The great Star Wars retcon

Hi everyone. I’ve had a bit of a rough few weeks so I haven’t been engaged much with social media, including blogs. I just found out that Disney has made a canonical statement about the Star Wars universe in the lead-up to the next film. I heard that they’ve declared nothing is canon anymore besides the six original films and the Clone Wars TV series. Naturally my first thought was finally, Caravan of Courage and that other god-awful Ewok movie can suck it.

Once I’d finished gloating though, I was given some more to think about. I was talking to my partner, who has read quite a bit of what’s (now formerly?) known as the ‘Expanded Universe.’ So by this I mean the novels, comics, etc. Hey, even I played Bioware’s excellent Knights of the Old Republic games, and they’re expanded universe too. Well, now none of that stuff happened. It didn’t bother me too much, but my partner was complaining that there was a seminal moment in the expanded universe that had a profound emotional impact on many people who read it: the death of Chewbacca. Soooo yeah. Looks like he got a reprieve and like… now never died. Or something. The issue here is that people had real feelings towards a fictional event, as is fitting. I mean, that’s the purpose of fictional narrative right? To generate real feelings with made-up people and events?

For example I, like many others, felt personally slighted when Greedo was retconned as shooting first. It didn’t sit well with my childhood memories of Han Solo and who he was. He was a hero, yeah, but he was also kind of ruthless and street-smart; the perfect counterpoint to Luke’s naive idealism. I can only guess it’s the same for all the people who read the books about Jacen and Jaina(?) Solo and saw Chewbacca nobly sacrifice his life. Those characters and events are now expected to just vanish with the wave of Disney’s magic wand?

All of this is just me wondering how important it really is to retcon, when it undermines people’s suspension of disbelief so seriously. Really, it’s as if the author of the book you’re reading suddenly knocked it out of your hand and yelled “none of this is real, remember!” right in your face. I think it’s a decision that should always be taken with extreme care, and the process should be accomplished with as little impact as possible. Instead, the approach is too often to just tear huge chunks away, like ripping off a band-aid, and expect people to get over it. It’s not very respectful of the audience I think. The absolute worst, to my mind, is what Marvel and DC comics do, with dramatic events taking place in parallel universes. Weak. How many times has Superman died now? Think of some new characters already!

Whew. So I don’t want to be too negative. I’ll just leave off with one last thought: if you really need to retcon something to make it cool, then maybe it’s not the best fit for contemporary audiences anymore? Maybe it would be better just to leave it in the past and oh, I don’t know… make up something new?

In other news, I’ve got my money and my Good Games voucher I got in a 40k game ready, and if all goes to plan tomorrow, I’m off to buy the Saga rulebook. More on that next time.

Stay safe,

James

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13 thoughts on “The great Star Wars retcon

  1. The Warlock says:

    Heya James,

    Sorry to hear you’ve had a rough few weeks, hopefully things are turning around. First reaction to finding out (re: right now) is WTF, Disney? The expanded universe is the god-child of the star wars franchise, grown and cared for by fans and authors alike. Disney saying NOTHING IS CANON ANYMORE is pretty much the epitome of a dick move. Also, yes it is Jacen and Jaina Solo, twins of Han +Leia with Anakin as the third child.

    With the new disney statement, they don’t exist. Luke doesn’t hook up with Mara Jade, the Jedi Academy never gets founded. The Yuuzhan Vong don’t invade, palpatine doesn’t come back twice. etc etc. I think this is a terrible move on their part as Jar Jar is now canon. >.> that and the above statements that many fans helped make the expanded universe. Chewbacca roaring defiance as the moon of ithor (?) crashed down onto the planet as the solo children escaped.

    Honestly, disney should just make the new movies about Jacen +Jaina and just CGI some older han+leia lookalikes.

    Sorry for this being a bit of a rant, but I love Star wars and finding this out is like a knife to the groin – painful.

    • beat ronin says:

      Hey man, rant away – my partner said the same things. She was excited about the next movie, assuming that it would be about Jacen and Jaina. Plus she reckons some of the expanded universe books are a damn sight better than anything Lucas ever came up with.

