EU Action/Reaction: Deconstructing the Canon

weekly-column-v2Welcome to another installment of EUCantina's weekly opinion column, EU Action/Reaction! Each week, I tackle a specific Star Wars EU event that has garnered a significant reaction from Star Wars fans and offer my own view to further the discussion. Once you read the article, feel free to leave a comment and offer your own thoughts!

This week, I'll be discussing Star Wars canon. Make no mistake, this won't be one of those fan pontifications that make you groan with inevitable frustration. There's been a lot of buzz about canon in the last few weeks, and I think it will make for some good discussion to provide some solid explanations regarding canon. A lot of fans are also quick to denounce other fans when a difference in opinion forms, just on the basis of canon. So no, don't pop any Aspirin just yet. Let's have a level-headed discussion about canon, shall we?

Before I get started, though, I do want to take the time to thank everyone who read and commented on my last column two weeks ago, "The Sad State of Star Wars Fandom." It wasn't an easy column to write, and I was getting prepared for quite the backlash. And although those who responded didn't necessarily agree with every point I made, I was a bit stunned to see just how many other Star Wars lovers are getting a bit fed up with fandom right now. But even more important, I was overwhelmed with the number of positive responses from fans who keep up a positive outlook. You all make every EU experience more enjoyable when I get to interact with fans who still genuinely love the source material. You aren't jaded, and you aren't slavishly in love with every single release. While some of the most vocal Star Wars "fans" sat home during Celebration V and grumbled with each announcement for The Clone Wars, you all were there to cheer and shout even louder. You have that unbridled passion for Star Wars that keeps this franchise alive, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

If you've ever been part of a Star Wars Expanded Universe conversation, there's a high probability that the subject eventually turned to issues regarding "canon." It's a term that is thrown around a lot when it comes to the EU. But just because we all talk about it... doesn't mean we actually understand it. Personally, I've gotten to the point where I can barely stomach a conversation about canon. And that's coming from an absolute lover of EU continuity. Some of you might be thinking, "Oh man, I am right there with you!" You're not. I'm not using this column as a springboard to gripe about timeline issues. I'm just tired of fans being so rigid about canon, and I'm tired of fans dissing certain mediums as less important than others based entirely on their own projections and preconceived notions. Let's put an end to this, shall we?

What The Heck Is Canon?

In all actuality, canon isn't really that hard to wrap one's head around. It sounds a lot more complicated than it actually is, especially when fans start dropping different classifications (or "levels") of canon. Basically, canon is the story of Star Wars. Only the films, created by George Lucas, are considered absolute canon. The films supersede everything. Then you have other entries, like the television show, books, comics, video games and much more. These elements are all absorbed into the continuation of the Star Wars story, and so they must be properly maintained to make sure that they do not conflict with or undermine the films. Unfortunately, this means that some of these stories are going to be inconsistent with each other, especially as the years continue and more stories are added to the Expanded Universe. Honestly, I think former LucasBooks editor Chris Cerasi said it best:
"The further one branches away from the movies, the more interpretation and speculation come into play. LucasBooks works diligently to keep the continuing Star Wars expanded universe cohesive and uniform, but stylistically, there is always room for variation. Not all artists draw Luke Skywalker the same way. Not all writers define the character in the same fashion. The particular attributes of individual media also come into play. A comic book interpretation of an event will likely have less dialogue or different pacing than a novel version. A video game has to take an interactive approach that favors gameplay. So too must card and roleplaying games ascribe certain characteristics to characters and events in order to make them playable."
So first, there's G-Canon. This is the highest level of canon - George Lucas Canon. All six Star Wars films (in their most recent update) are the Holy Grail of the EU. In addition, publicly released deleted scenes are also considered G-Canon when they do not conflict with the films or other material. Next on the hierarchy, and the most recent addition to the canon list, is T-Canon. As astute guessers may have... guessed, this is Television Canon. Right now, only The Clone Wars is considered T-Canon (including The Clone Wars film). It is assumed that the Live Action Show will also fall under this category. As the television show takes precedence over all other aspects of the EU, you're likely to see a lot of griping about T-Canon. Big EU fans who have spent plenty of their time and money investing into the EU periodically watch The Clone Wars clash with EU elements (such as Gardulla the Hutt's reappearance or the big changes to Mandalore), and it stings to know that the television show will trump the older material. I feel their pain here, I really do. But for every knife that gets twisted when canon issues emerge, there's a moment of supreme satisfaction when a character from the EU makes an appearance on the television show. One can likely assume this level of canon is so high due to the involvement by George Lucas. Following that, we have C-Canon. Short for Continuity Canon, this level of canon encompasses the vast majority of books, comics and video games. They are all on the same page, and none stick out as "more official" than any other source. The one pseudo-exception is video games. As you can probably imagine, a Star Wars game wouldn't be too fun if everyone died after one hit from a lightsaber. So while the storyline of video games are C-Canon, gameplay is not. Now some may have wondered about the canon of characters or vehicles that started in the EU and were then included in the films (like Aayla Secura). The answer is that any character or other C-Canon element that was later included in one of the six films is now weighed as G-Canon. When fans talk about canon, these three are really what they are discussing. There is S-Canon, which is Secondary Canon. Most of the older EU material, like the Star Wars Marvel Comics, fall into this category. These stories exist to either be ignored or used, as authors see fit. The reason for this classification is that these stories existed before the effort to keep a strict continuity was established. In some cases, like with Lumiya, authors can salvage good elements of storytelling from these sources. Although there is no official mandate, many S-Canon stories have since become C-Canon, as authors are able to use clever storytelling to keep the stories alive. And then, of course, there is N-Canon. Anything that has been canceled or labeled Infinities falls into this category. It's the bottom of the ladder, and rarely makes it into canon conversation because - as the name suggests - it's not canon. I'll be blunt: I think there's basically two forms of Star Wars fans out there (I know that fans can't be separated into two columns, just go along for the sake of simplicity, please). You've got the general fan, who loves Star Wars and the occasional book, comic and video game - but doesn't get too emotionally attached to the entire timeline. Then you've got the specific fan (I refuse to call them hardcore, because I've met some fantastic people who are hardcore general fans), who are really invested in the entire Expanded Universe. These latter fans are the people most likely to discuss canon issues, and they're also the same people who can make it really tough for the general fans to break into online discussion. Take the recent announcement that Gardulla the Hutt will appear in an upcoming episode of The Clone Wars. As some fans have pointed out, she's supposed to be dead! The death was in a fairly obscure video game several years ago (and I mean obscure in that I own and have played the game, Star Wars: Bounty Hunter, and had no memory of the death), but hey, dead is dead - unless you're Dash Rendar. Or Alema Rar. Or any Force user. My point is that there's a fundamental difference in the reaction between these two subsets of fans. For the general fan, there's no problem with Gardulla's appearance - because they'd have no idea the Hutt was dead. And once learning about it, the response is going to really just be a shrug and a hope that the discrepancy will be addressed. For the specific fan, Gardulla's appearance is just another example of all-out war being raged on the Star Wars Expanded Universe. To them, they have just as much a say in the universe as George Lucas - and the blame pretty much falls exclusively on Lucas for not caring. It's two widely different reactions, and I can't say that one is right and the other is wrong. I can understand both viewpoints, but I think both sides can be a little extreme. Specific fans overreact too quickly, and demand answers immediately. General fans are too complacent and accepting, and they shouldn't feel afraid to voice their opinion if something doesn't seem right to them. And as for Gardulla the Hutt... have you ever met someone who had the same name as you? Exactly why can't there be two Hutts with the same name floating around in a huge galaxy? It's science fiction. Suspend your disbelief, if you have to. Because if Gardulla the Hutt is going to be the straw that broke the camel's back, then you aren't even trying anymore.

