Last week I talked about the concept of canon as a whole and its importance to us as fans. This time I want to look at canon inconsistency and how we interpret it .
I’m going to give an example and exploration of an unintentional canon inconsistency and, next week, an intentional one.
An unintentional inconsistency is, put simply, when we are given two sets of conflicting information about an event. Two pieces of media covering the same event but giving conflicting accounts. I use the word unintentional to differentiate from rewrites and retcons (which I’ll get into more when I talk about intentional inconsistencies).
Unintentional inconsistencies either need to be amended, explained in-universe, or accepted as a part of doing business with a universe of this scale. Again, as I’ve mentioned before, how much these canon conflicts bother you varies drastically fan to fan.
I’ve chosen the example below because it comprises two different mediums conflicting on a very specific course of events. Of course we could have fun all day talking about ‘plot holes’ between the films themselves: Leia remembering her mother, Luke keeping his last name on Tatooine despite being in hiding, Vader and Obi-wan not recognizing the droids in the original trilogy, or turning off lightspeed to get past a barrier/lightspeed as a weapon/lightspeed skipping etc.
I choose to view these as unexplained occurrences rather than direct inconsistencies because most of them differ from information we’ve been presented with previously but don’t contradict on a specific example.
The Catalyst Collision
James Luceno’s 2016 novel Catalyst serves as a prequel to Rogue One, we see Krennic and Tarkin’s growing rivalry, the birth of Jyn Erso, her parent’s scientific work with kyber crystals, and their later suspicion of the Empire’s use for them, leading the family to go into hiding.
During the novel, Krennic sends Jyn’s mother, Lyra Erso, to the planet Alpinn to survey for potential kyber crystals. After twelve weeks surveying none are found and Lyra and her team leave.
“By then the camp had become home, and the members of the archaeological team went all-out in throwing a leave-taking party. They lavished small gifts on Jyn, and made it clear that they were going to miss Has’s culinary creations terribly.”
Lyra, Jyn, Has and Nari leave, and on the way back to Coruscant stop at multiple planets to observe the Empire’s effect on protected planets that were mined to nothing. Lyra then arrives home on Coruscant, reunited with her husband Galen, and, as the plot moves forward, they slowly become more suspicious of the Empire’s motivations and the intentions behind their interest in kyber crystals (I.e. building the Death Star).
In Chuck Wendig’s 2018 comic book Darth Vader Annual #2 we follow the title character at a similar time period. The comic itself has been criticized for being a little off for various reasons. For example, the issue has Tarkin and Vader talk as if they’re aggressively adversarial (where they’ve been shown to have mutual respect for each other in Luceno’s Tarkin novel and A New Hope itself).
In the final pages we see Lyra on Aspinn as a droid appears out of the shadows (the issue implies Darth Vader sent it which is odd in itself but we’ll let that slide) and warns that she and Galen are working on a super-weapon that will cause the deaths of countless galactic citizens. The droid then proceeds to self-destruct and melt into the floor.
This news visibly shakes Lyra as she knows it puts Galen and Jyn in harm’s way. She runs away in a frenzy activating her commlink, saying everything is wrong and that the shuttle needs to prepped to leave straight away, saying she needs to get back to her husband and daughter and that they have to run.
The series of events portrayed by Catalyst is vastly different from the details given in Darth Vader Annual #2, which was released two years later. The former shows Lyra calmly leaving the planet, having a goodbye party and visiting multiple planets on the way back home and through slow realizations the couple see the evil they’re aiding. The latter shows her in a panic needing to rush back as soon as possible, bluntly informed of the evil in a way that contradicts her behavior in the novel’s following events. From the pages above you can see it’s a stark juxtaposition between the novel and comic.
While the contradiction is most likely an oversight and unintentional, it’s still a contradiction, one big and noteworthy enough that it’s mentioned on both works Wookiepedia pages.
As an audience we can ‘explain’ the contradiction away multiple ways: Lyra calmed down after her original panic, she is panicked in the novel but we’re just not privy to it, she didn’t want to cause alarm etc. However way you spin it though it doesn’t quite sit right. Regardless, we shouldn’t have to do mental gymnastics just to make it fit though, and luckily it is a minor oversight.
Wendig, writer for the Annual, defended the inconsistency and odd characterizations saying this in a tweet:
Which is a fancy way of saying ‘unreliable narrator’: a literary device in which the person telling the story is somehow unable, or unwilling, to tell the story correctly. Sometime it’s because the person recounting the tale has forgotten parts of it (How I Met Your Mother), they’re being intentionally mischievous or deceitful (The Usual Suspects) or the person’s perspective is untrustworthy (2019’s Joker).
Unreliable narrator really only works if the person recounting the story is unreliable and that we know who the ‘narrator’ is. The annual isn’t narrated by anyone in particular, we see events as an observer of the event not as a recount from someone else. Arguments could be made that ‘A long time ago in a galaxy far far away’ implies we are seeing a recount, there’s even references/theories to the Star Wars saga being recounted by the Guardians of the Whills. None of these hold much water in canon and personally, I believe, dilute the Star Wars experience, and we have no evidence that all of Star Wars is a tall tale being relayed to us.
