The most recent film in the Star Wars saga, Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens was mostly met with an overwhelmingly positive response considering the amount of buildup and skepticism regarding the film’s story.
For most Star Wars fans, The Force Awakens (or an “Episode VII” in general) was a film that was eagerly awaited but almost guaranteed not to be made. Although George Lucas had made some claims in the past that he supposedly saw the Star Wars saga as being roughly nine films long, after the completion of the prequel trilogy Lucas claimed that he wouldn’t make any more Star Wars films. This runs contrary to other statements by Lucas, who said that the saga had been arranged so that the original trilogy would be about the main characters, the prequel trilogy would be about their parents, and that the sequel trilogy would be about the main characters’ children.
Aside from Lucas’ sometimes contradictory claims was the Expanded Universe, a term which refers to the numerous comics, novels, and video games which helped fill in the rest of the Star Wars universe and was for the most part considered the same level of canon as the films. The first major EU novel, Star Wars: Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn, was critically acclaimed and was the first Star Wars story to take place after Episode VI. Fans loved being able to see what happened to characters and factions after the films ended, and after awhile the EU came to encompass decades after Episode VI. Some of it was great, such as the novel Heir to the Empire or the comic series Legacy, while some was considered too outlandish like the Dark Empire series. Overall, the major issue that arose was that the EU had grown and covered so much post-Episode VI that a potential Episode VII had no room to take place, unless it catered specifically to hardcore Star Wars fans and left general audiences confused or adapted, modified or ret-conned preexisting EU stories and alienate fans of the EU.
Eventually the announcement was made by Disney that the EU would be re-branded Legends and non-canon, while all the new comics, novels and video games made following the Disney merger would be overseen by the Lucasfilm Story Group. This would give Disney a fresh start with the Star Wars franchise, and the contradictions and ret-cons that had sometimes troubled Legends material could be avoided from the beginning with this new continuity.
Although fans were divided over the decision to re-brand the EU as Legends, ultimately The Force Awakens managed to appease both Star Wars fans and general audiences while continuing a story that had left off with Episode VI: Return of the Jedi in 1983. But while Disney claims that the story is a wholly original one, many fans can’t help but point out numerous similarities between elements from the EU and The Force Awakens.
One similarity that is the most visible and frequently pointed out is the main villain of The Force Awakens, Kylo Ren and character Revan from the EU. Revan, a Jedi who fell to the Dark Side before being redeemed and helping to fight the Sith first appeared in the 2003 video game Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and has made appearances in the related comic series of the same name and the online game Star Wars: The Old Republic. Kylo Ren, originally known as Ben Skywalker, began as a Jedi in Luke Skywalker’s new Jedi Order before falling to the Dark Side and joining the Knights of Ren on behalf of the First Order.
Revan has gone on to become one of the most popular Star Wars characters ever, EU or otherwise and many suggest that his trademark helmet was the inspiration for Kylo Ren’s helmet. Both have a relatively simple design with a similar shape, and only a small visor for the eyes. Even Kylo Ren’s crossguard lightsaber was supposedly based on ancient lightsabers used at an event called the “Great Scourge of Malachor,” in which the Jedi and Sith attacked a Sith temple, and a superweapon fired which resulted in Malachor becoming a lifeless wasteland. The Battle of Malachor V was first mentioned in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and describes how Revan used a superweapon called the Mass Shadow Generator to decimate the planet and end a battle between the Jedi, Republic and Mandalorians, killing many on both sides in the process.
There is also how Kylo Ren’s name is similar to another EU character named Kybo Ren, who first appeared in the Star Wars: Droids cartoon. However, this heavyset pirate bares little resemblance to the dark lord of The Force Awakens. His original name, Ben Solo, is similar to the name of Luke Skywalker’s child in the EU, Ben Skywalker, although again there is little similarity aside from name.
Kylo Ren does command his own Star Destroyer, a new Resurgent-class dubbed the Finalizer in The Force Awakens, similar to how Darth Vader commanded his own personal Super Star Destroyer dubbed the Executor. The Finalizer itself is intended to be seen as an evolution and improvement upon the old Star Destroyer design, and as such is very similar to the Pellaeon-class Star Destroyer seen in the comic series Star Wars: Legacy. Both ships are much larger than regular Star Destroyers and feature a sleeker design with the command bridge presenting a less obvious target.
