Star Wars Realcanon
Most Successful Book Series Based on a Film Series. Lucas Licensing has recorded more than 100 million sales of Star Wars-related books, with over 850 novelizations, original novels, reference books, children’s books and role-playing supplements, including 80 New York Times bestsellers. — The Guinness Book of World Records 2013.
In its 38 years of life, Star Wars must easily have reached a size of 1,000 or more items. With 850+ books, dozens of computer games, and multiple adaptations and editions of six films, not to mention the audio dramas, animated and live action series, it truly is a multimedia saga, though it is no longer a living one.
Apart from the films, the very core of the franchise, there are film novelizations and adaptations, original novels, graphic novels, short story anthologies, roleplaying games, electronic games, nonfiction and reference materials, children’s books, craft books, toy books, tributes, parodies, TV movies, TV shows, animated series, audio dramas, all contributing to the overall fabric of Star Wars knowledge, each one adding more information and new dynamics. How is a dedicated Star Warrior supposed to keep it straight?
The first the world could ever see of Star Wars was a 1976 novel called Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker, by George Lucas (actually ghostwritten by Alan Dean Foster). One can easily imagine that this very early work, based on a screenplay, would not stack up well against the fully-fledged universe that would exist later. The first spin-off book, also by Alan Dean Foster, came out in 1978, and was again based on a screenplay — this time a screenplay for The Empire Strikes Back, before they thought they’d make the movie. It features a duel where Luke cuts off Vader’s arm, among other incongruities. These pre-1991 works, dubbed “Classics,” were never intended as part of a continuity; they were just spin-offs like any franchise’s spin-offs.
Timothy Zahn’s 1991 work changed things, though, as I explained on the previous page. He incorporated information from the SWRPGs, and was followed by Kevin J. Anderson collaborating with Tom Veitch and the comic book writers. Authors were weaving a tapestry based on Lucas’ work, but like any tapestry, it’s got a messy under side. That’s where retcon comes in — retcon isn’t a symptom of a sick franchise, it’s the natural progression of a healthy story!
George Lucas, a fanboy at heart himself once, came up with a hierarchy of canon that would let his fans rest in the assurance that all the stories they loved were canon, while at the same time would make sure that he, as the creator, didn’t become beholden to the authors he had let play in his story.
The Star Wars Hierarchy
- G-Canon: George Lucas, or absolute canon, the benchmark to which all other canon conforms. Basically, only the six films (and their adaptations, where not superseded) reside at this level.
- C-canon: Continuity canon, where the bulk of Star Wars canon is. This is the timeline of everything published from 1991 on, the books as well as graphic novels. Reference works, including RPG sourcebooks, are C-canon.
- S-canon: Secondary canon, allowing for the canonization of pre-1991 materials (such as Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, or the early TV shows) that may have been contradicted later.
- N-canon: Not canon. The only things down here would be things like the “Infinities” graphic novels, or the stories around individual characters in games.
The rule of thumb is that each level is canon until proven not canon by the level above. Therefore, something that appears in S-canon may be taken as canon until something in C or G canon appears to demonstrate that it’s not. G canon cannot be superseded — but if you look, you’ll find that Lucas actually went out of his way to draw C-canon into G-canon, including the names of planets such as Coruscant, Tund, and Muunilist; characters such as Aayla Secura and Dash Rendar; and even the Aurebesh alphabet itself (originally S-canon, developed for early West End Game playbooks)!
This beautifully simple but multifaceted design was destroyed by Disney, if not on Death Star Day itself (October 30, 2012), then certainly by Order 66 Day (April 25, 2014). There is no longer any excuse, any reason to doubt that Disney intends anything than a total reboot — and we’ve seen enough of their reboot to know it’s only cheap trash-for-cash not worth our consideration.
I have always celebrated Fanon: the idea that fans have the right, even responsibility, to select their own personalized canon from all available elements. My favorite description of this is, “If it isn’t on my bookshelf, it didn’t happen.” Star Wars, at its purest and most basic level, is entertainment: Lucas wanted to create something that reminded him of his boyhood spent watching scifi serials, so the spirit of Star Wars should always be what most thrills you. In fact, given that Lucas didn’t overburden himself with deep characterization or logical timelining, the films themselves become coloring books, broad outlines fans can fill in with their own color. I think this is what generates the universal, multi-generational appeal of Star Wars.But I can’t stop at celebrating Fanon anymore. Disney has forced me, has forced many of us, in fact, to step up and defend Realcanon. What is Realcanon? Well, it’s that hierarchy I just described to you. Realcanon is true Star Wars, and true Star Wars is a multimedia body of work that was produced from 1976 (the first published novel) until 2014 (the last published novel). From within those 38 years, I invite and encourage you to build your own personal timeline — my focal point in this site is, naturally, my own timeline, which falls from 1977-2012 and excludes anything set after Zahn’s Vision of the Future. I’m not alone in that; some of us require a cut off date, a moment of “The End” where the series is simply over. A kite cannot fly without a string of a specified length, and a series cannot survive without similar defined lengths.But I must emphasize that no matter what anyone’s personal timeline is, they are all equally canon, equally Star Wars, as long as they exist within 1976-2014.
That’s Realcanon. That’s Star Wars.