The Star Wars Dissection – Retcons

Hello all, it’s Andrew and I’m back with another post for The Star Wars Dissection.

Last time, I said that I was planning on doing a run of posts about the different depictions of Star Wars film battles in the EU, starting with the Battle of Naboo. I will still continue with that line of analysis, but something else came to mind in the interim.

On the EUCantina.net forums, there was a discussion on how different franchises handle continuity. Marvel Comics, for example, has its main continuity (which they call Earth-616), a secondary continuity (its Ultimate line) and then any number of other continuities, some of which may just be one-shots or short stories from their “What If” line. Video games tend to exist within their own continuities, as well as TV series. Films had their own continuities too. And while some franchises may have shared continuities (the cartoons Wolverine and the X-Men and Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes are in the same universe), and while some might cross over periodically (the Ultimate Fantastic Four once crossed into the Marvel Zombieverse; the game Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions featured the protagonist from Amazing Spider-Man, the Ultimate Spider-ManSpider-Man Noir, and Spider-Man 2099 working together), there are dozens of individual continuities, each with little to no bearing on the remaining ones. Continuity is maintained as best as possible within each individual universe, but having multiple universes allows different storytelling.  Explorations with time travel and alternate realities allows even further experimentation with characters; I’m specifically thinking of the House of M miniseries, where the Scarlet Witch created a new timeline where all the superheroes’ single greatest desire was fulfilled. For example, Spider-Man was married to Gwen Stacy, who hadn’t been killed as she had in the main series. So the variety in universes and continuities allows for a degree of flexibility in storytelling; if I want Spider-Man to fight Wolverine, I can probably find (or invent) a universe to make it happen.

Figure 1: Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions showcases the multiple universes produced by Marvel.

Star Wars is interesting in that there is one continuity; one single universe in which all canon events take place. This continuity is preserved by authors who try and work within the limitations set by the universe, and the assistance of those such as Leland Chee and his Holocron Continuity Database. Occasionally, writers break from the established continuity, either accidentally or otherwise. While never done out of malice, but instead for the benefit of good storytelling, the maintenance of the overall continuity requires the creative use of retroactive continuity, or Retcons.

Over the past few years, especially since Star Wars: The Clone Wars came out, fans have voiced their concern over the use of retcons. The introduction of numerous new elements, be they directly or implicitly counter to the continuity, have given fans a certain degree of irritation (to put it mildly). This provoked a wide range of responses, from mild indifference to total outrage, with some choosing to no longer invest in Star Wars as a result of continuity changes. It also spawned the Petition of the Two-Thousand, a formal request to Lucasfilm to be mindful of the Expanded Universe when writing new stories. While I respect the goal of the Petition (indeed, no further continuity errors would be wonderful) I enjoy the prospect of new retcons that attempt to keep all stories canon.

So I’m going to look at some of the bigger retcons ever made in Star Wars, but I’m also going to see if the pre-retcon EU can be reasonably assembled into some kind of multiverse or alternate continuity.

Canon levels

Before delving into my analysis, I want to touch upon the different levels of canon, and separate the terms canon and continuity. There are presently five levels of canon, labeled G, T, C, S, and N. G-canon is material that comes directly from one of the six films. The G stands for George Lucas; ostensibly, all G-canon material came directly from Mr. Lucas. It is worth noting that G-canon has divisions within itself, stemming from the slight changes Lucas makes in each new release of the films. The most recent release of the films (which, as of 16 September 2011, would be the Blu-Ray release, until the films are re-released theatrically in 3D) are in the highest echelon of G-canon. T-canon is a fairly recent invention, and includes material from the movie and TV series Star Wars: The Clone Wars. The T stands for Television, and so any material introduced in any TV series (including the upcoming Live Action series, but probably excluding the Seth Green animated series and other non-canon material) falls under T-canon. Originally, T-canon was introduced to establish that the material in The Clone Wars would be a higher level then the rest of the EU, and thus could pre-empt novels or comics. Leland Chee later went even further and stated that T-canon material still came from the office of George Lucas, and so would be equivalent to G-canon. The C in C-canon stands for Continuity. This includes all EU material published post-1991 (as well as some pre-1991 material, such as the Han Solo and Lando Calrissian trilogies) that exists within the Star Wars continuity. It includes novels, comics, RPG sourcebook material, etc. Notably, it includes the plots of video games, but not the game mechanics; for example, Kyle Katarn did destroy the Arc Hammer (LucasArts, 1995), but he did not get shot hundreds of times, nor did he do it carrying 10 large weapons on his back, etc. Films and TV shows can pre-empt C-canon material, requiring the retcons discussed below. S-canon is a level below C-canon, which includes EU materials pre-1991, with a few exceptions. S (for Secondary)-canon was invented to include these older materials that don’t quite fit in properly, such as the Marvel Star Wars comics or the Goodwin/Williamson newstrip comics. The logic was that S-canon was a grey area. Either newer EU sources could reference an S-canon story, which upgraded it to C-canon, or the new EU books could choose to contradict it, making the S-canon story non-canon. New material is never classified as S-canon, nor is EU material downgraded to S-canon; the level exists only to account for older material, to be either upgraded or downgraded at the whim of the authors and Lucasfilm. N-canon is all material that is not canon, and thus not part of the continuity. This includes old S-canon stories that have been downgraded, game mechanics in electronic or tabletop games, certain humorous and obviously non-canon material from Star Wars Tales and LEGO Star Wars, non-canon game endings, etc.

