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Comic Books: History & Trends through the eyes of an iOS Developer

The Sanctity of Canon: How Much is Too Much?

When it comes to fictional universes, there are always changes being made.

Take, for instance, the beloved Star Wars saga, having recently been purchased by Disney. One of the first things that the company did upon its acquisition of Star Wars was trim away a lot of the stories that it had built up over the years.

The Star Wars Expanded Universe, alternately beloved and reviled by fans, began with Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire, a novel taking place in the wake of Episode VI. Following its success, numerous comics, novels, and video games have sought to continue to tell stories in the Star Wars canon.

Disney’s decision to ax so much lore that had been established over the years was controversial, to say the least. Many were outraged that certain properties had been eliminated; Knights of the Old Republic, a video game set thousands of years before the events of A New Hope, had become an integral part of the universe for many fans due to its memorable characters and strong storytelling, to the point that some have even called for a movie based on the games to be created.

Any hope of this happening is now moot as Disney slowly begins to rebuild the canon, with new novels released and television shows, a new series of comics, and standalone movies helping fill in gaps that the primary films do not cover. Disney has, to some extent, acknowledged some of the elements of the original expanded universe. Grand Admiral Thrawn, a popular character from Zahn’s work, is made canon once again in the Disney series Star Wars Rebels.

Even as a lover of fiction, it still fascinates me the extent to which the canon of fictional universes is held sacred by companies and fans alike. Why else would Disney release a statement about how its new Guardians of the Galaxy ride exists in its own separate universe?

Marvel is another expansive Disney-owned universe that is similarly fractured. Dating back to 1961, it includes the Marvel Universe, the Ultimate Universe, and the relatively recent and incredibly popular Marvel Cinematic Universe. With every movie in the series eliciting comments from fans about the characters and concepts that are and aren’t included, it’s apparent that the impact of certain series has become cemented for Marvel fans. Interestingly enough, Marvel underwent its first reboot ever with the launch of Secret Wars in 2015, followed shortly by All-New, All-Different Marvel, another relaunch meant to explore more facets of the characters that fans have come to love.

In the case of Star Wars, Disney has made an unprecedented move in its creation of the LucasFilm Story Group, an advisory body intended to shape the direction of the new canon by ensuring that none of the new content added is contradictory in any way. It’s another indication of how much power the concept of a canon holds, and in this case, is a way to redress the low barrier to entry inherent in the old Expanded Universe. And, as seen with the inclusion of Thrawn, perhaps additions of beloved characters and storylines could help relieve concerns of fans that felt that the shift effectively made fan fiction out of works they had previously enjoyed.

It should be noted, however, that the previous Expanded Universe now lives on as the “Legacy” canon, whatever that means. It’s an odd thing to give such a label a body of work that no longer has any bearing on the direction of Star Wars as a universe, but perhaps the idea was to acknowledge the work of creators that toiled to bring a universe to life.