A matter of canon

One thing I think nobody in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s could have anticipated, was the extent to which the popular science fiction and fantasy products of that era would continue to be dominant well past the turn of the new century. Certainly there was no indication, when the original Star Trek limped through the end of its third season, that the franchise — there was no franchise at that stage — would spawn numerous successful spinoff TV series, over a dozen full-length motion pictures, any number of comic book adaptations, and well over one hundred novels; both original stories, and novelizations of films and TV episodes. Roughly one decade later, Star Wars revolutionized movie-making, and turned science fiction into a common household commodity. Battlestar Galactica — derided by critics as a Star Wars ripoff — earned so much fan loyalty in syndication, that one generation later it was revived in the form of an entirely new series, with an all new cast, and a plot that had been reworked according to 21st century sensibilities. Now we’ve got new Star Wars movies afoot, picking up where Return of the Jedi left off. Given the lackluster experience of the SW prequels, my sense is that people are expecting great things from the new movies; to make up for what the prequels never got right.

But wait, Lucas himself — the father of Star Wars — was behind the prequels. How could the man who gave birth to a thing, do so wrong by that very same thing? And why do we look to people other than Lucas to set the Star Wars universe to rights?

The same was true for Star Trek, you know. Gene Roddenberry gave us the series, sure, but he was also (in many ways) his own franchise’s worst enemy. For Gene, Star Trek served as an outlet for his quasi-hedonistic, utopian idealism. Thus the first full-length Star Trek film almost ensured that there would be no more. They had to sideline Roddenberry in order to put things back on track, with Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. He was again sidelined after the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, a series that went on to greatness — but only when people other than Roddenberry were in charge.

Now, all of this may be a harsh indictment of Lucas and Roddenberry both, but the point I want to make is: when you (as creator/producer) don’t understand what it is your own fans see in your product, you’re liable to wind up creating (for yourself and your fans) a tremendous amount of heartache.

See, respecting the canon isn’t just a matter of preserving timelines or sequences of events; though this is a huge part of it. Respecting the canon also means respecting what it is that fuels the enthusiasm of the people who watch your TV show, go to see your movies, or pick up and read your books.

I remember in the mid-1990s when it was revealed that neither Paramount Pictures, nor Viacom (the parent of Paramount) considered any of the many Pocketbooks Star Trek novels to be canonical, in terms of the movies and TV shows. That was a rather serious blow to me, as a fan. I’d read several dozen of those very same Pocketbooks novels, and considered some of them to be among the finest works of science fiction I’d ever encountered — they were that good. Written by top-notch SF/F authors who were doing terrific storytelling within the Star Trek framework. Then, ruh-roh, the corporate powers behind the franchise revealed that the Pocketbooks novels didn’t count. I was rather upset by this, as a fan. Both because of the time and money I’d invested, and because of the fact some of those Pocketbooks Star Trek novels were every bit as good as, if not better than, the movies and TV episodes of the time. Who were Paramount and Viacom to tell me, the fan, what was legit, or not?

That sense (on my part) increased, as the underwhelming Next Generation films let me down, and then it was revealed (post-Nemesis) that they were “rebooting” the entire franchise with a fresh cast of actors who would recapture and remold the original series years. I saw and liked 2009’s Star Trek and thought Abrams brought a lot to the table — as a man who clearly knew how to meld SF elements with those of comedy, thriller, and so forth. But by the time Into Darkness debuted, I was in this weird place in my fannish brain where I was having to pick and choose what it was I personally considered to be “Star Trek” and what was not. Because, clearly, with the new incarnation re-writing events and forging a new path, what had gone before . . . was being called into question. Especially the feel of the show — its creative thrust and purpose. The Star Trek I thought I knew and loved in 1986-1989, was not necessarily the Star Trek boldly going in 2013.

I suspect Star Wars fans are now at a similar crossroads. I saw people doggedly fight their way through the prequels — for the sake of canon — only to emerge on the other side in a state of unique unhappiness. Star Wars had let them down. Badly. Lots of people said, “At least the Expanded Universe is there for us.” But aha, Disney is abandoning the Expanded Universe. The EU — like the Pocketbooks’ Star Trek novels — is being written out of the bigger picture. How many books does this cut from the main story? How many events? How many characters? More than that, how much fan investment is being scuttled? Emotional, and otherwise? I don’t necessarily blame Disney. You knew this was going to happen the moment Lucas sold off to a third party. And it’s way easier to start “fresh” than to try to build new films which coherently fit with all the many, many different continuing stories that the Expanded Universe contains. But that’s a massive amount of fan loyalty being tested — especially when the first “new canon” Star Wars book to hit print, chalks up a 40% one-star rating among readers — more than all the five and four-star ratings combined. Ouch!

Star Wars VII is, therefore, going to have to not only rock the house, it’s going to have to rock the house so completely that Star Wars fans who’ve invested in the EU are willing to quietly let go of almost 30 years of books, toys, series, and stories, none of which will be allowed to factor into the new canon that Abrams and Co. are forging with the new movies.

Is any movie sufficient to the task?

Or are Star Wars fans going to simply sigh, and begin drawing up their own personal left and right limits on what Star Wars is for them on a fan-by-fan basis? Has this already been happening anyway? I know for me, my unhappiness with the SW prequels is so great, I’ve pretty much disavowed them. To me, Star Wars literally begins with the shot of Princess Leia’s ship fleeing the Star Destroyer (over the skies of Tatooine) and I consider the events beforehand to be just as murky as they were when I was seeing Star Wars fresh in the theater the first time, way back when. I am prepared to walk into Star Wars VII and be so wowed by it, that I happily sign on — in my imagination — to the new direction Abrams is taking. After all, having had the rug yanked out from under me once (Paramount, Viacom) I did not — in the the 1990s — invest much time or effort in EU product. I read and enjoyed a few of the books, yes. But I had this little voice in the back of my head saying, “Don’t take any of it as gospel, because they’re going to disavow it all eventually anyway.”

Which they’ve now more or less done — talk of “legends” notwithstanding.

