ENGL 325: Transmedia Story Worlds – Star Wars Universe

On October 30, 2012, The Walt Disney Company announced that it was purchasing Lucasfilm and the rights to the Star Wars franchise for a staggering $4 billion. About eighteen months later on April 25, 2014, Disney announced that they were rebranding the Star Wars Expanded Universe as Legends, effectively shelving the somewhat haphazard array of novels, comics and games, in order to develop a new story line that would be more consistent and intentionally connected than ever before. The press announcement in part read:

While Lucasfilm always strived to keep the stories created for the EU consistent with our film and television content as well as internally consistent, Lucas always made it clear that he was not beholden to the EU. He set the films he created as the canon. This includes the six Star Wars episodes, and the many hours of content he developed and produced in Star Wars: The Clone Wars. These stories are the immovable objects of Star Wars history, the characters and events to which all other tales must align.

Now, with an exciting future filled with new cinematic installments of Star Wars, all aspects of Star Wars storytelling moving forward will be connected. Under Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy’s direction, the company for the first time ever has formed a story group to oversee and coordinate all Star Wars creative development.

“We have an unprecedented slate of new Star Wars entertainment on the horizon,” said Kennedy. “We’re set to bring Star Wars back to the big screen, and continue the adventure through games, books, comics, and new formats that are just emerging. This future of interconnected storytelling will allow fans to explore this galaxy in deeper ways than ever before.”

This marked a bold move by Disney to take an established franchise and to rewrite its history with a concerted emphasis on a unified transmedia storytelling approach. Transmedia storytelling, to quote Henry Jenkins

“…represents a process where integral elements of a fiction get dispersed systematically across multiple delivery channels for the purpose of creating a unified and coordinated entertainment experience. Ideally, each medium makes it own unique contribution to the unfolding of the story.”

In this same post, Jenkins also says [emphasis mine]

“Most often, transmedia stories are based not on individual characters or specific plots but rather complex fictional worlds which can sustain multiple interrelated characters and their stories.”

This course, ENGL 325H: Transmedia Story Worlds, examines the phenomenon of transmedia narrative using the newly restructured Star Wars galaxy as its object of study. Students will consider many different questions pertaining to transmedia narrative, such as:

  • What are the advantages of limitations of different storytelling media in a transmedia environment featuring film, comics, print fiction, television, and games?
  • What techniques are used when connecting the transmedia narrative in one media form to another, for example carrying a story from comic to novel, or from film to television?
  • What narrative themes carry throughout the entire Star Wars galaxy? Are there certain themes that lend themselves to certain media?
  • How do serial narratives–most notably comics and TV–tell their stories differently than longer form works, such as films and novels in a transmedia storytelling enviornment?
  • What part or parts of the narrative feel inconsistent or incoherent in the transmedia story world, and why? What power do fans possess, if any, to decide what is and is not canon?
  • Which audience or audiences does each portion of the transmedia narrative attempt to reach? What narrative features distinguish a young adult audience from a children’s audience or an adult one? What narrative forms might appeal to the broadest audiences and why?
  • With the Star Wars franchise being nearly 40 years old, what differences (if any) do we see between the original trilogy and later additions to the transmedia story world?
  • How do we reconcile the artistic possibilities of a transmedia story world with its marketing and commercialization? Does a transmedia story world ever become just a device to extract cash from its dedicated fan base?

This course will consider these questions and more.