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The Star Wars Canon: What Should Count and What Shouldn't

The Star Wars Canon: What Should Count and What Shouldn't

Before the first week of 2014 was over; on January 6th to be exact, news from a galaxy far, far away started to tweet into our world. But which galaxy far, far away is that? The one people first glimpsed in 1977 or the one you read about from the 1990’s? How come the prequels don’t always make sense with the classic films? What does even a casual fan do with all the cornucopia of plot information in The Clone Wars cartoon considering, that about 50 hours worth of Star Wars material, nearly quadruple the six “official” films?

Well, according to the Twitter account of Lucasfilm employee Leland Chee, there are gonna be some new rules. He, and fellow Lucasfilmer Pablo Hidalgo are part of something called The Lucasfilm Story Group which will decide what will be “really” part of the Star Wars canon and what won’t, presumably to eliminate any confusion when the new films start coming out in 2015 and start totally contradicting everything that’s happened in every Star Wars novel, comic book, short story or video game.

Naturally, a lot of Expanded Universe (or EU) has enriched Star Wars in incalculable ways. For some of us, in the gap between 1983 and 1999, there simply wasn’t any Star Wars without novels and comic books. So, if this Story Group is charged with keeping certain aspects of Star Wars really part of Star Wars and charged with throwing other things out, here’s what we think should count and what shouldn’t.

Real Star Wars Canon Should Be…

The Existing Six Films

Prior to now, “real” Star Wars canon was always determined by the simple rule of “if it’s in the movies, then its canon." So, even the weak-minded fools among us can figure out the regular movies are still going to count. But wait. Aren’t their different versions of the original Star Wars films, different versions which might actually alter story and character elements? Well, kind of. If you watch the theatrical release of Star Wars (retroactively titled Episode IV: A New Hope) in 1977, Han Solo straight-up zapped Greedo under the table in cold blood, and Han never hung out with Jabba in the docking bay, and Boba Fett wasn’t on Tatooine to stare at the camera ominously. So, which version of A New Hope should be the “real one?” Which creatures are actually in the Cantina? (That wolfman guy got edited out in the 1997 special edition and replaced by a reptile/elephant thing!) Further, Should the “real” ending of Return of the Jedi feature the dorky song from the 1983 version of the movie or the softer, somehow lamer orchestral number from the Special Edition? Which song did Luke and his buddies really “hear?” Making this question into a bigger headache is the question of Anakin Skywalker’s ghost? Should it be an old-man ghost like ALL the editions until 2004? Or, as is witnessed in the current Blu-Rays and the DVDS from 2004, a younger Anakin Skywalker ghost played by Hayden Christensen?

Weirdly, though we generally hate the special editions, for the sake of simplicity, we're going to have to say that the current George Lucas versions of the six movies are the ones that count. Even that Honeycomb monster who sings in Jabba’s Palace.

(Note: contrary to popular belief/endless complaints you can still get the theatrical versions of A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi individually on DVD. We just checked Netflix.)

The Clone Wars Cartoons (Both series!)

If the original films count as real Star Wars, what about this really long-running (now, ending) Cartoon Network cartoon; Star Wars: The Clone Wars? The first “episode” of this series even experienced a theatrical release, so shouldn’t all these adventures of Anakin, Obi-Wan, Count Dooku, Yoda, and yes, even the new characters like Ahsoka Tano, count? Further, what about the brief other (brilliantly animated by Genndy Tartakovsky of Powder Puff Girls fame) cartoon simply titled Clone Wars?

Short answer: we think all of this should count as “real” Star Wars. Despite some thematic problems with all the Clone Wars stuff, for a large portion of the younger Star Wars audience THIS IS STAR WARS. Again, how can you discount those 50+hours for no reason at all? Not to mention, in 2005, the Tartakovsky version is a straight-up prequel to Revenge of the Sith, ending literally minutes before the movie begins. (Notably, there are differences between the battles in the last Clone Wars episode and the novels released at the time, but the writers on both of these series were careful to not mess up movie canon and they also went out of their way to expand tons of cool origin stories including The Mandolrians, Grand Moff Tarkin, and even what really happened to Darth Maul.

