Continuity and Perspective in the Expanded Universe

I just don’t care about continuity like I used to.

The fiery passion I had for it years ago isn’t there anymore. I used to scour over Wookieepedia to try and see how things pieced together. How did this book tie in with that comic, or how did that obscure background character from that film work in this book? There’s a part of me that still really enjoys seeing the minutia of the universe fit together, but over the last few years I’ve noticed that my insistence that everything mesh perfectly together has more or less vanished.

I got worn out fuming over how The Clone Wars was treading on the Expanded Universe. I got tired arguing about how the prequel films trounced on the ethics and philosophy of post-Return of the Jedi  novels. At some point, I realized that the only thing that mattered to me anymore was that I was reading a compelling narrative. For a long time I had been prioritizing continuity over the story and it had gotten in the way of my enjoyment of the Expanded Universe.

While I may not be a continuity die-hard anymore, I know it matters to many fans. It still matters to me to a certain degree. That’s the great thing about fandom, because there are countless ways one can be a fan of something. We all weigh certain things differently.

However, because it’s very important for a lot of people and still matters to me somewhat, we need to sit down and have a discussion. Continuity fans, there’s some behavior and expectations that need to change.

Reducing Characters

Perhaps my most recent and now most overwhelming annoyance is how this obsession with tying eras together is reducing female characters to little more than reproductive factories in order to facilitate the precious continuity. Within minutes of Sword of the Jedi being announced at Celebration VI, discussion topics began appearing around the usual Expanded Universe discussion boards. The first question people tended to ask: Is Jaina going to have a kid in this series?

So here we have a character that’s supposed to be a highly capable Jedi and combat pilot, but the first thing anyone wants to know about is if she’s going to have a kid in this series. Not what kind of adventures will she be getting into, not who she’ll be squaring off against, not when the book will take place. The hardcore Expanded Universe crowd wants to know first and foremost if Jaina will be producing spawn so they can sleep soundly at night knowing that their precious continuity tying the latest book to the Legacy comics will live another day.

This is where the obsession with continuity escalates from merely annoying to insulting. If your obsession with continuity and making sure everything fits perfectly together causes you to reduce one of the few developed female characters this franchise has to little more than a device to pump out spawn, your storytelling priorities are likely misplaced. In essence, you’re saying it’s more important for this character to adhere to stale gender roles in order to bridge the books to the comics than it is for the character to actually be compelling. Dunc over at Club Jade summed up the frustration nicely in a post about Jaina a few weeks back:

Is there anything more frustrating as a fan of female character than unironically reducing her to her reproductive ‘imperative’? It wasn’t cute when they did it to Mara – with a hell of a lot less to go on – and it isn’t cute now. Legacy Fels or no Legacy Fels, if Jag and Jaina want to wait until they’re 70 and have kids out of a can Vorkosigan-style, more power to them. Welcome to the wonderful world of science fiction.

Don’t even get me started on how fans are doing this to nine-year-old Amelia Solo as well.

As fans, we should be asking for more from characters like Jaina. We’ve talked at length before on the subject of female characters in this fandom, specifically the lack of them and the way they’re used within this universe. This is where the obsession with continuity goes too far. We should be asking authors and editors to elevate their role and status, not imploring them to reduce these characters to reproductive tools to make the continuity neat and tidy right this instant.

There’s a lot of time for things to play out and for the continuity to settle like you want it to. Let it happen naturally.

State of Paranoia

Back during San Diego Comic Con, we heard that Brian Wood was involved in creating a new set of comics set during the Rebellion era just after A New Hope. Some fans were excited about this. Other fans, however, went into full-on panic mode because of one throwaway statement in Dark Horse’s presser that, in essence, stated the creative staff were looking forward to this project because it was set in a time that wasn’t weighed down by twenty-plus years of continuity. To quote Dark Horse’s Randy Stradley:

This is the Star Wars series for everyone who has loved the films, but has never delved into any of the comics or novels. There is no vast continuity that a reader needs to know beyond the events in A New Hope. This is the beginning of the adventures of Luke, Leia, Han, and Chewie.

Within minutes of this, fans were screaming that pre-established continuity was about to be destroyed or, worse, a reboot was imminent.

This kind of reaction isn’t new, unfortunately. It seems that ever since the Republic Commando and Clone Wars continuity issues and the whole Even Piell thing (if not before that), the hardcore EU fans have become hyper-sensitive to anything that might impact their favorite books or comics. It’s gotten to the point where completely benign comments like the one above have triggered firestorms of panic, anger, and wholly inappropriate rage towards editors and authors.

