Should Star Wars Mirror the Marvel Multiverse? I Say No

* The opinions in this article are my own and may not reflect the opinions of others at The Star Wars Report… especially Mark’s :)

If you haven’t read Brian’s great article about the potential of a Star Wars multiverse you should go check it out at Tosche Station. My post here is actually a response to his post in a way.  My post isn’t meant to be an attack on his (we are friends) merely a look at things from a different perspective.  I don’t hate what he lays out as a plan for the future of the Star Wars Expanded Universe, and if that is the way things went I could accept it, but it’s not what I hope to see.

So why don’t you like the multiverse idea?  The Marvel multiverse is a jumbled mess.  Sure the last few Marvel movies all seem to exist in the same continuity but let’s look beyond that.  Take the X-Men for example.  In the movies alone there are at least 3 separate continuities (counting the Wolverine movies).  In the comics there are no less than 10, and there have been 4 animated shows all with their own continuity.  What’s good about a multiverse can also be bad.  Unlimited story possibilities.  This can get out of control.  Another example from Marvel is Spider-Man.  This character has 30 different continuities… just in the comics. This is something fans of comic franchises like Marvel and DC are used to.  Their favorite characters are constantly changing with the times.  This is not Star Wars though.  The thing that has always been appealing to me about the Star Wars universe has been the attempt to keep everything as one big story.  There aren’t multiple versions of Luke’s origin.  Luke doesn’t get rebooted to appeal to a more modern audience.  The story is the story.  Sure there have been plenty of contradictions, but they can usually be cleaned up with clever (and sometimes not so clever) retcons.  Yes, George’s vision has sometimes contradicted Expanded Universe sources.  No big deal.  If it contradicts with a Star Wars film or The Clone Wars it gets kicked out of continuity. Simple. Clean.

“…unless something occurs in a canon project (*Star Wars films, The Clone Wars) to directly contradict a published source (*comics, books, etc..), it can reliably be said to have occurred. Extensive records track the growth of the Expanded Universe, cataloging planets, characters, technology, and events, to allow for a sprawling, believable continuity connecting the published works of the Star Wars universe. It’s not perfect… This is not to diminish these tales in any way, but rather to illustrate that the Star Wars Expanded Universe is a living document that grows and evolves over time.” – Pablo Hidalgo from the Essential Readers Companion (2012)

*I added the stuff in parenthesis for clarification

It evolves over time.  Why change this going forward?  We don’t know yet what the new Star Wars movies will contain and how well they will mesh with the EU we know.  I’m sure many people thought the EU was in trouble when the Prequels came out.  It survived with no alternate timeline needed.  Sure they had to make some changes to Boba Fett’s backstory, but it survived. 

Isn’t Star Wars already a multiverse?  From a certain point of view, yes.  There are a number of Star Wars stories that exist outside of the main continuity like the Infinities comic series, most of the Tales comics, and one would suppose the upcoming The Star Wars comic series.  But these stories are usually more of a “what if” scenario and have never been described as parallel universes.  On the most simple level Star Wars can be broken down into 3 canon levels. 

  • The main canon/George’s vision – This is the 6 films and The Clone Wars TV series.
  • Everything else – All the comics, books, video games, etc.. that make up the Expanded Universe.  This continuity includes the stories of the films and The Clone Wars and adjusts as necessary to fit with them.
  • Non canon/Infinities – This is everything that doesn’t fit.  Stories that were never meant to be part of the canon and stories that have been kicked out of the canon because they no longer mesh with the main canon.

Will these designations change with George walking away and Disney taking over?  Probably, but the change doesn’t have to be drastic.

So what do you suggest?  Do what has always been done.  Once the movies come out make adjustments as necessary.  For all we know the movies may be set far enough into the future that they won’t contradict with the EU at all.  What’s more likely is that they will contradict a number of novels that come after Return of the Jedi.  They may even contradict all the post RotJ novels.  This doesn’t mean that the new movies can’t exist with the rest of the established EU.  So we may lose a bunch of post RotJ novels to Infinities status, or maybe they will retcon them as a really crazy dream Luke had, but we will still have our one cohesive, ever-evolving story.

But I want to know what happens with Ben, Jaina, Tahiri, Jag...  Yeah so do I, and we will likely get more on those characters in Crucible and Sword of the Jedi (please don’t cancel SotJ!) but we have to look at this from a pure business perspective.  Does it make financial or marketing sense for Disney, or whatever publishing company they use, to continue to publish novels that have nothing to do with and may contradict the movies they are about to make?  If the movies feature children of the Solos and Skywalkers that aren’t Ben and Jaina, I doubt the stories of those characters will go much further than what has already been announced.  We instead will get new books and comics that focus on either the new characters introduced or eras that do not overlap with the new films.  This will be sad for fans of characters like Ben and Jaina, but it is a possibility we should prepare ourselves for.  The EU will probably shift its focus to revolve around the new films.

Only time will tell what will happen with the Expanded Universe in the future.  Things will likely change in some way and sometimes change is good.  For now all we can do is speculate and for some of us speculation is half the fun.  The good news is the Expanded Universe is probably not going away and the better news is we are getting new Star Wars films.  In times like these it can feel a little uneasy to be an EU fan, but we should also feel extremely excited as Star Wars fans.  And in the end that’s what we all have in common.

