Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Apocryphal Star Wars

Now that I have your attention the topic of tonight's blog is canon and what it means to a galaxy far, far away. First, however, whenever issues of canon are discussed one must make the obligatory cannon joke. Here it is. This, my friends, is the best picture of a cannon I have ever seen in my life. Now that we have that out the way let us proceed.

They don't make them like they used to.
OK, you are all intelligent people out there. I know this because you are here reading my blog. Canon is the collection or list of sacred books accepted as genuine. Over the past thousand years or so the three major Abrahamic religions Judiasm, Christianity and Islam all had a grand old time sorting out all their philosophical laundry. What books do we keep? What books do we toss out? What do we do with mysticism? Who is allowed to do what, when can they do it and how do they do it? Why did they do all this? Because there was no Internet or Mass Communication. People in Alexandria had different ideas than those in Ravenna. With everyone running around thinking different ideas there had to be a codification of what was accepted. Internecine conflicts were threatening to rip these religions apart. They would later succumb to these pressures however their codification allowed them to survive these upheavals.

I am really not comparing George Lucas to The Holy Spirit... honest!

 Now what does all this have to do with Star Wars? Well, before we go there let me explain what canon means outside of theological discussions. More precisely, what does canon mean to your dedicated sci fi and fantasy geek. I have a little confession to make. I am one. I have participated in a nerd version of the Council of Trent. Yes, I on many a listserv and Usenet forum weighed in on the decision that the Tenchi Muyo OAV series was canon and not the TV series. (Though we liked Kiyone as a character so we let her in.) In the geek world be it Western comics or Japanese anime very serious discussions are hammered out on what is considered canon and what is not. The evolution of what is and is not considered canon in the Marvel universe is quite honestly a PhD level thesis. You think that the evolution of Christianity is convoluted - I laugh in your general direction. DC's famous Crisis on Infinite Earths is a classic read. Superman alone has gone from his Golden Age roots to Silver Age "Planet-Juggling" Superman to being broken into several Supermen on more than one occasion.

Yup, Supes used to be able to do this. Not anymore. :/
Now why did both the Abrahamic religions and modern geekdom require these massive expenditures of Felix Unger-like anal-retentive micro-managment? Because both collectives had writers running around willy-nilly producing texts that people read and accepted as truth. In both cases the controlling authorities could not reign in their talent or keep everything on track. Eventually situations arose where the Gnostics and Sufis would have equal standing to gripe with the Tenchi in Tokyo fanbase.

So what does all this fascinating discussion have to do with Star Wars? OK, the third Star Wars movie The Return of the Jedi chronologically is the last movie. You know, the battle of Endor, Darth Vader redeemed by Luke, Han and Leia live happily ever after, It's a Trap!, etc. Well, as people who love series do, when there is no 'official content' they make up their own. People wanted to know about Han's children, Luke's mastery of the Force and whatnot. Authors wrote actual books with the blessing Lucas and created the The Star Wars Expanded Universe. People read the Expanded Universe novels, played the games, bought the toys and it filled a void. The masses were happy. They had their closure... until... Franchise reboot! Mouse Wars is going to make three more movies set after Return of the Jedi. So what about all those novels which were given the status of canon by Lucas? Shunted into the Apocrypha.

Are Midi-chlorians canon or not now? I'm confused.
To put this into the terms that a non-geek can understand. Imagine that the Pope just said that the The Acts of the Apostles and all the Epistles and other non-gospel books of the New Testament were no longer canon because The Vatican just commissioned a new ending to the Bible and Disney was going to write it. You would sit there scratching your head saying quite logically that you can't turn canon on and off on a whim. Rather than try and set up the movies in the Star Wars universe understood by the more hardcore fans they swept it all clean like squatters on an oil field.

Modern storytelling and modern society in general is on this disturbing anarchic descent into madness. Wars have been fought over this stuff. I find this whole episode rather entertaining in a Cheshire Cat sort of way. It is just Star Wars and an argument over who owns the moral rights to a legacy: the creators, the writers or the population to whom the creators and writers are truly indebted to for their success. But it can be seen in terms so bizarre when shown how the system is supposed to work is actually applied. Canon is canon for a very good reason - to stop these destructive conflicts from ever arising. Lucas said they were canon. People were happy. The books and games were good - and still are. They've haven't lost anything truly. Perhaps in a hundred years or so when the novels of the Star Wars Expanded Universe are forgotten and locked away in dusty old Kindles people will rediscover these secret histories of Star Wars. Will they look to these books and bring up theories about Star Wars long forgotten? We shall see.