Around the year AD 50, Christian leaders met to settle a disagreement over church dogma. The council said, “Okay, you know what? New converts to Christianity -- you don’t have to be circumcised if you don’t want to. You should still keep kosher, though.”
Man, re-interpreting the word of God.
In AD 2014, there is a man named Leland Chee. He is an employee of Lucasfilm, and therefore the Walt Disney Company. His official title is “Continuity database administrator," but Star Wars fans call him the "Keeper of the Holocron.” (A holocron, by the by, is a fictional holographic repository for Jedi knowledge; its real world counterpart is essentially a history book or database of the Star Wars universe, meant to maintain continuity.)
Leland Chee is one of four members of the Lucasfilm Story Group, formed in 2013, shortly after the Walt Disney Company bought Lucasfilm. The Story Group’s job, according to a video and press release called “The Legendary Star Wars Universe Turns a New Page,” is to oversee the future of the Star Wars narrative across films, television, books, comics, games, and all ancillary releases. There will be no more contradictory stories, no more continuity mistakes, no more instances, as in Splinters of the Mind’s Eye, the very first Star Wars spinoff novel released in 1978, of unresolved sexual tension between Luke and Leia. Every novel, comic book, or game previously released is now relegated to being called “Star Wars Legends.” The material remains in print, but the stories...they no longer count.
“We want the world to feel real,” Chee said in the Story Group’s video. “And it feels real if everything is in line.”
Well, as Princess Leia told Grand Moff Tarkin (and us) in A New Hope, “The more you tighten your grip, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.”
Star Wars fandom started to turn against the folks who make Star Wars stories...well, probably as soon as (spoiler alert!) Darth Vader revealed himself as Luke’s dad. But the backlash kicked into high gear with the Special Editions, theatrical re-releases of the Original Trilogy in 1997, which featured new material, special effects upgrades, and tweaks to original scenes, the most infamous being the cantina shootout that introduces Han Solo.
In the original release, a reptilian bounty hunter named Greedo threatens our man, Han. Han shoots him in cold blood. In the Special Edition, Greedo fires off a clumsy blaster shot that a CGIed Harrison Ford awkwardly dodges, before shooting back in retaliation.
Anyone you’ve ever seen wearing a “Han Shot First” shirt is a Star Wars Gnostic, adhering to a version of the narrative deemed non-canonical by the Keepers of the Holocron.
In AD 325, the Roman Emperor Constantine I called together the First Council of Nicaea. Constantine had converted to Christianity years before, legitimizing Christianity and helping it to spread throughout Rome. Nicaea is now regarded as the first Catholic Ecumenical Council, in which church patriarchs get together and decide which parts of Christian dogma are true, which parts they move around the board a little bit, and which parts get thrown out. At Nicaea, they announced that God the Father and Jesus Christ the Son were the same guy, and not two separate -- but both really important -- guys.
Like with Star Wars, we can all probably agree that this wasn’t the first time there were different interpretations of Christian dogma. But like “Han Shot First,” this was a line in the sand. This was Constantine saying, “Okay, you know what? There’s a lot of different opinions out there, but from now on, we’re the guys who decide what counts.”
And for a lot of people, they were. To others? Well, sometimes decrees and councils are a good opportunity to schism, or declare alternative popes, or write new gospels, or go on eBay and see if you can find those DVDs that came out a few years ago, the ones with the original theatrical cuts included as bonus features, because those are the versions of the movies you remember and like best.
In AD 451, after the Council of Chalcedon, church leaders declared that Christ was two beings in one person: a human and a divine. Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Eastern Orthodox followers, among others, accepted this as dogma. Others -- the modern-day followers of Oriental Orthodoxy -- split off from these churches in a schism. They believe Christ is God, only and exclusively.
Is that a quibble? I dunno. Have you ever paid attention to that Special Edition scene with Jabba and Han at the Millennium Falcon? The dialogue is basically the same as Han’s scene with Greedo. It makes the whole rhythm of the first act feel weird. Schism, I say!
A question posed to LucasBooks Senior Editor Jennifer Heddle via Twitter after the Story Group announcement asked if fan-favorite Expanded Universe characters like Darth Revan (a Sith Lord and the main character in the video game Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic) had ceased to exist. “They’re still there!” she said. “But are they part of ‘official’ canon, for now? Probably not.”
In AD 2005, after watching the prequel trilogy and feeling unfulfilled, I wrote script outlines for an alternative series of prequels that better fit what I thought the origins of Obi-Wan and Anakin Skywalker should have been. It was the first step into a larger world of making up my own Star Wars stories. There’s a “Wookieepedia” that details official Star Wars and Star Wars Legends continuity, but there’s an equally impressive Star Wars fan fiction wiki that tells scores of alternative sagas created by Star Wars fans. Their quality may vary, but they have readers -- even if only a few -- who are emotionally invested in the tales they tell.
I play in a weekly Star Wars role-playing game with a long-running gaming group in a Google Hangout. We turn on our webcams, we roll virtual dice, and we pretend to be aliens and scoundrels and Jedis in training. I asked one of my fellow players, a teacher, writer and improviser named Alex Dodge, what he thought about decades of stories being wiped from continuity. He said, “Continuity should set a story up and give context and depth. It should never get in the way of a good story.”
You can get in a lot of arguments -- on the internet, at a comic convention, at a bar -- about whether Han shot first, or if Anakin was conceived by the Force, or how many decks a Star Destroyer has, based on the Encyclopedia or the West End Games Star Wars Sourcebook or a screencap from the blu-ray. But ultimately, all of these stories are imaginary and all of these stories are real.
“We shouldn’t need a conclave or a Vatican II because we should each be free to worship in our own way,” Alex told me. “I’m a Star Wars Unitarian.”