All of which makes me think: is every story that gets big and famous enough, guaranteed to begin warping in on itself, as time — and interested parties, with money, and a desire to make more — begin to meddle? It takes a singular, iron hand to keep a thing pristine in the face of this kind of artistic and economic entropy. But people die. They get tired. They decide to make money while the money is good. Inheritors, too, decide to make money while the money is good. They’d be stupid not to. So, Star Wars is becoming something different from what it once was, just as Star Trek also became different, and both of these franchises may become more different still, given a further generation of “adaptation” for new markets and marketing.

Most of us won’t see anything we create reach the point of massive world-wide popularity, that corporations are willing to invest billions of dollars for the chance to “revive” our imagined worlds — for a new line of books, TV shows, movies, et cetera. As freelancers trying to tell stories, in a storytelling market that is more competitive than it’s ever been before — because we now have more people with talent and skill telling more stories than ever before — there is a certain freedom that comes with not being “big” to the extent that big has come to be defined in our present age. But every book we publish is the kernel of what could eventually become huge, given time and word of mouth. That’s how a novel like Andy Weir’s The Martian soars out of the indie publishing scene, to become a phenomenon. Did Weir plan it that way? Hardly. He sat down and wrote a book to the best of his ability, telling the kind of story he wanted to tell, and now it’s a Ridley Scott movie, capitalizing on bestseller status. Andy got the lightning strike. And I would bet you Andy’s got a lot of people putting a lot of money in front of him, if only he’ll “continue on” with that same story. Even if Andy’s told all the story he cared to tell, with The Martian. If the movie is a hit — and it’s probable that it will be — the financial incentive for sequels will be massive. Whether or not Andy feels there is a logical storytelling reason for those sequels, or not. Heck, Andy may just sell the rights, and somebody else will be brought in to tell more stories in that same universe. And if those stories do well . . . anyway, can you see how this works?

Ditto Harry Potter. Anyone want to wager on if/when J.K. Rowling will begin telling new stories — about the generation of wizard students following Harry’s — before 2030?

Will the Harry Potter films be made again, in twenty years? New cast? New take on the whole Hogwarts thing?

Look at the world of comic books and comic book heroes — I still remember very clearly, the Christopher Reeve Superman of 1978. Yup. It’s been re-made, and the Superman story rebooted. Which, of course, was not the first time, either — since any number of serials and movies have been made during this comic book character’s existence in the popular imagination.

Batman too, from the 1989 version. Which merely came on the heels of still earlier incarnations.

And so on and so forth, back through the creative ages.

Maybe the best thing that can be said is: once we (as a culture) latch onto a thing, we love it so much, we simply refuse to let it go. We keep re-doing it and re-making it and trying to keep it fresh and up-to-the-minute. Sometimes the results are good. Sometimes the results are not-so-good. In the case of the comic book lines especially, their canon have been so twisted, warped, re-shuffled, and re-worked, that there are potentially dozens of different parallel universes — all running side-by-side with each other, depending on which iteration(s) people choose to like.

As creators ourselves, we have to look in the mirror every day and ask ourselves how married we are to our things we make, and how willing are we to allow these things to become their own entities, out in the wider world? Are we flexible enough to allow audiences to see things in our work, which we ourselves may not see? To fixate on aspects of our stories that we either consider trivial, or which interest us not at all?

Case in point: Gene Roddenberry was far more interested in the “free love” aspect of his 23rd century star navy — a navy Gene denied was a navy at all — than most of the fans, many of whom were interested in the star navy; as an extrapolated future military. In fact, Star Trek and its Starfleet became the personification of military SF storytelling for millions of fans. I am pretty sure Gene never intended it to be that way. But that’s how it worked out. Gene’s been gone for almost 25 years now, so we can’t ask him how he feels about this legacy. Frankly, I think I’d be damned proud to have a fictional footprint the size of Starfleet on my storytelling resume. Starfleet is the idealized service many actual, current servicemembers wish they could join — myself included.

Starfleet will live forever.

That’s canon. That’s the fans finding meaning in the work.

I noticed recently — when examining Amazon.com reviews — that fans of David Weber’s Honor Harrington books, weren’t terribly pleased with the comic book adaptation that’s come out. From a purely visual standpoint, the comics look great. But fans of the books seem to feel that the comics are taking too many liberties. The authenticity isn’t what the fans expected it to be. The Honor Harrington they know and love in the novels, is not faithfully replicated in comics form.

This, too, is canon. Or, at least, an example of fan reaction when canon has not been sufficiently adhered to.

Maybe another generation of readers, sufficiently removed from the source, could read and enjoy the Honor Harrington comics with fresh eyes?

That’s what almost anyone treading familiar ground has to hope for — that there will be enough fresh people who like the new material, to offset old-guard fans who are married to the old material. Star Trek survived this, when The Next Generation came on strong. Of course, The Next Generation did not disavow anything which had gone before, and was sufficiently visually and thematically Star Trek that it was relatively easy for most fans to adapt to the new ship, the new crew, the new stories, and the evolved world put forth in Jean-Luc Picard’s 24th century Federation, versus James Kirk’s 23rd century.

Abrams’s “Nu Trek” is a very different approach — it overturns everything, going all the way back to square one. Same characters, but events are scrambled up, and everything we saw and knew before has been placed into a “plot bottle” and set on the shelf. We may never see any more movies or TV series told in that timeline.

Are fans going to hold with it? How much overlap is there between the fans of the older series and movies, and fans of Nu Trek?

I ponder all of this as I work on my own books. These future histories I lay down, in story form, they are “real” in my mind. But I have to always remind myself that they will be double “real” in the minds of readers — and those readers are going to expect me to take my job seriously; as the teller of the future history. I have to be faithful to the eyes and ears who will receive that future history. I have to strive for consistency. And, over time, I have to be respectful of the fact that what my readers see in my work, may not necessarily be what I see in my work. (again: Roddenberry.) For them, the books will become a unique experience. Apart from me or what I intended. Created anew in the minds and hearts of people who know little or nothing about me, or who I am; they are simply coming to the story fresh. When they are done, the story will have attained something of permanence in their minds. Hopefully, if I’ve done my work right, it will be a pleasant permanence. Something they can take with them into the future, as a memorable, worthwhile experience. And it will be their experience. Make no mistake.