Other similarities between The Force Awakens and the EU can be noticed, such as how the New Republic is established in both continuities. While this is unavoidable due to that being the main goal of the Rebel Alliance, both the EU and the new canon establish the New Republic as becoming stagnant and having to deal with infighting, inefficiency, corruption, and bureaucracy while under threat from the remnants of the Galactic Empire. In the EU, the New Republic ultimately collapses after an alien race called the Yuuzhan Vong invades the capital of Coruscant. In The Force Awakens, the First Order uses Starkiller Base to destroy the New Republic capital of Hosnian Prime, although it is unknown whether or not this will lead to the New Republic’s dissolution.
Another of the more popular similarities drawn between the EU and The Force Awakens involves the story of Rey and Kylo Ren. In the film, Rey discovers that she is Force-sensitive and decides to be a Jedi after dueling Kylo Ren, the son of Leia Organa and Han Solo who fell to the Dark Side. In the EU, a major plotline throughout numerous novels involved the children of Han and Leia, a boy named Jacen and a girl named Jaina. While both are Force-sensitive and train as Jedi, ultimately Jacen turns to the Dark Side and becomes Darth Caedus, which causes his sister Jaina to battle and defeat him.
In The Force Awakens, although Ben is the only child of Han and Leia, he too turns to the Dark Side. And although Rey’s parents have not been revealed (with theories claiming she’s the child of everyone from Han and Leia to Luke to Obi-Wan) it seems that Rey will end up being the character who duels Kylo Ren in Episode IX.
There are not many similarities between Rey and Jaina, but many connections can be drawn between Ben Solo/Kylo Ren and Jacen Solo/Darth Caedus. For example, in the EU Jacen turns to the Dark Side after growing up in the New Republic and living through the turmoils of the Yuuzhan Vong War, the Swarm War, and losing his brother Anakin Solo. Eventually Jacen turns to the Dark Side after becoming apprenticed to a Sith named Lumiya, who operated in the shadows of the Galactic Empire and helps Jacen turn the Galactic Alliance (an evolution of the New Republic) into a dictatorship.
In the canon established by The Force Awakens, Ben Solo grew up in the chaotic early years of the New Republic, further afflicted by the turbulent marriage between his parents brought about by Han’s past as a smuggler and Leia’s upbringing as a politician. This difficult childhood, compared with the powerful image of his grandfather Darth Vader, caused Ben to be drawn towards the Dark Side. All the while he was also being manipulated by Supreme Leader Snoke, a Dark Sider who lived in the shadows of the rise and fall of the Empire before establishing the First Order. Ultimately Ben Solo joined the Dark Side, taking the name Kylo Ren and becoming the master of the Knights of Ren.
There is one similarity between The Force Awakens and the EU that stands above the rest though, mostly in terms of plot. Reportedly, early drafts of The Force Awakens featured Luke’s lightsaber being a major plot element instead of the map to Luke seen in the final film. The lightsaber would have been found by Rey (Anakin original lightsaber being the one encountered in the film), who then encounters Finn, etc etc with the rest of the film being roughly the same.
The second iteration of the comic series Star Wars: Legacy, set a hundred and fifty years after the events of the films, featured a story very similar to The Force Awakens before the series (along with all of Dark Horse’s other Star Wars comics) were cancelled by the Disney merger. It started with a girl named Ania Solo, a descendant of Han and Leia Solo, living on her own while operating a junkyard on an Outer Rim planet. At one point, Ania encounters an Imperial communications droid carrying a lightsaber, similar to how Rey encounters BB-8 carrying the map.
Later on Ania encounters a rogue Imperial Knight (Jedi who serve the Empire) named Jao Assam, who had just escaped before crashing his starfighter. Later Ania and Jao flee the planet only to be captured by a much larger ship, and eventually there is a lightsaber duel between Jao and the villain Darth Wredd. As Wredd is about to strike down Jao, Ania takes his lightsaber and saves him. Obviously one can see how this is similar to Rey encountering the rogue Stormtrooper Finn, and eventually saving him from Kylo Ren.
Of course, it is impossible to tell if these similarities are intentional or purely coincidental. But considering how divided fans were over the EU becoming Legends, is it possible that Disney incorporated some elements as a nod to past Star Wars stories? Unless someone from Disney or Lucasfilm confirms such similarities, then it seems that no one will know for sure, although it remains to be seen if any EU references continue to appear in future Star Wars films such as Rogue One, Episode VIII or Episode IX.