Editorial: Star Wars Canon – Ahsoka and the Retcons
So, I’ve talked about the history of canon and last week I looked at unintentional inconsistencies. Now I’m going to explore intentional inconsistencies, justifications for them and look at a different view of canon.
I use the term ‘inconsistency’ not ‘retcon’ only for accuracy. While a retcon (short for retroactive continuity) is essentially the same thing as an intentional inconsistency it’s more faceted. Retcons, in classical meaning, is more of a tool, used by an author to change something previously established or unexplained, sometimes for the better.
The biggest example in Star Wars is the Death Star. Since A New Hope’s release one of the biggest jokes was the absurd idea that you could build a planet sized superweapon with a small exhaust port that when fired into explodes the whole thing (Family Guy and Robot Chicken both have sketches on it). It’s not an inconsistency, it doesn’t conflict with other information given to us, it’s just something we questioned and mocked (with affection) about Star Wars. We assume it’s a very very major oversight by the Empire’s design team.
39 years later Rogue One is released, a direct prequel to A New Hope revealing how the Rebels obtained the plans that revealed this Death Star flaw. I’m not going to go through the whole plot of the movie (because if you haven’t seen it you really should and if you have seen it you should see it again because it’s awesome) but we find out that Galen Erso, father of the protagonist, Jyn, intentionally put that fault in there as he was designing the battle station.
Again, this information doesn’t create any real inconsistencies, even if it’s a little odd no specifics of Rogue One are brought up during A New Hope. No information conflicts. What the film does is retroactively change the canon (a retcon). It changes how we view the original movie and gives us extra info.
So while intentional inconsistencies are retcons, retcons cover things that were never inconsistencies and just additional information, hence why i use the distinction.
The intentional ones are harder, because they blur the line between inconsistency and retcons, because information conflicts but is also being used as a tool to change our understanding of an event. So we, as fans, need to understand the rationale behind these decisions as they happen, their impact, and again, when to let go.
The Ashoka Conundrum
The most recent, and most blatant, inconsistency in canon occurred with the release of the final season of The Clone Wars. When the show was cancelled after season five in March 2013, no one thought it was coming back. A lot of the show’s undeveloped scripts went to other places (the almost completed were put together into the 6th ‘lost missions’ season originally released on Netflix, others went to the Sons of Dathomir comic and Dark Disciple novel etc.).
Two years later the Rebels 1st season finale revealed what we had hoped and suspected, that Clone Wars star Ashoka Tano had survived order 66 and was aiding the rebellion. We hadn’t seen the character since the finale of season five, leaving the Jedi order. Now, here she was, force using and wielding lightsabers again.
15 years had passed since we’d last seen her (in universe) and she’d grown up and the fans wanted to know: ‘what happened in that gap?’ With no public knowledge of Clone Wars coming back and Ahsoka’s fate again unknown after the Rebels season 2 finale with Vader, E.K. Johnston’s novel Ahsoka arrived October 2016 to fill in the gap between the two shows.
Spoilers ahead for the novel and the final season of The Clone Wars
Set a year after the Siege of Mandalore and Order 66, the novel follows Ashoka’s journey, living as Ashla, becoming who we see in Rebels. I won’t run through the whole narrative because the main plot itself isn’t relevant to this topic (and because the book is worth the read, especially since Ashley Eckstein does the audio book).
Aside from the main narrative, the book contains a handful of flashbacks/asides between chapters. We see the moments before Ahsoka and Anakin first meet from his perspective, another of Obi-Wan in his hut on Tatooine making contact with Qui-gon through the force, we see the confrontation between Ahsoka and Maul in the lead up to Order 66, and Ahsoka and Rex in the aftermath of it. These final two create the inconsistency.
Fast forward to July 2018 and the announcement was made that Clone Wars was coming back for a seventh and final season including, most importantly, the Siege of Mandalore arc. The two relevant episodes for this topic are episodes 10: The Phantom Apprentice. and 12: Victory and Death.
Two chapters in the novel differ from the course of events in the TV show, the first is the capture of Maul. Both occur during the Siege of Mandalore with a fight between Maul and Ahsoka but the location, dialogue and ending differ drastically from one another (I’ve edited down the dialogue from the novel for brevity):
He was in one of the plazas that wasn’t burning yet, pacing while he waited for her. “It was so nice of your former masters to send you out alone and spare me the exertion of a proper fight,” Maul said. “You’re not even a real Jedi.”
