If stories are only valuable if they are Pretend-Real; and if one particular Author(ity) has the power to say which stories are Pretend-Real and which are not -- then it is quite reasonable for fans to feel sad or aggrieved when that Author(ity) suddenly changes his mind. (His mind. I think canon-keepers are probably male. I think the canon is probably a patriarchal construct.) The reader has spent a decade reading stories in one particular way: she is suddenly presented with a Disney Encyclical telling her that she has to start reading those same stories in a different way -- a way, which for her, deprives the stories of their purpose and point.
"You are no longer allowed to treat these texts as news and information from a secondary world. From next Tuesday, you have to treat them as being stories. And what is worse, on the following Wednesday we are going to start issuing new and completely different texts, and you are to rebuild the secondary world in their image."
So, it is not very surprising that some Star Wars fans were quite genuinely sad when Disney announced that all the novels and comics and computer games set after Return of the Jedi would be, for the purposes of Star Wars VII, VIII and IX, non-canonical. The much reviled prequel trilogy was still canon; but the widely enjoyed Heir to the Empire novels were not. You could still read them if you wanted to, but you could not read them to learn about the Star Wars universe. They had been re-designated as “legends”. I think a legend is probably the same thing as an imaginary story. If you want to call them fan-fiction, I certainly cannot stop you.
No high-budget mass-market reboot of the Star Wars franchise was ever going to be an adaptation of a twenty-five year-old spin-off novel. But some fans honestly couldn't conceive of it being anything else. They weren't saying "Heir to the Empire is a really good novel. We would have liked to have seen it realised on the Big Screen with Big Screen Special Effects. We are disappointed that Admiral Thrawn has been replaced by General Hux." That would have been a perfectly reasonable thing to say. I myself think that Galactus is a really good supervillain. I would have liked to have seen him realised on the big screen with big screen special effects. I was disappointed that the second Fantastic Four movie decided to replace him with a big cloud of purple smog.
But I think that the Star Wars Expanded Universe fans were saying something different. I think that they were committed to Star Wars as a saga with a fixed an immutable history. I think that they thought of the Star Wars universe as a collection of facts, not a collection of stories. A film in which Luke Skywalker doesn't marry a bounty hunter and become a dark side disciple of the Emperor's clone (*) is no longer a Star Wars film; in the same way that a book about Neville Chamberlain leading an Anglo-Japanese alliance against the communist Americans is no longer a book about the Second World War. Ye canna change the facts of history any more than ye can change the laws of physics.
Plus it had girls and black people in it. That made some Star Wars fans very cross as well. (**)
“All the time I spent reading those books was wasted, because some exec in America has announced that they didn’t really happen.” I literally heard a man say that in Forbidden Planet.
I was tempted to mutter "...but then, aren't they all..." . Or perhaps point him to Douglas Adams riff about Lalaffa the poet. The books are exactly the same as they always were, so what’s the difference?
I wonder if he was the same man who told me, all those years ago, that the Phantom Menace had raped his childhood all those years ago?
There is a solution. It’s a very good solution, and it seems fun for a few minutes, but if you are not very careful, it ends up ruining everything.
We have agreed that, in Doctor Who and Star Trek and Marvel and DC Comics there are allowed to be parallel worlds in which the Brigadier has an eyepatch; Captain Kirk is a fascist and Uncle Ben never died. These parallel worlds are part of the secondary reality: the Watcher can observe them; and the Flash can open a wormhole between them. The Justice League and the Justice Society can have get-togethers on a regular basis; and Marvel/DC crossovers are not out of the question. So why can we not say that the Star Wars "legends" are part of a branching timeline; one more strand of the infinite multiverse?
Wouldn't that be fun?
Instead of complaining about the despoiling of the canon, why not look forward to the moment when Ben Solo (son of Leia and Han) slips through a wormhole and meets up with Ben Skywalker (son of Luke and Mara).
Several Hon Members: "Mara? Who the hell is Mara?"