Figure 2: Marvel Star Wars #96: Duel with a Dark Lady (Duffy, 1985), was S-canon until 2006, when Legacy of the Force: Betrayal (Allston, 2006) referenced the events therein, bringing it up to C-canon. Note that Lumiya was also referenced in certain Hidalgo/Peña articles, but never in newer novels or comics.

The term Continuity refers to the one story, spanning the millennia of the Star Wars universe, which includes G-, T-, C-, and S-canon sources. Conflicts between sources are resolved through the canon levels and fancy retcons. The point is that one cannot say “G-level continuity” vs. “C-level continuity,” otherwise you would have a Marvel-style multiverse, which is not the goal. One continuity, where a canon-level system helps clarify its contents.

History of the Clone Wars

The Clone Wars were first mentioned as what appeared to be a throwaway line in Episode IV, where it was revealed that Obi-Wan Kenobi once fought in that conflict, holding the title of General. That was the only G-canon material to mention the Clone Wars until Episode II came out, 25 years later, where we learned that the conflict was between the Republic’s clone army and the droid armies of the Confederacy of Independent Systems. But before 2002, there were numerous theories about the date and nature of the Clone Wars. First, the dates of the Clone Wars were highly variable. In some, it is implied that the Clone Wars were finished long before the Empire’s rise, but in others, the Clone Wars ended much closer to the events of Episode IV. A Guide to the Star Wars Universe (Velasco, 1984) said that the Clone Wars ended in 35 BBY. The novel Dark Force Rising (Zahn, 1992) corroborates this, stating that Honoghr was devastated during the Clone Wars in 35 BBY (or, “44 standard years” before 9 ABY). Other sources, like the Farlander Papers (DeMaria, 1993), do not give a date, but instead state that Palpatine was elected President during the Clone Wars, and that he became Emperor many years later. On the flipside you have Marvel Star Wars issue #68-69 (Michelinie, 1983), which states that Boba Fett, along with Fenn Shysa and Tobbi Dala, were part of the Mandalorian Protectors and fought against the Republic. Furthermore, it states that one important mission on which the three Mandalorians were sent was to capture Senator/Princess Leia Organa, who was already a prominent figure by this point. Since Princess Leia was only in the Senate for 2-3 years before Episode IV, the implication is that the Clone Wars occurred much closer to Episode IV then we previously thought. All of these dates differ from the official dates of the Clone Wars (22-19 BBY), and thus were retconned in some creative ways. The year 35 BBY was retconned into being the year of the Great ReSynchronization (originally, the Great ReSynchronization was meant to be at the end of the Clone Wars, but the retcon disassociates the two events). The Battle of Honoghr has been retconned into taking place in the year 20 BBY, with the Essential Guide to Alien Species (Lewis, 2001) setting up the retcon that a year on Honoghr is shorter than the galactic norm (29 Republic years = 44 Honoghr years). The information in the Farlander Papers is almost correct; Palpatine was elected during the droid army occupation of his homeworld, and became Emperor 13 years later. The Boba Fett/Mandalorian retcon is a bit more convoluted (but is easily my favourite retcon ever). Episode II established that Boba Fett was only 10 years old at the start of the Clone Wars. The History of the Mandalorians (Peña, 2005) established that Spar, a rogue clone of Jango Fett, claimed to be the offspring of Jango, took on the title of Mandalore the Resurrector and re-founded the Mandalorian Protectors/Commandos and fought for the CIS. One of the missions that Spar, Shysa, and Dala would perform was an attempted kidnapping of Padmé Amidala, prominent Senator and Princess Leia’s biological mother.

Figure 3: Left: Boba Fett, later retconned to being Spar, during the Clone Wars (Marvel Star Wars 68). Right: Boba Fett during the Clone Wars (The Clone Wars: Death Trap)

