List of retroactive continuities

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The following are examples of retroactive continuities (or retcons).


  • In Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, Obi Wan Kenobi tells Luke Skywalker that Luke's father, Anakin, was betrayed and killed by Darth Vader. In the sequel The Empire Strikes Back, Vader reveals that he is Anakin. This was not in Lucas' original outline, and therefore a retcon: George Lucas decided to merge both characters while writing The Empire Strikes Back, with Obi-Wan later justifying his original description by explaining that he regards Anakin becoming Vader as having 'murdered' Anakin by destroying everything that was good about his former friend and apprentice. Similarly Princess Leia Organa had been previously set as an upper-class romantic interest for the farm boy Luke; Return of the Jedi reveals Leia is his twin sister, which was a separate character that Lucas also decided to accommodate in the ones already established.[1]
  • The 1987 film Evil Dead II retcons its predecessor The Evil Dead (1981). In the original film, Ash Williams goes to an old cabin with his girlfriend Linda, sister Cheryl, and friends Scott and Shelly. The sequel's prologue recaps the previous film's events, but this time Ash only goes to the cabin with Linda. The next film, Army of Darkness, retcons the ending to Evil Dead II, where after time traveling to the Dark Ages, Ash is arrested instead of hailed as a hero.
  • Given many inconsistencies within the X-Men film series, the 2014 film X-Men: Days of Future Past wound up erasing the events of the previous films, with the exception of its predecessor X-Men: First Class (2011), through a time traveling plot device used to accommodate a more streamlined chronology.[2][3]


When Sir Arthur Conan Doyle killed off his most-beloved character Sherlock Holmes by plunging him to his death over the Reichenbach Falls with his nemesis Professor Moriarty, the public's demand for Holmes was so great that Doyle was compelled to bring him back to life in a subsequent story, where he details that Holmes had merely faked his death.

In Stephen King's novel Misery the protagonist, Paul Sheldon, is forced to write a sequel to his book Misery's Child, in which the main character, Misery Chastain, dies. He at first attempts to retcon the events in that book by writing a beginning that changes the ending of the last book, but his captor, Annie Wilkes, regards this as cheating- comparing it to old TV shows where one episode's cliffhanger is resolved with the revelation that a character escaped even though the audience never saw them doing so- and makes him create a sequel that doesn't actively deny what the reader already knows. The second attempt to bring Misery Chastain back to life (which Annie Wilkes likes) is almost an example of a comic book death.

In the Well World series by Jack L. Chalker, the computer Obie had the ability to adjust the equations of the universe and any changes made could be retconned so that all records would adjust so that even very odd things could be made logical. Early in the second book, a woman is changed into a centaur, and the records of her birth as a genetic experiment were automatically created by the Well World to explain the change and keep things balanced.

Though the term "retcon" did not yet exist when George Orwell wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four, the totalitarian regime depicted in that book is involved in a constant, large-scale retconning of past records. For example, when it is suddenly announced that "Oceania was not after all in war with Eurasia. Oceania was at war with Eastasia and Eurasia was an ally" (Part Two, Ch. 9), there is an immediate intensive effort to change "all reports and records, newspapers, books, pamphlets, films, sound-tracks and photographs" and make them all record a war with Eastasia rather than one with Eurasia. "Often it was enough to merely substitute one name for another, but any detailed report of events demanded care and imagination. Even the geographical knowledge needed in transferring the war from one part of the world to another was considerable." See historical revisionism (negationism).

In Arthur C. Clarke's novel 2001: A Space Odyssey, the action in the final part of the book occurs at Japetus (or Iapetus, a moon of Saturn). For the following novels, the action was changed to Jupiter and Jupiter's moon, Europa in order to resemble the movies 2001 and 2010.

In Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series, channellers using Balefire destroy their targets and remove them from the universe from before they were hit by the Balefire - this can cause some actions in the past to be undone - effectively retconning local history.


