I haven’t written about Star Wars in a looong time. When I began blogging, Star Wars was a regular topic for me, whether writing about it here or for Jeff’s site The Imperial Talker. But it’s been almost an entire year since I’ve written anything about Star Wars. It’s not like I’ve stopped thinking about Star Wars or talking about Star Wars (as the countless hours I’ve spent in conversation with Jeff discussing the galaxy far, far away can attest). But I haven’t been inspired to write anything (save a few discarded drafts) about Star Wars since last July. Well, lately I’ve been thinking about how Disney’s use of “canon” in regard to Star Wars has neutered the term of any shred meaning. The final nail in canon’s coffin comes care of Disney’s new Star Wars theme park, Galaxy’s Edge. With this evolving revelation, I’ve found something Star Wars-related worth writing about again!
To begin, let’s define our term. I first encountered the word “canon” during my undergraduate years. My bachelor’s degree is in Religious Studies and, as one of the texts from my freshmen scripture course would explain, canon is “a term derived from the Greek kanon, which may be related to the Semitic qaneh, a ‘reed,’ perhaps used as a measuring rod. In modern usage, a canon is a standard of measure by which a religious community judges certain writings to be authoritative, usually of divine origin. The Hebrew Bible alone is the canon of Judaism, where as Christianity accepts both it (sometimes including the Apocrypha) and the Greek New Testament. The canon is thus an official list of books considered genuine, worthy to be used in teaching and liturgy, and hence binding in doctrine and morals. The adjective extracanonical refers to books not included in the official canon or list.”
For example, the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are canonical and, thus, found within the Christian New Testament. Years of theological debate solidified them as officially part of the Christian story, carriers of the Christian truth. However the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Judas, and the Gospel of Mary Magdalene – to name but a few – are not. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are canonical whereas the Gospels of Thomas, Judas, and Mary Magdalene are extracanonical.
In a move originally meant to be a bit tongue-in-cheek, the term “canon” was first applied to fictional works in Ronald Knox’s 1911 paper, “Studies in the Literature of Sherlock Holmes,” to contrast the stories written by Arthur Conan Doyle with those written by other authors. From there it’s usage has grown to encompass all manner of fictional worlds where multiple authors/creators play. From Star Wars to Star Trek to Doctor Who to Marvel and DC and beyond – everyone from academics to passionate fans enjoy knowing (and debating!) what counts as canon in their favorite universes. In this sense, the term is essentially used to distinguish works which are officially part of the story from works which aren’t.
For example, what I read in the pages of Deadpool is canonical within the Marvel Universe. What happens in the movies Deadpool and Deadpool 2 is canonical within Fox’s X-Men Universe but not within the Marvel Universe (the term used for the shared universe in their comics) nor is it canonical in Marvel Studio’s MCU. And what happens in the story Kalie and I wrote where Deadpool finds himself within the plot of Nightmare on Elm Street helping Nancy take on Freddie Krueger in our superhero/horror mash-up isn’t canonical anywhere (even though it’s AWESOME (and you should totally read it (which you can do here if you’d like (you’re welcome)))). Make sense? At least a little bit?
Now Star Wars always had layers to its canon. As explained on Wookipedia, “the internet’s foremost comprehensive source for Star Wars canon information,” originally anything George Lucas worked on himself – the Original Trilogy, the Prequel Trilogy, and the animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars – were “the immovable objects of Star Wars history…to which all other tales must align.” Material from the Expanded Universe – the dozens of novels, comic books, video games, etc. produced after and around Lucas’ work – was a tier down. The EU was always considered canonical unless Lucas decided to tweak or discard it outright in one of his own narratives. The EU often influenced the official story as well. Two of the most popular examples of this lie in Coruscant being created by Timothy Zahn in his novel Heir to the Empire and the Jedi Knight Aayla Secura first appearing in the Dark Horse comic Star Wars #19 written by John Ostrander and illustrated by Jan Duursema.
