In 1899, Sherlock Holmes was the subject of a stage play written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and William Gillette. It set off over a century of works that revised and rebooted the world of the Great Detective one piece at a time. What does this have to do with Star Wars? It’s the future.
A recent episode of The Resistance Broadcast featured a fascinating conversation about the sacredness of canon in Star Wars. Canon has been a debate in the mythology of a galaxy far, far away from the beginning, but has taken on a greater dimension over time.
The decision to recast everything outside of the movies and, at the time, Clone Wars as ‘Legends’ was divisive among some fans. Others understood that George Lucas never intended anything beyond the movies as canon and was vocal about it. But even the canonicity of the movies themselves has been fluid, as fans well know, thanks to the Special Editions and other subsequent revisions.
Eventually, even the official canon of the movies and everything considered canon now will be in effect rebooted. In fact, it’s already happening.
The Sherlock Holmes play of 1899 was one of several works that approached the popular character from different media and perspectives. But the play also introduced significant elements of the character’s lore that have now become ‘canon.’ One is Holmes’ distinctive curved pipe, and the other is the phrase ‘Elementary, my dear Watson.’
These are non-canonical elements that have since become signature elements of Holmes’ stories to the point most fans would likely be surprised that they don’t actually appear in prose prior to that point. This same process is already at work in Star Wars, as fans have seen in The Book of Boba Fett.
Boba Fett very clearly died in Return of the Jedi, an ignominious fate but a resolute one. But Marvel Comics retconned that in short order, in issue #81 of the original Star Wars series. That was never canon, though Boba Fett would continue to operate post-Jedi in later comics from Dark Horse. Boba Fett was always dead in canon, until he walked back on screen in The Mandalorian in 2020.
This is a major revision of canon that actually leverages much of the Marvel Comics story. Boba Fett claws out of the Sarlacc Pit, and the Jawas steal his armor (and him with it). Future fans of Star Wars will regard the retcon in “Jawas of Doom” in 1984 as simply a variation on the canon story, rather than some aberration — Boba Fett always survived.
It remains to be seen what other elements of the comic come into play in live-action. Boba Fett eventually has an encounter with Han Solo, and that could absolutely happen in The Book of Boba Fett. This could serve to further alter what is canon about the smuggler, since little about him in this time period is known beyond the fact he is a brand-new father.
Live-action stories have drawn on comics and books a great deal, like details concerning the survival of Boba Fett or the existence of Grand Admiral Thrawn. As these non-canonical elements continue to influence canon, they bend and shape it. A key example of this is Darth Maul’s survival and robotic legs, which migrated from a clearly non-canon comic to the animated Clone Wars series and ultimately live-action in Solo: A Star Wars Story.
Another is the retcon of Caleb Dume’s experience during Order 66 in the first episode of The Bad Batch, which differs from the comics. The Book of Boba Fett and The Mandalorian both establish other revisions to canon, including the survival of Max Rebo and Bib Fortuna (for a moment, at least). These are relatively minor examples, but evidence of a reboot may not be immediately obvious. It’s already happening.
No major entertainment franchise on the scale of Star Wars – think Star Trek, various pre-MCU Marvel franchises, James Bond, Batman, Superman, et al. – has maintained a singular continuity throughout its history. Audiences are well-versed in successive reboots, especially with characters like Batman. While the core story remains intact, each interpretation differs in the details. Each new interpretation adds something to the mix, which is then picked up and carried forward into future iterations.
A perfect example in Batman is Harley Quinn. She appeared initially in Batman: The Animated Series and has since become an integral part of the comics and other media. These additions accumulate over time until the popular perception of the story has altered so much that even the idea of a reboot becomes almost semantic. The franchise is always rebooting, in ways that are often imperceptible. The arc of perennial stories like Star Wars is that they appear and reappear in different forms in different eras.
A full reboot will eventually occur with Star Wars, however. It may not happen for some time – decades, even – but it’s inevitable. It will likely be motivated by a perceived sense that the franchise needs a new direction due to either critical or commercial concerns on the part of Disney. But it will simply be the next step in an evolutionary process that is well underway. Even if the franchise somehow does not echo others as it ages, another factor will bring major changes to Star Wars.
Sherlock Holmes has been in the public domain for some time, and as such, is the subject of numerous different and often competing movies, television shows, and books. This is Star Wars‘ ultimate future. The franchise will become the domain of its fans, even more so than it is now, and what is and isn’t canon will diverge infinitely.
This is actually healthy for Star Wars and will be the next step in its evolution as a story that continues into the future. Sherlock Holmes is an interesting comparison for the moment, but Star Wars has more in common with the plays of Shakespeare, the plays of Homer, and the myths of antiquity. King Arthur, Hamlet, and The Odyssey remain as vital today as they were centuries ago.
All of them have been reinterpreted and reconsidered for modern audiences, and canon becomes less of a concern. What matters most is the story, and the core story of Star Wars is as vital and timeless as any Greek myth. Very little of Star Wars‘ central narrative will change even hundreds of years from now, even if the surface details morph in ways we can’t imagine.
Scholars debate who was the best Hamlet, as fans debate who was the best James Bond. Eventually, they will debate who was the best Luke Skywalker. It’s to the character’s benefit that this happens. If Luke Skywalker remains static to how he is right now, he will remain only the interest of right now, and the future of the character and franchise will be limited.
Though there may be competing ‘encyclopedias’ or ‘source books’ in the future – orthodoxy will always be a factor in any fandom – there won’t be a single source to guide or shape the story as there has been to this point. The mythology will become subject to interpretation, like the story of Beowulf, which has been interpreted by authors like J.R.R. Tolkien and Seamus Heaney.
Canon is wonderful, and a great source of engagement for fans. But the sacredness of it for fans of Star Wars will surely ebb and flow over time. As a galaxy far, far away truly becomes the domain of its fans, canon will matter less. What will matter is the story, the characters, the timeless appeal of a modern myth that is destined to become eternal.