The Dawn of Modern Transmedia Storytelling: Star Wars

It's impossible to track down exactly when transmedia began to take effect as a major form of storytelling. As with any movement, it built up bit by bit, and is still gaining momentum. However, almost anyone with any knowledge in the area would agree that one of the biggest early influences was the film Star Wars and the pop culture phenomenon it started.

Star Wars was first released in 1977 to unexpected and phenomenal success. To this day, in an inflation adjusted box office, it ranks as the second highest grossing film of all time, second only to Gone with the Wind. As can be expected, many big names and companies immediately wanted to be a part of this cash cow. And that was where transmedia was born. A year later, the novel Splinter of the Mind’s eye was written by long time sci-fi writer Alan Dean Foster. Brian Daley would go on to write the Han Solo Adventures in 1979, and the radio drama adaptations of the films in 1981. Marvel comics decided they wanted a cut and created a line of comic books based on the characters, and taking place between the films. Those comics ran from the opening of Star Wars to 1987.

This was the first time that a major motion picture had media tie-ins that supplemented the core story. The only difference from modern transmedia is that the creators of this supplement material were not too concerned with maintaining continuity among the different platforms.

But it wasn’t until 1991 that Heir to the Empire was written by Timothy Zahn, and the real Star Wars chronology began. The book was the first authorized sequel to the original Star Wars trilogy. It was released in the same year as Dark Empire, a new comic book series released by Dark Horse Comics who now owned the rights to Star Wars comics. The novel and the comic were the start of a new age for Star Wars. Following their release, dozens of books, comic books, and even video games were released. And the best part is that it was all connected. Unlike other franchises like Star Trek, or various superheros, Lucasfilm went with a canonical approach. It was an attempt to bring all of the media together to tell one long story about a galaxy far far away. It moved closer to what we consider modern transmedia.

With the build-up to Episode 1, the expanded universe as it came to be called, went into overdrive. The film had more tie-ins than any other film before it. And since 1999, hundreds of books, comic books, dozens of video games, and even a television show have been produced in the Star Wars universe. It can be hard to keep it all straight. Here at we will be piecing it all together for you. You may have seen a lot of book/comic reviews in the news feed. This is part of a Star Wars project to piece the universe together. Visit the Star Wars Timeline to see what we've got so far.

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