The nature of the Clone Wars has also been highly variable. Early discussions stated that the original intent was for the Clone Wars to be fought between the Republic/Jedi and the Mandalorians, per The Galactic Empire Scrapbook (Vaz, 1997). The Mandalorian issues of Marvel Star Wars seem to corroborate this, going further to state that the Mandalorians fought for the Galactic Empire, establishing that the Clone Wars was fought between the Republic and the Empire, and that the Empire ultimately won. The Thrawn Trilogy (Zahn, 1991-1993) went in a different direction. The Clone Wars, per these novels, was a series of conflicts fought between the Republic/Jedi and various armies of insane clones, led by “Clone Masters”. Other sources seem to corroborate this version, and the general belief was that the clones were fighting against the Republic. Of course, when Episode II came out, these interpretations differed from the G-canon material, and so had to be retconned. First, the Mandalorians fighting against the Republic is retconned in a few ways. There were many Mandalorian splinter groups, some fighting for the Republic, such as Kal Skirata and the other bounty hunters Jango Fett hired to train the clone army (Traviss, 2004), some remaining neutral, such as Duchess Satine’s pacifist New Mandalorians (Hsu et al, 2010), and others fighting for the CIS, such as the aforementioned Mandalorian Protectors under Spar and Shysa (Peña, 2005) and the Death Watch under Pre Viszla (Hsu et al, 2010). The fact that the enemy Mandalorians were fighting for the Empire was easily retconned into the fact that Darth Sidious was in command of the CIS before the rise of the Empire. There were other interesting retcons to correct the Thrawn Trilogy interpretations. The conflict with the Clone Masters was retconned to having taken place some time later, where they used their own clones to fight the Empire. Furthermore, I have heard that the Clone Masters were retconned into being the Kaminoans, who built a smaller clone army to rebel against the Empire, as seen in the game Battlefront II(Pandemic Studios, 2005), though the link between the Clone Masters and the Battle of Kamino in Battlefront II is tenuous (the Wookieepedia article does not state a source). Another retcon is the army composed of insane Morgukai clones used by the CIS during the Siege of Saleucami, as shown in Republic #74-77 (Ostrander, 2005), thus establishing that, indeed, the Republic did fight an army of mad clones at one point during the Clone Wars.

Figure 4: Left: A Kaminoan Rebel clone fighting a Stormtrooper (Star Wars: Battlefront II). Right: The Morgukai Clone Army fighting Jedi (from Star Wars: Republic 74). Both of these serve as retcons to older Clone Wars references, stating that the Republic fought armies of insane clones.

So, as you can see, a number of interpretations of the Clone Wars have existed over the years, and a variety of retcons (some of which were rather creative) have kept almost all of it in the continuity. As a result, I have high hopes that any further interpretations or changes/errors made during Star Wars: The Clone Wars can be corrected, and that no material will be thrown out.

History of the Death Star

The Death Star has had a somewhat convoluted history, with numerous retcons to explain inconsistencies. We first saw the Death Star in Episode IV. It had recently been completed, and during the film it was used, destroying Alderaan. At the end of the film, we get an odd inconsistency. The Death Star plans contained within R2-D2 show the superlaser dish to be along with Death Star’s equator, and not in the upper half as we saw earlier. The explanation is simply that the Plans were out of date, and the original plan was to have the sueprlaser along the midline (note: the real reason is that originally the Death Star model would have its laser along the midline, but was changed later in the production process; I’m thinking it was probably too costly to re-do the incorrect CGI animation). The problem with this retcon is that Episode II showed the Geonosians in possession of an early set of Death Star Plans that were accurate. This can mean one of two things: either the animations of either Episode II or IV are simply incorrect and should be disregarded, or the Death Star Plans possessed by R2-D2 are much much older than originally predicted, perhaps up to 29 years old, when Tarkin and Sienar first came up with the idea of a Death Star in Rogue Planet (Bear, 2000)

Another issue of contention is the Death Star Plans. At the beginning of Episode IV, Princess Leia has just taken possession of the Death Star Plans, and gave them to R2-D2 for safekeeping. The EU tried to address how she came to acquire these plans. The problem is that there are no less than seven missions alleging to have resulted in the theft of the Death Star Plans. Rebels first learn of the Death Star’s existence by Garm Bel Iblis and Hal Horn on Darkknell (Interlude at Darkknell; Zahn, 1999). Knowledge of it became more widespread in 2 BBY after the signing of the Treaty of Corellia and the formation of the Rebel Alliance, when Garm Bel Iblis, Mon Mothma, and Bail Organa were held prisoner there until they were rescued by Starkiller (The Force Unleashed; Williams, 2008). Afterwards, the nascent Rebellion recognized the Death Star as the greatest threat to their lives, and so set in motion plans to steal detailed blueprints of the station. One mission to steal the plans involved the theft of Imperial communications satellites and their deployment in the Cron Drift. These satellites picked up technical transmissions, which were sent to Princess Leia via Mon Calamari Cruiser Independence (X-Wing; Totally Games, 1993).

Figure 5: Kyle Katarn retrieving one set of Death Star Plans from Danuta (Star Wars: Dark Forces)

