Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Canon Fodder

Over the course of more than 275 posts to this blog – I know, right? – I have been a good boy.

In spite of the fact that at age 10, I was a burgeoning science-fiction / fantasy / space opera fan, having spent any time at all in front of episodes (and in fact published fiction titles) of the original Star Trek TV series …

And in spite of the fact that not long after I hit eleven years old, my dad took me to see this little B-movie called Star Wars, and that pretty much sealed the deal …

And in spite of the fact that in the intervening years, while I have have offered up tepid protestations like “I watch it, but I don’t wear it,” I have historically done spectacularly well at those online quizzes with titles like “How Devout a Trekkie Are You?” and also tended to quickly give up on the online articles that claimed to be all things Star Wars-ical when they didn’t even know that the little red droid that blew a head gasket and gave R2-D2 the opening to get bought by Owen Lars and the rest as they say is history is not *either* an R2 unit!! …

And I’ve come to appreciate items like the Battlestar Galactica re-boot TV series as doing what good sci-fi is supposed to do – making veiled but pointed commentary on our earthly issues.

With all this borne in mind … only a couple of times in this space have I gone Full-On Nerd Alert.

You have been warned.

It was not a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, that the lunatic fringe barked. It was maybe several months ago.

J.J. Abrams is helming the next Star Wars movie! We’re all gonna die! You saw what he did to the Star Trek re-boot movie! Lightsabers with crossguards? ‘The Force Awakens’?? From what, a nap?! And did you see all that lens flare?? That’s not what Star Wars looks like!!”

Because that’s why the original Star Wars trilogy was so good: we all, every one of us who saw it more than once, got so into it that we thought of it as ours. When Mr. Lucas, who, ummm, came up with it in the first place, added lame things like Jar Jar Binks, those little nasal-voiced battle droids, and Hayden Christensen to the saga [I was going to say “Jake Lloyd” but then I thought better of it; he was a kid in that movie, so let’s lay off the acting critiques] … a great many of us were so protective of it that we wanted to protect it from its own creator.

That’s not to say that I wasn’t horrified that those three items, and more besides, were part of the official canon. But it wasn’t my call.

In many cases, I could have pointed to numerous characters and concepts from the <*ahem*> several Star Wars novels published in the years between the two trilogies’ releases. Timothy Zahn, and a few other justly-famous sci-fi writers, created sidekicks and villains and fleshed out little tiny movie-era scraps of detail into fully-realized interplanetary cultures that would have been great to see on the big screen. Or at least I thought so. And it could have been done – clearing both creative and copyright hurdles.

Because everything in all those novels, and all the ones since – at least until a few months ago – was considered canonic. From the wonderful to the woeful, everything that made it onto the printed page and into stores was part of the “Expanded” Universe.

Star Trek had gone in the other direction, all those years ago.

The Trek legal department decided that, whether the published Trek fiction was well-written or not, it was not canon. Even if it deserved to be. Only the Trek that made it to the silver screen or the boob tube was Official. And for every story or character or reference that was awkward, embarrassing, or really pushing the bounds of credulity for us die-hard fans who knew everything about everything (I know, but we’re working on a sliding scale of credulity here to start with, so ease up) … there was a story or character or reference or whole novel in the Trek fiction world that by rights should have been included in the Official Trek Universe.

(See my thoughts about Diane Duane’s exquisite historical novel, “Spock’s World”, and how it was so much more elegant and logical than a lot of the planet-Vulcan details that made it into Star Trek V, and then J.J. Abrams went and literally blew it all up anyway.)

Also, if a novel was fluffy or poorly-written or just plain unlikely – I mean, how can one single starship crew save civilization as we know that many times? – a reader could chuckle, park it on the bookshelf again, and forget it.

It was also easier to keep track of everything.

So, some time ago, the Disney juggernaut had laid out untold billions of dollars to buy the rights to the Star Wars franchise from its creator – and the fan base twitched.

And then the new keepers of the Star Wars flame determined that the extensive Expanded Universe of the SW fiction world … just wouldn’t do. So they effectively hit control-Z. Busted the whole project back down to “six movies, two animated series [now that a certain former Jedi Padawan has shown up in the “Star Wars Rebels” season finale] and that’s all, thank you.”

And the fan base largely freaked.

I not-so-humbly assert that I didn’t. I did pause to offer well wishes to Grand Admiral Thrawn, Mara Jade, Kal Skirata, and the Jedi mental-group-battle-meld (what… the actual… frak??) as they settled in to their new home in the Star Wars Phantom Zone, yes. But the logic of the move quickly became obvious.

The Expanded Universe had expanded beyond the point where any screenwriter was going to have a prayer of writing Episode VII without banging into some other author’s established reality.

At this writing, there are at least a hundred and fifty-nine Star Wars novels in print. And that doesn’t include the myriad of lighter-weight items pitched at the kiddies, or the e-books, or the short story collections.

Not only was that going to be unwieldy, but … sorry, but not everybody knows all the details of “The Courtship of Princess Leia”, not everybody has read “Han Solo at Star’s End”, and not everybody is aware that Princess Leia and Han Solo had a daughter and two sons, and one of the sons killed the other one in a lightsaber duel, and went on to become a Sith Lord himself. And some yahoo somewhere in the online world (possibly me) was going to get on their cases about screwing up the Established Order Of Things.

You can’t do that in our Universe!”

J.J. Abrams didn’t have that to contend with, when he re-booted Star Trek. And on top of that he created an alternate-universe story that allowed him to thumb his nose at established Trek canon. There are a few of us Trek fans out here who would have preferred that maybe he and his writers had lashed themselves a bit more firmly to the canonic mast.

But anyone with experience in alternate-reality stories knows that the “prime” universe is still there. We’re just not looking at it, right now. I’m living in this house, right now; but the house I grew up in is still there, just like it was. I’m just not there at the moment.

Perhaps the reason that the second trailer for the upcoming Episode VII movie fractured the Internet somethin’ fierce … with utter whoops of joy … was that ol’ J.J. saw fit to park at the end of it a single line of dialogue, Han Solo’s first new one in more than thirty years, and one that was tantalizingly reassuring:

Chewie… we’re home.”

This might be okay, after all.

At the end of the day, that’s the beauty of all this: while the actual, moneymaking franchises belong to Lucas (okay, now Disney) and the Roddenberry estate (okay, now Paramount Pictures) … and therefore we out here in Fandom Land don’t get much of a say in what shows up on the Official Entertainment Screens … it’s a free country. You can make your own personal decisions.

If ya don’t like what they’ve done to “your” Trek, you can choose to not ever watch “Star Trek V” again and instead put “Spock’s World” in a prominent place on your coffee table.

Not happy with a droid that looks like R2-D2’s head got caught on a madly-rolling beach ball? By all means, huddle on your couch with Karen Traviss’ thought-provoking series of clone trooper novels (you heard me), or even go cue up your VHS cassette copy of the “Star Wars Christmas Special”.

Okay, that might be pushing it.

But I know what “characters and situations” are included in my personal Wars and Trek canons. And inside my head and my hovel, they’re what count.

What’s in your wallet?

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April 21, 2015 - Posted by | entertainment, film, media, movies, science fiction, television | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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