There’s been a lot of talk about continuity and canon in fandom lately. Well, there always is, but this latest round was prompted by the tail end of The Clone Wars S3 and the Petition of the 2000.
I mentioned the petition – and the reaction to it – in my last opinion piece on civility in fandom, but I didn’t really address the actual issues that prompted it. Mostly because, quite honestly? The whole thing bores the hell out of me, but the lack of casual/moderate voices bugs me even more. Go figure.
I’ve been reading Star Wars books and comics for nearly 20 years now: They have never been been perfect, and expecting them to be at this point strikes me as just plain naïve. The Expanded Universe is kind of like Millennium Falcon: It more than does the job, and many of us are awfully fond of it, but it’s not without flaws. Big, honking, flaws. And sometimes? It just flat-out sucks.
First, though, let’s get the Ric Olies out of the way for those who haven’t been following this constant
Canon is basically ‘what counts’ in the eyes of Lucasfilm. They have a ‘Keeper of the Holocron,’ Leland Chee, whose responsibility it is to keep track of all this in an internal database called the Holocron. There are several different layers of canon, some of which hold more weight than others. Basically, things that George Lucas has created – like the movies – or has a significant say in – The Clone Wars – count more than things in which he doesn’t. Chee himself goes into more detail on the system on his Facebook page.
Continuity is more of a catch-all phrase for keeping all the events, people and details straight. (For instance: Making sure that Luke’s lightsaber is green, except when it’s supposed to blue.) Some things (What is Mandalore supposed to look like, again?) may involve more detail – and a canon over-ride or two – than others. It’s about making sure that all the dots connect. And due to the layered nature of Lucasfilm’s canon system, things don’t always fit perfectly. (And in the case of The Clone Wars, it’s not like we weren’t warned.)
A retcon (short for retroactive continuity) is when Chee or an author finds a way to take information or a plot point that has been overwritten by canon and makes it work again. For instance, some books and comics published before The Phantom Menace make reference to Jedi marriage – and show ancient Jedi (like Nomi Sunrider) being married. When the prequels contracted that, the retcon became that Jedi at one point had been able to get married, but by the time of TPM the rules had long since changed – or could only be bent in special circumstances. (Sorry, Anakin.)
The Petition of the 2000 is asking that Lucasfilm respect what’s already been established in continuity before overwriting it with a canon source. (Instead of killing off a minor Jedi Master in a Clone Wars episode set several years before he died in a book series.) Here’s what Chee had to say about the petition the other day:
While I am humbled by your passion, I strongly believe the Expanded Universe should always strive to adhere to George Lucas’s vision of the Star Wars universe. When discrepancies arise, we’ve always made every effort to adjust the EU to adhere to that vision while at the same time, preserving as much of the existing EU as possible. We did this when new films came out, we will continue to do this with The Clone Wars series, and we will do this with anything else that stems from George’s vision of Star Wars. Given it has been over 30 years since the release of the first sequel, I think we’ve done a pretty good job of holding together the EU so far.
I, for one, have no problem with that approach. (And given that most of the reaction I’ve seen from EU fans to the petition has amounted to a big old shrug, I doubt I’m alone in that.) The retcons and other spackling will happen in good time. It might take a little longer than it did with the prequels, but such is the nature of dealing with a live canon.
The EU has many flaws, just as the movies themselves do, and certainly The Clone Wars does as well, if I can trust our reviewers. But as fans, we have the freedom to focus on what we love best. If continuity is your thing, then fine: Sign the petition. Will it do any good? I really doubt it. But I don’t think it’ll hurt anything, either, as long as most of us retain the ability to act like adults.
My take has always been to value the parts of the EU that I like above those that I don’t. It’s highly subjective, so I stopped debating about these things years ago. I certainly don’t expect Lucasfilm to cater exclusively to me and my viewpoint about these things. (To put it frankly: My KOTOR/prequel apathy is not their problem.) Does George Lucas have the right to overrule things in the EU? Of course he does. I’m not going to dispute that the movies and (now, apparently) the cartoon come first. It’s George. That’s his thing.
And true, I’ve been pretty lucky so far… There were a few minor issues from the prequels that required some fairly gentle retconning, but nothing particularly strenuous. (Not counting any of the Boba Fett stuff, because I was barely aware of his ‘original’ backstory to begin with. I was actually kinda hoping it would turn out to be Jar Jar under that mask.)
Will George change his mind one day and venture into the post-ROTJ era? Will the cartoon or (eventually) the live action series ever conflict with anything I do care about? I don’t know. But George doesn’t seem all that interested in what I’m into. So what if he thinks Han, Leia and Luke are living happily ever after having backyard barbecues every weekend? That doesn’t mean that all the stories I’ve read and enjoyed over the years suddenly don’t exist. Lucasfilm is not going to break into our houses and take them away.
And if George ever does change his mind about the barbecues? Well, I’ll wait and see and judge the work on it’s own merits. I’m not totally adverse to tearing down the EU and using it for parts: Hell, I actually suggested it at one point. In the end, they’re all just stories, and I’m willing to enjoy some of them individually if it ever comes to that.
Does a seamless, overreaching continuity have to matter to us, on a personal level? Well, that’s up to you. But for me? I’m okay.
Canon and continuity have their place, of course: Obviously, Lucasfilm doesn’t keep a guy like Chee around for nothing. But the vast majority of us aren’t writing anything official; We’re not adding to the canon. As fans, we have the freedom to chose what ‘counts’ to us, individually. Why not make that choice?
I know there are those of who feel very strongly on this issue, but I’ve always tried to be something of a realist about Star Wars and the EU. I find the endless arguments to and for and about canon and continuity totally tedious, and if my approach offends anyone, well, all I can say is: It’s personal. Sorry.
Quite frankly, at this point I’d rather have good stories that are internally consistent than a flawless overreaching continuity. Making continuity one’s main focus for the franchise seems like focusing on details to the detriment of the whole. Flaws happen, with or without the Holocron (let’s not pretend that George has never contradicted himself) and if it’s perfection you’re looking for in a franchise… Well. Good luck with that.
Right now, all I can do is hope that the forthcoming abandonment of the multi-author series format will bring a few more good stories that actually appeal to me – no matter where or how they fall into continuity.
UPDATE: Pete at Lightsaber Rattling talks about intellectualizing the process of conflicts in continuity.