Star Wars canon
We have what we call Canon, which is the screenplays, novelizations, and other works that are directly tied into continuity, and then there are a lot of marginal things, like the old Marvel Comics series, that we don't really try to work into the continuity when we're planning new projects. Even the LucasArts interactive games have a premise, a backstory with player characters that we're trying to tie into the overall continuity. It is sort of a godlike undertaking. We are creating this universe as we go along, but somebody has to keep his finger on everything that came before.
When the Star Wars saga began, there was no initial formal organization of canon. The films, novelizations, comic books, newspaper comic strips, radio dramas, and spin-off novels were produced, but no standards of canon were set by George Lucas or Lucasfilm, Ltd..
With the creation of new Star Wars novels in early 1991 with Timothy Zahn's Heir to the Empire, the publishing department at Lucas Licensing set out with a new publishing strategy. Instead of stand-alone books where the events of one did not influence another, the new novels would tie in to a continuous storyline. In the words of Lucas Licensing's managing editor Sue Rostoni, "Our goal is to present a continuous and unified history of the Star Wars galaxy, insofar as that history does not conflict with, or undermine the meaning of Mr. Lucas's Star Wars saga of films and screenplays."
Over the years, many Star Wars fans have wondered whether these books and other materials were part of Lucas's Star Wars storyline, or were merely optional filler material. While there are disputes among fans about what is and isn't canon, Lucas Licensing has established an internal official canon policy.
What is Star Wars canon?
The Star Wars canon was first defined in a 1994 interview with Lucas Licensing's Sue Rostoni and Allan Kausch in issue #23 of the Star Wars Insider:.
|“||Gospel, or canon as we refer to it, includes the screenplays, the films, the radio dramas and the novelizations. These works spin out of George Lucas' original stories, the rest are written by other writers. However, between us, we've read everything, and much of it is taken into account in the overall continuity. The entire catalog of published works comprises a vast history—with many off-shoots, variations and tangents—like any other well-developed mythology.||”|
This policy has been further refined and fleshed out over the years. The official Star Wars website has also detailed the role of canon, Expanded Universe, or "EU" sources, and how they fit into overall Star Wars continuity. In a 2001 "Ask the Jedi Council" response by Steve Sansweet (director of fan relations) and Chris Cerasi (an editor for Lucas Books at the time), it was stated that:
|“||When it comes to absolute canon, the real story of Star Wars, you must turn to the films themselves—and only the films. Even novelizations are interpretations of the film, and while they are largely true to George Lucas' vision (he works quite closely with the novel authors), the method in which they are written does allow for some minor differences. The novelizations are written concurrently with the film's production, so variations in detail do creep in from time to time. Nonetheless, they should be regarded as very accurate depictions of the fictional Star Wars movies.
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.
The analogy is that every piece of published Star Wars fiction is a window into the 'real' Star Wars universe. Some windows are a bit foggier than others. Some are decidedly abstract. But each contains a nugget of truth to them.
In a December 6, 2006 post on the official Star Wars forums, Leland Chee ("keeper" of the Holocron) made this comment in response to a question regarding whether Sansweet's "foggy window" was a window into the "real Star Wars Universe of the Films Only" or the "Star Wars Universe of the Films + EU continuity":
Film+EU continuity. Anything not in the current version of the films is irrelevant to Film only continuity.
George Lucas and Star Wars canon
In the introduction to the 1994 printing of Splinter of the Mind's Eye, Lucas offered his view on the evolution of the Star Wars saga:
|“||After Star Wars was released, it became apparent that my story—however many films it took to tell—was only one of thousands that could be told about the characters who inhabit its galaxy. But these were not stories I was destined to tell. Instead they would spring from the imagination of other writers, inspired by the glimpse of a galaxy that Star Wars provided. Today it is an amazing, if unexpected, legacy of Star Wars that so many gifted writers are contributing new stories to the Saga.||”|
Another notable mention, is this quote from an interview in the August/September 1999 issue of SW Insider:
Part of the job of the director is to sort of keep everything in line, and I can do that in the movies—but I can't do it on the whole Star Wars universe.
