Sunday, 10 July 2016

Star Wars Canon in Relation to the Upcoming Films

The internet is full of talk related to the upcoming Star Wars spin-off Rogue One, the latest installment of what has become the third wave of Star Wars films; the first two of course being the classic trilogy beginning in 1977, and the prequel trilogy starting in 2001. In between waves, there has been a lot of Star Wars-related material in the form of the expanded universe. It is easy, for instance, to forget that George Lucas was also involved in several television productions between films. These included the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special, The Ewok Adventure, Ewoks: The Battle for Endor, the Ewoks and Droids cartoon shows, and both Clone Wars animated series. Aside from the work of Lucas himself, there was an abundance of novels, video games, comics, and at least one TV series (Star Wars: Rebels) which have aimed to expand on the Star Wars universe.

One of the few negative reactions toward the release of The Force Awakens was that the expanded universe was no longer official canon. This would arguably have been a practical choice on the part of J.J. Abrams, as it allowed greater creative freedom, although it does present a very different account of what happened after the films.The various novels set after Return of the Jedi placed a heavy emphasis on the New Jedi Order formed by Luke Skywalker. Han and Leia have twins: Jacen and Jaina, who both grow up to become Jedi knights (though the former somehow becomes evil) alongside Chewbacca's son Lowbacca, and a few original characters, while Luke goes on to be romantically involved with an Imperial Defector named Mara Jade. There was also an invasion by a race of aliens known as the Yuuzhan Vong from another galaxy.

This is of course very different from what was shown in The Force Awakens, in which Han and Leia are only identified as having a son, Ben (in the expanded universe, Ben was the name of Luke's son). However, they never say if Ben was their only child, which leaves open the possibility that we may learn of others in later films. One possible outcome could be that Rey is their daughter, perhaps even Ben's twin if Abrams wanted to parallel the original trilogy.

More annoying is that the expanded universe generally contained favored heterosexual relationships. While there was often an extraordinary effort to improve representations of both women and non-caucasians compared to the classic and prequel trilogy, there is next to nothing when it comes to sexual diversity. In fact, to the best of my knowledge, among the countless books, video games, comics, spin-off shows, and other material with stories that offered a detailed history of the Star Wars Universe (which spans several thousand years both before and after Lucas's trilogies), there has been a grand total of one openly gay character: Juhani in Knights of the Old Republic.

Even then, her sexuality was mostly implied through innuendo and the romance she can engage in with a female player was generally ignored (for some stupid reason, it was decided that the "official" version of events was that Revan was a man who engaged in a heterosexual relationship). This is also very ironic given that BioWare had no problem depicting homosexual relationships in its later games, most famously the Mass Effect series which (at least in its later installments) offered both homosexual and heterosexual options for romance, leaving the player to determine Shepard's sexual orientation.

Of course, this is something that J.J. Abrams hopes to rectify. Already popular is the idea of Finn and Poe Dameron becoming a romantic couple. It's also not impossible that Rey could be a lesbian, seeing as she shows no sexual interest in any of the cast (her most intimate moment arguably being a hug from Leia at the film's end) and makes the very specific remark of "none of your business" in response to being asked if she has a boyfriend. Even more interestingly, while it was probably not the original intention of George Lucas, these developments have given room for speculation on the sexuality of Luke Skywalker himself.

While Mark Hamill has generally refrained from providing a clear answer (preferring that audiences draw their own conclusions), he does seem to have no trouble with the idea of Luke being gay or bisexual, and it is plausible within the canon. After all, Luke has virtually no romance in the original films. Leia is obviously intended to be his love interest in A New Hope, at least until it turns out in Return of the Jedi that she's his sister, at which point any sexual tension between them disappears.

There is a large number of characters for whom this same reasoning could be theoretically be applied, leaving a fairly large cast of people whose sexuality could retroactively be detailed. In fact, if one disregards the novels set after Return of the Jedi (which is no longer official canon anyway), then there are only four people across the entire saga who are explicitly straight: Anakin, Padme, Leia, and Han (although this does not automatically rule out the possibility that any of them could in fact be bisexual).

There was still a large assortment of other members of the cast for whom this approach could theoretically be used. For instance, it could theoretically be applied to almost any of the Jedi who appeared across the films (Anakin being the only exception, unless we're assuming he's really bisexual). Obi-Wan has no romantic entanglements over the course of the saga (although some expanded universe material alludes to prior affairs), so who's to say he can't be gay. Same arguably for Mace Windu or Yoda, or really any Jedi who appears across the prequel trilogy (the fact that the Order is supposed to avoid personal attachments arguably makes this even easier, as it has kept a lot of official material from detailing their sex lives).

This line of reasoning may not be as useful to the classic trilogy, although it could be applied to Luke. The other major role who for whom it could possibly work is Lando Calrissian. In fact, Lando may be even more likely. After all, we did see Luke briefly engaging in a romantic relationship (even if he had to break it off because he found out he was in love with his sister). The only clue to Lando's sexuality is a few off-hand remarks he directs toward Leia when she arrives at Cloud City. However, after this point, Lando shows virtually no sexual interest towards Leia, even working with her in Return of the Jedi as nothing more than a friend. Assuming Lando didn't admit outright to it, his remarks could be interpreted as mere products of his own repressed sexuality.

The other notable change is that, like in the expanded universe, Luke does attempt to rebuild the Jedi Order... except it gets destroyed all over again when Kylo Ren joins the First Order, with Luke and presumably anyone else who survived going into hiding, along with (presumably) anyone who survived Order 66. The New Republic, a crucial driving force in the expanded universe novels, is only shown briefly and quickly destroyed, leaving only the resistance to stand against the First Order (which itself is original to the film).

