Monday, October 24, 2011

Star Wars Canon

I’ll admit it: this is probably a retarded (as in “silly” post), but this is what I’m thinking about today. It was a looooong weekend (especially for Seattle sports fans), I am still physically and mentally exhausted. My brain is operating a little tangentially right now.

I was reading up on SW “canon” today…that is, what is considered “official” material that feeds into the Star Wars universe versus what isn’t…and I’ve got a couple new (or newish) thoughts on the matter.

#1: Wow, most EU folks really missed the boat on this licensing thing, and

#2: F it…that is, the non-film material can all go to hell for all I care.

I shall, of course, endeavor to explain myself a bit.

First, understand that I am a purchaser and enjoyer of plenty of non-film, EU material…I’ve read several of the novels, I own more than a few comics (or compilations) and I have owned (and continue to own) much of the RPG material put out by both West End Games and WotC. In other words, I have put my money down in support of the creative effort (as well as given an investment of my time in reading and rereading this stuff). So while my statements may seem dismissive please understand this isn’t coming from any place of disgruntlement…there IS an entertainment and artistic value in these works, in and of themselves. I’m not a total cretin.

So, then, let’s get to the point.

As far as George Lucas is concerned, the only “true canon” of Star Wars are the films he’s created and the story they tell. Everything else is…well, he doesn’t say it outright, but basically it’s “fan fiction” as far as he’s concerned. He’ll mine it for ideas, but the “Bible” he uses in making his films consists of A) his own mind, and B) his own films.

Now, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t appreciate the creative effort. It just means that, in his mind, those people creating additional Star Wars stories are doing so in a “parallel universe.” Or a parallel continuity, if you will. To GL, the Star Wars universe is a big playground, he doesn’t mind others playing in it (so long as he receives his cut), and he’s not so concerned with how it interacts with itself or with his films, so long as everyone groks that his feature films are THE end-all-be-all.

Lucas has also stated that the way other writers have written the further adventures/histories of his own characters are NOT how he would have done them. But again, this doesn’t bother him as it’s all happening in a separate, parallel continuity…in his own, the Emperor is never clones/returned to life, Luke never gets married, Coruscant is happy and celebratory, not blown-up and destroyed, etc. But what the “enthusiasts” do with his mythology is fine and dandy…again, so long as he gets his cut.

Personally, I think GL has come to a place in relationship to his IP where he realizes he can’t stop the enthusiasts from doing their own fanfic, so he licenses his IP to them and outsources the management of the material to others (like those Holocron folks) to keep it all running. Isn’t that better (and in the long run, more fun) than trying to sue people? Plus, he retains authority to say, “only *I* can make feature films, and only I say what is true to MY fantasy’s reality.”

Which is as it should be, by the way: it IS his baby, his creation. People who have made money off the franchise with their own “contributions” (from Timothy Zahn to Dark Horse to whomever) are simply riding the coattails of George Lucas rather than create their own sci-fi opuses. And why not? It’s great business strategy to hop into an already existing ginormous (and seemingly indefatigable) fan base. That is money in the bank.

All right, so now to my two thoughts listed above:

#1: Missed opportunities. Why the hell do these authors continue to use and recycle the same characters over and over again? Luke, Han, Leia, Anakin, Mace, Obi-Wan, etc. etc…if Lucas is going to allow you to play in his “universe,” why not turn out stories that have ZERO to do with the stuff in the films. After all, it doesn’t matter anyway, right?

Instead, most authors add something from the films to their material: Boba Fett or the original heroes or the various bit-part Jedi “Masters” (it’s hard to give the title to characters like Aayla Secura and Ki-Adi Mundi after watching them get so easily punked by, basically, stormtroopers), or Jabba or whatever. It’s like they’re namedropping rather than doing anything else. Hell, even using the “Skywalker genealogy” (the great-great-grandchildren, etc.) is silly. Sure, there is a theme of parent-to-child inheritance in the films (Jango to Boba, Anakin to Luke, Yoda to Dooku to Qui-Gonn to Obi-Wan)…but then make those themes with your own characters, not recycled lineages.