I think that’s where Lucas goofed. He said to himself, “I made Star Wars so I can do whatever I want with it, and people will love it.” Only, no. The “fixes” to the first three films, have not aged well since they were adopted. Look at how many fans are begging Disney to make good on its promise to offer us unadulterated, pure versions of Episodes IV, V, and VI — sans the CGI and other 1990s meddling that may have seemed like a nifty idea at the time, but which have ultimately proven to be a distraction. Or have even angered some fans, who walked away feeling like Lucas didn’t respect them sufficiently to leave well enough alone.

And that’s the bottom line: respect for the audience. The moment your book or story is out in the world, that audience “owns” the experience as much as you own the story. Go easy, folks. Be gentle in your desire to re-work a thing, or tell that audience how they ought to see your creation. Maybe what they get out of it, is totally different from what you’d like, or what you intended. But that’s okay. Storytelling is a two-part creative enterprise. The first part is complete when the story leaves your fingertips. The rest happens between the ears of the receivers on the other end — their imaginations, their time, their investment. Honor that. Cherish it, in fact.

Because we’ve seen what can go wrong, when any creator(s) decide to do otherwise.

78 Comments

Filed under BRAD R. TORGERSEN, WRITING

78 responses to “A matter of canon

  1. Bob

    All I have to say is:

    HAN SHOT FIRST!!!

  2. John in Philly

    Brad,
    My first exposure to SW was in a movie theater in Norfolk Virginia. (Yes, Navy) I have no idea what movie I saw, but I vividly remember the teaser had a couple of guys fighting with glowing swords, and spaceships and a lot of other really cool things. I turned to my buddy and in a classic understatement murmured, “That looks kinda interesting.”

    I saw SW seventeen times in the theater, and who knows how many times after that. I will use the original numbering and state that SW One could not have been made any better, SW Two was good, and SW Three was only OK.

    After leaving leaving the theater after the first prequel, my wife and I have never watched anything in the SW universe again.

    As for the why of taking a great product and running off into the wrong direction, I suggest we ask Thomas Edison about direct current, and ask Henry Ford about the Model T, and continue by asking any number of great innovators why their initial brilliance went so badly wrong.

    As to your points, yes, yes, and absolutely yes.

    • Glitchus

      I saw SW episode 4 (1) when it came out in the Seventies when I was a kid. It was AWESOME!!! Later I saw 5 (2) and 6 (3) and was of your same opinion, that they got progressively worse. When episode 1 (4) came to theaters at Ft. Benning, GA (yes, Army) I brought my wife and two kids, who were about the same age as when I first saw the original. We were literally in shock during the entire movie, as it was utterly terrible, and we’ve still not bothered to watch the next two, as you can only take so much abuse. As for the new installment, I’m not bothering to go, as I now have very low expectations.

  3. In my own small way, I’m fighting this battle already in my Blue Collar Space stories. I’m resisting drawing up a formal timeline because I’m more interested in writing stories, but it’s getting harder to avoid contradictions — especially as stories change between the magazine version and the novel version.

  4. TRX

    Sometimes fans are unhappy enough with the changes that they simply make their own episodes and movies. In the last ten years there have been half a dozen of each, some arguably of better quality than the “official” versions.

    What once took an entire industry to make and another one to distribute can now be done on a few fans’ entertainment budget. And they do it despite trademarks and copyrights.

    Check out “Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning”. You can watch it on YouTube. It was done by some Finnish Trek fans. The opening scene on the starship bridge – that’s the actors posing in front of a blue sheet on Samuli Torssonnen’s living room wall, and all the CGI background was rendered by a server cluster under his kitchen table.

    • Or check out “Star Trek Continues” and “Star Trek New Voyages/Phase II” for increasingly quality-made fan productions. Vic Mignona of “STC” and James Cawley of “STNV/PII” have been masterfully re-creating the look and feel of the original “Star Trek” episodes, down to completely re-creating the original sets using the production blueprints, and learning lighting and production techniques to mimic the first series. Cawley actually got some rights to use the scripts Roddenberry had started for a “Phase II” series before it became “Star Trek: The Motion(less) Picture”, while Mignona has been creating sequels to some of the original series best episodes, including a sequel to “Who Mourns for Adonais” and “Mirror, Mirror”. Both have talented teams of either semi-pro actors, or professional actors some of whom re-create their roles for the sequels. They make their productions available for free on YouTube and Vimeo, as they are not allowed to be commercial projects, but they have opened different Kickstarter projects before (Mignona’s team calls them “Kirkstarters” 🙂

      Try them out I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

  5. Angus Trim

    I see that most of the other new Star Wars material is fairly well received. I think the problem is more that Wendig and Star Wars aren’t good fits.

    Expectations with canon can upset fans. But ocassionally the new thing catches fire and takes off.

    One example of that is Conan the Barbarian. The first movie of the 80s. Really, it doesn’t just break canon, it shatters it. It has some resemblence to the original Robert E Howard shorts, novellas and the novel, but it really doesn’t fit the canon.

    However, it was kinda enjoyable in its own right. And it spawned some copycat movies, and some fanboy stuff as far as the props went. I think the movie made Conan bigger than the early original work.

    I still prefer the original work. But that might be more a factor of my age than anything else.

    • TRX

      Well, first there was Howard’s canon, and then the “new canon” when de Camp and others turned it into a franchise, rewriting and expanding Howard’s stories, twisting non-Conan stories into Conan stories, and finally commissioning new stories from other authors. The Hollywood version wasn’t *that* divergent by comparison…

  6. TRX

    > canon

    On the other hand, the main version – TV series, movies, whatever the prime storyline is – should be able to stand on its own.

    Back 20 years ago Michael Straczynski interacted heavily with fans on the internet when he was filming Babylon 5. (lots of quotes and transcripts on midwinter.com, for anyone who cares) Sometimes people would have questions about various happenings, and Strac would huffily tell them that whatever it was was explained in detail in some comic or tie-in book.

