Medium almost certainly qualifies as one of the more overlooked aspects of storytelling. When it comes to pop culture, stories are regularly told once on paper and, should they prove popular enough through that medium, they are told again on screen; those that prove exceptionally profitable on screen might even be retold again. When it comes to extended universes, however, different chapters of the same story might be told through several different mediums. In some cases, this may lead to one branch of the story controlling the rest; in other instances, the variety of mediums only serves to strengthen the story as a whole. We’ll look into the many mediums of Star Wars and Harry Potter to see how their multiple methods of storytelling affect their respective extended universes.
A Long Long Time Ago, in a Galaxy Far (2x) Away: Revisionist Star Wars
As discussed in a previous post, after the release of Star Wars in 1977, the Star Wars Extended Universe began to expand in earnest. While the series started with the movies, within a year it had grown to include original novels, comics, and a television special. While two movie sequels followed in 1980 and 1983, the Star Wars Extended Universe grew exponentially. Hundreds of official novels were published, along with video games, multiple television shows, and even a few spinoff TV movies (I haven’t forgotten you, The Ewok Adventure – no matter how hard I try).
In many instances, a single Star Wars story will be retold across several, if not all, mediums. Tellingly, all three of the original trilogy movies have been retold as comics, video games, and novelizations. In the Star Wars Extended Universe, the clear understanding is that the movies come first, forming the backbone of the universe and taking precedence over the storytelling in any medium encompassed by the narrative.
Historically, George Lucas was the creative director of the entire Star Wars universe. As such, it makes sense that the stories he was personally responsible for – the movies – would control the remaining stories, regardless of the medium. While Lucas was closely involved with the Clone Wars animated series, his primary personal storytelling contributions to the Star Wars universe were essentially combined to the movies. As a result, many Star Wars stories told in mediums beside film were officially considered canon at the time they were released, but were later removed from the narrative where they conflicted with Lucas’ cinematic contributions.
Part of this is undoubtedly Lucas’ penchant for revisionism – he did not even consider his original trilogy to be the definitive version of the movies, and effectively replaced his own work with tweaked versions. As stated by Pablo Hidalgo, Creative Executive for Lucasfilm Story Group, when one asks what is canon, all one is asking is whether “other storytellers need to take it into account.” Under Lucas, a contributor to the Star Wars Extended Universe could generally answer the question by asking whether it had occurred in a movie.
Magical Creatures From Page to Screen
Since Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was first published in 1997, Harry Potter has become a bona fide worldwide phenomenon. In addition to the seven novels written by J. K. Rowling, which were adapted into eight movies, there have been several tie-in books, as well as an expansive website filled with supplementary material uncollected in any book. Soon, the Potterverse will expand further, with a stage play and a spinoff movie that will expand Potter’s magical world considerably.
As with Star Wars Extended Universe (before its sale to Disney), the Potter universe has the benefit of a single controlling creator. Thanks to the astronomical success of the Potter novels, Rowling was even given creative control over the scripts for the film adaptation, allowing her to serve as custodian of her story while also steering the filmmakers away from plot holes (as when she was able to advise the studio to keep Kreature the house elf in Goblet of Fire, so he could play his integral role in the not-yet-released Deathly Hallows).
In addition to the seven main novels that comprise the Potter series, Rowling also wrote two tie-in books in 2001. These short volumes were meant to represent two of the textbooks available in the Hogwarts library, and provided a plethora of detail about the world that Potter lives in. Beyond expanding the mythology of the Potterverse, the books also included “notes in the margins” from the three protagonists. This entertaining addition not only more closely connected the reader to Harry, Ron, and Hermione, it also added a layer of verisimilitude to the proceedings: Potter’s world becomes more vivid when you’ve already read the book he’s paging through in the main narrative.
With the release of Magical Creatures and Where to Find Them later this year, the Potterverse will adapt one of these tie-in books to the big screen. In adapting the source material, however, the wise decision was made to tell a story more suitable for the big screen, rather than attempting a direct adaptation of the novel. By considering the limitations of the respective mediums, the Potterverse seeks to recognize the strengths of two different methods of storytelling and adapt accordingly. While the quality of Magical Creatures will have to wait until the fall to be determined, the notion of a movie adaptation which explains the process of writing the source book demonstrates yet another level of clever meta-fictional awareness within the Potterverse. Finally, although the movie’s plot has no antecedent in Rowling’s prose, she is responsible for the story, thus ensuring it will not conflict with the Potterverse narrative already established by her novels.
Attempting to tell stories set in the same extended universe across several different mediums concurrently can be an exceptionally daunting task. When a single creative mind is given control over what might be considered canon within that universe, it can resolve some problems and create others, but may result in a particular medium being given preferential treatment over other methods of storytelling. In the best cases, an extended universe considers which stories would be best suited for a particular medium, and adapts the narrative accordingly.
Next Up: Building an extended universe isn’t always a straightforward experience. We’ll take a look at the hazards of retcon as we continue to explore Other Worlds Than These! And later this week: the Avengers Standoff continues with Illuminati #6, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.