After Disney purchased Lucasfilm and acquired the rights to Star Wars from George Lucas in 2012, this approach would change. On 25th April 2014, Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy announced the original Expanded Universe would no longer be considered canonical (being recategorized as “Legends” (or extracanonical)) thus making way for new creators to tell new stories in this new era of Star Wars. This new Disney Canon of Star Wars stories would be overseen by the Lucasfilm Story Group and all new stories were to be understood to exist within “a connected, ‘one universe,’ continuity…[where] all officially-licensed Star Wars storytelling from this point forward stands on equal canon footing.” What this means, essentially, is the events happening in Marvel’s Star Wars main title comic or the cartoon show Star Wars: Rebels are seen as being as canonical as the events in A New Hope.
Disney really leaned into this and the “canonicity” of their Star Wars stories was a central piece of their marketing in the lead-up to The Force Awakens and beyond. Again and again and again fans were told that everything connects now and everything would be as relevant as everything else now. The thing is, that’s just not true. It wasn’t true then. It’s not true now. And I can’t imagine it being true in the future.
From the outset, the Disney Canon was riddled with continuity problems. As someone who read everything in the beginning, I found myself wondering if one author was ever even asked to read let alone incorporate the ideas in the other canonical stories in their own. For example, the picture of the Wookiee homeworld Kashyyyk presented in the Chuck Wendig novel Aftermath: Life Debt couldn’t be further from the one given in the Chewbacca comic miniseries by Gerry Duggan (as Jeff explores here). The character of Captain Phasma, as developed with brilliant depth and detail in Delilah S. Dawson’s novel Phasma and Kelly Thompson’s comic miniseries Captain Phasma was NOTHING like the character we saw in The Last Jedi, with nearly all of her actions conflicting with what we learned of her in the novel/comics (as I discuss with more detail here).
My personal favorite example though comes from The Force Awakens. In Alan Dean Foster’s novel, Unkar Plutt tracks Han Solo, Chewbacca, Rey, and Finn to Maz Kanata’s castle on Takodana, seeking vengeance and the Millennium Falcon. When Rey fails to take the safety off on her blaster, Chewie steps in and rips Unkar Plutt’s arm off and throws it across the room. In the film, this never happens. Unkar Plutt never even shows up on Takodana, his part of the story concluding on Jakku. Logically Unkar Plutt can’t be both at Maz’s and not at Maz’s. He can’t have his arm ripped off and not have his arm ripped off. Only one can be the official story. Only one account can be canonical. We intuitively know this. To suggest anything else is madness.
And when these discrepancies arise, we naturally know to defer to the film – just as it always was when George Lucas was at the helm as opposed to the Story Group. In any issue of contention, the films always come out on top. Despite declarations about a new era of connectivity and canonicity within Star Wars stories, nothing has changed. (I’d argue the EU had faaar less continuity errors (at least in the beginning) then we’ve ever seen in the Disney Canon but that’s the story for another post). Honestly though, I don’t think Disney ever really cared about the narrative. Rather it’s use of the term canon was driven by marketing. They bought Star Wars and immediately began producing Star Wars stories at an unprecedented rate and stamping the Star Wars logo on more products than Lucas ever dreamed of doing (incidentally, I hope every fan who ever complained Lucas “sold out” and was “only doing it for the merchandizing” has rallied against Disney with an exponentially higher degree of ire lest they find themselves wrapped in hypocrisy). So, with this barrage of new stories to sell, how do you distinguish them from the old EU? How do you immediately grab people’s attention and, by extension, their money? Why would someone read a new Disney Canon novel or comic as opposed to rereading one of their favorite EU novels or comics?
Well, you make it “all canon” and you really underscore that fact as often as you can in as many ways as you can.
I’ll admit, they sold me. It had been years since I read a new Star Wars novel and even longer since I picked up a new comic book. But in the fall of 2015, as Disney’s “Road to The Force Awakens” roll out began, I bought and read everything. I read the comics. I read the novels. I read the YA books. I read it all, eager to find any clues about what may happen in The Force Awakens and intrigued by what this new generation of Star Wars stories would look like. I will also freely admit, I bought all these titles not on a case-by-case basis, looking at which stories appealed to me, but rather because they were “all canon” and I wanted to see how they’d connect in this new era. I’d wager I am not alone among Star Wars fans in this. While it happened incrementally at first, I eventually stopped buying and reading any Disney Canon stories after my frustration peaked over their blatantly incongruous treatment of Captain Phasma in The Last Jedi.
