by Patrick Mulligan
Since the dawn of humanity, people have used stories to explain the world around them. Once we figured out what fire was and weren’t being chased by wolves as often, our approach to stories became more personal. Now we use them as a way to take a step back from the noise of everyday life.
People take solace in their favorite fiction because it offers the opportunity to escape into one of the endless stories other than their own. For better or worse, storytelling is more complex than ever with tales being told across multiple mediums by different voices under the umbrella of one cohesive narrative. For fans of an old movie about a farm boy and some space wizards, things have gotten a little complicated.
When Disney bought out Lucasfilm, one of the first big decisions made was to relabel what was then called the EU as Legends and establish a new storyline. From a creative standpoint, this makes perfect sense. Why would you want to keep yourself chained to other people’s stories when you have the opportunity to start fresh?
Furthermore, it left those old stories open to be retold in a different fashion. Giving them the “Legends” moniker implies that these stories could have happened in one way or another. So fans can imagine that Luuke and Luuuke Skywalker are still out there somewhere, cloning around.
But people who were Star Wars fans in a time when there was no promise of more movies took these stories as fact and had a hard time accepting that they weren’t, leading to a subset of fans who saw the “new” canon as something that undid what they held so dear.
We all know the pain of being told our favorite fairytale is fake, but this cut a little deeper. So many chose not to view the new material as canon. Besides, as far as they were concerned, there were still six movies for them to fall back on and a ton of stories to use as headcanon fodder. The rest of the world moved on, awaiting Star Wars’ triumphant return to the big screen.
Within the bubble of this fandom, it’s easy to forget that Star Wars is a movie first and foremost. The roots of almost every story choice grow from a cinematic influence, and most of the world only ever interacts with Star Wars in film form. Anything else exists purely for those who want more once they leave the theater. Which is why the film canon takes priority over everything else.
If something from a comic or show doesn’t line up with something a filmmaker wants to put in a movie, the former will be reworked or flat-out ignored. This presents the question of just how much anything outside the movies matters.
Personally, I’ve always landed somewhere in the middle. I’m glad the extra material is out there, but it rarely holds as much weight for me as the films. I often have a hard time connecting things as one big story. But recently, I read the newest run of Marvel’s Star Wars comics. Within their pages, I found so many things that reframed characters and events from the films that I wasn’t sure how they were allowed to happen off-screen; the supplementary materials suddenly felt essential.
Star Wars stories outside the movies should feel important to fans. You should want to read the next issue and feel like it matters. On the other hand, these things should never feel as though you have to read them for the films to make sense.
That’s not to say that the supplementary material should not tie into the movies, but it should enrich the experience, not explain it. The way The Clone Wars has added depth to Anakin Skywalker’s character is a great example of how to do this right.
Then there’s stuff like Rey and Ben Solo’s kiss from The Rise of Skywalker being framed as a non-romantic gesture of gratitude (I mean, I certainly don’t kiss the pizza person like that, especially since we broke up) in the recently released novelization. The movie seems to tell us one thing while the book adaptation says something completely different.
There’s also the fact that in The Rise of Kylo Ren #1 we see that Ben didn’t slaughter his classmates, even though as much has been flat-out said in the movies.
This sort of thing goes all the way back to the special editions and a reworking of who shot first in a certain Mos Eisley cantina. The conflicting interpretations and changes put fans in a strange spot. People are left to sort through all the various interpretations in different mediums and try to line them up as one cohesive story. But know all the while that the canon could be reworked at any moment, leaving many fans to pick and choose what gets to be part of their canon and what doesn’t.
Recently, Charles Soule said he would write a non-canon Kylo Ren/Ben Solo story for charity. It’s a good idea, especially considering the demand for Ben Solo stories not being met. So we have a writer of canon Star Wars material writing what is essentially top-tier fan fiction. It says a lot about the way the fandom engages with Star Wars. People badly want a story that makes sense to them, regardless of the validation that comes with it being labeled as canon.
It speaks volumes about just how important these stories are to people and how strange it can be when things don’t quite line up. It’s confusing and frustrating causing many to search for their stories outside of the limitations of canon.
These gaps and conflicts tend to seem less severe over time. Enormous narrative leaps and changes in the Original Trilogy have been accepted as part of the plan, and even the prequels have fallen into favor recently.
In a decade, the dust will settle and the story will be what it will be. Besides, by that point we’ll have at least three new Star Wars movies to be upset about.
But until then, folks will continue to find the story they want wherever they can. For me, it’s in the movies, for some it’s in a stack of books, for others it’s in a NSFW drawing of Palpatine smooching Snoke.
Wherever the story goes, just remember that nobody can take your headcanon away from you.