Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Canon, Star Wars, and Star Trek

In the 80's, despite the popularity of the movies, there were very few Star Wars novels. Splinter of the Mind's Eye, Han Solo at Star's End, and a few others. Plus some comic books. That was about it.

In contrast, we were drowning in Star Trek novels.

When it came to Trek novels, comic books, games, and other stories, there was one rule: None of them were part of a shared universe. Each one was "canon +1" -  referencing only the TV show and maybe the movies plus the new work itself. "Black Fire" was not in any kind of continuity with "Web of the Romulans" or "Dreadnought". Now an individual author could write several books that shared continuity with each other, and some authors tried to cross-reference their stories, but none of it was official.

None of it was canon.

That's probably a good thing, as a lot of these things were not very good. Rather than trying to curate a coherent, connected universe of 3rd party media, Paramount said "go nuts" and didn't try to endorse anything as official or canonical. And no one was really asking them to do so.

Then in the 90's Star Wars realized there was a lack in this area and started up a new line with a new approach - what would some day be called the Expanded Universe was canon, was coordinated, and was all in continuity with everything else.

At the time, this seemed pretty cool. Even then, however, I said to my friends and myself "sure, it's all canon - until George Lucas gets around to making Episodes 8-9-10." Did anyone really think that Lucas was going to let his movie-making be limited by a novel someone else had written? That's ridiculous.

I do admire the effort that went into it though, even if it seemed like something that almost had to have a limited lifespan. I also liked that the Star Wars RPG laid a lot of the ground work for names and locations and other elements of the universe.

Over the last year, with the new movies getting underway, there has been a lot of hubbub over the revocation of this state and the implementation of a new order: All of the old EU stuff is branded "Legends" and now there will be a new canon, undoubtedly better than the old canon.

And in 20 years (or less) you can bet they will do this same thing all over again.

So I would encourage those who spend a lot of time sweating canon, especially since 99% of you are not getting paid by Lucasfilm/Disney to work on it to stop worrying about it. A good book is still a good book and a bad one is still a bad one. "Canon" does not equal quality!

Sure, it chaps me a little bit that the Zahn books - written by an author I knew of before that time and really really good even today - are no longer "officially endorsed" and all that but that's more because I suspect not as many people will read them than because it reduces their level of goodness. It doesn't mean I wouldn't recommend them to a friend. The same thing happened to Splinter of the Mind's eye and a lot of us thought that was uncool too - circa 1980.  Yet I still see the book on shelves.

Just remember that the only true canon for Star Wars are the six movies (soon to be seven). I know, I know, Clone Wars and Rebels are canon too. So was the Holiday Special at one time.

The movies are canon. In the long run, nothing else is. Go with that and you'll sleep easier.


Barking Alien said...

I am personally overjoyed. I felt like 99% of the Expanded Universe was poorly written fan fiction at best.

The one exception was the material from West End Games' D6 RPG which, low and behold, has been referenced in official canon such as the Prequels, The Clone Wars animated series, and the new Rebels animated series.

New canon with the new movies? Yes please!

Monkapotomus said...

I think we should exclude the prequels, add in the Clone Wars Cartoons, which were actually pretty good, and continue with the new ones.

Miguel de Rojas said...

I have conflicted feelings about this, because a) it is good to get rid of some of the crap that had piled up over the years, b) I will miss Grand Admiral Thrawn and a few other great ideas and c) I think most of the EU (or, at least, the parts that aren't contradicted by the new movies) will come back in one form or another as authors incorporate their favourite bits them into new shows, spin-off movies, etc.

Barking Alien said...

Not to degenerate this into a war of opinions, but Thrawn is a good example of why I will not miss the EU.

One of the earliest of the Expanded Universe projects featured an alien Grand Admiral in the alien hating Galactic Empire.

Not one alien Imperial officer, or soldier in three films, and suddenly we are told that this one exception exists. Why? To me, it felt so very un-Star Wars-y. Even his species was un-Star Wars-y. Three movies where the most Human looking non-Humans are Twi'lek, and all of a sudden we get blue people with red eyes? I couldn't take it. It felt comic book like to me.

Now I know a lot of people like Thrawn, and I'll admit, he was an interesting enough character, but if he doesn't exist anymore, or even if he does, and we never see him, I assure you no tears shall be shed by me.

I've long felt like the EU was written by people who really didn't get Star Wars.

Sean Robert Meaney said...

If I had a trillion lying about, i'd have to create a scifi that everyone can contribute to, and fans vote on what gets movie funding each year.

Miguel de Rojas said...

"I've long felt like the EU was written by people who really didn't get Star Wars."

While I disagree in the case of Thrawn, this was very true in a number of instances. The worst, for me, were the extra-galactic, Force-impaired, biotecnologist Yuuzhan Vong. Apparently, they were chosen as adversaries for the New Jedi Order novels over the returned ancient Sith species, thus turning what could have been a cool new chapter in the eternal Jedi vs Sith struggle into something, as you say, un-Star Wars-y (and undoing the restoration of the Republic that was the focus of everything before). Yet, I'm sure that for someone out there they are one of the cool things of the EU.

Probably it is related with the moment you became a fan of Star Wars. For me, it was, surprise, surprise, in the early 90s, about the same time Thrawn trilogy was published (I wasn't born when the first two movies premiered - make yor calculations!).

Monkapotomus said...

Was the fact that Thrawn was an alien actually relevant to the story? I can't remember (I had actually forgotten).

Most of the rest of the EU was pretty bad and my least favorite was the whole Yuuzhan Vong thing. That was just stupid. As was Dark Empire.

Blacksteel said...

I can see BAs' point about Chiss being a comic book alien to a point but I did like the idea that even in the empire talent matters enough to get him a posting as an Admira;, but bias mean he's exiled to the outer rim. It seems like a very Imperial thing to do. The movies are full of the "only" or the "most" something (_only jedi left_, _most powerful jedi ever_, _fastest ship in the galaxy_, so if Thrawn is the _only alien admiral_ in the navy I'm Ok with that.

The only EU stuff I really liked was the Thrawn trilogy, the Rogue Squadron novels, and the Old Republic stuff that was mostly in comic book form. I put my toe in the water a few times with other books - "Darksaber" - and they were pretty rough. I didn't care at all for the Vong story or the Legacy stuff that came later.

I suppose it's all just an alternate timeline now.