Star Wars canon has probably always been a controversial topic among fans. Before Disney purchased Lucasfilm, there was a tiered system to classify all of the Star Wars films, animated series, books, comics, and video games, with the films making up the highest tier. The Expanded Universe, which included stories such as Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy and The New Jedi Order series of books, may have been considered a part of a parallel universe by George Lucas, but to fans, they were considered canon.
That’s why Disney’s decision to relegate the Expanded Universe stories to Legends or non-canon status in 2014 was met with plenty of fan criticism. The announcement that a sequel trilogy of films was going into development had many fans hoping Lucasfilm would be adapting some of the post-Return of the Jedi stories that were already a part of the Expanded Universe. Instead, the sequel trilogy went a completely different direction, introducing new characters and a completely new storyline, though some concepts were clearly influenced by stories in the Expanded Universe.
The problem with an official canon has always been that it relegates some stories as more authentic than others, so if your favorite story doesn’t belong to the official continuity, it’s not as legitimate as the stories that are recognized as canon. Of course, all the stories are fiction. But in the Star Wars universe, if your favorite story isn’t canon, it didn’t actually happen; it’s a myth. You might enjoy it, but it’s not the truth about what happened.
Expanding the idea of Star Wars canon
But it seems like Disney has recently begun to realize how constricting the one main canon of Star Wars has become. While they’ve been slowly integrating elements of what has become known as Legends (formerly the Expanded Universe) into canon stories, such as Grand Admiral Thrawn in Star Wars Rebels, they’ve also begun to promote stories outside of the canon. Disney+ has a whole section of Star Wars vintage stories, which includes the 2D Clone Wars micro-series and the Ewoks movies, among others. Additionally, Del Rey has begun republishing Essential Legends novels with new covers, which has so far included the Thrawn Trilogy, the first two Darth Bane novels, Shatterpoint, and X-Wing: Rogue Squadron, with more on the way.
But the most revealing sign that Disney is beginning to embrace Star Wars stories outside of the official continuity is the release of Star Wars: Visions. The series of anime shorts by seven of the most cutting-edge Japanese anime studios explores nine unique stories within the Star Wars universe. Described as a reimagining through the lens of the Japanese culture traditionally reflected in anime stories, the Disney+ series tells stories from various points in the Star Wars timeline, including post-The Rise of Skywalker. But what becomes clear is that the stories aren’t a part of the official canon. Visions producer Kanako Shirasaki even said as much when asked if the stories fit into the overall canon. “Not immediately,” he said, “but it might influence the next generation of creators.”
The authenticity of Star Wars storytelling in Visions
Canon or not, Visions is one of the most innovative approaches to come along in the Star Wars universe, and some of its stories are being touted by some fans as more in line with George Lucas’s vision than the sequel trilogy. “The Ninth Jedi,” for example, tells a story that takes place long after The Rise of Skywalker when the galaxy is in desperate need of a restoration of the Jedi Order. It’s an exciting story of one young woman named Kara’s discovery of her connection to the Force after her father fashions several unique lightsabers, which had previously been lost to history. It’s a story begging for a continuation.
“The Duel,” the first anime short in the series, actually did inspire a continuation in the Star Wars novel Ronin by Emma Mieko Candon. The story continues the Japanese storytelling feel of “The Duel” and tells the story of a nameless former Sith with a uniquely damaged lightsaber, traveling the galaxy in search of redemption for his dark side past. The novel, like Visions, isn’t a part of the canon, but it’s a riveting novel that goes head-to-head with any of the official canon novels.
The future of non-canon Star Wars stories
Since Disney and Lucasfilm are promoting Visions and Ronin so heavily, as well as teasing future episodes of Visions, it seems clear that Disney’s discomfort with letting non-canon stories run alongside the official continuity is beginning to fade. If that is the case, perhaps Disney will begin to explore more stories outside of the canon, which could possibly recover some longtime Star Wars fans who didn’t appreciate the sequel trilogy.
Similar to Marvel’s What If…? series, Disney could tell stories that continue the original trilogy in an alternate universe type of story that differs greatly from the sequel trilogy. What if Luke did restore the Jedi Order as he was expected to do after Return of the Jedi? A non-canon story, perhaps an anime series, could explore that, and there would be no reason to suggest it’s less authentic because it’s not part of the official canon.
Visions seems like a watershed moment in Disney’s approach to the Star Wars franchise. Consciously telling stories that don’t belong to the canon suggests the possibility of continuing the practice in the future. And if that’s the case, to contrast a common Star Wars phrase that was included in every Visions episode, I have a good feeling about this.
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