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Star Wars fans shocked to learn that their novels aren't canon, either - KRAD's Inaccurate Guide to Life — LiveJournal
ramblings from a mad fedora'd writer
Star Wars fans shocked to learn that their novels aren't canon, either
So there is nerd outrage over the (completely predictable and reasonable) comment made to the Hollywood Reporter by Simon Kinberg, one of the screenwriters of the upcoming Episode 7 of the Star Wars film saga, which boil down to, "We won't be paying attention to the SW novels and comics when we write our screenplay." Which means that, yes, SW novels and comics are not canon and never were, claims by the fanbase and Lucas to the contrary.

Here's my response (originally posted on Tor.com as a comment to Emily Asher-Perrin's article on this revelation):

Canon arguments/discussions always make me want to beat someone until they bleed. I really do not understand why people get arsed over what's real in a fictional construct.

Yes, the novels and comics and cartoons aren't canon. So what? You know what else isn't canon? The Marvel Cinematic Universe. The Christopher Nolan Batman movies. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Arrow. All totally, thoroughly, and in all ways not canon. Not even a little bit.

There are three different versions of Sherlock Holmes currently being produced, none of which are canonical, yet all of which are immensely popular and fun to watch and enjoyable and nifty.

Episode 7 does nothing to the EU one way or another. The books and comics and cartoons are still there, still good stories, still there to be enjoyed. Honestly, the whole "the novels are canon toooooo!!!!" argument was pretty much shitcanned with the prequel movies, and never held up to scrutiny, especially if you look at, say, the history of the Fett family.

SW fans could take a lesson from Star Trek. Two of the most highly regarded Trek novels are Imzadi and Federation. The former novel was heavily contradicted by a TNG episode ("Second Chances"); the latter was totally nuked by the movie First Contact. Yet the two novels continue to be well regarded -- and so does that episode and that movie, even though they contradict each other.

If you think that contradictory versions of stories in the same universe ruins one of the contradictory ones, then you don't understand how storytelling works.

Current Mood: busy busy
Current Music: the Yankees-Red Sox game on Channel 9

14 comments or Please comment
mastadge From: mastadge Date: April 22nd, 2014 11:21 pm (UTC) (Link)
People are arsed over these things because they have a huge personal investment in them. A lot of fans have spent at least a quarter century, and some a good deal longer, loving the Star Wars EU, piecing it together as it expanded, figuring out retcons for the inconsistencies. It was one of very few large shared fictional universes where, for the most parts, all the pieces across all the various media did fit together pretty well, although it did get pretty crowded and sketchy with the Clone Wars stuff. Further, it wouldn't be too difficult to argue that without all that EU stuff, these new movies wouldn't be happening. If the early Bantam novels and Dark Horse comics hadn't been such a success and kickstarted the Star Wars cash cow, would the Special Editions have happened? Would the prequels? Would it be such a lucrative property that Disney would have been interested in buying it out? So it's kind of a kick in the teeth to those dedicated fans to be told that, by the way, their beloved universe is being overwritten.

I understand the reasoning. It would be a horrible idea for filmmakers trying to reach a wide audience to try to hew to decades of stories and details. But the reaction from people for whom Star Wars has been a core part of their identity for all those decades is not unreasonable.
kradical From: kradical Date: April 22nd, 2014 11:32 pm (UTC) (Link)
It's not being "overwritten." The novels aren't ceasing to exist. See the examples I cited from the Star Trek universe.
mastadge From: mastadge Date: April 23rd, 2014 12:19 am (UTC) (Link)
It's a different situation. With very few exceptions, the Star Trek novels were (at least while I was reading them -- I think I stopped around the time you started writing them, though not for that reason!) never "canon". Sure a fan could make timelines and try to fit them in to the extent possible, but it was a whole different ballgame than Star Wars, where every effort was made to maintain continuity between the various media and stories; where there was a defined hierarchy of canon, of which the novels and comics and video games and so forth were part. Hell, they even made the effort to work with the old Marvel Star Wars comics and the Holiday Special rather than just conveniently ignoring them. Star Wars was of a piece across its media in a way that was never expected from Star Trek.