Granted, some EU creators HAVE done things without recycling characters from the films: the Knights of the Old Republic video game and its spin-offs (in comic and novel) is probably the best example. But there’s not enough of that, in my opinion. I mean check out what Star Wars has:

- Jedi (and everything that goes with it; lightsabers, Force, etc.)
- Sith (Ditto)
- Hyperdrive, droids, and blasters
- Smugglers, gamblers, and bounty hunters
- System-spanning intrigue, drama, and conflict

What more do you need to write a tale of space operatic adventure? You don’t need Skywalkers and Solos; you don’t need to keep making backwater Tattooine somehow a central hub of the galaxy. You don’t need to deal with the Empire and the Rebellion and their conflict. Hell, you only need to worry about the Republic because it’s “a thousand years old” (a pretty long timespan), but Lucas’s films make it pretty clear there are sectors outside of Republic authority (Hoth, Bespin, Dagobah, Tattooine…hmm, most of the film locations in the original trilogy, I guess).

Which brings me to my thought #2: Screw it…all of it. And I do mean ALL of it, including the otherwise interesting/brilliant KotOR stuff. If Lucas is content to ignore that which doesn’t pertain to his story, why shouldn’t I (or anyone else) do the same…all of that stuff is simply fan fic in the Star Wars universe. There is no need for “continuity” except as so far as keeping hardcore completionists (and Lucas Licensing) happy. Why not just junk it?

For that matter, why not simply junk Lucas’s own story (and its characters/plot/drama) as well? Or rather, take it as it is: a single 40-or-so year span of time in a many-thousand year galactic history…and one that occurred “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.” The blink of an eye really…and only a single story of a single family (the Skywalkers) in what is surely a galaxy made of trillions of inhabitant families, each with their own stories.

Yeah, just like those ones in the Ewok movie.

In writing a space opera RPG based in large part on Star Wars (and its Expanded Universe) I find that I’ve been going about it the hard way: trying to create a simple space fantasy game that provides rules allowing for the incorporation of a metric ton of “Star Wars stuff.” Totally ridiculous, really. All I need is a game that includes the earlier components listed (with the trademarked serial numbers filed off) and then give folks the tools they need to create their own SW-like adventures…which, by the way, is NOT the same as giving people a book of rules, and saying “go do it,” with-or-without “helpful inspirational fiction” included in the text (*barf*).

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been thinking about today. It takes my mind off the really terrible football games of the weekend.


  1. Meh. Personally I feel that the pastry-headed-one (Lucas) should be the last person to be allowed to define what is canonical in SW. I mean he's proven time and again he can't leave it alone and keeps stuffing it up. Look at the frenzy over the latest revisions.

    IMHO only the original trilogy in it's original form should be canon. Everything else is fanfic even if it's by the original creator. ;)

  2. For myself (and any games I run), the only "canon" is the original movie, Splinter of the Mind's eye, the Han & Lando novels, and the first 38 Marvel comics. Basically, everything before ESB.

    There's a different, grittier reality than the one that starts to take hold in ESB and blossoms in ROTJ. The Rebel change significantly, for instance. In SW, they have the abandoned temple on Yavin and look like a shoestring operation. In ESB, they have Bacta tanks, medical droids and these huge transports; and let's not forget that huge Ion Cannon! In ROTJ, the Rebel fleet is small, but it's state-of-the-art. Compare Mon Montha's Death Star briefing to General Dodonna's. The Rebels have morphed in a "good" version of the Empire. Still small, but not as desparate.