Anything from the Comics, Novels, or Games Which Establishes a Planet or Culture’s Backstory

Famously (to us, at least) the Imperial Homeworld didn’t have a name in the original Star Wars scripts or novels until the 1991. But, then, with the release of Timothy Zahn’s novel Heir to the Empire, the planet from which the whole Star Wars galaxy was governed was named “Courscant.” George Lucas retroactively used not only the name, but the way Zahn described the planet for the Courscant we saw in The Phantom Menace and even snuck a glimpse of Courscant into the final scenes of the 1997 release of Return of the Jedi. Here is the model of drawing upon stuff from the novels and comics that could be used to great effect: if we learn about a planet or culture from the EU, that background material can help to enrich real canon, without having to be slavish to any of the events that happened in the book or comic. For example, certain 90’s Tale of Jedi comics establish that a Sith War was fought on Yavin IV way back in the day, which was backed up by the Kevin J. Anderson books. Now, we only saw Yavin IV A New Hope, but our understanding of it is enriched by this magical and cursed past, making any future use of something like Yavin IV, more interesting.

Mara Jade

Even if her entire biography can’t be intact, this dark-faux Jedi assassin-turned Rebel, turned Luke Skwywalker’s really awesome wife is a great and beloved character. No matter what happens, no matter how her origin story might be altered, condensed, or ignored, some aspect of Mara Jade should enter the new canon. If there isn’t even a mention of Mara Jade in the new films, it would be a crime on par with Luke not being able to go get those power coverters that one time.

Real Star Wars Canon Should NOT Be…

 (It's pretty simple and a little sad)

The Specific Plots of Any of the EU Novels, Stories, Comics, or Games

There are a lot of reasons aspects of culture and character should be cherry-picked from the EU for use in the new films and/or “real canon,” but if all the plots and specific details from any one EU thing became totally canon, it would be chaos. This is because even within the EU, details directly contradict each other. Shadows of the Empire, a multi-media Expanded Universe event is an easy target here. A Swoop Bike Gang, essential to the comic book plot line, is basically totally absent from the novel. Does Dash Rendar defeat IG-88 or is IG-88 killed by Boba Fett? Oh, wait, there were multiple IG-88s, because of that one story in Tales from the Bounty Hunters? Already, any sane person can see a case being made for not making any one EU entity part of canon. Remember the novel series The Black Fleet Crisis in which Luke Skywalker goes searching for his mother and she’s not Natalie Portman? Taking in whole books or books series simply won’t work because of stuff like this, meaning they should probably just pick aspects of what they can use, and let the rest live in its own alternate universe.

This isn’t to say the expanded universe of Star Wars books and comics aren’t excellent, because a lot of it is fantastic. From The Rogue Squadron novels to the imaginative Legacy comic series, the range of stories told in the Star Wars universe, while outside of its official canon are ambitious, emotional, and original. It just might be too hard to let all of that stuff count!

So, in order to get ready for your favorite thing about the Expanded Universe to officially no longer count as being real, take this as some kind of solace: the version of Star Wars in your head is still yours, even if it’s not canon. Because with Star Wars, you’ve always taken a step into a much larger world, and that world can still be your world. Or galaxy!

Which parts of the Star Wars EU will you be HAPPY to see go?

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Tags: movies, star wars, star wars episode vii, star wars eu, expanded universe

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About the Author
Ryan Britt

Ryan Britt is the author of Luke Skywalker Can't Read and Other Geeky Truths, forthcoming from Plume (Penguin) Books on 11.24.15. He's written for The New York Times, Electric Literature, The Awl, VICE Motherboard, Clarkesworld Magazine, and is a consulting editor for Story Magazine. He lives in New York City.

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