    Well, no. The prime storyline needs to be internally consistent. I’m not going to search out some “limited edition collectible” comic book to fill in the gaps. Maybe Strac got points on tie-in materials. But I’m not playing that game.

    I’ve seen something similar in books. Dollar General stores still have book racks. New paperbacks for $1.25? Heck yeah! I’d pick out two or three, then one or two, then it got to where I didn’t bother. Almost all the books they carried were the second or third book in some series I’d never heard of. Hey, check out a new author for cheap, nothing wrong with that. But almost all of the books were so dependent on the preceding volume that they didn’t make sense. I got the idea that they were just out there at $1.25 to vector sales to the first book, probably at $14.95 somewhere if I bothered to search it out… except what I was reading was so bad most of the authors wound up on my “ripoff – do not buy” list.

    • I recently got a review for the fourth (and final) book in my series from a reader who had not read any of the first three, She said specifically that she was pleased and surprised at how easy it was for her to pick up on the important points and just enjoy the story. That was very gratifying because I worked hard on filling in the background while avoiding data dumps and that made me feel the work was worth it.

      • I can identify with this. I read The Colour of Magic years ago and hated Rincewind. I decided that Pratchett was just a fantasy version of Douglas Adams and not to my taste. After years of hearing people I respect gush about Discworld, I finally gave it another shot and purchased the audible version of Snuff … and discovered that I love the City Watch. In fact I love just about everything about Discworld EXCEPT for Rincewind (still can’t stand him).
        Same thing with the Dresden Files. I didn’t hate Storm Front, but wasn’t particularly impressed. Tried again with Summer Knight and Butcher become one of my favorite writers.
        If I had been required to read either of those series in order, I would never have made it past the second book.

    • Draven

      The fact that the spinoff stuff- books, comics, etc- was actually all canon and actually incorporated into the series was a Big Deal in 1996. At that time we knew the extra Trek stuff was all of no consequence, and some people had noticed the ‘official’ Star Wards continuation stuff that was supposed to be canon was being disregarded and wasn’t even internally consistent. Most of the stuff that you needed to refer to the extra books for, B5 wise, was usually what would have been considered a ‘throwaway line’ in any other show (DS9, Voyager, etc) and the question *never* would have been answered.

  7. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

    Khan Was Not A White Englishman!!!!!! [Wink]

  8. A couple of years ago my roommate gave me the 50th Anniversary Blu-Ray James Bond Collection. 23 films and I have no idea how many hours of extras, documentaries, interviews, music videos, all manner of schwag.

    That’s the most successful film franchise of all time, and one of my personal favorites. Watching them in order made me see how little is actually “canon” in the Bond universe.

    Bond works for the British secret service, recruited from the British Navy. He works for someone called M and is outfitted by someone called Q. He is a “Double-O” agent, one of a handful who are authorized to work outside the law when necessary to fulfill the mission.

    That’s about all you can say for certain. Everything else is fluid. Some events from a prior film may be referenced in later films, but there is no sense that the filmmakers feel bound by the details of what has gone before.

    The characters can be played by different actors–not just Bond (Connery, Lazenby, Moore, Dalton, Brosnan, Craig) but the supporting characters as well, M, Q, Moneypenny. Blofeld, the series only returning villain, has been played by as many actors as Bond himself.

    The American CIA man, Felix, has died at least once, maybe twice, and come back unscathed.

    The consistency in the series is stylistic rather than logical, and that, I believe, is what makes the franchise so enduring. Fast paced violent action in visually arresting locations, beautiful women in danger, sociopathic megalomaniacs with sinister plans, and the British slow moving bureaucracy putting Bond in a position where he must go outside of his orders to save the day, with only M believing that he can do it.

    That’s the real canon, not the dates and places. And that is what Albert and now Barbara Broccoli managed to cling to through all the incarnations of the hero and the constantly changing geo-political backdrop.

    • TRX

      I never got to see any of the Bond movies at the theater, and I didn’t see one on TV until I was maybe 16 or 17. I’d read the Fleming books and had been underwhelmed, but seeing the movies was a revelation.

      Not the movies themselves, which I uniformly felt were “meh”, but because they were so familiar – Get Smart, Lance Link Secret Chimp, Our Man Flint, the Nick Carter and other spy books, and innumerable SF books that riffed off Bond, including even Jack Vance…

      That’s why I understand people who first saw “Star Wars” a decade or two ago. They saw reflections of it everywhere growing up; seeing the real thing was an anticlimax. But in the context of its day… there basically wasn’t any SF on the big screen, or even on TV – you had reruns of Lost in Space or Star Trek (if you were lucky…), or maybe My Favorite Martian (if you weren’t.) There were a handful of SF movies you might catch at a matinee, but face if, once you’ve seen “Planet of the Apes” once there’s not much meat left for a second viewing.

      Then you had Star Wars blasting off the big screen. It just dropped you into some dark gritty future with no backstory, and much of is was shiny and new… and some of it wasn’t. My favorite bit of the whole movie was the Millennium Falcon. Right from the beginning when they run up to the ship, there’s a halo of dirt around the hatch button and hydraulic fluid oozing from the landing legs. And inside it’s full of open panels and rats’ nests of wires, trash and bits of paper. And it’s not even particularly reliable…

  9. The CGI thing is tricky. I like the fact that they could go back and polish some scenes and ramp them up. For example removing mat lines around the models for instance. Adding some background fluff also all good. Cutting the scene where Han shot first not so good. So all I’m saying is let’s not throw out the baby with the bath water. I want these films to look as good as they can for the next generation of Star Wars fans.

    • B. Durbin

      Basically, what you’re saying is you want the cleaning. I think that’s reasonable—fix color discrepancies, clean, and re-black (because nothing’s prettier than a deep black for space.

      I believe that’s what is taking Disney so long. Apparently, some of the film stock they got was in less-than-stellar condition, and they’re giving it the full restoration treatment (like they do for some of their classic animations.)

