Star Wars Has ALWAYS Been Changing Its Story: Revisionism and the Force
Since the big 2012 Lucasfilm/Disney switcheroo, the entity of Star Wars has tried speaking with one unified voice that isn't the grumpy grumble of George Lucas. And the most recent categorical declaration from this chorus is deceptively simple: a the newly formed Story Group has decided what non-cinematic Star Wars stories “count” and which ones don’t. The wording of these various announcements is highly political and does nearly everything it can to prevent simply saying: “we’re throwing out most of it.” Phil Owens on Kotaku calls the new announcement “carpet bombing” while Ben Child’s headline for The Guardian described the possibility of the appearance of the EU in the new films a “fat hope.” Personally, I found the video on StarWars.com populated by a group of smart and excited people, but it seems like the general consensus from fans and the media is everything that everyone loves is being slaughtered like little innocent Jedi children who just asked Hayden Christensen to give them a cookie.
So, if you’re feeling sick with the news that Mara Jade and Grand Admiral Thrawn no longer “count,” I guess I’m here to offer you a dose of antibiotics in the form of the unpleasant truth that Star Wars “continuity” has always had a large dose of schizophrenia. Because how offended you are about all of this should really depend on the degree you believe something to be “real” or “official.”
Before Star Wars was Star Wars, George Lucas wanted to remake Flash Gordon, but couldn't get the rights, which, if you do a certain kind of intellectual back flip, can help you gain perspective on this whole thing: somewhere there’s an alternate universe where a copyright negation went differently, and none of this exists at all. Next up in shattering your illusions that Star Wars ever had its act together is the absolute fact that the original films retcon themselves.
There’s every reason to believe George Lucas wanted to step away from Star Wars and sell it off back in 1978. Consider the evidence: he wasn't writing the screenplay for The Empire Strikes Back, at all. The death of novelist Leigh Bracket suddenly forced Lucas into doing a rewrite of the script with Lawrence Kasdan, and it’s in this moment where Lucas gets the idea to make Darth Vader Luke Skywalker’s father. This is the first bit of retroactive continuity, and also the first time Star Wars kills an expanded universe storyline: Alan Dean Foster’s Splinter of the Mind’s Eye. Now, Alan Dean Foster, was at this point, the prose ambassador of Star Wars: he ghost-wrote the first Star Wars novel (which came out before the movie) and then got to come up with a brand new storyline for the characters. Never forget: at the time of the publication of Splinter of the Mind’s Eye it wasn't entirely clear if there even would be anymore Star Wars movies and the novel itself was written as low-budget sequel to the first film. Also, George Lucas didn't write it, because at the time (and this can't be proven) he didn't really care.
These days, little from Splinter of the Mind’s Eye “counts” in regard to the films OR the “established” EU canon, which makes it's being swept under the rug a microcosm of what’s happening now. In 1991, when Heir to the Empire came out, it wasn't really clear if there were ever going to be new Star Wars films. In the post 2005-world, all the Star Wars novelists writing books about the events after Return of the Jedi certainly never truly believed Episode VII would ever materialize, meaning whatever continuity The Black Fleet Crisis had to work out with The Phantom Menace was pretty much a tempest in teapot. So, why are we so upset now? Nobody in 1983 got mad when the events of children’s read-along Star Wars storybook Planet of the Hoojibs weren't included in Return of the Jedi, and few people mourn Splinter of the Mind’s Eye today.
The easy answer as to why we are more concerned is that it’s the sheer volume of novels and comic books which have been produced since Heir to the Empire. The Star Wars fan community attaches a lot of sentiment to those novels and stories, which, if seen from a slightly less emotional perspective is fairly arbitrary. Let’s be honest: if the Star Wars Story Group had come out and said: Mara Jade counts, Grand Admiral Thrawn counts, but the death of Chewbacca and the whole New Jedi Order and Legacy books don’t count, few people would really be upset. Plus, with yesterday's Episode VII cast reveal, there’s every reason to believe bits of EU canon will be appropriated in some form or another. Daisy Ridley sure looks a lot like she'd make a great Jaina Solo, while Max Von Syndow seems to be an ideal Joruus C'baoth. Just because the Story Group is saying they're not beholden to these parts of the EU doesn't mean the new films won't cherry pick from stuff they like, and they know, the fans like. After all, Timothy Zahn invented Coruscant with his Thrawn novels, and then it became the main setting of the prequels. Just because the Story Group is “officially” saying those books don’t count, doesn't really mean anything. And the only reason we’re upset is because there’s more sentiment attached to Heir to the Empire than something like Splinter of the Mind’s Eye. And while all sorts of crazy stuff like Luke and Leia mud-wrestling (thankfully) didn't survive into "real" canon from Splinter of the Mind's Eye, a throwaway line from C-3P0 about how Darth Vader has all the "command codes" to shut him down, kind of, did end up making sense. Darth Vader has C-3P0's "command codes" because in 1999 it was revealed he built him to begin with! Something else that survived into "real" canon from Splinter of the Mind's Eye? The Clone Wars revived the idea of the Kyber Crystal, albeit in a different form than its original appearance. See? Everything's not lost.
Star Wars is charming and wonderful and perhaps the biggest narrative pop phenomena of our time, but it’s extremely disorganized. When your crazy friend lies about where they've been all night, it isn't because they’re being mean, it’s because they want you to have a higher, more consistent opinion of them. Star Wars has been doing this kind of thing from day one, and whether it’s George Lucas, Kathleen Kennedy, or the Story Group, it’s trying to convince all of us that this is something more than a failed Flash Gordon remake out on a bender that’s spanned four decades.
We’re going to love Star Wars no matter what lie it makes up next about its past, so maybe it’s time to just love Star Wars for what it is: a charming, rambling, completely insane liar. It’s not healthy to demand things from Star Wars it can’t give, and perhaps switching our point of view is the only way to be happy. After all, somebody once told me that many of the truths we cling to demand greatly on our own point of view. See? Even back then Star Wars lied to us. And we loved it all the same.