      Retconning is a symptom of our creative industries focusing so much on re-telling stories instead of making up new ones. You add too much to a story, and it gets top-heavy and enormous, and then, there’s a temptation to just slash it all away and start again. It’s a messy business and there’s always going to be someone who’s upset. I never got too emotionally attached to Star Wars beyond loving the original movies as a kid, but I feel for you, really.

  2. Knight of Infinite Resignation says:

    Agreed. Retconning is evil and it stinks. I can’t remember the last time a company improved a loved universe by retconning something. I’m a 40K player and hate it when GW changes the fluff. We play for the fluff after all (we sure as hell don’t play for the compact and user friendly ruleset…) and it can make you feel rather sick somehow, a little bit griefstricken, when some loved element is taken away or twisted. Most recently the awful fluff massacre that was the Iron Hands Clan Raukaan codex actuall;y put me off rebuilding my IH army, so proof there that retcons cost money!

    • beat ronin says:

      Hi Knight of IR. Yeah, it really does make you feel a bit sick, that’s a good way to put it. It’s very jarring, and the only way I can imagine anyone thinking it’s a good idea is if they either don’t care about their audience’s feelings, or deliberately decide to ignore them. I think there’s definitely an element of selfishness and arrogance to it: the creator wants their job to be easier so they decide to exercise their supposed ownership right, and damn whatever the fans think.

  3. Dragons Claw says:

    I loved some of the extended universe books mostly the earlier ones the thrawn trilogy was awesome and the X-wing series more the rogue squadron than wraith squadron ones. Although my favourites where the tales series from jabba palace, from the most eisley cantenna and of the bounty hunters.

    It’s amazing how much and from so many different sources the universe has grown the n64 game shadows of the empire became abook and the original x wing game on the pc the walk through guide established the character keyan Farlander who shows up all over.

    Had strongly mixed feelings about the Disney takeover I’m still a bit excited about new films cause even the new trilogy had bits I enjoyed and I’m not sure Mr lucas was the right pair of hands to take it forward. Also I might be out of date but last time I heard it j j abrams was attached to direct and I really enjoyed the new star trek films and was never much of a star trek fan (please don’t take away my nerds club membership card).

    One thing I find quite interesting about the trilogy is my steppie grew up watching the new ones and loves them I think a bit of that is he was about 5 when he watched phantom menace so could easily identify with the Anakin character and it makes me wonder if it’s the childhood feelings that make it so special rather than anything intrinsic to the films.

    Well there you go some rambling poorly organised thoughts on the star wars universe

    • beat ronin says:

      Hey DC, yeah I think memories of childhood wonder can easily make us unreasonably attached to things. Like Sinsynn said below, if you get shaken enough times then one day you actually see the thing you loved with fresh adult eyes and realise maybe it was so great at the time because you were a kid and hadn’t seen anything like it. And maybe now you see it for what it is: kind of amateurish, a bit silly, and not really for grown ups at all. I have this constant struggle between loyalty towards things I loved, and trying not to live too much in the past. First world problems, right?

      Oh yeah – I used to not like Star Trek but I’m actually kind of a fan now. It has this utopian feel about it that most sci-fi these days lacks. I can watch it and think “wow, imagine if the world was like that. There’s no money, and no-one is a jerk, and people work because they want to.” It’s so enlightened. Plus the new movies are pretty damn cool. Picard is my favourite captain though.

  4. sinsynn says:

    I’m sorry, but I’ll just say one thing, and move along:
    The prequel films ruined any feelings I ever had for the movies I grew up loving.
    I did read, and very much enjoy, the Thrawn Trilogy that DC mentions above, but one bad Star Wars book made me kinda drop the whole thing, and then the prequels were announced and then, well…
    Star Wars is a wrap fer me. I don’t even particularly like the X Wing game any more…but I’ll discuss that in a post sometime soon, I’m sure.
    Must. Not. Type. Lengthy. Replies. On. James’. Site.

    …was that less than 500 werds?
    πŸ˜€

    • beat ronin says:

      Ha ha, I encourage long replies Sinsynn! Its just the posts I try to keep short. Anyway you’re good, looks to be about 120 words I’d guess.