      And on THAT note, hasn’t anybody at Disney noticed that their “vault” release schedule for their animated movies is an invitation to piracy? Parents who want a Disney movie don’t want to wait however many years until the next release date to get a copy of their favorite movie to show to their kids. I mean, I don’t know how many times I had to break it to someone that the screaming deal for ALL of the Disney animated movies for $300 was a bad Chinese pirate. (You’d think they’d notice the lack of professionalism in regards to the site, but they were blinded by excitement.) Disney ought to make all of their digitized movies available all the time. People will buy them.

  10. My trouble with the latest ST movie is that it’s a SF action movie with a coating of ST. When you can use a transporter to go from Earth to the Klingon homeworld and it also only takes one day to go there in the Enterprise it tells me they don’t care about the ST universe.

    • That’s been my main problem with the Star Trek reboots. Space has just gotten really, really small, apparently.

      • And the Klingon’s if they were that close would have conquered Earth years ago.

        • Micha Elyi

          I could never figure out how the Klingons ever mastered high tech on their own. Not much blood and bravery in technology itself.

          • Possibly like Larry Niven’s Kzinti. One of the Kzin’s slave races were the very non-humanoid Jotok. They showed up on the Kzin homeworld during the equivalent of our Middle Ages and assumed any sapient species would be nice guys like themselves. The Kzin were smart enough to learn the technology from the Jotok they left alive but had never enjoyed enough stability to develop it on their own. So the Jotok unintentionally bootstrapped the intensely warlike Kzin with the tech to allow one clan to conquer the homeworld and then move on to other star systems.

  11. BobtheRegisterredFool

    For me, the only part of Star Wars producing new material that I’m interested in are a couple of fanfic writers. Those are my canon right now.

  12. aAlabamaDill

    I like your point of view, and appreciate creators who try to stay consistent. When I notice in-consistentancies I choose to assume it’s like real life history. Everyone has there own truth. 😉 it’s is the thrill of the ride I’m looking for and the recognition of the truth of life as I know it-whether it’s in lens world, Tarzan, or LOTR s.

  13. Regarding the Star Trek “Pocket” books, I don’t think they ever were “canon” in the sense the EU was. While the Star Trek books had to be consistent with the original series, they had no need to be consistent with each other and that goes back to before Pocket had the print franchise, all the way back to the Ballantine books. James Blish’s (who wrote the novelizations of the origial series) original ST novel “Spock Must Die” took the Klingons out of the ST universe supposedly for 1000 years. Obviously, that didn’t stop anybody else from using them. I’ve seen two different, mutually contradictory, takes on the Romulan commander from “The Enterprise Incident”. I’ve seen books where the cloaking device stolen in that episode became a part of Federation equipment and tactics incorporated it. I’ve seen other books where it was asserted that it only worked that one time for the Enterprise and nobody else was able to make it work (restoring status quo ante and making the whole episode a waste of time).

    The closest I’ve ever seen of the novels being treated as canon is in the Novelization of The Wrath of Khan, written by Vonda N. McIntire, who referenced a character from her own novel The Entropy Effect a former lover of Sulu’s. (Would really have liked to have seen more done with her take on Saavik–who she characerized as half-Vulcan, half-Romulan and gave a really fascinating back story.) And this is well into the Paramount era.

    In any case, the Star Trek novels were never really canon. A particular author might keep a continuity within their own stories, but there was not really any attempt to keep different authors consistent with each other.

    For that matter, continuity and “canon” was pretty weak in the original series as well. In “A Rose by Any other Name” the Kelvin’s modified the Enterprise for Ludicrous Speed. Nobody in the Federation was able to reverse engineer that? (Ditto when Nomad, in “The Changeling” boosted their drive.) Time and again, the Enterprise encountered extremely advanced technology, adapted it for a particular story, and forgot about it. Problems of an episodic show where you always have to end in the same condition at which you began to give other writers a common starting point and so you can show episodes in any order for syndication–or even in original release since the order in which they were televised was not the order in which they were made.

    Star Wars, OTOH, was supposed to be a single consistent universe. The events of “The Courtship of Princess Leia” are part of the backstory of the Thrawn trilogy. And Mara Jade, introduced in that trilogy becoming a regular character later. And so on.

    So, from a fan perspective, what DIsney has done is worse. It was a continuous continuity (with flaws and mistakes, of course, as you’ll always have even in a single writer’s work, let alone in a hugely collaborative work) in a way that Star Trek wasn’t.

    Still, I’m willing to credit that maybe Wendig didn’t turn in what was expected and I can see why they wouldn’t want to be bound by the large existing EU in what is now their property and thus give them a chance.

    We’ll see.

    • Mara Jade was ripped off from that spy who romances Luke in the Marvel comics. Of course I approve of the plan, but it should be said.

      And for more on Saavik and Hellguard, there was a very good ST novel by Carolyn Clowes.

  14. Elliott Starr

    As far as the SW prequels are concerned, I can see fans being upset with them. They had to end on a downer, with the Empire triumphant, even though the IV, V, and VI episodes were foreshadowed.

    I remember seeing comments by RAH about why he never wrote the stories showing Nehemiah Scudder taking over the US. IIRC, he said that those stories would just be too depressing to write, even though he had ideas about how to write them.

    In my opinion this is just what Lucas tried to do with the prequels. That he succeeded at all to the degree that he did is an achievement. I find them hard to watch, just because of their depressing message, but they are indeed internally consistent with the entire series. That almost all the heroes died in the final episode(III) is followed by the inference that their cause will rise again(as it does in IV, V, & VI).

    Thus there is a sad, but not depressing ending to the prequels. I applaud him for what he tried to do, but am sad that he wasn’t able to do it better.

    • As near as I can tell, most people didn’t have a problem with the destination, they had a problem with the journey.

    • If you have ever played Star Wars The Old Republic game (The story in the game is considered canon by Disney) you would realize that for a large number of people an Empire victory is not a downer.

      P.S. The opening CGI movies are very good and play more like movie trailers:

    • TRX

      Heinlein was old-school – even if some characters didn’t make it to the end, they still left the world a marginally better place.