I know the existing novels aren't literally being overwritten. But that continuity is being disrupted to a far more significant and irreconcilable extent than it ever has before, and that's a bitter pill to swallow for the fans who have kept the ship going for the decades in between the movies, who've had so much fun fitting every new thing into their timelines and fitting it all together. I'm certainly not going to lose any sleep over it, but then I jumped ship a decade ago and don't have much invested in the property anymore. But I can certainly understand why it's a bigger deal to Star Wars fans than similar situations may be to fans of other properties.
kradical From: kradical Date: April 23rd, 2014 03:45 am (UTC) (Link)
A tie-in novel -- any tie-in novel -- reaches less than 10% of its audience. Even the best-selling SW novel reaches a number in the thousands. The worst-performing SW movie reaches a number in the millions. It's a statistically insignificant portion of the actual viewership.

And, again, I refuse to be arsed over figuring out what's real in a fictional construct. Which is real, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or the comics that have been published since 1962 (well, 1941, really, since we have to count Captain America)? Which is real, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's fiction or the Basil Rathbone movies or the Jeremy Brett TV series or the Robert Downey Jr. movies? Which is real, the Christopher Reeve Superman, the George Reeve Superman, the Dean Cain Superman, the Henry Cavill Superman, the Brandon Routh Superman, or the Kirk Alyn Superman?

Which Robin Hood is real? Which King Arthur?
mastadge From: mastadge Date: April 23rd, 2014 12:02 pm (UTC) (Link)
And that's a perfectly reasonable stance to take, and one that I share with you. But it's not reasonable to expect people to be reasonable about the things that they love and have invested a lot of time, life, money, emotional involvement, etc in. And, again, I can only say that Star Wars was, for many years, pretty much unique as a huge multi-media property in terms of its continuity across the board. None of the others that you've mentioned (Star Trek, the Marvel "616" universe or any comics character-cum-IP, Sherlock Holmes) ever did what the Star Wars EU did, and so it's also not unreasonable for that set of fandom to have different expectations for the handling of the property than the fans of any of various other huge properties.

Also, some of the best-selling SW novels have sold more than thousands. Zahn's trilogy from the early 90s, the one that kickstarted the second wave of Star Wars novels, had sold 15 million copies or so as of a few years ago.
pseudohistorian From: pseudohistorian Date: April 23rd, 2014 06:29 pm (UTC) (Link)
As I usually point out when this sort of thing comes up, comic book characters (particularly DC characters) are a bad example to use, since they come with a multiverse that provides a convenient in-story explanation for why there are multiple versions of Superman, Batman, et al.

Even then, look at the (not entirely dissimilar) reactions to The New 52, or the end of the DC Animated Universe.
sixthbrightest From: sixthbrightest Date: April 24th, 2014 11:11 am (UTC) (Link)
This. I really love your point that the early novels and books were what showed how much faith and love fans still had for it, just like the passionate letter-writing campaigns and conventions did the same for Trek.

It's always harder for someone who's deeply invested in a thing to swallow changes, and I'm fully aware that I completely and irrationally participate in exactly that level of knee-jerk response. I'm upset about EU continuity being flung out the door, even though I expected it, because I loved the depth and texture and connected tapestry.

Most of my favorite Trek novels come from the old days of every novel could ignore the others, but at the same time I am in so much awe of the DS9 Relaunch and the post-Nemesis shared continuity because of the fact that it's a lot of work to maintain all of this stuff together. I smile when I see characters from a TNG book get mentioned in another one. This is the sort of stuff I love, I'm glad that the Trek books moved to it, and I'm going to be just as sad when more Trek happens that breaks that.
vulpine137 From: vulpine137 Date: April 22nd, 2014 11:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well put and logical. I still hold on to hopes of a kickass redhead Jedi in the new films, say Scarlett Johanssen with a lightsaber ?
kradical From: kradical Date: April 23rd, 2014 03:45 am (UTC) (Link)
That would be awesome. *nods* And thanks. :)
djonn From: djonn Date: April 23rd, 2014 02:45 am (UTC) (Link)
I'd quibble with a couple of points -- I'd have picked Duane's "Rihannsu" novels as a better example than Federation, and it sounds as if we're in opposing camps with respect to Sherlock -- but I'm in general agreement with the broad-spectrum position.