However, again, I don’t think Disney ever really cared about canon as it applies to the actual narrative structure of their stories. They utilized this term, this idea of what is officially part of the story – an idea fans LOVE to embrace and debate anyway – as a marketing tool. Basically they weaponized the idea of “canon” for profit. This is obvious from their very definition of the term. It is “all officially-licensed Star Wars storytelling” that counts as canon in the Disney era. It’s not the content, quality, or continuity of the story that is considered when they look at its place within the canon of Star Wars stories. It’s the officially-licensed nature of the story. And while it has been profitable, I’d argue the end result has robbed the idea of canon within Star Wars of all meaning.
Nowhere is this point more clear than with Galaxy’s Edge. As defined by Wookieepedia, Galaxy’s Edge is, “a themed land developed by The Walt Disney Company. It is set in an outpost on the planet Batuu. The events portrayed there take place between the films The Last Jedi and The Rise Of Skywalker.” The Wookieepedia article goes on to say, “During the ‘Star Wars and Disney Parks: A Galaxy in the Making’ panel at Celebration Orlando, Asa Kalama of Walt Disney Imagineering stated that what they were building would be canonical.”
Matt Martin, a creative executive on the Lucasfilm Story Group, was asked about this on Twitter, “The events that happen in Galaxy’s Edge attractions will be canon, right?” He replied, “As much as a Park experience can be, yeah. But the crying child in the stroller next to you while you eat lunch is not canon.” So “the events that happen in the Galaxy’s Edge attractions” will be canon even if “the crying child in the stroller” next to me isn’t.
As with the example I cited from The Force Awakens above, we all know logically this doesn’t work. For example, the central ride in Galaxy’s Edge is Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run. In it, you can enter the legendary cockpit and fly the Falcon – on loan from Chewie – to help notorious schemer Hondo Ohnaka with one of his projects. Would I like to live out the plot of dozens of childhood fantasies where David and I pretended to fly the Falcon on an ACTUAL RIDE?? Yes – 1,000,000%. Do I think, for even half a second, my time on this ride “piloting” the Falcon is in any way, shape, or form as “real” to the Star Wars Saga as Han and Chewie flying in to shoot Vader off Luke’s tail so he could blow up the first Death Star? No – 1,000,000%. No one who goes on this ride would! I rode the old “Star Tours” like a zillion times when we went to Disney World when I was a kid. I loved it! I loved feeling like I was inside Star Wars! But I never felt I was literally living in the story because, and this is one of those so-obvious-you-can’t-miss-it things, I am not a fictional character created inside a fictional world. I was a real person in a theme park going on a ride while on vacation. I also loved eating at the Toy Story Pizza Planet restaurant (which, incidentally, had a GREAT Star Wars video game) but I never thought I was canonically inside Toy Story either.
While confusing in a narrative sense, marketing Galaxy’s Edge as canon certainly increases the need to go there for a certain type of fan. It also adds a weight to the Galaxy Edge tie-in merchandise Disney’s putting out, like the novel Galaxy’s Edge: Black Spire, the YA novel A Crash of Fate, the middle-grade novel Star Wars: Myths and Fables, and the Marvel comic Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. (Hasbro is also creating toys out of some of the Galaxy Edge attractions.) As per the new approach to canonicity, all these stories (advertising a theme park), being “officially-licensed Star Wars storytelling,” are now seen to stand “on equal canon footing” with The Empire Strikes Back.
Another example of this problem of attraction-based canonicity in Galaxy’s Edge comes in the form of Coca-Cola products being served in Oga’s Cantina. Coke even has it’s own entry on Wookieepedia now! For real! But does anyone really think Han and Chewie could’ve bought a Diet Coke to help fight the brutal Tatooine heat as they sat in the Mos Eisley cantina? No, of course not. You can also purchase a “classic” lightsaber in Dok-Ondar’s Den of Antiques or create your own at Savi’s Workshop. Obviously the latter isn’t canon. The creation of the lightsaber is a deeply spiritual practice for the Jedi, intrinsically tied to their training. It’s not a vacation souvenir. Galaxy’s Edge isn’t fundamentally altering the nature of the lightsaber in Star Wars. Nor is the former canon. No one believes there were multiple let alone regularly restocked copies of both Luke’s lightsabers as well as the lightsabers built by Darth Vader, Darth Maul, Mace Windu, Ahsoka Tano, and Kylo Ren. Each lightsaber, narratively, is unique – a special relationship between wielder and weapon. Going to Galaxy’s Edge doesn’t really change this, no matter what’s advertised.
