A Discourse on the Public Direction of the
"Official" Star Wars Universe
Wars was released, it
became apparent that my story - however many films it took to tell -
was only one of thousands that could be told about the characters who
inhabit its galaxy. But these were not stories that I was destined to
tell. Instead they would spring from the imagination of other writers,
inspired by the glimpse of a galaxy that Star Wars provided. Today it
is an amazing, if unexpected, legacy of Star Wars that so many gifted
writers are contributing new stories to the Saga"
-- George Lucas, from the introduction of Splinter of the Mind's Eye, 1996.
This definition of the word "canon" is offered in the first edition of the Doubleday Dictionary. In application to the works of the Star Wars universe, the canon is the information and stories approved by Lucasfilm that are considered "official," or as having actually occurred within the Star Wars mythos.
Now, a new definition:
Apocrypha -- Any of various unauthenticated early Christian writings; any writings or accounts of questionable authorship or doubtful authenticity.
Again, in reference to the works
of the Star Wars universe, apocrypha is ... well,
that's where things become a bit muddled, for all Lucasfilm approved
information and stories from the company's inception to the present
should theoretically be considered canon. This view is reflected in the
Star Wars timeline prepared by Lucasfilm's continuity department
and published in the
This is a label that is generally attached to stories or events in the Star Wars universe that seem to fit a common criterion: first, the work in question is likely to be an "old" one, meaning it was published during the first craze-wave of Star Wars -- among the interludes of, or not long after, the original trilogy of movies (the Star Wars comics by Marvel are an excellent example of this, running from 1977 to 1986, and oft ignored). Secondly, a piece is likely to be deemed apocryphal if it contradicts another more widely accepted or appealing source (for example, in one of Russ Manning's Star Wars newspaper strips from 1978, the world of Kessel is depicted as a lush paradise. Years later, in his novel Jedi Search, Kevin J. Anderson described Kessel as a harsh, barely hospitable planet; the latter incarnation is currently considered to be the canonic one).
Finally, if a work is out-of-print (like Maverick Moon and Mystery of the Rebellious Robot, children's books of the late 1970s), scarce in its availability and/or distribution (such as the Star Wars Missions game books), or unconventional in its form of narrative (as in the case of computer games like TIE Fighter and information printed on the packaging of Kenner toys, or on trading cards like The Empire Strikes Back from Topps), it is a likely candidate for exclusion, and is often declared so retroactively, as these usually older sources of information are rediscovered only to have become inconsistent with that which is more recently published (as in the case of The Farlander Papers -- which has been vastly contradicted --, and is increasingly occurring with books published by the now defunct West End Games).
As illustrated by these parameters, the tactic of distinguishing between things apocryphal and canonical is basically a solution of convenience, so that when "continuity errors" crop up, they can be resolved with little effort by a select few: novelty over seniority, "good" over "bad," ease of accessibility over difficult procuration. But as critics of the canon note, not everyone agrees on these subjective standards of evaluation. As another circumstantial fix, proponents of this method of approach have created the "Point of View" paradigm, which basically offers that the "canon" is the omniscient perspective of the Star Wars universe, while the "apocrypha" is but a particular point of view, so to speak, thus the discrepancy between the two. However, what is inescapable in this and any definition making a distinction between "canon" and "apocrypha," "official" and "unofficial," and any other terms substituted in their place, is the connotations that are inherent in each word; ultimately, they imply judgment between what is "good" and what is "bad," and this simply cannot be agreed upon, ever.
Thus, the only just view of canon can be this: absolute inclusion. That is to say, every single word of lore ever approved by Lucasfilm in the context of the Star Wars universe is canon. At the public level, the level at which Lucasfilm operates, no such thing as apocrypha should exist in regard to the material it has approved.
"Why should everything be considered canon?" stubborn members of the "Kill Jar Jar" fan club might ask. And the answer is simple; one of the main attractions of the Star Wars films has always been their universality, their appeal to people of every walk-of-life. An absolute canon is an inclusion of all personal, all subjective perspectives on canon, thus the only point of view that can withstand scrutiny from all angles, from the most rabid continuity fan to the most exclusive.
"And how does it appease those that choose to exclude?" the Jar Jar killers ask skeptically. Again, the answer is very logical. All fans have a personal Star Wars canon, one in which he or she has chosen to reject or keep certain "official" elements, and perhaps even added a few unofficial ones (this latter habit being most prevalent among roleplaying gamers). And most often, a fan will project as much of that personal perspective onto the public one as possible for a number of reasons, most likely the same reasons which are currently used to declare something canonic or apocryphal, above all else to keep things "simple" for and familiar to him or herself.
So imagine that there is a spectrum of opinions in regard to canon, ranging from "only the movies are canon" (or even "Star Wars is so awful, I disregard anything remotely associated with it") to "everything Lucasfilm approves is canon." Since every opinion within that spectrum except the last ("everything is canon") is by default an exclusion of some sort, people with exclusive opinions can hardly object to canon being publicly defined as the inclusion of everything, because they already exclude that which does not fit into their personal universes, therefore, they are free to exclude that which they do not like in the public version of the canon, just as they always have. Therefore, Kessel is both a paradise and a hell-pit, though the particulars of how this is possible are simply as yet unknown: time could be a factor, regional differences on the planet as well, and so on. And as seen in Marvel Comics, it was ultimately two Rebel pilots who got the Death Star II plans to the Rebel Alliance, as well as the Bothans, as implied in Return of the Jedi and seen in the game X-Wing: Alliance. And Sate Pestage is in fact both dead (X-Wing comics) and alive (Dark Empire Sourcebook) after his fateful confrontation with a rogue Imperial Admiral.
The point of this article is not to condemn the perspective on canon of those that choose to exclude certain approved information, but to shed light on the injustice of the current, popular view of canon. It is especially dangerous to Star Wars continuity when an author working within the mythos harbors this attitude of canon and apocrypha, for he or she is the one with the power to shape the universe, so to speak. In the name of equality, Star Wars authors must bear the burden of objectivity; in their case, there can be no distinction between good and bad, old and new when it comes to inclusion. Authors must not shy away from seemingly daunting contradictions, it is in fact their duty to directly reference and rectify contradictory elements of the Star Wars universe in their texts, regardless of their personal attitudes toward them. Continuity errors are bound to occur even with an active vigilance against them, but if this action is not taken, the number of inconsistencies will become enormous, and consequently lead to more and more events being labeled apocryphal and being tossed out. This fate will befall the works of even those authors who are presently considered "current," as their works inevitably age like all the rest, and thus fall victim to the same neglect that now systematically renders older materials apocryphal, the practice perpetuating until the Star Wars mythos collapses into a marginally linked web of confusion and inconsistency, in which references to certain events, people, and other things become meaningless, for they may not even officially exist. This is precisely the end which Lucasfilm Licensing intended to circumvent when it reopened the Star Wars universe in the early 1990s and requested that Timothy Zahn conform his new material with that previously established by West End Games.
As previously stated, Star Wars has always been a film boasting universal themes, and it is only just that everyone's definition of canon should find validation under an all encompassing banner. The current trend of differentiating between official and unofficial contributions does not embrace this value, nor does it lend itself to long-term continual integrity. The concept of distinguishing between canonic and apocryphal works is a threat not only to this idea of fairness, but to the very cohesion of the Star Wars tapestry, as a chain reaction beginning with subjective decisions concerning a work's "authenticity" causes rupture after rupture in the cohesive fabric of the mythos, resulting in an "official" view of the Star Wars universe that appeals but to a very select minority.