August, 1996. I’m sitting in the passenger seat of my family’s Toyota Carina, on the way to PC World. My dad is driving, and it’s raining, because it’s summer in Scotland.
I am so excited that I’m practically bouncing around in my seat. We’re on the way to pick up my birthday present: Star Wars: Rebel Assault II - The Hidden Empire. There is literally one thing in the entire universe that will make me happy forever, and it’s playing this game.
On the way home from the store, I get sick. Really sick. But I put a brave face on it long enough to install the game. I get about as far as typing my name into the starting menu (ooh, we’re not called players we’re called pilots!) and then my stomach intervenes and I have to go to bed. I can hear my dad playing through the first few levels as I lie in my bed, face pressed against the pine sidebars. I probably even gnash my teeth a little bit. Cast into outer darkness! The distinct sound of B-Wing laser cannons is the soundtrack to my misery. WHOP WHOP WHOP.
When I finally get to play, of course, it’s everything I dreamed it would be. Over the next few years I’ll play through the game over and over again, eventually beating it on the highest difficulty. It becomes a sizeable part of the big chunk of my brain that’s filled with Star Wars.
A month ago, the world of Star Wars fandom was rocked by an announcement from Lucasfilm that:
In order to give maximum creative freedom to the filmmakers and also preserve an element of surprise and discovery for the audience, Star Wars Episodes VII-IX will not tell the same story told in the post-Return of the Jedi Expanded Universe.
In case you’ve been under a rock for a while, Episodes VII-IX refer to the new sequel trilogy that is planned by Disney after their acquisition of Lucasfilm. Nerds being nerds, there’s been a sort of static storm of nervous drama from the masses — an intensified version of the usual crap that George Lucas was getting every day anyway (for, you know, ruining the movies). Until last month this mostly took the form of poorly photoshopped Mickey ears on Darth Vader.
But now, with one casually swung saber, LucasDisney have severed the vast bulk of the Star Wars Expanded Universe from the accepted canon.
The world of Star Wars canon is exceedingly byzantine. I won’t detail it here except to note that there are lots of different letter-coded levels of canon. You can read more about them in Wookieepedia. Good luck, traveller.
What this means practically is that in the new movies, the only things that are assumed to have definitively happened in the Star Wars universe are the six Episode films made by Lucasfilm, the Clone Wars tv series and film, and some new material that’s been published after April 25, 2014.
What this also means, naturally — and this is what’s really grinding people’s gears — is that a host of beloved storylines and characters are saying the big goodbye. Admiral Thrawn, Kyle Katarn, Mara Jade. They never even existed.
It’s as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in— you know what, never mind.
Not only are all these great parts of the Star Wars franchise rubbed out, but the prequels have been left in. Which means that Jar Jar Binks is still canon.
Two Minutes Jar Jar Hate
So you can sort of see where the complainers are coming from. There’s a lot of good stuff that wasn’t in the movies, and now it’s never going to be in the movies.
One of the oddest things about Star Wars: Rebel Assault II was the name of the main character. (This wasn’t the strangest thing, though, which was the kiss at the end: one of the least romantic, awkward moments in mainstream recorded entertainment. Where was the chemistry? Why are they kissing?! What is going on?!)
The protagonist is called Rookie One. That isn’t just listed in the credits, other characters actually say those words when they’re talking to him. “Splendid flying, Rookie One! You’d do the Emperor proud!” It’s a bit like someone forgot to do a Find & Replace on the final draft of the screenplay. It’s weird.
But you get used to it quickly, and it turns out that once you’ve heard it enough times it’s actually quite immersive. Your brain does the Find & Replace. You are Rookie One. It’d be a lot harder to auto-insert your own name if the character was called Marshall Buttercakes IV.
And that, right there, is the most important thing about the Star Wars universe. You can be in it yourself.
Why did I love playing Rebel Assault so much? Because I was Rookie One, with a giant imagined backstory. When I played Dark Forces, did it matter that much of the storyline was just an flimsy excuse to get me to grind through yet another hallway full of Rodians throwing Thermal Detonators? Not at all, because I was seeing it all through the eyes of Kyle Katarn.
When, as a little kid, I swung off the railings in Belleisle Street with my buddy Tam, playing a distinctly non-canon version of Luke Skywalker under cloud city (at no point in the movie were there two Lukes under there, but neither of us wanted to be Darth Vader) did it matter that we went off-script? Nope.
Does it matter that all of the above experiences are not encapsulated by the official canon? Of course it doesn’t.
The magical thing about Star Wars isn’t that it’s a painstakingly created, perfectly realistic and documented universe. It’s the fact that it serves as an epic backdrop for your own story — an unlimited place for your imagination to play. Everyone’s Star Wars is perfectly unique.
So I don’t care if they hack off big chunks of the Expanded Universe, and I don’t care if the movies ignore great characters and plots. They’re just doing on a grand scale what every Star Wars fan does in their head — defining their own canon, where the only hard limit is the extent of their imagination.
Boba Fett Lives!
Published on May 23rd, 2014