Another mission involved mercenary Kyle Katarn, who infiltrated the Imperial outpost on Danuta and stole the plans from its main computer (Dark Forces; LucasArts, 1995 and Dark Forces: Soldier for the Empire; Dietz, 1997). The outpost on Danuta was also raided by Rebel Rianna Saren, who also stole the Death Star Plans (Lethal Alliance; Ubisoft, 2006). In another mission, a Rebel fleet raided an Imperial convoy over Toprawa, stealing the plans before escaping (Rebel Dawn; Crispin, 1998, and other sources). A simultaneous raid on an Imperial Research Station on the surface of Toprawa captured the plans as well (Jedi Dawn; Cockburn, 1993). Another source of the Death Star Plans was from a prisoner riot on board the Death Star itself. Various prisoners, led by a captured Jedi Padawan, escaped from their cells and began fighting the Stormtroopers stationed on board. The riot was stopped quickly, but not before the prisoners transmitted the Death Star Plans to the Rebel outpost on Polis Massa. The outpost then transmitted the plans to Princess Leia before it was destroyed by the 501st Legion (Battlefront II; Pandemic Studios, 2005). Lastly, the Bothan Spynet acquired the plans and, with the help of Imperial traitor Moff Kalast, transmitted them to Princess Leia (Empire at War; Petroglyph, 2006). The retcon, established in the game Empire at War, determined that the Death Star Plans were intentionally broken into fragments and stored in different areas across the Galaxy, and that these various missions ensured the Rebellion got one complete copy. That said, there remains numerous gaps. First, Empire at War implied that the Empire learned that the Rebels were planning to transmit the complete copy of the Plans to Princess Leia over Tatooine, and therefore sent a massive fleet to catch her in the act. No fleet is ever seen in Episode IV (or any other source), and in all honesty, using the Death Star Plans as bait in a sting operation seems a bit excessive. This may be simply game mechanics. Another issue is that both Kyle Katarn and Rianna Saren stole Death Star Plans from the same outpost on Danuta. No retcon has been established so far, but it seems fair to say that there were two fragments, and each of them acquired one independently; Dark Forces: Soldier for the Empire established that the Imperial base was significantly larger than Kyle Katarn ever saw, allowing the possibility that Saren’s mission took place elsewhere in the facility.

The last issue worth discussing here is the Death Star’s construction. The Jedi Academy Trilogy (Anderson, 1994) established that before the Death Star was built, a prototype was manufactured in the Maw Installation. This prototype consisted of the outer superstructure, the reactor, and the superlaser only. Once all relevant technology was perfected on the prototype, construction of the main Death Star began. However, Episode III contradicted this, showing the first Death Star under construction in 19 BBY, days or weeks after Empire was declared. The retcon, from the New Essential Chronology (Wallace and Anderson, 2005), showed that the superlaser was perfected aboard the Death Star Prototype, only to be added to the main Death Star after the engineers had it working properly. Another construction issue is duration. The first Death Star seemed to take 19 years to construct, whereas the Death Star II (which was over 5.5 times larger and much more complex) took a maximum of four years to build, or as little as one year, noting that the Empire built the Tarkin as a Death Star substitute in 3 ABY (Marvel Star Wars 51-52; Michelinie, 1981). Two retcons exist for this time difference. First, the retcon from The New Essential Chronology regarding the Death Star Prototype can also explain the construction time. Construction stopped when technical problems in the superlaser and other systems sprouted up, and was on hiatus until these problems were resolved aboard the Prototype. The other retcon comes from George Lucas in the DVD commentary for Episode III, where he suggested that union disputes and supply problems delayed construction (though he may have been joking).

I should note that the novel Death Star (Reaves and Perry, 2007) attempted to resolve many of these inconsistencies, narrating the construction process in the first chapter or so, and then telling the story of the Death Star in its last year of existence.

History of the Jedi

Very little was known of the Jedi Order before the prequel films were made. As a result, the Bantam-era EU authors had to balance creativity with restraint. They wanted to reference older Jedi, but there was the strong risk of writing something that George Lucas would later abolish, especially since Mr. Lucas stated that the Rise of the Empire would not be depicted in the EU. Therefore, the EU authors had to be careful in their references.

Luke Skywalker knew very little about the Jedi at the start of the New Republic era, but he slowly learned about the Order through the years. He learned a few things over the years, many of which were preempted by the prequel films. First, Luke seemed to believe that the Force could be taught to anyone, and thus in the Marvel Star Wars comics was going to teach Kiro, the Rik Duel gang, Barney, and Vila, but refused to teach any of them because of his concern that improper training would make them fall to the Dark Side (Duffy, 1983-1985). However, Episode VI implied that not everyone could be trained to wield the Force, and the post-1991 EU entrenched the idea that one needed to be “Force-sensitive” to become a Jedi. It could be retconned that some of Luke’s students were Force-sensitive despite Luke’s lack of knowledge, but the point is moot; he taught very few people during that time period.

Luke had a big breakthrough in learning about the Jedi in 8 ABY, when he found the Chu’unthor, a Jedi Academy starship that had crashed on Dathomir. He found various data tapes and books that explained more details about the process of teaching new Jedi. He seemed to believe that all Jedi were taught on starships like that, a concept that was reinforced in 12 ABY when he met the Old Republic Jedi Callista, who had apparently been taught aboard theChu’unthor (note: because the original Chu’unthor had crashed centuries before the prequel films, it was retconned that Callista learned aboard the Chu’unthor II). In 11 ABY, Luke sought out Force-sensitive students to be the first class of his Jedi Praxeum. He learned, through experimentation, about the “nub”, a part of the brain that, if pushed with the Force, would have a strong reaction in Force-sensitive people, and used that technique to find most of his first class. When the prequels came along, very little of this information was adopted. The Jedi were trained in the Jedi Temple and were identified by counting midichlorians in a blood sample. Retcons would be established to account for these differences. The Jedi Temple had not been conceived of in 1999, and so the EU would retcon that the Temple was in ruins, and while it was still standing in 4 ABY (per the Episode VI DVD; Lucas, 2004) and even 11 ABY (per Battlefront: Renegade Squadron; Rebellion Developments, 2007), it had collapsed by the time the Yuuzhan Vong arrived (Allston, 2002 and Stover, 2002). Tionne was sent to investigate the temple at one point, but apparently got very little information from it. The fact that Callista was taught aboard a starship was retconned to the fact that Callista’s master, Djinn Altis, operated his own Jedi sect, independent from the rest of the Jedi Order. The brain nub was never referenced in the prequels, but the easy retcon is just that midichlorian detection was easier or more efficient/accurate/precise than the nub, and that Luke never learned about midichlorians until much later in his life. It is also possible that Luke discovered the existence of the brain nub, and so no older Jedi knew of it.