  • In 2004, Coronation Street retconned the Baldwin family after Mike Baldwin's nephew Danny and wife Frankie moved to the area from Essex, with their two sons Jamie and Warren. Mike had been portrayed as an only child prior to this moment, with his father appearing in the program between 1980 and 1982 to confirm the notion.[4]
  • The Young and the Restless retconned the background story of its character Cane Ashby several times. After he appeared as son of Jill Abbott, who was switched after his birth, this turned out to be a lie after Maria Arena Bell took over the position as head writer from Lynn Marie Latham. Cane then appeared as someone without a family, who took over the life of Jill's real son in order to have love and stability in his life. Cane's background hit a turn again in 2011, when he turned out to be the son of an Australian mobster, who Cane gave up to the authorities for his crimes.
  • Another infamous retcon storyline on The Young and the Restless involves Phillip Chancellor, who returned from the dead in 2009, after dying in a car accident in 1989. In storyline, Phillip apparently faked his death after he couldn't deal with his homosexuality and the ongoing fights in his family.
  • First of the Summer Wine, the prequel to the long-running British sitcom Last of the Summer Wine, retconned the character Seymour Utterthwaite as a pre-World War II friend of the other central characters. Seymour had been introduced into later series of Last of the Summer Wine and was previously unknown to the stalwart characters, Compo and Clegg.[5]
  • The revived series of British science fiction television program Doctor Who, and its television spin-offs, heavily and playfully uses retroactive continuity plot devices. For example, in Doctor Who spin-off Torchwood, created by Russell T Davies, a drug used to erase the memory of characters is called "retcon"; the use of the drug is often referred to by characters as "retconning". The nod to retroactive continuity is a joke meant to be shared between the writers and the viewers as a way of pointing out that anything done throughout the course of the series can easily be undone with a simple plot device; it also points to parent show Doctor Who‍ '​s frequent use of the device in its several-decade run. For example, Davies introduced the Time War in the backstory to Doctor Who‍ '​s 2005 revival to account for discrepancies between the classic series and the revamp. When Steven Moffat took over in 2010, he introduced cracks in the universe which erase events and individuals from history; using this device, he 'undid' the events of "Journey's End" and "The Next Doctor" so that in the series' narrative, the people of Earth would be (once again) unaware of alien life. Moffat's fifth series finale provided a similar device when the Doctor "rebooted" the universe. In answer to a fan's question, Moffat tweeted: "The whole universe came exactly as it was. Except for any continuity errors I need to explain away."[6] And in the sixth series, Moffat introduces new aliens the Silence, who erase your memory of them the moment you look away. Creative use of the device is mined for new kinds of television suspense. In the episode "Day of the Moon", characters were shown to have had dozens of (unseen) encounters with the creatures in the space of a few seconds in viewer's time. Commenting on this device, writer MaryAnn Johanson writes, "That could be happening throughout this story... indeed, through the entire history of Doctor Who. Moffat has just created a pretty much unassailable narratively sound reason for inserting retcons anywhere throughout the half-century history of the show."[7] A particularly significant change occurred in 2013, which was the 50th anniversary of the series, revealing the existence of an unknown incarnation of the Doctor (played by John Hurt), who regenerated from the Eighth Doctor, but is referred to by fans as 'the War Doctor' as subsequent incarnations do not consider this version of themselves as having been 'the Doctor' due to the brutal actions he committed in this incarnation while fighting in the Time War.

Star Trek in various media[edit]

When Star Trek: The Motion Picture was released in 1979, Gene Roddenberry claimed that the radically different appearance of the Klingons in the film was how they were always supposed to have looked, but they did not have the budget for it in the 1960s. In the 1990s, an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine featured three Klingon characters from the original series, made to fit the new look. However, the later episode "Trials and Tribble-ations", used footage from the original series with old-look Klingons; Commander Worf acknowledged their different appearance, saying it was "a long story" and, after receiving incredulous looks, adds with a scowl "we do not speak of it with outsiders."

In the Star Trek: Voyager episode "Year of Hell", Voyager encounters a Krenim Temporal Weaponship made by the antagonist, Annorax. When the temporal weapon fires on an object, it moves that object outside the space-time continuum, eliminating the object from causality not only in the present and the future, but also the past, changing history to a state where the object never existed. Thus, by firing the weapon, Annorax makes a retcon to the history of the universe. At the end of the two-part episode, the Weaponship itself is destroyed, thus effectively erasing the events of the entire two episodes.

A 2005, two-episode arc of Star Trek: Enterprise, "Affliction"/"Divergence", indicated that the Klingons that appeared in the 1960s episodes were the product of genetic engineering using augmented human genes. This explanation is used in Shane Johnson's 1989 The Worlds of the Federation: "The 'Klingons' encountered along the Federation border with the Empire were a Klingon-human fusion, genetically created to infiltrate the Federation. The interception of the Amar transmission during the V'Ger incident revealed the true nature of the Imperial Klingon race and stunned Federation science. Before that time, no one had suspected the Klingons were capable of such advanced genetic engineering, and a great deal of rethinking was done concerning the level of Klingon technology."[8] John M. Ford, in The Final Reflection, suggests that human-Klingon fusions are similar to the human-Vulcan fusion that resulted in Spock's birth.

