Perhaps you’ve overheard two gentlemen having the age old argument – who would win in a fight: Superman or Son Goku? One argues that Goku can blow up a planet. The other shoots back that Superman can juggle several planets. Then first attempts to trump this argument with, “That’s not canon!”
But what does this mean? What is “canon”? Originating from religious terminology, canon is a general law, rule, principle, or criteria by which something is judged, often based on sacred text. In this case, canon is basically the accepted reality within a fictional universe based on the Superman comic books (Get it? “Sacred text”? Huh? …Oh, never mind).
At one point in history, known amongst the comic book fandom as the Silver Age (A time of sci-fi silliness from about the mid-1950’s to the late 70’s), Superman could juggle several planets at once making him illogically stronger than almost any character before or since. Of course, this only covers the comic books printed by DC Comics, which is where the character of Superman originated and is widely considered the main source of canon.
What about all of the various other forms of media that utilize the Last Son of Krypton? What about the television shows, movies, and cartoons? Do these count as canon? Do they have an effect on the overall mythos of the character? Take Kryptonite for example. In some media, a small sliver can bring Superman to his knees, while in others he can lift an entire island of it and it only causes him strain to do so. Kryptonite itself was first introduced in the Superman radio program, before being adapted into the comics as official canon. Kryptonite itself is canon, while its exact effects on Kryptonians will vary according to the purposes of the story.
While aspects of canon can be fluid or subject to debate, canon itself is what is generally accepted as what exists as fact in the story of the character and their universe. While superhero comics tend to deal with reality-warping magic, time travel paradoxes, and parallel universes on a regular basis, what about a franchise that doesn’t allow its canon to slip through such loopholes?
Star Wars, the outer space epic of the struggle that took place a long time ago to save a galaxy far, far away from the control of an evil Empire. We all know George Lucas’ story from the six films that form the core canon of the franchise (And if you don’t, I have no idea how you managed to stumble onto this article, but welcome). But did you know there is a whole galaxy of stories stemming from the films?
Besides the in-canon CGI animated movie and television series Star Wars: The Clone Wars and new series Star Wars: Rebels, many other stories have arisen in the form of animated series, specials, films, comics, novels, and video games. While The Clone Wars take place during the infamous war the series is named after, other stories unfolded in-between Episodes II and III of the films and the new series, Rebels, called the “Dark Times.” Between Episodes III and IV, these other stories range from thousands of years before Anakin Skywalker was born and destined to become the evil Darth Vader to generations after his death on the second Death Star.
By and large, these stories outside of the aforementioned films and television series were considered part of the Star Wars “Expanded Universe”, officially licensed books and media that add to the story started by Lucas’ original trilogy. Although several earlier novels and spin-offs were later considered “non-canon” by way of more uniform story-telling (Do I need to mention the Ewoks cartoon?), the stories of the Expanded Universe often fed directly into one another and even influenced George Lucas’ prequel trilogy and the Clone Wars CGI series as aspects of the “EU” were modified and adapted into the official canon of the franchise.
While the live-action films are considered the main, undisputed source of canon for the franchise, the Expanded Universe was a secondary canon whose stories fed directly into each other, creating decades of adventure for fans to follow along their favorite characters and meet brand new ones as well. Han Solo and Princess Leia married and had children who grew up to become Jedi. Chewbacca made the ultimate sacrifice to save the Solo children. Luke Skywalker met and married Dark Side assassin Mara Jade…after she tried to kill him, of course.
The threat of the Empire waxed and waned, eventually finding an uneasy peace with the New Republic after surviving the intergalactic Yuuzhan Vong invasion. New Sith Lords, new planets, species, and creatures, and a New Jedi Order all happened in the Star Wars Expanded Universe.
And then they didn’t.
On Oct. 30, 2012, the world learned that the Walt Disney Company was going to purchase Lucasfilm Ltd. in a $4 billion deal. The House of Mouse was going to own and control Star Wars. One of the first things Disney announced was a new live-action movie, Episode VII, and the series would continue on the big screen, but many fans were fearful that Disney would make the franchise too “family friendly” (Really? Did they not see the Pirates of the Caribbean movies?). Disney also forced the successful Clone Wars series to end during production of the sixth season because it was airing on Cartoon Network, owned by their competitor Time Warner, and announced the new series, Star Wars: Rebels, to air on their Disney XD channel.
With the cancellation of The Clone Wars and the announcement of a new movie to officially continue the main story, no one knew what to expect or what, if anything, was to become of the twenty plus years of accepted canon created by the Expanded Universe (Regardless, Rebels is a great series worthy of the franchise and you should give it a chance if you haven’t already).
Star Wars novels based on the canon of the EU continued the story until 2013, but in 2014 Disney officially announced that Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens would be a completely original story not based on any previous works. The Expanded Universe and all stories and events that happened outside of the six main title movies, The Clone Wars CGI movie and series, and Star Wars: Rebels was to be branded as Star Wars Legends and officially made non-canon as it concerned the franchise as a whole. The Expanded Universe and all characters, places, and events therein were officially rendered null and void.
Still, aspects, characters, and stories originating in the EU have been adapted into the main franchise. There was still hope. Even if the new movies weren’t focused on them, perhaps the characters from Star Wars Legends still existed in the backdrop of this new story. Perhaps the Solo twins, Jacen and Jaina, grew up to become adventurous Jedi Knights and daredevil pilots off protecting the galaxy. Perhaps Jedi Master Luke Skywalker and his wife Mara Jade are in the Outer Rim, leading a New Jedi Order against a growing threat from the Dark Side.
Sadly, this was not meant to be.
The latest trailers for The Force Awakens all but confirm that Star Wars Legends are just that – legends. Han Solo verbally confirms that the very existence of the Dark Side and the Jedi are more than just stories to the series’ new main characters. Even the title itself suggests that Force-users or even the Force itself has been somewhat dormant since the events of Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. Basically, these trailers eliminated any possibility of following any aspect of Star Wars Legends, which focused heavily on the public rise of a New Jedi Order. The canon of Star Wars Legends has been overwritten, while the “sacred text” of the films and CGI series remain.
Oddly, all of the novels, video games, comic books printed by Marvel comics (Another company everyone was surprised Disney bought), and all other media created past 2014 are regulated by the Lucasfilm Story Group and are now considered fully canon.
The lesson to take away from all this is that canon in fiction is fluid. That is the very nature of fiction; it is not grounded in fact. Unlike the fact that H2O is water, the “facts” in fiction can be changed and remain the same thing. Even the canon from Silver Age DC Comics that was seemingly eliminated by “Crisis on Infinite Earths” was reestablished in later stories. The recent DC Comics story “Convergence” even established that all stories that take place, even “Elseworlds” (“What If”) stories, are canon in some universe or another. Ghostbusters, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Transformers, Masters of the Universe, and several other franchises have recently established that all incarnations, including the video games and action figures in our own reality are just alternate universes in one massive canon.
Perhaps Star Wars Legends can be reestablished one day as well. Perhaps several aspects and characters may be reintroduced into canon somewhere along the line. Maybe Star Wars Legends will be officially recognized as an alternate universe and the stories will pick up where they left off, only now inspired by the new movies and other media being created. Perhaps it’s all just wishful thinking and we should all just appreciate that we have Star Wars and our other favorite fictional franchises, no matter what happens in canon. So relax, enjoy, and may the Force be with you.