Another difference in the portrayal of the Jedi pre- and post-1999 is the existence of Jedi families. During the Bantam era, it was established that Jedi could marry and have families, and several of the characters were the descendants of Jedi Knights, including Kam Solusar (Dark Empire II; Veitch, 1994) and Corran Horn (I, Jedi; Stackpole, 1998). Callista had a spouse named Geith Eris, and the Imperial warship Eye of Palpatine was meant to attack Belsavis, a planet housing the children of Jedi Knights (Children of the Jedi; Hambly, 1995). Jedi of the Old Republic during the Sith Era also had families; Andur and Nomi Sunrider were married and had a daughter, Vima (Tales of the Jedi: The Saga of Nomi Sunrider; Veitch, 1993). Then, Episode II firmly established the idea that Jedi could not marry nor have children, due to the risks of falling to the Dark Side associated with attachment to your spouse/offspring. Also, according to Vergere, Jedi were not permitted to have children to avoid creating Jedi family dynasties, which would have undue influence in the Order (I think this was from Destiny’s Way; Williams, 2002). As a result, retcons were required. Ranik Solusar had his son Kam without the permission of the Jedi Council, and so was severely reprimanded (The New Essential Guide to Characters; Wallace, 2002). There were two interpretations of Corran Horn’s circumstance. Either Nejaa Halcyon had special dispensation to have his son Valin (who became Hal Horn, Corran’s father) due to cultural considerations (Elusion Illusion; Stackpole, 2003) or Halcyon married and had a child without permission, keeping it hidden from the Jedi Council (Jedi Trial; Sherman and Cragg, 2004). Ultimately, any Jedi offspring dating from that era (such as Galen Marek) could be explained by the child being conceived with special dispensation from, or against the will of, the Jedi Council. Callista and Geith were members of Djinn Altis’s Jedi sect, which allowed marriage (Order 66; Traviss, 2008). The children of the Jedi located on Belvasis were retconned into being Apprentices and Padawans, not offspring (The New Essential Guide to Characters; Wallace, 2002). Last, issue 23 of Knights of the Old Republic established that there was a shift in Jedi thinking following the Great Sith War (J. Miller, 2007). Jedi would continue to have relationships and families for some years; Grand Master Satele Shan had a son, Theron (The Old Republic 7; Freed, 2011), but by the time of the Ruusan Reformations, the Jedi Order would ban marriage and conception.

Figure 6: Luke Skywalker, Kam Solusar, and Corran Horn: descendants of Old Republic Jedi; Nomi Sunrider and Ki-Adi-Mundi: Old Republic Jedi with children.

In conclusion, there were numerous differences between how Jedi lived and were taught in between the EU and the prequels, but very minor retcons solve most of the issues.

History of Anakin Skywalker

The history of Anakin Skywalker, later Darth Vader, also has an interesting collection of retcons. Like the other retcons discussed, many of these retcons come from information slowly revealed in the films contradicting expanded universe material published earlier (easily the most forgivable type of retcon). The first retcon I will discuss is Anakin and Vader being one and the same. This seems like a no-brainer; Anakin fell to the Dark Side and became Darth Vader. It’s the plot of the entire saga. But in Episode IV, Obi-Wan strongly implies that Anakin was a Jedi Knight and friend of Obi-Wan, and Vader was an entirely different person, who was Obi-Wan’s apprentice. Vader fell to the Dark Side and murdered Anakin. Vader’s relationship with Anakin was completely omitted from the pre-Episode V EU except for one instance, Marvel Star Wars Annual #1: The Long Hunt (Claremont, 1979). Apparently, Obi-Wan visited the planet Skye during the Clone Wars with his two students, Darth Vader and “the man whose lightsaber [Luke was] wearing”, and the Skytiri remembered the name Skywalker. This was retconned in an interesting way. It seems that, shortly before the battle, Anakin performed the Corcordance of Fealty, a ritual of trust where Anakin traded lightsabers with another Jedi, in this case Halagad Ventor. As a result, the two individuals with Obi-Wan at the Battle of Skye were Anakin and Halagad (“Darth Vader and the man whose lightsaber you’re wearing”). The only question this retcon raises is how the people of Skye knew Darth Vader if they only met him before his transformation. This leads me to believe that someone among them is very well connected in the Empire.