- Aaron Goins

  • http://twitter.com/LaneWinree Brian

    The Marvel Multiverse isn’t nearly as complicated, messy, and unintelligible as you’re making it sound. Yes, there’s north of thirty universes total, but only three are regularly developed and regularly read/viewed by fans. The rest are akin to Infinities stories, and you don’t seem to have much of a problem with those existing.

    It’s easy to distinguish between the three primary canons. Claiming it’s a jumbled mess is hyperbole when any fan can get into any of the three primary canons without any issue. How do I know? I am one of those fans. I don’t have decades of encyclopedic knowledge of Marvel, I’ve only been reading comics for the better part of six months, yet I had no problem adapting to the Marvel Multiverse. Given that the Star Wars mythos and universe is significantly LESS complicated than Marvel’s, the three-canon multiverse fits even better.

    My piece was written with the assumption that a single, unified canon (which has never existed, as far as I’m concerned) simply isn’t possible, feasible, and is a non-starter. The new films should not be beholden to the Sequel Trilogy, nor will they ever be. Something has to give and I figure there’s four options. You figure out a way to retcon the EU to get back to parallel status, you declare the whole thing Infinities and walk away, you hard reboot the EU to fit, or you go to the multiverse.

    Option one isn’t an option if there are wholesale discrepancies between the EU and films. The amount of handwaving, bad storytelling, and hoops you have to jump through to make retcons on a scale like that work would make for a horrible narrative. As Aaron Allston has pointed out at numerous appearances, Lucasfilm and Del Rey would never authorize what essentially would be Star Wars: Retcon: The Trilogy and no author would agree to write it because it would be ham-fisted, forced, and make for a terrible read. Shelly Shapiro agreed with Allston’s assessment when a continuity question was asked at Celebration VI. And for all we know, it would be impossible from a narrative perspective to retcon the EU back into parallel state with the sequel films if the differences are too drastic.

    Option two is never going to happen because it’s a money-loser and a pretty horrible thing to do to fans.

    Option three is plausible, but unnecessary. Why just get rid of a bunch of great stuff when it can live on its own and do its own thing?

    Now here’s the great thing about option four. If you don’t like a timeline that doesn’t jive with the film canon, you can ignore it. The legacy EU as it exists now gets to continue on its own path while a second EU becomes the parallel canon that continuity purists can adopt and embrace as their thing. Everyone gets catered to, and everyone can choose what they want to ignore.

    The Sequel Trilogy is going to force change and force compromise. While it’s possible that we could dumb-luck our way through three films without drastic differences emerging, it’s unlikely. What the Multiverse offers is a fair solution to everyone. Continuity purists would get their own timeline that’s a close mirror to the film universe. Legacy Expanded Universe fans would get to see their characters, stories, and timeline evolve without having to lose potentially huge swaths of stuff to retcons.

    If the Sequel Trilogy manages not to mess things up badly, absolutely retconning things back to being parallel is the best option. If the differences are drastic (and my article was written on the assumption that the differences would be), there could easily be no amount of retconning possible to make things line up again. In the case of drastic change, the multiverse is the most fair option to all fans.

  • http://twitter.com/avgoins Aaron Goins

    “The Marvel Multiverse isn’t nearly as complicated, messy, and unintelligible as you’re making it sound.”

    I think it depends on your point of view. For me it is very complicated. If you ask a Marvel expert what the origins of Spider-Man are they could give you any number of versions. Even the main canon of the character has changed over time. You list the film universe of Marvel as one of their universes but even the film versions of Spider-Man have different origin stories.

    You ask a Star Wars expert what the origin story for Han Solo is you will get one version (as of now). To me this is a good thing.

    Part of my fear of them opening up a multiverse for Star Wars is what it might eventually become. Will writers even try to coordinate? Will everyone just write their version of a story and say it is a different universe. Sure the current EU isn’t a perfectly unified canon but at least they try to make it so. If I am watching a future animated series for SW I want it to mean something to the novels I am reading and I want the novels to mean something to the comics I am reading. If these things exist is separate universes they will naturally start to become disconnected.

    • http://twitter.com/LaneWinree Brian

      I suppose that what bothers me on your take is it strikes me as somewhat selfish. I know you’re a fan of a single continuity (even though I maintain a single continuity has never actually existed), but to hope for a bunch of established EU to be rendered to Infinities status just to keep things clean doesn’t seem fair to other fans that want to see things continue to develop along that timeline. The multiverse take is a compromise, yes, but it’s the most fair solution to everyone.

      You’re also falling down the slippery slope fallacy. Just because Lucasfilm could open things up to a multiverse doesn’t mean there will be 30+ universes like Marvel. What I proposed were three canons, and Lucasfilm would be well within their rights to say “these are the only three you’re getting.” Given that authors have NEVER had leeway to do whatever they please, that’s not going to change just because a third canon is introduced.

      • http://twitter.com/avgoins Aaron Goins

        I never said it wasn’t selfish :)

        “but to hope for a bunch of established EU to be rendered to Infinities status just to keep things clean doesn’t seem fair to other fans that want to see things continue to develop along that timeline.”

        I don’t hope it is. I love the post RotJ EU as much as the next guy. But this has been done before. Marvel comics and Splinter of the Minds Eye are a couple of examples and I’m sure those had fans too.

        “What I proposed were three canons, and Lucasfilm would be well within their rights to say “these are the only three you’re getting.”"

        If that was the case I could totally buy into that.

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