      It’s hard to fit that into a “USA collapses into a brutal theocracy” storyline…

  15. I’m inclined to side with the people who refer to SW IV, V, and VI as “The Holy Trilogy” (often said as one word, “theHolyTrilogy.”) I’d read a bunch of the novels, got the tech guides, et cetera, and jumped back like a scalded cat from the New Jedi Order. My canon is the first three movies, AC Crispin’s Childe Solo books, the Rogue/Wraith Squadron books, up through Thrawn. And at that point the Alliance settles down and all the main characters life Happily Ever After.

    But I’ve never been a RabidFan. I was a RabidFan of a different series for, um, longer than I care to admit, but when the series came back from a pause, eh, it wasn’t the same and I’ve decided to stick with the original canon. As much as that series ever had a canon. 🙂

  16. As with all Science Fiction (literary included), audiences age. Corporations are not making movies to make old fans happy, they are making movies to make money. They know that old fans will watch the first one, bringing in the younger generation with them in their excitement for nostalgia. The younger generation will like it just fine because they have no nostalgic childhood to revisit yet, thus new fans of the NEW stuff are born. The old fans will say ‘drat to this garbage’ or simply ‘meh’…. but they are not the target audience for the sequels that the corporations are hoping to make more money from. It is my opinion that corporations DO NOT CARE about old fans; they only care about the NEW fans. This is one of the reasons why everything gets rebooted each generation or so.

    There is a parallel in this for the whole old guard/new guard/old-new guard (whatever you call it) debate in Sci-Fi lit. Generations and culture change are the key to understanding this effect (not every aspect, but some of it): what was new & good to an old crowd is now old & dry to a new crowd. It happens time and again. There’s nothing new under the sun, especially the fact that there is nothing new.

    I run across this is everything in life. For example: it happens even when working with manufacturing personnel when I try to update a process to improve efficiency. The gripe about the changes and how it slows them down at first. Then they learn how to do it the new way and it is faster, but you’ll never get them to admit to it. But woe unto you if you try to fiddle with that later!

    I sum it up with the following statement:

    “Change is bad until you get used to it, then you can’t change that either.”

    Of course, sometimes the change REALLY IS BAD, and that reinforces the general tendency. Sounds like that’s what happened to Brad with the Trek books that kept him from fully investing in the SWEU books (which I loved up to the Yuuzhan Vong plot). It also looks like what happened with the Wendig book, but only in part (bad writing is bad writing after all, no matter the subject).

    Luckily, I have the ability to do exactly what Brad said, CHOOSE MY CANON, if you will. Nu Trek is not Star Trek. It’s super-splody action time in space. It’s good for what it is (the 1st movie anyway), but I can skip it from here on out (a firm point of divergence is important: they didn’t go back in time far enough with their alternate universe to change who Khan was, therefore the second movie is just wrong – IMNSHO). Many younger people really like it though because they were not the TOS or STTNG Generation. They like super-splody!

    Time & Sci-Fi marches on, and so will Star Wars. If you are old-school, you are not the target audience after Ep. VII. Watch it or don’t… Didney Badger don’t care! 🙂

  17. > and well over one hundred novels

    Err, its over SIX HUNDRED novels now.

    But to be honest, even from the earliest days of the Bantam & Pocket series, there were major contradictions between books and sometimes even the original TV shows & movies. The events of Black Fire were in direct conflict with the Rihanssu sequence, there were differing (and conflicting) versions of Kirk and Spock’s early careers, etc. To me it became quickly obvious that the novels weren’t all taking place in the same continuity, and that any attempt to put them together so was going to end not only in abject failure but establish (probably needlessly arbitrary) limitations on future writers. You couldn’t, for instance, insist to TV & Movie writers that XYZ couldn’t be done, because it would conflict with events in some novel that only a fraction of the fandom had read. For those reasons, early on I gave up considering all media tie-in material as canon and just wrote them off as little more than a better class of fan fiction. Professionally written, competently edited, and officially sanctioned fan fiction, but fan fiction all the same.

    Personally, I think its easier to consider such franchises as Star Wars, Star Trek, Doctor Who, etc. in the older sense as Romantic Cycles rather than as a straight continual storyline. Like the Arthurian Cycle of stories, or the family of stories attached to the Trojan War. In each cycle we have a set of characters with specific attributes and to whom certain events and storylines are associated with. But these just serve as archetypes for the stories being told, the details of which are filled in by the storytellers and often change depending upon story need. Take Guinevere, for example: In Arthurian legend she’s always the queen of Arthur, and she always ends up having an adulterous affair with someone close to him. Usually that’s Lancelot, but not always (Geoffrey of Monmouth has her shacking up with Mordred). The point is that Guinevere’s unfaithfulness is always part of the overall Arthurian Cycle, and is always a major factor in Arthur’s fall; but who she has that affair with may change, depending upon the storytellers need or even their personal preferences. Just so other elements to the Arthurian Legends are always there — the Knights, the Round Table, their Quests, etc. But the details change according to storytellers need, and are not always reconcilable with other adventures with the same characters.

    I think the same thing has happened to many of these franchises. Star Trek has gotten so big that we are now retelling the original stories, but with slightly different events and to much different effects (eg, Wrath of Kahn vs. Into Darkness). The archetypes are still there – Kirk, Spock, Kahn, the Enterprise & crew, etc. – but the stories are now being retold according to the sensibilities of a different audience. And that actually is a good thing – it means the Star Trek Cycle as a whole is growing and shifting, and will almost certainly continue to change as times and audiences change.

    Perhaps its time to no longer think of these franchises in terms of continuity and canon, but in terms of families and cycles. In some tellings of the story Luke Skywalker marries Mara Jade, in others he becomes an old recluse. But whatever the telling, he’ll still be the son of Darth Vader/Annakin Skywalker, and still a powerful Force user who resurrects the Jedi order. And future storytellers will use that as their basic understanding of the character, and continue to move it in ways we can only imagine.

    Blah. I had more to say on this subject, but wife is telling me to get ready so we can get out of here. Maybe more thoughts on this later on.