Of course, this is hardly to say the expanded universe was ever perfect. There were plenty of contradictions, errors, changes in characters, and other details that can be expected from so many writers being involved. When making the Clone Wars cartoon, there was a decision to introduce a new female character: Anakin's padawan Ahsoka Tano. While Tano may have worked as a strong character, her status as Anakin's student does contradict the events of Revenge of the Sith, in which not only was there no sign that this padawan existed, Anakin was explicitly refused a promotion to "master," which would make it seem unlikely that he could have had an apprentice between films.

Several video games were based on branching storylines. Knights of the Old Republic and its sequel (which both went on to become a huge influence on many later RPGs, such as Mass Effect and Fallout) were structured in a way that presented a different experience for different players. The game begins with the player customizing their protagonist, complete with the option to choose sex. The overall story was then designed so that it would be affected by the player's choices, which in turn determined whether they ended up on the light or dark side.

Doing the math, a game like Knights of the Old Republic would have at least four different endings, not to mention the details of the story may also vary depending on the players' choices at different stages of the game, such as the romances (which may not even appear at all). Yet, it was still found necessary to construct a "canon" version of events. Someone was apparently allowed t
o arbitrarily decide which version of the story was correct.

It was then chosen that Revan (the player character) was a light-sided male who was romantically involved with Bastilla, much to the frustration of anyone who played the game as a female Revan, turned to the dark side, and/or avoided the romances entirely (or opted for the homoerotic relationship with Juhani). In short, they took a game that was designed to present different experiences, and said that anyone who did it differently from them was wrong.

Another frequent problem is that sometimes multiple works depict the same events. Now this is not always an issue. The period between Episodes III and IV has been addressed in at least two different animated series: the short-lived cartoon Star Wars: Droids and, more recently, Rebels. Rebels is still considered canon, while Droids isn't officially part of the Star Wars timeline. The shows themselves are very different in structure, with Rebels focusing more directly on the fight against the Empire (though it is indirectly featured in a few episodes Droids, most notably towards the end when the Empire becomes a recurring antagonist).

The ambiguous status of Droids is strange as it may in fact be possible to connect it to Rebels if one examines the timeline. Assuming that the "official" explanation to reconcile the ending of Revenge of the Sith with the events of Droids prior to the redesigned canon (that Bail Organa lost the droids and later found them again) is correct, there is a very easy timeline that connects the story of Droids directly to the Rebels episode Droids in Distress. It goes something like this:

  • Revenge of the Sith- Bail Organa is entrusted with C-3PO and R2-D2.
  • At some point, something happens that results in R2 and C-3PO getting "lost." 
  • After losing Bail Organa, R2 and C-3PO end up in the hands of a smuggler, one who ditches them when they are forced to dump their cargo, thus starting the first episode of Droids.
  • the Droids cartoon happens, with R2 and C-3PO experiencing their various adventures. Towards the end, they have several run-ins with Imperial Forces
  • Sometime after the final episode of the cartoon, C-3PO and R2-D2 are captured for their role in thwarting the Empire during the events of Droids. C-3PO is reprogrammed for Imperial service.
  • This in turn sets up the Rebels episode Droids in Distress, in which Hera and her crew manage to rescue the two droids and return them to Bail Organa, which in turn allows them to be present at the beginning of A New Hope.
However, not every discrepancy can be resolved so easily. The upcoming spin-off Rogue One promises to show the theft of the Death Star plans between episodes III and IV. However, before Rogue One, there were at least nine different accounts of how it happened, many of which conflicted with one another. The Star Wars games X-Wing, Dark Forces, Battlefront II, Empire at War, Lethal Alliance, and The Force Unleashed all provide conflicting accounts of how the plans were actually stolen. Dark Forces claims it was the work of Kyle Katarn, while Lethal Alliance shows that his only role in the operation was hiring Twi'lek mercenary Rianna Saren (who was actually responsible for stealing the plans). Both those games treat it as a heist, while Battlefront II claims they were actually stolen during a prison break.

Understandably, this causes some confusion regarding what actually happened. The "official" explanation was that the various operations only recovered parts of the Death Star plans, and that the schematics depicted in A New Hope were formed by combining several different pieces. However, this explanation is hardly supported by any of the conflicting stories it is attempting to reconcile, most of which imply that each operative recovered all the blueprints rather than pieces of one. The production of Rogue One will arguably bring an end to this confusion, as it will present a definitive "official" version of what happened.

Now with the new movies, it is true that the expanded universe is no longer official canon, being labelled as "legends." This has the advantage that audiences can now be selective in determining what is canon. For instance, I can say that female Revan is 100% canon and nobody can stop me. No doubt that some attempts will still be made to reconcile old and new canon (such as the above-mentioned link between Droids and Rebels), especially now that the only "official" canon is made up of the seven movies, Rogue One, The Clone Wars, and Rebels, with everything else being open to interpretation.

This is not to say, of course, that there is anything wrong with the new timeline. The Force Awakens displays a very strong effort to fix the issues of representation displayed in the films produced by George Lucas (which are very much dominated by heterosexual white men; even in the prequel trilogy most of the women are either background or supporting roles). This is merely taking note of the ways in which things have changed over time.

1 comment:

  1. At first, Juhani wasn't the only one. There were also homosexual Mandalorians. But yeah, not so many, as we can expect in new canon (when EU was being created, nobody cared much about political correctness, LGBT and so on. Nothing wrong about this).
    Next, Revan isn't canon at all. And in EU, EUcanonical Revan is still a heterosexual male.