Nowhere did Dark Horse say that they were going to wave-away continuity and do whatever they damn well please. Nowhere did they even suggest that this was going to be a reboot. This comic series is intended to be set in an era where you don’t have to know that Luke re-established the Jedi Order, the names of everyone on the Council, the various Sith Lords that have cropped up since Return of the Jedi, or dozens of planets, species, and their significance to the Galaxy at large. These comics are merely a new entry point for prospective Expanded Universe fans. Nothing more, nothing less.

It’s certainly not a nuclear bomb threatening to destroy years of established continuity and canon.

I think the truly disappointing thing is that fans have developed so much fear over continuity that it’s impacting their ability to embrace and enjoy new stories and projects. It’s one thing to be uninterested in the new Star Wars comics or the recently announced Rebels novels because they’re set in an era you’re not interested in (or you’re worried about how Leia might be used). It’s another thing entirely preemptively dismiss these things and sound the klaxon alarms because there’s a minute chance it might alter pre-existing canon and continuity.

Two Pleas

I’m going to ask the hardcore continuity fans to do something that may cause them to balk, but it is important.

Plea the First: Have faith in the content creators.

I know you’ve been burned before when The Clone Wars created some seemingly big inconsistencies in the universe you’ve grown to love. I know you’re wary that something like that can happen again and the recent continuity dustup revolving around Adi Gallia isn’t helping. Still, you must understand that the people at Dark Horse, Del Rey, and Lucasfilm are aware of this. They know that continuity is important to you and, frankly, it’s important to them as well.  No one at any official level of the Star Wars universe wants to trample on pre-existing continuity.

But, to paraphrase something Tim Zahn has said at numerous panels and conventions, this is still George Lucas’ driveway. He’s been extremely gracious and has allowed others to play in it, but occasionally he’ll back his truck down the driveway and accidentally break a toy or two you’ve left there. There’s no malice involved, but sometimes it just happens.

That doesn’t mean that things can’t be mended later, though. Most of you know that Lucasfilm employs a fellow by the name of Leland Chee to keep track of all things continuity and canon. If something breaks, authors and editors may go to him to figure out how to get it fixed. More often than not, however, he and other people within Lucasfilm will point out where something might conflict and avoid a mess entirely.

Plea the Second: Embrace Stories for What They Are

This follows up on the whole have faith thing. If you can do that, you can have an easier time appreciating books and comics for what they are rather than pining for immediate continuity ties to fit years worth of Expanded Universe content together. Not every book has to feature explicit bridges to something that happens forty in-universe years in the future or past. It can be a more contained, character focused narrative that’s every bit as fun and engaging  as any other novel.

The authors and editors have a responsibility to the story first and continuity second, not the other way around. If throwing nods and ties to other eras bogs down the story, the creative staff have failed. There’s no need to push things along and shoehorn characters into the continuity right at this very moment just so eras can be bridged. Don’t implore the authors and editors to rush things along just for a payoff now. Let the characters develop naturally and let them become something more than just a vehicle to link things together. The result will be better narratives and more fully realized characters

I’m not saying that continuity isn’t important or that you shouldn’t care about it. Just keep things in perspective. There are people in charge who are taking it into account and it’s constantly being monitored and discussed. So with that in mind, try and set your trepidation aside and evaluate these stories and characters on their own merit.

Not what happens forty years down the line.

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10 Responses to Continuity and Perspective in the Expanded Universe

  1. mrushing02 says:

    Perfect plea. Thanks for this. All of this is my feeling on the issue. I just enjoy the good stories, so continue to tell those and I will continue to enjoy them.

  2. I love the Legacy comics, but it does drive me a little bit crazy how big a rush people seem to be for the books to catch up. Legacy starts in 130 ABY, Apocalypse was in 44 ABY. We aren't even talking forty years down the line right now, we're talking nearly 100.

  3. Ian Miller says:

    While I think this is a reasonable request, it does feel a bit like those of us who care about both continuity and narrative quality are being a bit lectured at. And having faith in narrative quality isn't something I'm that willing to give out very freely after Dark Nest/Legacy of the Force/Fate of the Jedi. Yes, there have been significant strides forward with Mercy Kill and probably Scoundrels, but it's one thing to ask for faith in new content creators or proven ones - it's another to ask of creators who have a track record of deliberately crushing fan hopes and ignoring sense and sensibility in narrative construction.