    • Now, that is not fair. Gwen’s stories often have it be the point that she is faithful and valiant, but it happens that those are not the most popular ones since the French took over.

      And of course, the point is that a faithful valiant queen is less likely to be in story conflict situations than a quirky sinning queen.

      • > Now, that is not fair. Gwen’s stories often have it be the point that she is
        > faithful and valiant, but it happens that those are not the most popular
        > ones since the French took over.

        Not disagreeing. But that isn’t the point. It doesn’t matter how faithful or faithless she is written, how valiant or weak-willed she is portrayed. The point is that her adultery is an integral part of the story. It is one of the elements that everyone thinks about when they think of her, and it is nearly always one of the major elements that comes up whenever the story of Arthur is portrayed. No matter how many times the story is told or retold by different storytellers, or how she and it are portrayed, Guinevere’s adultery remains there — just as Troy will always fall to Greeks hiding in a wooden horse, and Roland will always die fighting Saracens in the Pyrenees. For better or for worse, it is an integral part of her story, and an element that different storytellers will use for different effects. The author may be named Chretien DeTroyes, or T.H. White, or Marion Zimmer Bradley, but Guinevere’s adultery in some form will still be there.

        Similarly, the same can be said for many elements of the universes we’re discussing – Kirk and Spock will always be close friends, Luke will always destroy the Death Star, Davros will always create a race of hate-filled pepperpots. Different writers may have differing takes on the details, but the broad strokes will always remain basically the same. Which is why I think we should stop thinking in terms of “canon” and “canonicity” when it comes to some of these universes (especially the huge behemoths like Star Trek and Star Wars), but instead in terms of “families” and “cycles”. Indeed, I think we’re already heading in the direction – the whole concept of “head canon” tells me that these universes have become so big that not everything promulgated under those names is being accepted by everyone.

        And remember… just because not everything will fit into one neat, concise continuity doesn’t necessarily mean the stories themselves won’t be enjoyable; Jack Whyte and T.H. White have vastly different, irreconcilable takes on Arthur, but that doesn’t mean their works aren’t worth picking up. As Star Trek, Star Wars, etc. move on, “reboots”, “reinterpretations”, and “retellings” will become more and more common. In many ways they are our modern Myths, and like all myths, the stories therein will change and come to mean different things to different people. I view the fact that there is even a discussion of what constitutes “canon” as a good thing – its a sign that these universes are still growing and vibrant, that people are still wanting to tell stories in them, and put their own spin on them. Its a sign that they will continue to grow as time goes on.

        Gah. I think I’m rambling here now. Does any of this make sense to anyone here?

    • TRX

      > Star Trek has gotten so big that we are now retelling the original stories,

      I paid full price for a seat at the premiere of “Star Trek: The Motion Picture.” After a while I realized it was just the old “Nomad” episode spun out into a long and boring movie…

      Years later I watched the first episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” Funny, I wasn’t real fond of The Squire of Gothos the first time around…

      All those years, all those scripts, all those people, all that money, and… that? That’s it?

      “Where no man has gone before” turned into “around in circles” very early, I think.

      • Individual stories still have to rise on their own. That doesn’t change in a shared universe. And yeah, I noticed the Nomad/V’Ger parallel as well.

        As for Squire of Gothos/Encounter at Farpoint… well, at least it did kick off a generally decent ST series. And in speaking of spin-off novels, the Peter David “Q” novels are actually among my favorite tie-ins (Q-In-Law is hilarious).

  18. aacid14

    For written EU stuff in any universe there is always a grain of sand. It’s one thing when its different chars, it is another when same ones.

    Star Wars seemed to be more into the cgi vs story in the prequels and it hurt

    Trek’s reboots are OK. The first one was pretty good although you do need to separate the chars from tos. The second would be good if you had never seen the original. I knew how the second half was going to go from the original but it seemed more lazy storytelling than homage, another danger of that type of plot device

  19. Anachronda

    The most annoying thing Lucas did to the Star Wars in the ’90s? When he added all those CGI creatures and whatnot, he couldn’t spare a few black pixels to deal with the moment in the cantina scene that the eyes in the gerbil mask line up and you see light shining right through the creature’s head.

    All that added stuff and he didn’t even fix the stuff that needed fixing.

  20. snelson134

    “From a purely visual standpoint, the comics look great.”

    Speak for yourself. 😉

    Seriously, what the comic did to Nimitz was a crime. There is no way anyone would trust something that looks like they drew Nimitz within a mile of their kids.

    • Reality Observer

      I haven’t seen the comics – but if he is the same as in the games, I cannot agree with you more.

      No, definitely wouldn’t have been allowed near any human. And the Protector’s Guard would have a had a “whoopsie” moment the second they laid eyes on him coming into the Palace, major diplomatic incident be damned.

      • Actually iirc the one in the game and the later comics is the improved version. The original concept made Nimitz look like the pet for the Cybermen of Dr. Who.

  21. You know, I was going to hark back to Sherlock Holmes dying, and the fans insisting that he didn’t. Then I remembered all the noise and furor around just which books belong in the Bible, and realized that this is an argument that has been going on for quite a while. I’ll bet there are stone tablets somewhere (or at least clay) that claim “This is the real canon.” Just consider where the term canonical comes from… So have a cup of tea and enjoy the show.

  22. With regard to ‘canon’ in books, comics, movies and TV, success can be a hard thing to deal with. But at least you can laugh all the way to the bank once you have a canon.

  23. Chris Nelson

    I was ten when SW came out. You would think I would be a fan. Not really.
    At that early age, I’d already read dozens of volumes of science fiction. Also my zenith of movies was 2001 which I had see in a re-release at age 8 or 9. I enjoyed SW IV as a fun movie, SW V as a slightly better one and understood by the VI, it was all about money, damn the story, damn the art.

    GL created the ultimate toy and tie-in merchandise machine, he didn’t have to hire any decent writers to create anything better than schlock once the fan base was addicted. Unlike many of my class mates, I didn’t need the toys to play, I already lived in a different, older world.