In July 2001, Lucas gave his opinion on the matter of what is canon in Star Wars during an interview with Cinescape magazine:
|“||There are two worlds here," explained Lucas. "There’s my world, which is the movies, and there’s this other world that has been created, which I say is the parallel universe—the licensing world of the books, games and comic books. They don’t intrude on my world, which is a select period of time, [but] they do intrude in between the movies. I don’t get too involved in the parallel universe.||”|
Further, in an August 2005 interview in Starlog magazine:
STARLOG: "The Star Wars Universe is so large and diverse. Do you ever find yourself confused by the subsidiary material that's in the novels, comics, and other offshoots?"
LUCAS: "I don't read that stuff. I haven't read any of the novels. I don't know anything about that world. That's a different world than my world. But I do try to keep it consistent. The way I do it now is they have a Star Wars Encyclopedia. So if I come up with a name or something else, I look it up and see if it has already been used. When I said [other people] could make their own Star Wars stories, we decided that, like Star Trek, we would have two universes: My universe and then this other one. They try to make their universe as consistent with mine as possible, but obviously they get enthusiastic and want to go off in other directions."
Lucas' statements in Starlog were commented on in a December 7, 2005 post on the starwars.com forums by Leland Chee, who maintains Lucas Licensing's continuity database:
CHEE: "GL is certainly not bound by the EU, though he's certainly open to using things created in it (Aayla Secura and the Coruscant name, for example). On the other hand, the quote you provide makes it sound like the EU is separate from George's vision of the Star Wars universe. It is not. The EU must follow certain tenets set by George through the films and other guidelines that he provides outside of the films."
Another noteworthy exchange between Lucas and an interviewer appeared in the May 2008 edition of Total Film magazine:
TOTAL FILM: "The Star Wars universe has expanded far beyond the movies. How much leeway do the game makers and novel writers have?"
LUCAS: "They have their own kind of world. There's three pillars of Star Wars. I'll probably get in trouble for this but it's OK! There's three pillars: the father, the son and the holy ghost. I'm the father, Howard Roffman [president of Lucas Licensing] is the son and the holy ghost is the fans, this kind of ethereal world of people coming up with all kinds of different ideas and histories. Now these three different pillars don't always match, but the movies and TV shows are all under my control and they are consistent within themselves. Howard tries to be consistent but sometimes he goes off on tangents and it's hard to hold him back. He once said to me that there are two Star Trek universes: there's the TV show and then there's all the spin-offs. He said that these were completely different and didn't have anything to do with each other. So I said, "OK, go ahead." In the early days I told them that they couldn't do anything about how Darth Vader was born, for obvious reasons, but otherwise I pretty much let them do whatever they wanted. They created this whole amazing universe that goes on for millions of years!"
TOTAL FILM: "Are you happy for new Star Wars tales to be told after you're gone?"LUCAS: "I've left pretty explicit instructions for there not to be any more features. There will definitely be no Episodes VII–IX. That's because there isn't any story. I mean, I never thought of anything. And now there have been novels about the events after Episode VI, which isn't at all what I would have done with it. The Star Wars story is really the tragedy of Darth Vader. That is the story. Once Vader dies, he doesn't come back to life, the Emperor doesn't get cloned and Luke doesn't get married..."
"So how did Anakin get that scar, George?" asks John Knoll.
"I don't know. Ask Howard," says George, referring to President of Lucas Licensing Howard Roffman. "That's one of those things that happens in the novels between the movies. I just put it there. He has to explain how it got there. I think Anakin got it slipping in the bathtub, but of course, he's not going to tell anybody that."
By 1996, Licensing was keeping an in-house bible of reference materials as the volume of publications, facts, and figures grew to such unwieldy proportions that it became difficult to know everything relevant to a particular project. They finally decided something had to be done to organize the increasingly large collection of media which chronicled the Star Wars universe. A system of canon was developed that organized the materials into what was and wasn't fit for the Star Wars story.