“It’ll be a fair fight then,” she retorted, looking him up and down. “You’re only half a Sith.”
The familiar green energy sang as she activated her lightsabers and moved to engage, one last feint. Maul lunged forward and Ahsoka took a quick step back, drawing him past the point of no return. He swung down, directly at her head, and she responded with all her strength. Her weapons locked with his, holding him exactly where she wanted him to be.
“Now!” she commanded her unseen allies. The response was fast, too fast for Maul’s distracted defense. Ahsoka threw herself clear just in time. The ray shield came to life, trapping her prey with his lightsaber still raised against her.
In The Phantom Apprentice capturing Maul is a 10 minute scene that differs as such:
- There is no trap to spring on Maul, he surprises Ahsoka with his presence in the throne room (not the plaza)
- They don’t taunt and then fight, they calmly converse for over 3 minutes before lightsabers are even drawn
- The conversation is about Maul convincing Ahsoka of his vision than of her baiting him
- Maul isn’t captured by ray shield but tied up and stunned while Ahsoka suspends him in mid-air
- Her lightsaber is blue and not green
As you can see, the scenes are not even remotely alike. The same happens later in the novel with another flashback; this one depicting Ahsoka and Rex following order 66:
Now, there was the grave. Everything about it was false, from the name listed on it to the name of the person who’d killed him. It looked very real, though. And you couldn’t tell clones apart when they were dead, especially not if they were buried in another’s set of armor.
Ahsoka held her lightsabers, her last physical connection to the Jedi and to her service in the Clone Wars. It was so hard to give them up, even though she knew she had to. It was the only way to sell the con of the false burial, and it would buy her a modicum of safety, because whoever found them would assume she was dead, too.
She knelt, extinguishing the energy, and planted the hilts of both her weapons in the freshly turned dirt.
She stood quickly and resisted the urge to call the lightsabers back into her hands. They must be left there.
In Victory and Death we also see Ahsoka standing over the graves of clones, now both scenes could have happened separately but the big difference is that the novel clearly states she drops both of her lightsabers at Rex’s marked grave whereas in the episode we see her drop one lightsaber at the unmarked grave of all the clones lost on that ship and leave it behind, meaning that these scenes can’t have happened separately. This then creates all the following contradictions:
- Rex is still wearing his uniform so they can’t have buried a trooper in it
- They have only one ship between the two so they can’t instantly go seperate ways on different ships
- There is no marked grave
- The novel has her drop both lightsabers while the episode has her only drop one
Johnston was asked to not directly depict the Siege of Mandalore since, unbeknownst to her, early talks for season 7 of The Clone Wars were happening with Dave Filoni, so there’s no denying that this is an intentional inconsistency and a retcon. Since the new canon came into play we haven’t had such severe case of one work stamping on the other, especially not intentionally.
Usually I would weigh up the merits of both works but this is a specific set of circumstances. The book did set the events first and if that episode contradicted the whole novel I’d be in favour of defending it, since it is so easy to fall into the pattern that film and TV overpower printed works (and I understand that: they cost more to produce, reach a wider audience etc.) so I always want to defend the slow march towards that. Like I said though, this time is different.
Clone Wars and, in particular, Ahsoka are Dave Filoni’s babies, he was behind their creation, he’s stuck with them despite fan protest that they not exist, he’s evolved them into what we love today and rallied the fans to them. Now that’s not to say he ‘owns’ them. The beautiful thing about the Star Wars universe is that characters, planets, and events are brought to life and then set free to other creators. But Clone Wars was his show and it was cancelled, which is important. Filoni didn’t leave and then want to come back, the show didn’t finish on its own terms and now he wants more, it was cancelled without much warning or chance to write a proper ending. Bringing the show back to finish on its own terms and finish that part of Ahsoka’s life was great (for us and for Disney+ marketing).
So between the show being Filoni’s (and George Lucas’s) creation, it being cancelled abruptly, the fan love (and planned future) for Ahsoka, and that the novel spins directly out of the show it makes sense not wanting to be tied to vague flashbacks of a Young Adult novel. Especially since the conversations and fights between Maul and Ahsoka are so detailed and revelatory in the show (and they got the original Maul, Ray Park, to do mo-cap for him).
