There is one question that we keep seeing and it drives fans crazy: Is it canon? No matter what fandom you are part of, for a segment of that fandom this is an extremely important question. Its used to prove people wrong or right to settle fights and start them, it even has levels of canon in some fandoms. The old Star Wars EU was “book canon” that could be superseded by the movies, Star Trek does the same and now also what is called NuCanon for the new timeline split. So the question is for Star Wars does canon that is supposed to be overseen by the Lucasfilm Story Group(LSG) actually matter or is it still only the movies that are truly canon? And does Canon even matter?
On Twitter Pablo Hidalgo (Creative Executive, LSG) used to answer canon questions daily but as of late he has taken to a more philosophical route.
The only functional definition of canon is, does anyone else need to account for it in their storytelling. That’s about it.
— Pablo Hidalgo (@pablohidalgo) February 27, 2016
So what does that mean exactly? The current canon is comprised of the Movies, The Clone Wars cartoon, Rebels cartoon, Novelizations of the movies, Books since the release of A New Dawn, Comics since Star Wars: Darth Maul, plus short stories and some of the video games and their content. I believe that this is also the order in level of importance to the canon. The movies are primary and everyone below must take what happens in them to account in their story. Next are our two cartoons who the novels and comics must take into account etc, etc. Why does this not go the other way? Simply put: Money. The investment in the movies is much higher than anything else so if a design, plot, character etc can help push that forward the movies will ignore anything previously published that could contradict it. Next the Cartoon are also a much more significant investment so their plots and characters are more important.
If you look at the current batch of novels and comics they are for the most part ignoring the vast unknown areas of what happened after RotJ. The only ones that really focus on that era are Aftermath and comics and none of our OT characters are actually main characters. They are giving themselves leeway to accommodate the Movies and will probably fill this era in much more once the new trilogy is complete. This is one example of LSG doing what it can to prevent canon inconsistency which was problematic in the old EU, especially once the PT was released.
Pablo Hidalgo summed up the role of different media in Star Wars canon by saying this:
How about this: The Empire canonically struck back. Kershner made a movie of it. Glut a novel. Goodwin a comic. Stories vary by medium.
— Pablo Hidalgo (@pablohidalgo) January 2, 2016
So the stories are going to be customized for the medium they are intended for. For example, some concepts like the Purrgil may work on the cartoons, but they wouldn’t work well on the big screen. This makes for a practical separation between the canons of different media, based on what works for specific media. So we may have to, at some point in the future, begin to distinguish Star Wars canon for TV and Star Wars canon for movies, but only as a practical matter. They are part of the same canon, but separate in a way.
Another point is a practical one. Scripts get changed during filming. So was the author of the novelization of TFA privy to all the updates of the script up to the final edit? The final editing of the film was pretty extensive as some have suggested, leading to some portions being cut, and some even being reworked. Are all of these updates in the novel? Some would say not. For example, in the novel we have during the flashback scene when Rey is being dropped off on Jakku the quote:
“I’ll come back for you sweetheart”
Is this canon? This point was brought up in the latest episode of MSW NTIP. No mention of this was in the film, and we are left wondering if the story still really includes this line. Taking into account what Pablo said earlier, it is canon until or unless Rey’s arc in the movies needs it to not be. Quite simply the novels are canon until the movies contradict them, you can see this most clearly in the opening of ANH’s novelization which paints the Emperor as weak controlled by others.
So what exactly does all this mean? Star Wars first and foremost is about the story the Movies tell and canon is set serve those movies. If the story needs to move in a direction that would contradict a previous source outside the movies then it will. Variations in the different medium also don’t mean one is right or wrong as much as it may be instead the best way to tell the story for that particular medium. Canon ultimately is not the details that fandoms obsess over but the overall story that is being told.