A second retcon of note is Anakin’s history before his transformation into Darth Vader. In the original trilogy, we learn that Anakin was a starship captain and a very skilled pilot, as well as a Jedi Knight and a warrior of the Clone Wars. His transformation into Vader followed an unspecified fall to the Dark Side, and the Episode VI novelization expanded that he fell into molten lava during his confrontation with Obi-Wan. While technically all true, the original trilogy makes certain implications about these facts. Specifically, they seem to imply that Anakin was an adult by the time Obi-Wan met him and agreed to train him. We later learned in Episode I that Anakin was a child, soon to be 10 years old, when he was discovered by Qui-Gon Jinn. Anakin’s pilot skills at the time were limited to podracers, but he had a certain innate talent with flight. The original trilogy also implied that Owen Lars and Anakin Skywalker had some kind of relationship before Luke was born; that Owen objected to Anakin leaving Tatooine to become a Jedi and fighting in the Clone Wars. Episode II establishes that Anakin only met Owen at age 20, and it seems that they had very little (if any) contact afterwards. The retcon is merely that Owen was lying, trying to prevent Luke from wanting to leave into the dangerous Galaxy and end up falling to the Dark Side by telling him that Anakin was the captain of a spice freighter. Obi-Wan presumably played into this lie to avoid telling him that Anakin and Vader were one and the same. Interestingly, The Clone Wars offers a fun retcon that Anakin was, at one point, the captain of a freighter, the Twilight, but that he used it for war instead of shipping spice.

History of Boba Fett

Boba Fett, being a fan favourite, has also had numerous contradictory re-tellings of his history, requiring retcons to set straight. I’ve already discussed Boba Fett’s appearance in Marvel Star Wars 68-69, where he was allegedly a warrior in the Clone Wars, fighting for the Empire (and the retcon that this warrior was actually rogue ARC Trooper Spar, claiming to be Jango Fett’s offspring.) Another interesting re-telling is how Fett escaped the Sarlacc after the events of Episode VI. In Marvel Star Wars 81 (Duffy, 1984), Fett escaped from the Sarlacc and was recovered by some Jawas, who assumed he was a droid. He ended up on a Sandcrawler that, after a battle with Han Solo, ended up crashing back into the Sarlacc. Another source, A Barve Like That: The Tale of Boba Fett (Montgomery, 1996) depicted Fett being in contact with the Sarlacc, who was telepathic. Fett goaded it into contracting around his jetpack, killing it and allowing Fett to escape, severely injured but alive. Fett was recovered by Dengar (expanded upon in The Bounty Hunter Wars Trilogy; Jeter, 1998-1999). The retcon here is fairly simple: both events occurred. That being said, it is strange because not only do neither Montgomery nor Jeter refer to the events of Marvel Star Wars 81, but it seems out of character for the most skilled bounty hunter in the Galaxy to fall into a sedentary animal’s mouth twice in the same week.

Another retcon comes from the difference in Fett’s background. Already in contradiction to Marvel Star Wars 68-69The Last One Standing: The Tale of Boba Fett (Moran, 1996) told the story of the young Jaster Mereel (allegedly Fett’s birth name) as a Journeyman Protector on the planet Concord Dawn. Mereel/Fett held this post until he killed another Protector for undisclosed reasons. Later sources expanded upon this time period. Outbid but Never Outgunned (Smith, 2001) implied and History of the Mandalorians (Peña, 2005) confirmed that Fett/Mereel was married to a Kiffar woman named Sintas Vel, and they had a child, Ailyn Vel. It was later established as well that the reason Mereel/Fett killed his superior officer was because that superior raped Sintas (expanded upon in BloodlinesSacrifice, and Revelation; Traviss, 2006-2008). Of course, this entire backstory was rendered moot when Episode II established that Boba Fett was not born Jaster Mereel, but instead was the clone of Jango Fett. Retcons ahoy!  The comic miniseries Jango Fett: Open Seasons (Blackman, 2002) established Jaster Mereel as leader of the True Mandalorians, who recruited Jango Fett and helped train him to become a Mandalorian warrior. By the end of the story, it was revealed that part of Jango’s desire for Boba was that he become the next Mandalorian leader, or “Jaster’s Legacy.” After the Clone Wars, Fett would go to Concord Dawn, change his name to Jaster Mereel, and become a Journeyman Protector, and the rest of the story would continue unchanged.

Fett’s childhood has also varied somewhat recently, but only minimal retcons were necessary. 10-year-old Boba Fett was introduced to us in Episode II, and the young reader series Star Wars: Boba Fett (Bisson and Hand, 2002-2004) established that he learned how to become a bounty hunter during the Clone Wars. He was betrayed by Aurra Sing, and then worked for Jabba the Hutt. He tried to assassinate Mace Windu, to avenge his father’s death, but failed. The second season of Star Wars: The Clone Wars added more to this history, establishing that, early in the Clone Wars, he was helped by Aurra Sing and Bossk, and was imprisoned by the Jedi after failing to kill Windu (Petrie, Mahony, Filoni, and Greenberg, 2010). The retcon here is fairly straightforward: whereas originally books 1-4 took place within the first month of the Clone Wars and books 5-6 took place near the end, now all six take place early in the war, before the events of Death TrapR2 Come Home, and Lethal Trackdown. This allows Fett to try to kill Windu once in Boba Fett Book 6: Pursuit (where Windu did not know Jango had a son) and again in Death Trap (where Windu was the only one who knew of Jango’s son). Palpatine protected Fett from prosecution at the end of Pursuit, but could not do so at the end of Lethal Trackdown.  As for his involvement with Aurra Sing, there are any number of possible solutions. I’m thinking someone (like Jabba) vouched for her, and she proved herself trustworthy as long as they were on the same side.

The last retcon is an interesting one. It’s about Boba Fett’s involvement in the Young Jedi Knights books 7-11 (Anderson and Moesta, 1997-1998), or more specifically, his lack of involvement. The History of the Mandalorians (Peña, 2005) established that it was actually Ailyn Vel, wearing Spar’s armor, impersonating Boba Fett during the events of those books. Boba Fett was meanwhile leading his people as Mandalore, ostensibly preparing his people for the upcoming war against the Yuuzhan Vong. Ailyn Vel would impersonate Fett to further her own career, but this also added to the legend of Boba Fett, as different accounts would place him at multiple locations at once. In my opinion this retcon is useless; there really is no need to suddenly decide that any character is really someone else impersonating them.

Figure 7: Ailyn Vel impersonating Boba Fett (Young Jedi Knights: Shards of Alderaan)

Other plot points:

There are numerous other retcons that I would like to briefly mention, either because of their necessity, their creativity, or their sheer insanity, but do not relate to the main topics mentioned above. I would like to mention them below, in point-form, in no particular order:

-Anakin Skywalker was once referred to as Tan Skywalker in the newstrip comic The Constancia Affair (Manning, 1979), as the name Anakin had not yet been invented (or, not yet uttered on screen). This was retconned to being a title, bestowed upon starfighter pilots who had done Palpatine a special service (The Emperor’s Pawns; Peña, 2001). Maarek Stele (from TIE Figher; Totally Games, 1994) was also a Tan.

-Princess Leia has memories of her mother (per Episode VI), despite never having met her (per Episode III). While the most logical retcon might have been “Leia doesn’t know she’s adopted, and so she’s thinking of Breha Organa”, instead the new canon is that Leia, being Force-sensitive, touched minds with Padmé, remembering her face and a few emotional details.

-The Republic existed for 25,000 years (per Episode IV) and fought numerous large wars during its lifetime (Great Hyperspace War, Great Sith War, Mandalorian Wars, Jedi Civil War, Great Galactic War, New Sith Wars, etc.), but according to Sio Bibble, there hasn’t been a full-scale war since “the formation of the Republic” (per Episode II). This now refers to the near-collapse of the Republic during the New Sith Wars, and the reorganization of the Republic in 1,000 BBY following the Battle of Ruusan. This retcon also accounts for comments made by Palpatine (Episode II), Saesee Tiin (The Clone Wars: Citadel Rescue), and Pre Viszla (The Clone Wars: The Mandalore Plot).

-R2-D2 and C-3PO end Episode III in possession of Raymus Antilles, and begin Episode IV in his possession too. But in the 19-year interim, the droids had a series of adventures away from them (as featured in the Star Wars: Droids cartoon, as well as Droids comics by Star Comics/Marvel and later Dark Horse Comics). It was later explained that the Tantive IV was attacked by pirates during routine testing of the escape pods.  he pods had to be abandoned, but it was later learned that the droids were on one of them. The droids were traded and sold for the next decade or so, until they were recovered by Bail Organa, and instructed to never again board an escape pod unless explicitly ordered.

-The appearances of several starships and droid models before their canon creation date (e.g. A-Wing Starfighters before the Battle of Yavin) are retconned as being portrayals of their prototypes. As a result, all pre-Episode IV appearances of the A-Wing are actually portraying the R-22 Spearhead.

-Owen Lars was referred to as Obi-Wan’s brother in the novelization of Episode VI (Kahn, 1983), to explain why Luke was placed in Owen’s care. Episode II later established that Owen was Anakin Skywalker’s stepbrother. Further retcons exist that Obi-Wan actually does have a brother named Owen (Jedi Apprentice: The Hidden Past; Watson, 1999) and that, possibly due to poor recordkeeping, the Galaxy at large believed that Owen Lars and Obi-Wan Kenobi were brothers (Galaxy Guide 1: A New Hope; Stern and Boucher, 1989), at least until Han and Leia learned the true history of Anakin Skywalker on Tatooine in 8 ABY (Tatooine Ghost; Denning, 2003).

