Currently, the Star Wars Expanded Universe is like a gigantic box of Legos. All of the parts can be fit together to make a ginormous mega-Lego-set. It begins to look like a cool riff on the original, but then grows and grows.
Eventually, a friend is invited over, but the whole room is consumed by the Lego collection, and no one knows where it begins or ends. More time is spent figuring out what Legos there are and what has been built than actually enjoying the Legos.
During the last few weeks, Lucasfilm and Disney have assembled a committee to filter through the Star Wars Expanded Universe and decide what is and isn’t canon.
“Canon” is the list of events, characters, worlds, rules, and etc. considered genuine, versus “non-canon”, which is the stuff that was made up just because. Building a canon is tricky, because timelines have to agree, characters must be consistent, rules of places and civilizations must match from story to story. As the universe of a franchise is expanded, more and more story is told, and less room is left for new ideas and stories to be developed. Soon, writers of new parts of the franchise are finding themselves having to become mental contortionists squeezing through the few gaps still available.
The conundrum of a massive canon is what weighed down both Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: Enterprise. Both shows have good episodes, but never fully reach warp speeds as series because the writers are tangled in a writhing web of history and canon. The first episode of Enterprise had to mesh with approximately 600 previous episodes and 10 movies worth of canon (here is a list of episodes in chronological order). This is why J.J. Abrams and his crew decided to set up an alternate timeline. They knocked down the sandcastles built before them, and so gained a bigger sandbox to play in. Even if you’re not a fan of what they have done with the sandbox, or their attempts to rebuild some of the sandcastles previously removed, the attempts to make something new and fresh is admirable.
This is not counting countless role-playing games, video games, books, and comic books.
Star Wars on the screen is far less complicated than Star Trek. While there are a few random offshoots (the Ewok movies, Star Wars Christmas Special), the Star Wars Canon currently consists of the six Star Wars feature films.
However, it is the expanded universe which is really what most fans love. A fan may not love the whole thing, they may like bits and pieces instead. It is the depth of Jedi lore, the interweaving web of scum and villainy, the expansion of heroes and villains running the course of nearly 36,000 years of galactic history which makes running around the yard with a lightsaber so much fun.
Yes, the playing with lightsabers and pretending my car is the Millennium Falcon would be fun without the Expanded Universe. However, it’s a lot more fun with it.
Yet, should Lucasfilm hold the millions of words and hundreds of stories told in this Expanded Universe as canon? To give an idea of the complications of the Expanded Universe, here is a list of which layers of the Expanded Universe are considered more canonical than others:
G (George Lucas) canon is absolute canon. This category includes the six films, some of the deleted scenes from the films, the novelizations of the films, the radio dramas based on the films, the film scripts, and any material found in any other source (published or not) that comes directly from George Lucas himself. G canon overrules all other forms of canon when there is a contradiction.
T canon refers to the canon level comprising only the two television show Star Wars: The Clone Wars
C (continuity) canon refers to the main body of EU work, and is the next most authoritative level of canon. All material published under the Star Wars label but not falling into either G, S, or N is C canon, and is considered authoritative as long as not contradicted by G canon. Games are a special case as generally only the stories would be “C-canon” while things like stats and gameplay are “N-canon”. If the video game has several possible ends or if the player can choose the gender or the species of the main character, only one of each is considered C-canon. C-canon elements have been known to appear in the movies, thus making them G-canon. (This includes: the name “Coruscant“, swoop bikes, Aayla Secura, YT-2400 freighters or Action VI Transports.)
S (secondary) canon refers to older, less accurate, or less coherent EU works, which would not ordinarily fit in the main continuity of G and C canon. Unless referenced by a G or C-level source, the story itself is considered non-continuity, but the non-contradicting elements are still a canon part of the Star Wars universe. For example, this includes The Star Wars Holiday Special, the Marvel comics, or the popular online roleplaying game Star Wars Galaxies and certain elements of a few N-canon stories.
N continuity material is also known as “non-canon” or “non-continuity” material. What-if stories (such as those published under the Infinities label), game stats, and anything else that is directly contradicted by higher canon and cannot at all fit into continuity is placed into this category. “N-canon” is the only level that is not at all considered canon by Lucasfilm.
I think this is really another version of “Who’s on First Base?” by Abbot and Costello
My initiation into the Expanded Universe began when Dad would come back from business trips, bringing along the latest Star Wars novel he had picked up at the airport. While my brother and I were excited for Dad to be home, we were also really excited about the latest Star Wars book. From third grade until my first few years of college, I followed the Star Wars novel universe, and parts of the video game universe, very closely. My favorites were the Thrawn Trilogy by Timothy Zahn and the X-Wing Series by Michael A. Stackpole and Aaron Allston. In these books is all the fun, the drama, the suspense, the awesomeness that build a great Star Wars story.
My love affair with Star Wars books, however, became tepid as I ventured off into college. There were multiple reasons, including an increase in time spent writing my own stories, and a growing lack of shelf space. The main reason, however, was I was seeing rips in the universe as writers tried to contort both to the expansive information that had been added before their novel, and the additions the Prequel Trilogy was bringing into the universe. It was a time of upheaval within the creative Star Wars Universe, a time of attempting to find a direction to keep expanding.
And that’s the problem with the Expanded Universe. Much like the universe itself, it keeps expanding until the ends are nearly infinite. Given are finite human ability to follow characters, it seems good to establish this committee.
Whether we agree with their choices or not, it is good to prune away pieces of the Expanded Universe, and try to bring the whole world back to the main source. While many great things will be cut, new and equally awesome things will be able to grow in their place.
In other words, they are dumping their collected Legos from the past 37 years onto the floor and sorting them into usable piles. May the Force Be With You, Committee.
What do you think of this plan to build a canon? What should be kept of the Expanded Universe? What are you glad to have go away? Do you play with lightsabers in your yard too?
NOTE: I think most fans of the Expanded Universe agree on one thing:
Keep Mara Jade. Spy for the Empire. Jedi-Ninja-Assassin Skills. Questionable Loyalty. What’s not to love?