Chuck Wendig has some wise words on the concept of canon


One of the latest writers to come into the Star Wars fold, Chuck Wendig, has a blog entry on canon this morning. (Warning: Lumpy.)

Here’s my favorite bit, which speaks to why a lot of us Expanded Universe fans aren’t up in arms over the Legends thing or calling for more.

The more strict and detailed the canon becomes, the more reverence we devote to it. And the more it restricts the future of that narrative. The more it chokes off what can be told. Doors close. Windows slam shut and are boarded over. Options are lost. The more we care about what’s “true” — in a universe that has never been true and whose power lies in its fiction — we start denigrating those things that aren’t. We view alternate timelines as somehow inconsequential. We dismiss fan-fiction as just some wish fulfillment machine instead of what it often is: a way to tell cool new stories in a pre-existing pop culture framework that aren’t beholden to the canonical straitjacket.

As someone with a lot of history in the fan fiction realm – remember, this site actually served mainly as an archive for Club Jade’s first several years – that is the perfect description of it: Another way to tell cool stories.

No, I don’t view Legends as fan fiction – it’s still professionally published and licensed, by professional authors, which most fanfic isn’t. (At all.) And the Legends authors never had the freedom your standard fic author does, to ignore or use whatever. Even in the beginning, there were guidelines and restrictions, which is why there wasn’t a crazy Obi-wan clone in the Thrawn trilogy.

But clinging to the concept of canon has, over time, done just as much harm as good, and it’s just plain unrealistic in many ways – which is Wendig’s point, really. The world doesn’t work like that.

4 Replies to “Chuck Wendig has some wise words on the concept of canon”

  1. I feel like “canon” as a concept gets a bad name. Yes, canon constricts what stories can be told, but at the same time there can be no narrative growth without events building off one another. Would Empire be as good if it had ignored the events of A New Hope? Not in my mind.

    “Canon” isn’t just about nerds obsessing over details. It’s about maintaining a consistency of characters and events. Stories are about choices and consequences, and sequels are about taking those consequences further into the future. To do that you need to be clear on what choices were made in previous stories.

    Could Legends have been kept canon in light of the sequel trilogy? No, that would have been incredibly difficult to pull off. But it’s interesting to see that Lucasfilm immediately doubled down on the canon concept, making a big deal of “everything is now canon!” (which is what they said last time, of course).

    Slight tangent: the big thing that mystifies me is those people who say things like “we need to know the canon version of the bounty hunter on Ord Mantell” (or whatever). There’s half a dozen Legends versions, and any of them _could_ have happened, so pick one you like and that’s your answer. Don’t like any of them? Well congratulations, none of them happened! That’s the true beauty of the Legends label.

    TLDR version – canon seems to be a popular punching bag in fandom nowadays, but I feel it gets a bad rep, and has an important part to play in the grand scheme of storytelling, especially for long-running series like Star Wars.

    1. I think it gets so much crap because (some) fans won’t accept that “any of them” is a valid option. I recall far too well over how much pestering the VIP thread on the old forums got over character genders in video games, and other such things. It’s a video game! Whatever you choose is valid for you! That’s the whole point! But they just had to know if canon Revan (or whoever) was really a dude or a lady.

      The problem has never been the concept of canon itself, it’s the fans who are unwilling to accept that some things are (and will always be) negligible in the wider sense, and that no franchise this large is going to be free of errors and conflicting information.

  2. Well, you are all missing the point about WHY people argue canon. Myths and legends change over time, true, but THINK OF IT LIKE THIS people:

    There is a social experiment where you take a group of people into a room with a TV showing a news caster telling ten stories. The newscaster tells the ten stories from one perspective, one side.


    take those people into another room with a TV showing another newscaster telling the same ten stories from a completely different angle, an opposite perspective

    The first newscaster might tell a lie about Planned Parenthood selling baby parts, that Planned Parenthood is an evil organization.

    The second newscaster tries to debunk the false video about Planned Parenthood, telling the truth about the organization.

    BUT who do the viewers believe? The first newscaster. The first story is cemented into their minds and trying to debunk the lie becomes very difficult. A lie becomes truth in their minds. Trying to get the group of viewers to “unlearn what they have learned” becomes psychologically tasking. A perspective has been planted, and any new perspectives will be met with doubt and skepticism.

    The same psychological trait applies to establishing a popular mythology. George Lucas cannot establish ONE perspective of a mythology and then expect fans to completely accept and adapt to another perspective on the same detail. You cannot have such a transition without psychological repercussions.

    You cannot expect everyone to just walk in step at a moment’s notice when canon details are changed in striking ways. Now some fans react poorly and that is a shame. It is. But there are consequences when you change a narrative under the false pretense of “canon restricts storytelling.”

    In my own personal opinion, Wendig’s logic is flawed. But it is simply my opinion and I can imagine some black hearted flogging you all wish to impart upon me.

    Don’t kill the messenger (oh what the hell,go ahead and kill the messenger), I’m simply explaining WHY fans become difficult over canon. You cannot just tell people to “get over it” when they have been given an initial narrative that has been altered on a whim.

    We cannot all be robots. An established canon is stability, it is a trust in story telling. It is a foundation for good mythology. If the narrative keeps changing or George Lucas and Dave Filoni suddenly say “Nope, it’s all a lie because I said so and I’m brilliant”, well it creates an atmosphere of distrust. And fans needs stability more than they need “less restriction”

    You can throw a tantrum of non sympathy all you want, but the more you justify any Wendigian canon change, the more people will simply treat the mythology unimportant and insignificant as a whole. The magic loses its shine, and suddenly there is more “meh” than “wow”.

    And that is the battle you should be fighting against.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: