Sunday, March 29, 2015
What's the matter with Star Wars canon?
From IGN, the new paperback edition of last year’s Star Wars Rebels prequel novel, A New Dawn, apparently includes a timeline listing the movies, TV shows, books, and video games presently acknowledged in Disney’s revised Star Wars canon. Compared to the full Expanded Universe of old, which contained hundreds of works, the revised canon is a pretty short list, including only sixteen items so far: the six George Lucas films, the Dave Filoni The Clone Wars animated series (which, I assume, includes the movie), the current Star Wars Rebels TV series, the upcoming Episode VII: The Force Awakens movie, six new novels (most of them not yet released), and one in-development video game.
When Disney announced last year that it was wiping the slate clean, officially removing the entirety of the Expanded Universe from continuity, many longtime Star Wars fanatics bemoaned the loss of so many years of beloved storylines. Now, personally, I never read any of the Expanded Universe books, I didn’t care about them, and I never regarded them as canon. Even so, Disney’s position on the revised canon stung for me too. But, in my case, what the new initiative meant was, not that the slate was being wiped clean, but rather that the canon was going to get a lot messier.
Taking all of the books, comics, toys, and video games into account, the old canon could admittedly be complicated and difficult to sort out, because of the somewhat noncommittal “levels of canon” system, wherein some Star Wars-branded works were officially more canon than others, and there were even some licensed products that were definitely not canon. Any time an intriguing new Star Wars story came out, you would have to consider, “Is this canon?” And the answer wasn’t always clear or constant. The marketing for the 2008 Star Wars: The Force Unleashed video game even explicitly called the story canon as a selling point, understanding that, for many fans, that distinction could determine whether they invested their time and money on the game. But, really, the better question, which they weren’t answering, was “How canon is this?” In the case of The Force Unleashed, it was “C-canon,” the same as all those many Expanded Universe novels, and two levels of legitimacy below “G-canon,” the highest level of canon that included only the stories directly from George Lucas himself (i.e. just the six movies).
The “levels of canon” could be a headache for anyone interested in figuring out how the larger Star Wars fiction fit together, but it was also shrewdly defined, once you familiarized yourself with the system, and it kept things simple and elegant for fans like myself, who followed the movies and absolutely did not care about the other stuff. I didn’t need to worry about anything other than G-canon, the system assured me, because George Lucas himself didn’t worry about the rest of it, and none of that stuff would ever be relevant to his films. At most, if Lucas liked a name or an idea from an Expanded Universe work, he might adopt it for use in a movie (e.g. the double-bladed lightsaber that was originally conceived by Tales of the Jedi comic artist Christian Gossett), but the films would never go so far as to reference Expanded Universe stories. The closest Lucas ever got to the Expanded Universe was probably the Genndy Tartakovsky Clone Wars series, which, while definitely not part of film continuity, was allowed to premiere some of Lucas’s original ideas (e.g. General Grievous) in advance of their film debuts. The point is, for me (and, I’d wager, for the vast majority of Star Wars fans), the “true” canon was just the six movies, and everything else could safely be ignored.
That has changed now under Disney’s watch. When Disney released its statement scratching all of those Expanded Universe novels, games, etc., it also announced that “all aspects of Star Wars storytelling moving forward will be connected,” meaning, in other words, that any stories released from then on would be part of a single revised continuity. The original and prequel trilogies, along with the CG The Clone Wars series, remained as “the immovable objects of Star Wars history, the characters and events to which all other tales must align.” But the Disney XD cartoon, Star Wars Rebels, and all novels, beginning with A New Dawn, would also be canon, period. There would be no more “levels of canon” (well, other than canon vs. non-canon).
This is a pain for me, because I still have no interest in reading any of these new novels. I’m still a huge Star Wars fan, however, and I expect I will continue to see any new movies. But it will be really annoying to me, if future films start referencing books that I haven’t read. Before, everything relevant to the movies was contained within the movies. Now, I have to worry that I might miss out on part of a film’s story because I didn’t read the tie-in novel or whatever—something that was never a concern under the old system.
I suppose, for fans of the Dave Filoni The Clone Wars TV series, the silver lining of this new dictate is that that show is now considered canon, period. Before, it was “T-canon,” a level of uncertain validity between G-canon and C-canon. It was not as canon as the films, but I don’t think it was ever referred to as part of the Expanded Universe either. Most Expanded Universe works were basically glorified fan fiction that Lucas signed off on (because fans were going to write their own Star Wars stories anyway, and he might as well cash in when they do) but otherwise kept a safe distance from creatively. The Clone Wars was different. By most accounts, Lucas was regularly involved with the show, attending meetings, leading story conferences, and approving scripts up to the very end of its run. If the show was not relevant to Lucas’s films, it might only have been because he didn’t make any more Star Wars movies after The Clone Wars began.
Personally, I thought The Clone Wars had some fun arcs (most notably, the episodes involving Savage Opress and his brother), but some of the liberties it took with the Star Wars mythology were a little too zany, and I also found the characterization of Anakin on the show to be wildly inconsistent with his portrayal in the prequel trilogy. (On the show, he’s an effective general, respected peer to members of the Jedi Council, and even a master to his own Padawan. The Anakin of Revenge of the Sith, meanwhile, is scorned by Mace Windu, and probably not someone you would ever want commanding men on the field of battle.) So I never took The Clone Wars as canon (G-canon being the only real canon to me).
Disney evidently feels otherwise, however, and its revised continuity, I suppose, opens the door for future films to mine The Clone Wars for story material, perhaps even bringing to the big screen characters that were created specifically for the show, potentially giving them greater relevance in the new canon than the series as a whole ever had in the old. I know The Clone Wars has many fans still who might be happy at that prospect.
Me, I think I’m just going to have to develop my own internal system, dividing Star Wars into levels of canon, according to how relevant they are to me personally.