As I’ve argued throughout, we all intuitively understand this. Unkar Plutt not going to Takodana is canon while Chewie ripping his arm off in Maz’s palace isn’t. Han Solo completing the Kessel Run in the Millennium Falcon in less than twelve parsecs is canon, my success or failure flying it in Smuggler’s Run isn’t. Obi-Wan giving Luke his father’s lightsaber on Tatooine is canon, me buying my own version of it in Dok-Ondar’s Den of Antiques isn’t.
Yet Disney markets all of it as canon. Canon within the Star Wars universe is now officially defined as “all officially-licensed Star Wars storytelling” and that is used to sell books, cartoons, video games, comic books, and now even a specific land within Disney’s Magic Kingdom. Are they the ones selling this individual story? Then it’s canon! Canon no longer has anything to do with what adheres and aligns to the “immovable objects of Star Wars history,” namely what George Lucas himself had a hand in writing and creating. It’s just a label, one more dimension to Disney’s marketing program.
I don’t begrudge Disney this, even if I resent what it does to the narrative integrity within this universe I love. As a corporation, Disney is there to make money. I grant the cleverness of this marketing move too – I bought a lot of novels I’ll never read again because I was hooked by this idea. So clearly, it worked. However, while we can all enjoy this onslaught of Disney-produced Star Wars products as much as we’d like, we shouldn’t pretend their use of “canon” doesn’t cheapen the nature of the idea. In labeling things we can logically and definitively recognize as not canon as canon, Disney has robbed the word of whatever meaning it once had in regard to Star Wars. Within the current Star Wars landscape, “canon” is just another word for “brand.”
 Stephen L. Harris, Understanding the Bible Fifth Edition, (Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing Company, 2000), 541-42.
 “The Ronald Knox Myth, The Sherlock Holmes Journal, Summer 2011. Accessed June 28, 2019 https://www.bsiarchivalhistory.org/BSI_Archival_History/Hard_Knox.html.
 “Wookieepedia: Canon policy,” Wookieepedia. Accessed June 28, 2019, https://starwars.fandom.com/wiki/Wookieepedia:Canon_policy.
 George Lucas, introduction to Splinter Of The Mind’s Eye, by Alan Dean Foster, (New York: Ballantine Books, 1994), i.
 “The Legendary Star Wars Expanded Universe Turns a New Page,” StarWars.com, April 25, 2014. Accessed June 28, 2019, https://www.starwars.com/news/the-legendary-star-wars-expanded-universe-turns-a-new-page.
 “Wookieepedia: Canon policy.”
 Alan Dean Foster, The Force Awakens, (New York: Del Rey, 2015), 164-66.
 “Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge,” Wookieepedia. Accessed June 29, 2019, https://starwars.fandom.com/wiki/Star_Wars:_Galaxy%27s_Edge.
 Matt Martin, Twitter Post. November 17, 2018, 4:52 PM. https://twitter.com/missingwords/status/1063958128411074560?s=21
 StarWars.com Team, “Step Into Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge with New Books, Comics, and Fables,” StarWars.com, January 31, 2019. Accessed June 29, 2019, https://www.starwars.com/news/new-star-wars-galaxys-edge-books.
 Dan Brooks, “SWCC 2019: 7 Things We Learned from the Hasbro Star Wars Panel,” April 12, 2019. Accessed June 29, 2019, https://www.starwars.com/news/swcc-2019-7-things-we-learned-from-the-hasbro-panel.
 Charlie Hall, “How fans will make their own lightsabers at Disney’s Star Wars land,” Polygon, April 16, 2019. Accessed June 29, 2019, https://www.polygon.com/star-wars-celebration/2019/4/16/18410525/star-wars-galaxys-edge-lightsabers.