    • Brian says:

      Accusing the content creators of deliberately crushing fan hopes is patently unfair. These people care, just as much if not more than you do. And if it sounds like I'm lecturing, yes, I am. It's not okay to toss accusations at people like that, and that's something this community does entirely too often.

      • Ian Miller says:

        I think, as I mentioned, your points are something we as fans should take seriously. However, I don't "toss accusations" lightly - I've tried to carefully monitor the attitude of the creators and editors fairly carefully since 2005, and I think there has been either 1) gross mismanagement; or 2) deliberate stringing of fans' expectations along.

        I think something else this community does quite often (and I find myself doing it again right now) is telling other fans how to be a better fan.

        I would like to try de-escalate this interaction, because I think there are important and true issues you've brought up, but I also don't think it's necessary to be so simplistic in your catagorization of "continuity fans."

        So, I would like to apologize for the accusatory tone of my initial post. I'm still a bit upset about the way you've taken an entire group of fans to task in this manner, but my own response was unnecessarily harsh in return.

  4. Lora says:

    Sorry, but continuity is important to me, and I simply don't like it when they on purpose create content that conflict with existing canon. I like a good read and a great story, but when you create a universe you have to keep your continuity in check. This is something the people at Lucasbooks/Lucas Licencing have managed better and worse at different times.
    I have to agree with Ian on Dark Nest; it was a mess that started out good and then fell apart, partly due to continuity, but mostly due to forcing characters to act OOC. (So it would fit in with what they had planned for the next series). And the new CW is a continuity chaos. I simply couldn't get into it eventhough I tried. :/

    I still read sw novels and comics and I enjoy a well written story, but there are some things I find no real interest in, because I know they a)try to force characters to be something they are not b)ignore continuity and do whatever they like c)choose authors whose style I don't like. And in my opinion these are all valid reasons not to read/watch something. I won't start an argument or yell at people for doing things I don't like, but don't expect me to just embrace it all uncritically. This is my choice and I expect others to respect it.

  5. Pingback: EUbits: Canon, continuity, and all that jazz (again.)

  6. The way I often look at the Star Wars Continuity is that it happened a long time ago. Accounts get mixed up about what happened that far in the past - and more often than not it is the winning/dominant group that gets the "official" say on what happened during a certain time era. To pull an overused Obi-Won quote, "What I said was true, from a certain point of view."

    Also, I agree on the Jaina front. I really do not want the Sword of the Jedi series to regulator her into a baby making machine. I want to see Jaina have a chance to shine as herself - not as an extender of the Fel/Skywalker bloodlines.

  7. kataja says:

    Second your pleas completely!

  8. Ed says:

    A thought that came to mind while reflecting on the demise of LucasArts was that of all the sci-fi franchises out there, Star Wars has been the best (note that I am not saying they are good at it) at maintaining continuity. Furthermore, George Lucas has been fairly gracious in terms of allowing others to make use of his creative products and generate all sorts of incredible stories and "expand the universe."

    If I have any complaint whatsoever, it is that the creativity and open-mindedness of the EU that I love so much does not exist on all levels of the franchise. The Star Wars universe is huge, both on a literal and physical scale, but it seems as though some creators, be it George Lucas himself or an author or even a game developer, seem hell-bent on keeping the universe as small as it can possibly be. While I most certainly understand the centrality and importance of the Skywalker/Solo family, it seems as though they are made out to be the "essence of the universe." No addition to the SW universe, be it the films or the EU, seems to make the cut these days unless that have at least one character who has three degrees of separation from the Skywalker/Solo lineage. This was not always an issue - between the release of Episodes VI and I, we saw the Star Wars universe expand at an exponential rate and introduced many characters that had little to no association with the Skywalker/Solo clans. But since the arrival of the prequel trilogy, there has been an effort, an enforcement perhaps, to tie EVERYTHING to the Star Wars saga (the films). This has stumped the creative process of Star Wars as a whole - maintaining that "loyalty" with the films is more important than telling a good story, providing vivid characters, etc.

    I have always believed the Star Wars universe to be big enough to tell any kind of story about any number of characters. In part, this is why franchises like "Knights of the Old Republic" were so popular and successful - it took place in a different place, a different time and with a completely different lineage of characters. Had someone like Lucas been more involved in the creative process of the franchise, however, I guarantee that one character would be a distant forefather or descendant of Skywalker or Solo. This would have been a major detraction from the franchise.

    All I ask is that the people at the top allow the entire Star Wars universe to be fully explored. You never know what you are going to find!

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