In 2000, Lucas Licensing appointed Leland Chee to create a continuity tracking database referred to as the "Holocron". As with every other aspect having to do with the overall story of Star Wars, the Holocron follows the canon policy that has been in effect for years.
The Holocron is divided into five levels (in order of precedence): G-canon, T-canon, C-canon, S-canon, and N-canon.
- G-canon is absolute canon; the movies (their most recent release), the scripts, the novelizations of the movies, the radio plays, and any statements by George Lucas himself. G-canon overrides the lower levels of canon when there is a contradiction. Within G-canon, many fans follow an unofficial progression of canonicity where the movies are the highest canon, followed by the scripts, the novelizations, and then the radio plays.
- T-canon refers to the canon level comprising only the two television shows: Star Wars: The Clone Wars and the upcoming Star Wars live-action TV series. Its precedence over C-Level canon was confirmed by Chee.
- C-canon is primarily composed of elements from the Expanded Universe including books, comics, and games bearing the label of Star Wars. Games and RPG sourcebooks are a special case; the stories and general background information are themselves fully C-canon, but the other elements such as character/item statistics and gameplay are, with few exceptions, N-canon.
- S-canon is secondary canon; the story itself is considered non-continuity, but the non-contradicting elements are still a canon part of the Star Wars universe. This includes things like the online roleplaying game Star Wars: Galaxies and certain elements of a few N-canon stories.
- N-canon is non-canon. "What-if" stories (such as stories published under the Star Wars: Infinities label), crossover appearances (such as the Star Wars character appearances in Soulcalibur IV), game statistics, and anything else directly contradicted by higher canon ends up here. N-canon is the only level that is not considered official canon by Lucasfilm. A significant amount of material that was previously C-canon was rendered N-canon by the release of Episodes I–III.
Leland Chee continues to answer questions about the Holocron in the Holocron continuity database questions thread at the starwars.com forums.
On August 4, 2004, when asked if the G and C-levels formed separate and independent canon, Chee responded by stating that both were part of a single canon: "There is one overall continuity."
In a December 7, 2005 post, Chee commented on how the Holocron is applied to licensees:
The Holocron comes into play for anything official being developed for books, games, websites, and merchandise. For anything beyond that, it is simply a reference tool.
In a December 6, 2006 post, Chee suggests the existence of a second continuity composed only of the films:
The only relevant official continuities are the current versions of the films alone, and the combined current version of the films along with whatever else we've got in the Holocron. You're never going to know what George's view of the universe beyond the films at any given time because it is constantly evolving.
On a post made on the same day, Chee stated that:
Anything not in the current version of the films is irrelevant to Film only continuity.
This statement confirms the existence of two separate continuities, the "film only" continuity maintained and followed by George Lucas himself, and the "films + EU" continuity that is used for licensed products; G-Canon, and Star Wars Canon.
Among fans, controversy has arisen as how to reconcile and interpret the various statements from Lucas, his employees, and licensees regarding what is acceptable canon and what is not. While some fans prefer a unified approach, wherein the entire Expanded Universe and the films are treated on the same level (but not with the same degree of canonicity), others prefer a system where only the films themselves are true canon, with the Expanded Universe as an offshoot that maintains consistency with the films. Many arguments have been waged between the opposing camps, with both sides claiming to offer the correct interpretation. To compound this is George Lucas' (G-canon) revisionism with films and statements.
As Steve Sansweet stated in the conclusion to a 2001 "Ask the Jedi Council" post on the subject at starwars.com: "Like the great Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi said, 'many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view'."
The future of the Star Wars canon
On October 30, 2012, The Walt Disney Company announced that it had made a deal with George Lucas to purchase Lucasfilm for $4.05 billion. In the text accompanying the announcement, George Lucas specifically commented on the future of the Star Wars property. Also mentioned was a new film, currently titled Star Wars: Episode VII, slated for release in 2015.
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