Video games[edit]

  • The chronology of The Legend of Zelda series was subject to much debate among fans until an official timeline was released on December 21, 2011 within the collector's book, Hyrule Historia, which was at the time exclusive to Japan.[9][10] Hyrule Historia contains a timeline that explains how each game fits within the storyline. This includes introducing a three-way split after Ocarina of Time. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword helps explain the appearance of multiple Zelda, Link and Ganondorf characters across hundreds of years.
  • The original Ninja Gaiden trilogy for the NES[11] was followed years later by a new series of sequels produced by Team Ninja beginning with Ninja Gaiden for the Xbox in 2004. However, the second generation of Ninja Gaiden video games, being prequels to original series[12][13][14] has many differences from the NES trilogy. The character design of Ryu Hayabusa in the new games is now based on the Dead or Alive incarnation of the character with long hair and green eyes, the character design of Ryu's father, Ken Hayabusa, has been updated as well, the character now being addressed in the English versions by his original name in the Japanese versions (Jo Hayabusa), and producer Tomonobu Itagaki hints at the possibility that Sonia, a character from the new games, might be Irene Lew from the original series.[15] With the release of Dead or Alive: Dimensions in 2011, it has been revealed that Sonia is indeed Irene Lew.[16][17]
  • In the video game Half-Life developed by Valve Software, the protagonist Gordon Freeman runs into an unnamed African-American scientist who tells Gordon to head to the surface and get help, and then unlocks a door and allows him to progress through the game. In the sequel, Half-Life 2, this scientist is retconned as Eli Vance. [18]

Ignored sequels in various media[edit]


  1. ^ The Secret History of Star Wars; Accessed September 20, 2010
  2. ^ Lauren Shuler Donner on Retconning X-Men: The Last Stand and Making Deadpool
  3. ^ [1]
  4. ^ "Corrie Blog: Corrie's history rewritten". Retrieved 2008-02-05. 
  5. ^ "First of the Summer Wine, Uncovered". Retrieved 23 July 2012. 
  6. ^ "Steven Moffat: ...The whole universe...". Steven Moffat on Twitter. 13 June 2011. Retrieved 16 June 2011. 
  7. ^ "‘Doctor Who’ blogging: "Day of the Moon" | MaryAnn Johanson's". 2009-04-20. Retrieved 2011-11-06. 
  8. ^ Johnson, Shane. The Worlds of the Federation Page 114
  9. ^ "Official Legend of Zelda Timeline Revealed". December 22, 2011. 
  10. ^ Fred Dutton (3 May 2010). "Zelda Timeline Explained". Official Nintendo Magazine. Future Publishing Limited. Retrieved 18 August 2010. 
  11. ^ "Shuichi Sakurazaki on IMDb". IMDb. Retrieved 2008-07-04. 
  12. ^ Mielke, James (2007-11-16). "Previews: Ninja Gaiden 2, "This is a new story starring Ryu Hayabusa. It takes place after Ninja Gaiden 1 for Xbox, and before the timeframe of the old Ninja Gaiden games on the NES."". 1Up. Retrieved 2008-07-04. 
  13. ^ Yin-Poole, Wesley (2008-05-22). "Ninja Gaiden 2 Interview, "Story chronologically as well, this takes place after the fist Ninja Gaiden for Xbox, then after this, the story for this game from a chronological stand point leads into the old Ninja Gaiden for the NES. I think we have a nice continuity there."". Video Gamer. Retrieved 2008-07-04. 
  14. ^ Luke, Anderson (2008-05-23). "Ninja Gaiden II: Q&A with Tomonobu Itagaki, "In story chronology as well, this takes place after the first Ninja Gaiden for Xbox and then after the story of this game it leads into the old NES ones, so I think we have a nice continuity there."". Gamespot. Retrieved 2008-07-04. 
  15. ^ Luke, Anderson (2008-05-23). "Ninja Gaiden II: Q&A with Tomonobu Itagaki, "Maybe some of you will get the reference but Sonia, in NGII, is a CIA agent, and her name in this game is Sonia, but who knows if that is really her true name or not?"". Gamespot. Retrieved 2008-07-04. 
  16. ^ Team Ninja (2011-05-24). "Dead or Alive: Dimensions". Nintendo 3DS (v1.0). Tecmo. Level/area: Chapter 2. Ryu Hayabusa: Hayate, meet Irene /... 
  17. ^ "Dead or Alive Dimensions Nintendo 3DS Chronicle Mode Chapter 2 Part 3". Retrieved 2011-06-09. 
  18. ^ Valve Software. "Half-Life 2". Level/area: Chapter 5: "Black Mesa East". Eli Vance: The last time I saw you I sent you up for help after the Resonance Cascade. 
  19. ^ "Superman Returns - Comments from Bryan Singer and Staff:". Retrieved 2008-01-19. 
  20. ^ "Horror Film History — A Decade by Decade Guide to the Horror Movie Genre". Retrieved 2008-01-19. 
  21. ^ "Time Out London - Film - The Exorcist III movie review". Retrieved 2008-01-19. 
  22. ^ Vince Leo. "Qwipster's Movie Reviews - Highlander: The Final Dimension". Retrieved 2008-01-19.