The True Story: Is Being Canon Important?

Before we start I would like to extend my heartfelt congratulations to all the same-sex couples who got married over the weekend following the Supreme Court’s landmark decision legalizing gay marriage in all fifty states.  I considered doing a post all about it, but I couldn’t find a good focus for it.  Besides, I’ve already talked about the subject numerous times and I would rather avoid saying the same things over and over again, as I am want to do occasionally.

I just want to say that this is a truly historic moment, one that brings us more in line with the socially progressive nation that we like to envision ourselves as.  We still have plenty of issues, but at least for now there’s one less of them.  Well, let’s get to the post shall we?

 

When I was still in college, one of my professors brought up an idea that I thought was interesting.  We were discussing interpretation of literary works.  Up until this point, I had previously believed that if the author said that the story was one way, then it was the only way it could be.  But our teacher brought up an interesting point.  Sure, she said, the author is the one who wrote and imagined this piece of work.  But why is he or she the ultimate authority on what it means?  Isn’t the nature of art one that defies singular interpretations?

And I hadn’t really thought about it before, but it made sense.  The author may have been the one who originally came up with the work, but it doesn’t necessarily render another person’s interpretation of that work any less valid.

This is, of course, within reasonable limits.  No one is going to take the guy who says that the story in Of Mice and Men is actually about a couple of time travelers seriously.  You can’t just make up something and expect it to fly.  You have to be willing to base your interpretation on at least something in the work itself.

Art is not objective.  It is entirely subjective, based on the whims and thoughts of the person who experiences it.

This then, brings me to the nature of being canon.

Canon, in terms of literature and fiction, refers to a kind of “truth” in a way.  Basically, certain stories are considered official parts of the greater universe or franchise, and others are not.  For example, the episodes of Star Trek The Next Generation would be considered canon within the Star Trek universe (for the most part).  But a fan-written story based off the characters would not be.

I can think of no greater case study for this than Star Wars.

In the Star Wars canon, there are the two trilogies: the original (four, five, and six) and the prequels (one, two, and three).  Then there is an entire expanded universe full of stories that take place after the original trilogy ended, in between the trilogies, and even long before the timeline of the movies (for example, the Knights of the Old Republic series of video games).  At least, this is how it used to be.

Things changed once Disney took over the license.  With the announcement of another trilogy taking place after the original movies, people were ecstatic.  The super fans were wondering what stories in the expanded universe they would pick from, and there were a lot.  But then Disney made another announcement.  For the new movies, they were officially throwing out the expanded universe stories, thus rendering them not canon.  And the fans freaked out.

It was at least a couple of years ago now that this happened, but I remember hearing and reading comments to the effect of “well, better go burn my Star Wars books now that they don’t matter anymore.”  People took the announcement hard.  I remember having a conversation with a friend of mine who was a huge Star Wars fan (still is), and he fell on the complete opposite side of the issue.  He thought that the people proclaiming that they should burn their books were being completely stupid.

And I completely agreed.

The question I want to pose here is, does canon really matter in the long run?  I mean we have things like biblical canon, but that’s a whole different matter that brings religion into the mix, with different considerations that need to be taken into account.  But when it comes to something as pop-culture as Star Wars, does it really matter whether or not some company considers these expanded universe stories canon?  There are plenty of circumstances out there like this where franchises will ignore certain plots or details from earlier stories, intentionally or otherwise.  We are human beings after all, and far from perfect.

But if you enjoyed the story, if you followed a character’s path from beginning to end and truly grew attached to them, does it really matter if a company like Disney suddenly says that the story no longer fits into their version of events?  Isn’t your own personal enjoyment the only thing that should affect you?  I mean, I get it.  People thought it would be cool to see those stories adapted on the big screen, with flashy special effects and all that.  But really?  Might as well burn the books?  Isn’t that a bit of a childish thing to say?

“Ugh mom says I don’t get desert until I eat my vegetables, so I guess I’m not eating at all!”

See what I mean?

When it comes down to it, I value personal enjoyment of a story far more than I value whether or not it fits into some artificial canon.  It is nice when stories sync up, when events in one story can influence stuff in another, because they can play off each other and create even grander stories.  Marvel has become very good at this in recent years, tying pretty much all of their movies together in a tight network of canon.  But they do well because the individual stories of each movie are also enjoyable by themselves, not just because they fit into some overall grand plan.

And that’s what I’m trying to get at here.  It shouldn’t matter if the story ties in or not, or is even considered a “true” story of the universe.  If you watch/read the story, follow the characters, and enjoy the rising and falling action, shouldn’t that be enough?  We’ve already established that art is subjective to a person’s personal views and interpretations, so wouldn’t the importance of canon be subjective as well?  Just because Disney says that the expanded universe stories no longer matter doesn’t mean that the books are now somehow not enjoyable pieces of fiction.  If you spent the time to read them, then that’s what should really count in the end.

It’s true what they say.  It’s all in the eye of the beholder.

 

Well that’s all I have for this week.  Thanks for reading.  Tune in next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week everyone.

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