-Aurra Sing was put in jail following the events of the comic Jedi: Aayla Secura (Ostrander, 2003). She escaped prison, and was put in prison again following the events of The Clone Wars: Assassin (K. Lucas, 2010). She escaped again and teamed up with Cad Bane in The Clone Wars: Hostage Crisis (Mahony, Larsen, and Greenberg, 2009). She went back to prison sometime thereafter, and was released by Vader in 19 BBY, to hunt Jax Pavan, who almost killed her, per Coruscant Nights II: Street of Shadows (Reaves, 2008). She was then put back in prison, and escaped when the Yuuzhan Vong bombed the prison world, and resumed being a bounty hunter, hired in 40 ABY to kill Hapan Queen Mother Tenel Ka (Legacy of the Force: Tempest; Allston, 2007). Apparently, Republic prisons are about as effective at containing criminals as Arkham Asylum. Still, some of these were retconned away. It is possible that the events of Jedi: Aayla Secura will take place after Hostage Crisis. And Sue Rostoni confirmed that the escape from the prison world during the Yuuzhan Vong attack didn’t happen; C-3PO just had it wrong, and she’s been free since Jax Pavan left her for dead.

-Mistryl Warrior Shada D’ukal and Karoly D’ulin came across a component labeled to be for the Death Star II (Hammertong: The Tale of the “Tonnika Sisters”; Zahn, 1995), even though the Death Star was not yet destroyed, and the Tarkin Doctrine implied that only one Death Star would be built. No retcon exists here yet, but numerous are possible (anything from Palpatine hedging his bets and preparing to build a second Death Star in case the first failed, to mislabeling the container.)

-Numerous characters have been killed, only to re-appear later on in the continuity. Both Captain Gregar Typho and Aurra Sing were killed in Coruscant Nights II: Street of Shadows (Reaves, 2008), but reappeared later; Typho in Star Wars Galaxies (Sony Online Entertainment, 2003) and Sing in Legacy of the Force: Tempest (Allston, 2007). Most recently, Darth Maul, killed in Episode I, is implied to have survived in The Clone Wars: Witches of the Mist (K. Lucas, 2011). The only retcon here is that death in the Science Fiction and Fantasy genre is fluid and rarely permanent. The phenomenon of Comic Book Death can be applied to Star Wars. Death in comic books is rarely permanent; indeed, it was once held that “the only three people to stay dead in comics are Bucky, Jason Todd, and Uncle Ben,” since the deaths of those three characters were so integral to the characters of Captain America, Batman, and Spider-Man, respectively, and despite that rule, both Bucky and Jason Todd were resurrected.

Multiverse:

Indeed there are a large number of continuity breaches retcons throughout the Star Wars saga. My original thought was to see if the different pre-retcon versions of the stories could come together coherently to create a separate continuity. However, the different breaches and retcons are so variable that they do not come together very well.

The only possible full alternate continuity would be if we erased all prequel-era material (Episodes I, II, and III, The Clone Wars, and all pre-Episode IV EU except the Han Solo Trilogy, Han Solo Adventures, and Lando Calrissian Adventures) and re-wrote the Rise of the Empire era using only the hints from the post-Episode VI EU. We could re-tell the events of the Clone Wars as hinted at by Zahn in the Thrawn Trilogy, that it ended in 35 BBY as between the Republic and mad clones. The only problem is that the prequel era has been heavily referenced in the post-Episode VI EU, especially in the Dark Nest Trilogy and Legacy of the Force series. Those plotlines would need to be retconned or abandoned (not really a problem, since we’re talking of an alternate continuity anyways.)

Conversely, I also note that there are numerous stories that have been written that are classified as Infinities, or non-canon.  These stories are fun reads, but are explicitly outside the continuity. Just like the various Marvel “What If” and other out-of-continuity stories, it can be said that each of these exists in its own universe, which could, in theory, be expanded upon at will.

Table 1: Various apocryphal timelines of the Star Wars universe. (Click for larger image)

In his Star Wars Timeline Gold, Nathan P. Butler identified no less than 97 apocryphal timelines (with one more added since the latest publication; LEGO Star Wars: The Padawan Menace). In the table above, I placed all of them in rough chronological order, so you can see just where these various timelines branch off from one another. Each of these branches could be thought of as its own universe, teeming with possibility, waiting to be explored.

Conclusion:

This analysis of retcons has shown me that the Star Wars continuity, while occasionally negatively affected by new contradictory material, can survive almost any attack. While authors are strongly encouraged to play within the sandbox and respect previously established stories, there exist mechanisms for dealing with continuity breaches. As a result, I see no need for a reboot or another universe to be created any time soon.

That said, the mechanism also exists for creating a story that is outside the main continuity, such as through the Infinities label.  These stories can be fun, and showcase all the possibilities the Star Wars universe has to offer, without muddling continuity. I would like to see further stories along this line, like a revived Star Wars Tales or a prequel Star Wars Infinities trilogy. I see no need for a full reboot, but this mechanism could be used to create a new continuity (like Marvel’s Ultimate line) without erasing the old material.

-Andrew

About the Author

Andrew Halliday contributes to EUCantina as a writer. He writes our column "The Star Wars Dissection," published every second Monday, and also reviews episodes of The Clone Wars television show. He began writing in 2010, sending letters to the SoloSound.net podcast The EU Review, using mathematics to look at certain trends in Star Wars content. These monthly analyses were expanded into his column in 2011. He has a degree in biology and a love for all things science and math.