    If you have already read thousands of volumes of science fiction including the space operas and the really good stuff, you tend to judge science fiction movies with jaded eye. There’s hundreds of great books and a handful of great movies. Plus Hollywood has this innate ability to turn ideas into shit.

    Also “rebooting” canon happened mainly in the comic book world decades before the television and cinema worlds. I’m not a fan of the genre or the reboot practices. There’s millions of different flavors of stories to tell, we are stuck going to the silver screen of Taco Bell. It’s truly Sturgeon’s revelation in action. Or to a skeptical kid, adults can’t keep their stories straight.

    • TRX

      Schlock?

      I plunked down two days’ pay for a seat at “Return of the Jedi.” And it’s one of a handful of movies I’ve walked out on.

      The walking robots were just stupid and could be put up with, but eventually I reached the 100% Ewok saturation point and couldn’t stand it any more.

      That marked the end of my interest in anything connected to Star Wars.

  24. Arwen

    For the larger franchises, I view canon as a buffet table where I pick and choose what I want to enjoy. Also, to me, every fictional universe is a multiverse, with endless variations on events.

  25. richardmcenroe

    This is all well and good, but face it, none of this holds a candle to “Beyond the Time Barrier.”

  26. Pingback: Instapundit » Blog Archive » THE WAR ABOUT STAR WARS: A matter of canon….

  27. Tom

    SJW infiltration and the principle that “You cannot serve two masters.” As things become popular and ‘big,’ SJWs jump on the band wagon. They are loud and annoying, and whine incessantly for more elements that match their Narrative. Since the creators think these whiners represent actual fans, they start warping their creation to match the demands. Since a story cannot serve two masters, Quality and Narrative (in the SJW sense of the word), the story starts to suck. The rest of us are left to wonder, “Wha happened?”

    Examples:
    Star Trek’s space cowboys => TNG peacekeeping explorers
    Star Wars bad guy: Darth Vader => Star Wars bad guys: Trade Federation
    The Walking Dead’s Survivors => Collection of Circus Freaks representing all the different offended people groups (Character of Michonne is first sign of this happening. The character ‘Jesus’ being gay is the culmination).
    Harry Potter => Oh wait, this was Narrative approved from the beginning, though you see more elements as it went along, Asian girlfriend, gay Dumbledore, etc.

    Gag a maggot, things get bad when they get popular.

    • TRX

      When they get popularIZED.

      Compared to its competition in its day, Trek started off as highbrow stuff. But its successors wanted the larger market, which meant aiming for a lower common denominator. This plot’s too complex, that one might offend someone, let’s make it socially relevant… and then you’re down to pablum.

  28. Pingback: Canon Fooder for Thought | Heh. Indeed.

  29. Red_Right_Returning

    Then there’s Dr. Who: canon? What’s canon? It’s all timey-wimey stuff! Nothing’s permanent. Except fixed points in time. What’s a fixed point in time? That depends on the meaning of “is”. Timey-wimey canon.

  30. Back in the 1950s Arthur C. Clarke did a reboot of Against the Fall of Night as The City and the Stars. To his amazement both books stayed in print for decades (to this day).

  31. curmudgeoninchief

    We must always make the distinction between what the vision of the Originator is/was and what the fans’ view of a canon is. Without George Lucas, there would have never been a Star Wars or anything like it; he deserves great deference because of that.

    That said, George’s take on the three prequel movies must also be given deference, and in my opinion, the three movies hold up pretty well, creating a believable universe that could spawn A New Hope decades later with a mature Anakin and a young Luke Skywalker. Many fans were over the top in their hatred of Jar Jar Binks; they fail to appreciate comic relief in Star Wars because they themselves are too serious about their beloved series.

    I am satisfied with the first six movies and eagerly await the Seventh. And I, for one, can appreciate the difference between the Canon and numerous examples of loving fan fiction.

    • Chris Nelson

      George Lucas needs neither deference nor respect, he can burn bales of money every night in the winter for years and still stay warm until the Sun turns into a brown dwarf.

      We had 2001 12 years before SW came out, so anyone could have taken a semi-decent script and special effects and had a go at it. Lucas was just a bit lucky than others and tapped into the mass market instead of the high end.

      If he had hired some decent writers for 4 of the 6 movies instead of pissing out the script, he would get some more deference and respect in addition to the money. SW is to science fiction as Twilight is to fantasy and 50 Shades is to erotica. Dan Brown could have wrote better scripts to the prequels. For f**ks sake, Perry Rhodan and Dr Who has better writing than most of SW.

      The problem I see with the science fiction and other communities is that we have so little material released on the big and small screen compared to the printed world that we turn out quality filters off just so we can be entertained by the medium.

  32. Pingback: Respecting the Canon | Fanfic Journal

  33. Reblogged this on Andrew J. Patrick and commented:
    Every word of this, basically.

  34. HC

    ‘All of which makes me think: is every story that gets big and famous enough, guaranteed to begin warping in on itself, as time — and interested parties, with money, and a desire to make more — begin to meddle?’

    Yes.

    It’s totally inevitable, that if a story goes on long enough, it goes off the rails.

    This is most blatantly visible with ‘open-ended storyline’ forms, such as soap operas and comic books, where the story goes on and one, year after year, even to the point in the case of live-action media that the actors have to be replaced as they grow old (soaps, for ex). As time passes, in such stories, even the writer either changes with age and his priorities change or a new writer comes in.

    But even with ‘closed’ stories, the effect is inescapable if the story spans decades of real time like SW, ST, etc. The Gene Roddenberry who made TOS was a different man, with different beliefs, than the Gene Roddenberry who made STTNG. And yes, STTNG _did_ disavow some of what came before. The ‘new Klingons’ both looked and behaved very differently than the Klingons of TOS. The whole ‘ethos’ of Starfleet and the Federation in STTNG was different from, and in some ways a repudiation of, the ethos of those organizations in TOS.

    There are limits to how long in real time a story can continue without in effect becoming a different story.

  35. Bjorn Hasseler

    c4c

  36. Ryan Waxx

    Zahn will always be canon to me. He has a superior vision into star wars than its creators do.