      I know how you feel about Star Wars. I’m pretty much there myself. Of course I’ll see the new movies, I guess. But I no longer have any strong feelings about it one way or the other, thankfully. Like I was just saying to DC, you get shaken enough times and you can suddenly see it for what it really is instead of with the rose-tinted glasses. I’m the same with 40k.

      I’m kind of against retconning in general though. Just make something new up for fuck’s sake and let things be. Of course people love the familiar – it’s all they ever get! Imagine if instead of endless additions to Star Wars or whatever, we got new movies that were different but just as good? Preposterous!

  5. Dragons Claw says:

    I had that shaken feeling with transformers when the new films released steppie was still watching cartoon channels all day (as opposed to now when he’s glued to his x-box) and they re showed the original cartoons oh my god there woeful, terrible scripts barely concealed adverts and I remember so loving them when I was about 8.

    Conversely I grew up on the Gerry Anderson puppet shows fireball xl5, Joe90 (joes my real name so that one resonated) Thunderbirds,Stingray, Captain Scarlet and Terrahawks and I caught a few of those recently and they hold up surprisingly well

  6. Dragons Claw says:

    Sorry to double post but I had a thought and did a bit of digging

    http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Del_Rey

    Del ray was the publisher of most of the star wars book and there licensing deal expired at the end of 2013 is this canonical decision actually based on the fact they don’t own the rights to the old books and being Disney don’t want to miss any merchandising opportunity.

    This got me thinking can a big company actually take these stories away from you I still own the books but even if I didn’t those stories are in the old noggin maybe not word for word but the imagery and moments and how they made me feel can never be removed so fuck you Disney as far as I’m concerned there still cannon.

    Ps I’ve finally lulled your modbot into a false sense of security let the shenanigans begin lol

    • beat ronin says:

      Hey DC no worries about double-posting it makes me look more popular!

      Yeah the old Transformers is not the greatest. I mean the whole concept is ridiculous really, why is there a planet of robots who all look like 20th century earth vehicles? Oh and never watch He-Man as an adult. I’m warning you.

      Seriously though, you’re right, stories can never be unwritten, and that’s why retconning is just not a good idea. It confuses everyone’s feelings about the stories and where they stand, but doesn’t accomplish much other than that. It’s a bit different with games I suppose because people tend to want the latest version, but with fiction almost the opposite seems true. You’re probably also right that it’s a copyright issue. How typical.

      I got excited for a minute there that your link was a picture of Lana Del Rey dressed in a Star Wars bikini. But no 😦

  7. The Warlock says:

    Hey James,
    soz for the late reply >.< been doing night shifts and they knock your sense of time about.

    The first movie I ever saw was the 1997 re-release of Star Wars: A new hope. (then I saw the other two) Many action figures were bought and lost over the course of the next 7 years.

    One of the things that really pissed me off about finding out Disney's retcon is one of the Star Wars novels I have- well, collection of short stories (Tales from the empire- worth a read!) has a nice intro passage from one of the writers. He goes on to mention that during high school and so on, him and others would write fiction for star wars (not using the term fanfiction as….ick) and never dreamed that one day that Lucas would allow such fiction to become canon. Just remembering how this guy must've felt and now disney feels like going "lolnope. Only we can write the stuff. Otherwise we'd have to pay you guys"

    Retconning is evil- it takes a leaf out of 1984 with Unpersons- people retconned out of history D: Eventually retcons will destroy everything as it'll hash/rehash the background and people will get bored of it eventually. Hence the spidey reboot.

    As for your policy on long comments,

    CHALLENGE. ACCEPTED.

    lol πŸ˜›

    • beat ronin says:

      Hey no worries Warlock, I used to do night shifts myself and I know how it is. Walking around in the day in a warm fuzzy daze while everyone else is at work being stressed out… good times.

      I’ve heard Tales of the Empire is one of the best collections of short stories around. Maybe I’ll give it a read. And I think you’re right, retconning just dilutes and confuses and eventually people don’t care. It’s the epitome of economically-driven short-term thinking. Ah well, at some point the big wigs will notice and stop doing it I think. Consumers are exercising more and more of their power every day.

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