Modern Star Wars storytelling is balanced on a beautiful paradox. On one side, everything is part of the same story, giving even the smallest addition a huge responsibility. On the other side, that responsibility requires fans to almost completely shift their mindsets about the franchise, which can be difficult.
So you’ve got the positive stuff constantly in battle with the more difficult stuff, and that constantly spawns conversation. Let’s break it down.
When Lucasfilm was purchased by Disney, the decision was made that anything that advances the Star Wars story would become part of the same singular canon. Books, comics, games—they’re now as definitive as TV and film. Anything you pick up related to Star Wars adds to the whole; there’s a group of executives called the Lucasfilm Story Group whose sole job is to make sure all of these moving parts come together in a cohesive way.
As a Star Wars fan, I can’t think of anything more exciting than it all having a purpose. The amazing fact that we’re finally finding out what happened to Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and Han Solo (RIP) after Return of the Jedi is just the icing on the cake. Now, every single bit of Star Wars out there gives us another piece of the puzzle. You can go to the store, pick up Marvel’s Star Wars comic, and read crucial pieces of Star Wars history. Did you ever wonder how Darth Vader would’ve reacted between when he realized Obi-Wan Kenobi hid his son from him? Well, that happens in the comics—and it was a result of Luke Skywalker meeting Boba Fett, if you can believe it.
With the new canon, you can pick up a book and read how many Imperial Officers disagreed with Grand Moff Tarkin when he blew up Alderaan. Find out why that Star Destroyer was crashed on Jakku. How Luke gained strength in the Force before Empire Strikes Back. That Darth Vader felt conflicted long before he killed the Emperor. What happened to the Rancor Keeper. How the Rebel Alliance was created and what happened to Darth Maul.
All of those plot points have been covered in recent material, which gives the stories an unprecedented resonance. There’s just a special feeling to reading a Star Wars book or playing a Star Wars game and realizing this is part of that story you grew up with. It’s like unwrapping a present, every single time.
Of course, this overload of Star Wars poses some issues. The first being, do these things retcon? Meaning, does the new information fit in with the information that’s already well-known and out there?
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a prime example. Rogue One is the next Star Wars film coming out, and it takes place right before the original one in the official canon. However, the new film features all kinds of ships and technology that we did not see in the original trilogy. Where was all that stuff when Luke, Han, and Leia were fighting the Empire? The prequels got around that because so much time had passed, you could say all the ships and technology got outdated. Or that the Empire drove progress into the ground. But Rogue One and A New Hope are back to back. It would be silly if you didn’t question where the elite Death Troopers and U-Wing ships went days, months, and years later. They weren’t deemed worthy to fight the battle in the following films?
The obvious answer is they just hadn’t been conceived yet. In our world, not Star Wars. Those ships were created for Rogue One, and to put them back in, A New Hope would just be the Special Editions all over again. We don’t want that. Which leads to another obvious, but difficult, distinction.
For decades, the Star Wars story was thought of in relatively small terms. There were movies, books, comics, games and more. Some of it fit, some didn’t. It was either related or it wasn’t. It didn’t matter. People obviously made connections but everything was kind of unofficial except the movies. Now that everything officially fits, we have to look at the story as being bigger than that.
It’s a whole galaxy, not just one story. We have to realize what we once thought of Star Wars is just a tiny sliver of a bigger picture. Life continued on Tatooine after Jabba was destroyed. People who were thousands of miles away from Endor when the Death Star was destroyed didn’t hear about it. Naboo is still a place that exists and Gungans live there. Lots of stuff is going on beyond the edges of frame. In fact, there’s even more.
The problem with telling stories that have their later chapters already set in stone: major changes may feel a bit less major.
Take Grand Admiral Thrawn. Thrawn is a creation from the old Star Wars Expanded Universe who has now become canon. He’s a master military strategist for the Empire and, because he existed before A New Hope (the time period Rebels takes place in), it raises some big questions. Why didn’t he help Darth Vader and the Emperor find Luke Skywalker? That had to be the biggest threat, right? Does it mean he has to die on the show? Maybe but, if not, there’s one very simple, but slightly maddening, explanation to every single question. It’s a big universe and he was doing something else.
That’s kind of a bummer, right? That the answer to almost every question is “They’re dead” or “They’re out of town.” But it makes sense when you realize how big the world is.
This goes for Jedi-in-training Ezra and his master Kanan, too. The fact that there may be other Jedi working for the Rebel Alliance before Luke Skywalker was introduced feels like a contradiction of the phrase “A New Hope.” But they don’t have to be dead once the story gets to A New Hope if they just went into hiding or something.
A less clear example is from the new book Aftermath: Life Debt. Keeping things relatively spoiler-free, a major new villain is introduced in that book, a big player in the Empire post-Return of the Jedi. Well, is this person Supreme Leader Snoke? Probably not, but it could be. We don’t have as many pieces to that story yet (there’s still one Aftermath book and at least two more post-Jedi movies coming) so it’s impossible to tell if the character is dead, or just not around, once Snoke took over.
Then there’s a more philosophical side to the argument. Do we really need to know and care about filling in the dots? Yes, it’s going to be really cool to find out how Jyn Erso and her team stole the plans for the Death Star and to see when Han Solo met Chewbacca. But we don’t need to see these things. We lived decades not knowing the specifics about these events. If this is such a huge universe, there has to be a point where stories are being told that don’t relate to the same story of the Rebels versus the Empire. The Resistance versus the First Order. Jedi versus the Sith.
It feels like, since this new Star Wars canon is still a relatively new thing, everyone involved is still feeling this out. Including the audience. We keep getting familiar stories because there’s no real precedent of anything else. All the new changes, like Rebels or Aftermath, are met with praise, but also skepticism. Can it all work? How does it fit? Once we slow down with those questions, we’ll probably stop getting films with so many answers.
The Star Wars canon is a complicated thing, in both exciting and frustrating ways. There’s no doubt it greatly enhances the weight and importance of art beyond just the movies. But it also requires older fans to totally change their mindsets in regards to Star Wars.
Star Wars is more than just one character, one ship, one planet. It’s trillions of characters, billions of ships, and millions of planets. It’s a full, vibrant galaxy that we are just now, almost four decades after its creating, finally started to explore fully. Like a lot of things in this world, we just have to have a broader understanding of it.