It's My Money, And I Want It Now!

It's human nature to be afraid of the unknown. Whether it's the unease we feel when having to eat something that we cannot identify, or the debilitating fear that can grip us when we contemplate our own mortality, humans have always sought answers to the questions we don't know the answers to. Is the world flat? What happens if I stick my finger in this electrical socket? Is there life on Mars? To some, the burning questions surrounding canon and continuity in the Star Wars Expanded Universe are every bit as important. Not to me, necessarily, but you better believe there are plenty of fans out there who demand a concise timeline of the Clone Wars era of Star Wars, complete with exact dates of every single television episode, book and comic. It's this general attitude of entitlement and impatience that really ticks me off. I don't understand how something so minuscule can hamper someone's enjoyment of a television show. Frankly, Star Wars has done a better job with their timeline than humans have with their own. We're still in debate as to whether Jesus Christ walked the land as the Son of God, or if Atlantis ever actually existed at some point. There are whole periods of human activity and knowledge that have been lost forever. We still don't know all the answers to the mysteries of life, and we know practically nothing when it comes to the almost infinite reaches of outer space that lay beyond the tiny pebble we call Earth. To be human is to not know everything. There will always be unanswered questions. So honestly, I have no idea where this attitude of "We need to know everything!" concerning Star Wars continuity comes from. I consider us lucky that we've even been told that, at some point, a timeline will be unveiled that will address these concerns. And as fans are becoming increasingly aware that The Clone Wars is not a show that is told in chronological order, perhaps we have a better understanding of just why this timeline isn't so easy to figure out. The impatient fans need to just relax. If you can't enjoy The Clone Wars, then don't be part of the problem - be part of the solution. If you're a continuity fan, throw yourself into trying to figure out just where the episodes, books and comics all fall together. Or simply create your own timeline for the time being, and focus on the most important part: enjoying Star Wars.

You Must Unlearn What You Have Learned

Look, continuity issues are bound to happen. And by getting ourselves so slavishly attached to a timeline and exact events (remember: fictional universe!), issues will only continue to pop up. We have survived the Holiday Special, and we've survived Boba Fett's multiple Sarlacc Pit encounters. Shoot, we've survived everything Boba Fett-related - to the point that even the most strict canon and continuity fans can't bring themselves to fret over the latest interpretation of the character. Things like The Clone Wars and The Force Unleashed will blow over - like they always do. Yeah, they might not be the best that the Expanded Universe has to offer us - but for as many headaches that they bring, even the worst material can offer a ray of sunshine. Remember: for every Jaxxon, there's a Lumiya.

- Chris

Check out the rest of EUCantina’s Weekly Columns. If you’d like to see a specific topic discussed, email Chris!

About the Author

Chris Carey contributes to EUCantina as a writer and editor. He pens our popular column, EU Action/Reaction, and also contributes to our novel and comic reviews. Chris joined EUCantina in 2010 to help edit articles, but it quickly became obvious that his writing skills needed a more visible platform. He currently resides in Maryland, and has a degree in journalism.