Great Stories can be told and retold in lots of different ways. I came up with five different fictional Mary Shellys without trying. I ran out of fingers before I ran out of Robins Hood (***). No sooner had the idea of Superman been thought of than there was a Superman comic book (1938) a Superman newspaper strip (1939) a Superman radio show (1940) and a Superman cartoon (1941). They didn't form one big story. Hell, the comic book wasn't even that consistent with itself. No-one felt the need to explain why Superman leaped tall buildings in the Action Comic, but flew above them in the Cartoon; or why Superman’s existence is a secret on the Radio but public knowledge in the Comic. They were different stories; or the same story told in different ways.
When I was very small indeed I could already see that the TV Wombles were different from the Book Wombles and different again from the Wombles that appeared each week in Playland comic (which was way too babyish for me in any case.)
So: why not take the final, fatal step.
Box Three stories are the only true stories.
Box Four stories are essentially without value.
But if a Box Three reality can contain multiple versions of itself then it doth follow as the night the day that no box Four Story need ever exist. Put everything in Box Three and call it a parallel world.
Nothing is only a story.
Everything really happened.
The Superman who appears on the Radio is part of the same reality as the Superman who appeared in the comic, but exists in a different strand of the multiverse.
Evaluative criticism can be dispensed with; all that is left is endless Watsonian scholarship.
“My comic book is about the really really real Batman; the dark, tragic vigilante who fights terrifying, psychotic enemies. Your dumb TV show is just some pretend parody of ther Batman with zaps and kapows and lame villains that some jerk made up out of his head."
“No, on the contrary, my TV Batman is as epistemologically real as yours, he merely happens to exist in a different one of the myriad realities that make up the DC universe....”
“So how come you can literally see the sound effects, huh?”
“Interesting. We must investigate how sound and vision function on the plane known as Earth TV.”
It seems to me that even if it is happening on a parallel world, the TV Batman is still pretty dumb; but if you found it fun and clever then you can carry on finding it fun and clever even if it's just a story some fella made up.
But, you know.
If it helps, it helps.
Whatever gets you through the dark knight.
Superman on the Radio comes from an actually existing parallel world called Earth-R.
Superman on the TV comes from an actually existing parallel world called Earth-TV.
Superman on the packet of cornflakes comes from an actually existing parallel world called Earth-Kellogg.
And there is no reason on Earth-Prime why one day they shouldn't all meet up and have a reunion. Radio Superman punching people on the chin and attending church; Silver Age Superman retreating to his clubhouse with his super friends and super pets; post-Crisis-John-Byrne-Yuppie-Superman locking phantom zoners in death chambers with black Kryptonite...
Alan Moore said that all stories were true. I think he really meant that no story was true. Tash is no more than Aslan. More than once he imagined dream-time cities populated by every possible version of Superman and every possible version of Captain Britain. It was Alan Moore who first decided that the primary Marvel Universe, the one which isn't a parallel or a What If... should be called Earth-616.
And this is essentially what Spider-Man: No Way Home has done. It has taken a weird copyright muddle and turned it into a cosmological principle.
(*) He gets better
(**) And some of them just didn't think it was very good.
(***) Walter Scott
the chap in tights I saw in Babes in the Wood at the Intimate when I was ten,
the Clannad One
the Kevin Costner one,
that Other One Which Came Out At The Same Time as the Kevin Costner One
the Sean Connery One Where He’s Old
the Serious 1970s BBC One That I’d Like To See Again If It’s Ever On Britbox
the Russel Crowe One I Didn’t See
the More Recent BBC One Which Wasn’t Very Good
the One in the Spires and Boden Song
the one Huw Lupton does as performance piece
the Silent Douglas Fairbanks One
the Spoof With One With the Guy From Princess Bride
the Disney One Where He is a Fox
that Time They Did It On The Muppets
the New BBC One I keep seeing trailers for
the very old lost TV one with Patrick Troughton
the Tony Robinson Maid Marion One
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