If we start using ‘unreliable narrator’ every time something doesn’t quite fit, eventually canon becomes meaningless, who needs truth or consistency when the blame can just sit on the omniscient unknown teller of this story and their apparent mis-remembering of it. Yes, Wendig is right: real-life historical events are ‘full of wild, ragged-contradictions and retcons’; new evidence changes how we view the past, real life eye-witnesses can easily mis-remember facts, and people will always insert their biases into stories. We are not objective creatures, but we don’t enjoy Star Wars for it to be exactly like the world we live in, we enjoy it to be better than that.
Now that’s not to say that unreliable narrator doesn’t have its place in Star Wars, because it certainly does. As I said before, unreliable narrator works when you know who the narrator is. If a character says ‘We fought off 100 TIE Fighters’ and we find out from another work that it was actually 105, it’s forgivable because we’ve seen someone convey the information incorrectly and its an extremely small, non-plot focused occurrence.
Additionally, unreliable narrator works if that’s the intention of the story. For example, The three different versions we get in The Last Jedi regarding what caused the rift between Luke and Ben. We know who the narrator is, why they’re narrating and the misinformation is vital to the story rather than an excuse used out-of-universe.
The concept can even be targeted to specific works. The anthology novel From a Certain Point of View (and its upcoming sequel) are key examples. Released in 2017 to celebrate A New Hope’s 40th anniversary, it follows the plot of the film telling 40 short stories from the perspective of background characters.
The stories themselves range from the insightful and intriguing to the downright wacky and plain odd:
- We get a detailed look at why the Empire didn’t shoot down the droids escape pod
- Obi-Wan communes with Qui-Gon’s Force ghost as they discuss Luke’s fate
- R5 has a ‘bad motivator’ on purpose to be a hero of the Rebellion
- R2 has his memory bank stolen by a Jawa who watches the entire Star Wars Saga
- An unnamed Officer (that may or may not be Tarkin) has a romantic affair with the Stormtrooper assigned to guard the Millennium Falcon
I say this with no judgement though as the authors forgo payment for their stories and all proceeds of the book go to charity, it’s designed as a celebration of A New Hope and A New Hope only, not Star Wars in a wider context, and the point of the book is to have fun and let authors play with ideas.
Of course, as canon fanatics we want to know whether something is or isn’t specifically canon and, luckily, members of the Lucasfilm Story Group have obliged. Asked which stories from the collection were canon Pablo Hidalgo said ‘Some are. Some aren’t. Some might be. Some might not be. Many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.’ Matt Martin said on twitter ‘FACPOV has a lot of contradictions, that’s sort of the nature of that project.’
So regarding A Certain Point of View, we’re not going to get a solid answer regarding whether each story is specifically canon or not. Obviously some aren’t, one of the stories is from the point of Palpatine but he speaks in Shakespearean Verse.
The book is a celebration of Star Wars through the lenses of different writers, not just the canon novelists.
Returning to unreliable narrators, as Hidalgo said ‘Many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.’ Some of the stories in the anthology are canon however the ones told from the direct perspective of the characters recalling events from A New Hope (particularly the multiple perspectives we get of the Mos Eisley cantina scenes) are best attributed to unreliable narrator (a certain point of view) to iron out minor discrepancies and timing issues.
For reasons I’ve stated above this is the exception not the rule, and it doesn’t fly in the face of canon or Star Wars because the direct intention of the book is to explore ideas without repercussion.
As fans, understanding intention is always important, which makes unintentional direct inconsistencies all the more frustrating. We have been lucky though, because as far as they go, Catalyst and Annual #2 has been as big as it gets. Regarding solutions for them though, there aren’t a lot of options:
Parts are taken out of future editions/publications. In a lot of cases (including Catalyst/Vader Annual) the removal of parts would make the work choppy (no pun intended) and narratively incomplete.
You take out the entire work, stop publication and it’s erased from canon. This in itself becomes problematic and sets a bad precedent for going back to a tier system. Additionally, if the story group have the power to strike something from canon, it should be used sparingly and for problems a lot bigger than any I’ve mentioned thus far. For Catalyst/Darth Vader Annual, removing the comic book makes the most sense, as it was the one that created the contradiction, is the shorter work and contributes less to the canon. Even writing that though, all the problems enacting it appear.
Within the works, or in extra media, explain the contradiction. This seems like the most logical, however, given the nature of the contradiction it would simply be making canon the excuses I listed at the start (that Lyra simply calmed down/forgot ‘between scenes’). Not to mention that adding content this specific takes time, money, and effort that could be spent on other content we’d want to see.
We acknowledge that a universe this size with constant releasing content ‘a small group of people trying to juggle a whole bunch of projects and dealing with egos and changes of plan and things that go wrong….With all that going on, of course there are going to be inconsistencies and slips here and there.’ Acceptance is never the easiest answer, but it can be the right one.
It’s easy to deflect and say this wouldn’t have happened with the old EU tier system but remember, both comics and books were on the same level there so it still wouldn’t always have been a simpler solution.
As I’ve said before, canon is weird, and contradictions are even weirder, there is no one size fits all solution and considering the scope of the Star Wars universe, I wouldn’t want there to be. In terms of direct conflicts, we should count ourselves lucky that this is debatably the biggest accidental one since the new canon came into effect (excluding novelizations, which I will address eventually).
Sometimes, even us canon fanatics, we need to point something out and then let it go, it’s best not to sweat the small stuff.
Next week I’ll be looking at the intentional inconsistency between The Clone Wars and the Ahsoka novel while exploring a Pablo Hidalgo view of canon I’m calling ‘inconsequentialism’.