Transmedia character building: textual crossovers in the Star Wars Universe

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


As the abstract for this collection attests, Star Wars is a prime of example of contemporary transmedia storytelling and a modern media franchise. The story and brand are both spread out across multiple media platforms and paratextual commodities, driven by the central narrative story-arc of the own-going battle between the forces of evil and good: eg. Sith vs. Jedi, Rebellion vs. Empire, and Resistance vs. First Order. Star Wars can be seen as a “commercial supersystem of transmedia intertextuality,” as defined by Marsha Kinder (1991: 3). Extending this, Henry Jenkins (2006), Marc Steinberg (2012) and Colin B. Harvey (2015), amongst others, have described the phenomenon of transmedia storytelling, a strategy informing the creation and development of mega media franchises like Star Wars through the dispersal of one story across multiple media outlets. Both transmedia storytelling and media franchising contribute to how Hollywood builds on its filmic output, ensuring longevity and financial success well beyond the first iteration of a text. For Derek Johnson, “transmedia storytelling suggests cultural artistry and participatory culture, ‘franchising’ calls equal if not more attention to corporate structure and the economic organization of that productive labor” (2013: 33). In this chapter, I want to broaden Johnson’s discussion of the relationship between transmedia storytelling and media franchising to analyse recent developments in the narrative storyworld of Star Wars.
Specifically, I argue that throughout the history of the franchise certain characters have been used as transmedia signposts, directing audiences to other media paratexts (such as the comics, novels, film and television spin-offs) that surround the original movies (now standing at seven). These paratexts, following a process of legitimisation where Disney either establishes them as canon or legend, then in turn redirect audiences back to the movie universe. As a result, the characters which crossover are continually remade and reborn; they are signifiers of Star Wars’ transmedia history, carriers of inherent narrative meaning and objects of fan cultural value. For example, Boba Fett started out as an animated character for the Star Wars Christmas Special (1977), then made his actual first appearance in Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back (1981), but was added back into the re-release of Star Wars IV: A New Hope (1977). Since then, his backstory has been fleshed out in the prequels and animated series, Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008-2014) and Star Wars Rebels (2014-Present). Similar characters such as Darth Maul, Ahsako Tano, Grand Admiral Thrawn, and Saw Gerrera have either started out in the original movies and moved to other paratextual platforms or were created as spin-off characters in books and television and have since been reintroduced into the movie cycle or subsequent animated series. The regular reuse and remediation of such characters, joining the different paratextual elements into one unified narrative, suggests that the Star Wars transmedia story is both flexible and reflexive. They have been transformed and reimagined to fit the transmedia narrative at different stages of its evolution over the last 40 years but also act as catalysts for new stories and new franchise marketing opportunities. Where Disney was originally criticised for abandoning the Expanded Universe and characters like Thrawn, it is now reusing old fan favourites to attract and rebuild the universe for new audiences. As a corporate author of Star Wars post George Lucas, Disney is keenly aware that it has to extend the franchise for future storytelling whilst playfully engaging with its past. Thus, this chapter seeks to highlight the interconnected nature of corporate production, fan consumption and transmedia world-building in the contexts of character development.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationStar Wars and the History of Transmedia Storytelling
EditorsSean Guynes, Dan Hassler-Forest
Place of PublicationAmsterdam
PublisherAmsterdam University Press
Number of pages12
ISBN (Electronic)978-9048537433
ISBN (Print)978-9462986213
Publication statusPublished - 2018

Publication series

NameTransmedia: Participatory Culture and Media Convergence series
PublisherAmsterdam University Press


  • Star Wars
  • transmedia
  • narrative
  • storytelling
  • history
  • characterizaiton
  • franchises
  • paratexts


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