who split between darkness and light is potent and painful—and it’s the first thing I thought of when I saw a trailer featuring a mournful Leia and no sign of Luke whatsoever.
The Expanded Universe is finished—erased from canon. But that doesn’t mean its influence is over. In the story treatment for Episode VII—handled by Toy Story 3 scribe Michael Arndt—the focus was reportedly on the next generation of Star Wars heroes, the children of Luke and Han. Arndt was pulled from the film (though he retains a credit) and scripting duties went to J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan (who co-wrote The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi), but elements seem to remain, and those include characters drawn from the Expanded Universe. Hell, The Force Awakens sounds awfully similar to Legacy of the Force, the story of the Solo/Skywalker twins.
We won’t know the full story until the film is released. But while you wait, you might want to flip through Wookiepedia or pick up a few books from the EU. You might get a few clues for what to expect.