    I guess it's just a matter of taste. YMMV> :)

  3. Dude you are speakin' my language now! I have also dreamed of one day doing something with Star Wars in a gaming sense, stripping away all the baggage of the SW canon and just leaving the cool bits: lightsabers, the Force, droids, all the many planets, aliens, on and on! I am so glad that someone out there understands that you can peel away all the dross and then do what you want with all the good stuff that is the foundation of the mythology! Good on ya!

  4. For myself (and any games I run), the only "canon" is the original movie, Splinter of the Mind's eye, the Han & Lando novels, and the first 38 Marvel comics. Basically, everything before ESB.

    That's pretty much where I draw the line as well.

    A smaller canon is easier to transport, faster to load, & more precise in targeting. And easier to camouflage, if need be.

  5. @ PlanetNiles: Hey, in my last post I was talking about doing away with everything except the 1st movie, period. From "a certain point of view" I agree that Lucas's revisions are his own form of fanfic.
    ; )

    @ Anthony: True on that. Ugh...I wish I still had some of those old Marvel comics...the ones between ESB and ROTJ were especially interesting, in my opinion.

    @ Drance: Thanks!

    @ Rain: Camouflage is an admittedly nice bonus...but couching things in terms of other space opera (including Flash Gordon and the Lensmen) makes it easy, too.

  6. The only canon is the Christmas Special, the Ewok movies, and that green rabbit.

  7. Today my "perfect" way of running Star Wars is, basically, the same approach that you spoke of. Ditch the cannon and go for the "spirit" of the (original) movies. Hack, I'm even tempted to just run the original trilogy again but placing the PCs at the center and removing all the official heroes... giving that Galaxy Far Far Away as a huge playground (sandbox?) to my players (I'm talking about RPGs here, not cannons or fan fics, or whatever resides within Lucas' inflated mind these days).
    I believe that a fresh and loose approach is always more engaging, funny and rewarding in regard to RPGs.

  8. "I wish I still had some of those old Marvel comics."

    Well, JB, you'll be glad to know that Dark Horse reprinted them in book form:

    I believe the most recent printing (linked above) has 4 volumes.

  9. @JB I can see the merits in stripping everything back to the first film. I hated ESB as a kid and felt that only ROTJ 'redeemed' the story. As I've aged my feelings have changed. I like the trilogy for its own story and ESB has become my favourite of them. But yes, ANH is just that and it's the perfect jumping off point for a SW themed campaign.

    Although I'd suggest the Droids cartoon for a bit more depth/breadth. Or at least amusement.

    After all the only SW fanfic I'm interested in is the biography of R2D2. ;)

    However if I were to run a space opera today I'd go for more of a melting pot.

  10. I don't disagree with a word.

    Fanfiction is by its nature about name-dropping, because it is fetishistic. It is about the writer getting excited about being able to write 'Luke' over and over through the text while putting word's in 'Luke's' mouth and fantasizing about how cool that is.

    The reason why there is no story-line in porn novels is that they're not read by people looking for story lines, and so readers just flip through the pages until they see sex. And the fundamental reason why its difficult to ascribe canon to fan fiction is that FF writers aren't interested in creating real canon ... they're just interested in getting their rocks off. And people who read FF just rush through the boring bits until they can see their favorite character's doing something really ... ah hem ... interesting.

    Authors like the idea of embracing FF writers ... after all, it is tremendously flattering. But then authors read FF and the bubble pops.

  11. which, by the way, is NOT the same as giving people a book of rules, and saying “go do it,”

    heh, almost slipped there. ;)

  12. I agree with you. For a long time, I had a very "purist" philosophy regarding the Star Wars Universe, and I considered everything apart from the movies to be "outside canon." I've always felt that the real thing was what Lucas had made, and everything else was just fanfic.

    However, that crippled me from the other side: I didn't feel like I could run a decent SW RPG adventure because it was too high a bar. I didn't think I could measure up to the original trilogy.

    Then Lucas made the Prequel Trilogy, and suddenly I found it a lot easier to make my own material and run it. Lucas lowered the bar for me. ;)