OTOH, I am amused about your suggestion that SW fandom take direction from Trek fandom with regard to the novel franchise. As a practical matter, the management of the Trek novel franchise took a page from the SW novel program some years back. For the first decades of the novel program's existence, it was official editorial policy that not only were the novels not canon with screen-Trek, they weren't canonical with each other. (I remember John Ordover saying this in just so many words in an online exchange in the pre-Internet era.)

But in more recent years, most specifically with the extension of the novels' story-purview into post-DS9 time, the novel program's editors have gone to great effort to build a consistent overall canon, to the extent of building a timeline that includes nearly all of the Pocket-published novels issued in the franchise's history. Which is to say, creating an "extended universe" very much in the mode of the Star Wars EU....
kradical From: kradical Date: April 23rd, 2014 03:51 am (UTC) (Link)
I'm amused that you felt the need to explain about the sea change in Trek fiction to me, since I was in on the ground floor of that. I can also assure you that it had absolutely nothing to do with Star Wars. In fact, that wasn't the first time the Trek novels had continuity -- there was a loose continuity in the early days of Pocket's program, but after around 1986/1987 (the 20th anniversary, the release of Star Trek IV, and the debut of TNG), the reins were tightened, and Paramount specifically instructed Pocket to avoid all inter-novel continuity and make every single novel a standalone.

With Gene Roddenberry's death in 1991, and the subsequent firing of the guy who created that policy (a gentleman named Richard Arnold), that was relaxed, but the editors at Pocket (David Stern and Kevin Ryan) saw no reason to change their ways, as they had a good thing going. But with the departures of those two over time, and their replacement with John Ordover and Marco Palmieri -- both of whom were much more interested in creating a more cohesive novelverse, probably due primarily to both of their backgrounds as comics fans -- led to more internovel continuity.

Diane's books make the point, too -- so does John M. Ford's The Final Reflection or Margaret Wander Bonanno's Strangers from the Sky, all of which were shitcanned by onscreen canon. Which just proves my point.
From: idran Date: April 23rd, 2014 06:04 am (UTC) (Link)
For me, the issue with this sort of thing is when a novel series is in the middle of an ongoing story arc. Individual books are always self-contained to a degree, sure, but when they're involved in an overall plot line, there's the same sort of feeling you get when a great TV show gets cancelled before its time. Sure, I can (and do) still enjoy what came before, but not getting that sense of closure just jabs at me.

Granted, I never read the Star Wars EU, so I don't know if it was in the middle of any big plot developments. But the idea that I won't get to find out how things end up developing with the Typhon Pact or the recent upheavals in the Federation in the TrekLit line as time goes on, for example, is one thing that always makes me a little chilled from news of new possible TV Trek or the like. :P

But yeah, for me at least, it's not that stuff doesn't "count" anymore, but that I won't get to see more in the specific plot lines that end up put by the wayside as a result.

Edited at 2014-04-23 06:05 am (UTC)
coyotegoth From: coyotegoth Date: April 23rd, 2014 06:23 am (UTC) (Link)
Heck, in a universe where Luke snogs his sister, what *is* Star Wars canon?
dianeb_047 From: dianeb_047 Date: April 24th, 2014 03:35 pm (UTC) (Link)
I liked your Sherlock example. And I'm all with you regarding those who "think contradictory versions of stories in the same universe ruins one of the contradictory ones." It's never been a problem for me. (Deviously, she adds, "because I have a life.") A good story is a good story. Re-reading Imzadi doesn't piss me off. End of, er, story.
14 comments or Please comment