So I am not against the show doing its own thing. Though it just makes it even odder that Johnston was allowed to keep the flashbacks. If scripts for the episodes weren’t set in stone then why was she allowed to depict the flashbacks at all, the book works just as well if they’re taken out or made vaguer. Why ask her not to cover the Siege of Mandalore and then let her depict parts of it? surely it should have been an all or nothing deal.
Luckily, and maybe on purpose, we don’t have to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Last week, when talking about Catalyst and Darth Vader Annual #2, I said it would be hard to cut parts out of either to make it fit but with Ahsoka it’s different. It’s essentially two chapters unrelated to the main plot comprising of just over 10 pages.
Is it worth reprinting it to take these chapters out? Most people probably wouldn’t notice the difference, even less would care, and us that do have already read the book and/or know that the TV show is the definitive version, not because it reaches a wider audience but because it is a more substantial retelling from the the original creator (in addition to all the other reasons I’ve listed above). So is a reprint of the book warranted or can we just accept the fact that those two chapters aren’t definitive and enjoy the rest of the book to its full canon potential?
I say all this to lead up to one point: This needs to be a rare exception. All the reasoning and processes I’ve gone through to justify this happening, those layers of events and logic, they need to stay in place. Intentional inconsistencies used as retcons can’t become a regular occurrence, especially for big events (this doesn’t include novelizations and reference books which are their own seperate category).
Also, those rare exceptions need to be proportionate. Another reason this exchange of canon works is because Lucasfilm are essentially saying we’ll replace this very specific part of this specific book with these high budget tv episodes that essentially tell the same story minus the details. That’s a good tradeoff for us as consumers and in a different league to something being made that disregards canon completely.
I don’t think the Ahsoka thing is anyone’s ‘fault’. I think it just shows a lack of planning that’s needed going forward. Hopefully, now that the final vestiges of things Disney needed to do upon purchase of Lucasfilm are over (i.e. cancel Clone Wars because it was on a rival station and produce a sequel trilogy to justify purchase) we’re entering a period of long term plans.
I’m gonna leave you with a quote by Pablo Hidalgo from his twitter:
‘Against my better judgment, about to start a few tweets about the dreaded C-word, canon. But first, one ground rule. This is just my opinion just my own ideas about it. It is not reflective of any company policy. It’s not a commandment. It’s not a rule. Just an observation.
On occasion when asked about something specific, I’ll answer, ‘Canon doesn’t split those hairs.’ What do I mean by that?
It means it’s a detail that isn’t catalogued. It’s an increment beneath notice. And stuff like that typically means artifacts of the medium.
So, I don’t see there being such a thing as ‘canon dialog’. Because a comic, novel, cartoon, live action version of an event will differ.
It’s my way of dodging the who-shot-first horse carcass. All that’s canon is that two people entered that booth, & Greedo died. Reports vary
Here’s an example of a film artifact. Look how much room is in the Death Star overbridge. This place is huge…
So why are these guys standing so close as if they can’t get enough of each other? Because they had to fit into the movie frame.
In my mind, there’s no such thing as their canonical distance from one another. The only ‘fact’ is that these guys were there and talked.
Anyway, that’s it. But if you ever wanted to shatter an illusion of a movie, look at how close people stand for the sake of framing.’
It’s not definitive and I don’t subscribe to it 100% (since it errs on the side of unreliable narrator) but sometimes it’s worth considering when we have these conflicts. Maul and Ahsoka fought, she captured him, he escaped, and her and Rex were left. Whether you subscribe to the TV show or the novels version of events the outcome is the same.
This look at canon (I’ve called inconsequentialism) covers a lot of the inconsistencies I’ve looked at the last few weeks. It’s not perfect by any means but it’s always interesting to look at other views of canon, especially from within the Storygroup.
We can all agree though, whatever our view on canon, we want good stories. However, as I’ll explore next week: should we be slave to canon that has no story attached to it?
Until then, may your universe be canon and the Force be with you, always.
Alex Newman is huge Star Wars fan and loves to keep up to date with the canon. He’s also loved movies for as long as he can remember. He’s a massive Disney and superhero fan but will watch anything. He’s worked at a cinema, a comic book store and at Disney World but is currently working in radio in London!