Continuity in the Star Wars Expanded Universe
Infinities and Star Wars Tales
Fiction Within Fiction: The
Star Wars Saga as History
The Clone Wars
The Jedi Code
Continuity in the Star Wars Expanded Universe
What is the
Expanded Universe and why is continuity such a major issue? The Expanded Universe, or EU, is the moniker for
the entire body of work that comprises the stories set in the Star Wars
universe ranging from novels, comics, cartoons, short stories, young adult
books, television shows, animated features and more... Continuity has
been and remains important to Lucas and Lucasfilm as it is the glue that
holds together the various and often disparate sources which strive to
tell multiple, but cohesive stories of the heroes, villains and fringe
characters under the one unified umbrella that is the Star Wars Saga. This history of the universe ranges from thousands of years
before Episode IV: A New Hope to 140 years afterwards and beyond.
As stated in the Guide to the
Star Wars Timeline above, this timeline strives whenever reasonably possible to be
inclusive. As can be seen from the
portion of this site (Infinities refers to stories outside
there are very few major contradictions that have found their way into the Star Wars
Universe since its inception in 1977. For a fictional universe in
which hundreds of writers have contributed, this is impressive. Minor continuity gaffes,
of course, do exist, and in every
strata of Lucasfilm's publication history of which I've noted three:
The Classic Trilogy (led by Ballantine/Del Rey and Marvel), which
featured Episodes IV to VI and the majority of stories that occur prior to
and during that period.
(heralded by Bantam and Dark Horse), begun with the publication of Timothy
Zahn's "Thrawn Trilogy" series of novels and Tom Veitch's Dark Empire
comic series, and covers all periods, but especially the years after the
events of Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.
The Prequel Trilogy (Del Rey and Dark Horse again) covers the period
of Episodes I to III, the Clone Wars and the years prior to and during, and the twenty year gap
before Episode IV.
Contrary to a popularly-held belief begun in the early '90's, incongruities
were not solely restricted to the early period of expansion ('77-'85), but
in fact were more widespread throughout the Revival phase ('92-'99),
and certainly the prequel era has had no few incidents itself (often due to
the revelations of the Prequel trilogy and The Clone Wars animated
series). In the overall
scheme, however, most of these issues are relatively minor, and many have been and are in the
process of being
cleared up. For a great essay on continuity, this process and
the role Lucasfilm plays in keeping it all together, check out author Karen
Traviss' (Republic Commando: Hard Contact) excellent blog
Various Star Wars resources, sourcebooks, magazine articles and even later
novels and comics, have fixed a great deal of what were once considered
contradictions, and no doubt this will continue to be the case as new
stories unfold and reveal a clearer picture of Star Wars history. But
admittedly, that is not always the case. In the event that there are
irreconcilable contradictions, a stance must be taken as to what is and is
not historical, and this particularly important in cases where LFL is
silent. For the reader to be able to fully enjoy the vast, interconnected
web that is the Star Wars Expanded Universe, story and continuity must
remain paramount. When authors and editors fail to maintain continuity and
one story contradicts another, the general rule is to preserve the older,
pre-existing story, save for certain exceptions. Though subjective, these
decisions are not taken lightly or done arbitrarily, and are done because
there is no other option available at that time. This is, of course, open to
change as new information comes forth. Where possible, I'll endeavor to put
forth reasons for placing a story (or part of a story) into Infinities that
has not been officially designated as such.
Those who reject the Expanded Universe
on the grounds of their personal inability to allow for continuity errors (as
well as subsequent clarifications) fail in their reasoning to see that the films
themselves are subject to rather interesting incongruities, particularly between the
original versions of the Classic Trilogy and the later Special Editions. Change
happens. Now, Greedo shoots first and the Max Rebo band has new members. The Ewoks no longer sing Yub Nub (Thank the Maker!) and
the Sarlacc has a mouth reminiscent of Audrey from Little Shop of Horrors... In time, more changes and additions
may be forthcoming. The point: use your imagination, fill in the blanks and enjoy these
fantastic adventures for what they are. Those who are missing out on
the Expanded Universe stories are missing out on not only some of the best
Star Wars has to offer, but on some of the best that
has to offer.
Lastly, for those not yet
convinced, a few years back George Lucas wrote a short
introduction to the reissue of Splinter of the Mind's Eye (the
very first book that told a story outside of the film) giving it and the
Universe his stamp of approval. It's what he wants, why
he had it commissioned
and why a large group of Lucasfilm employees, editors and
publishers are paid to monitor and maintain consistency with the films and each other.
In a recent interview with the associated press, Lucas again confirmed that
the spin-off novels, comics, and soon to be television series meet with his
approval. Here is an excerpt from that article:
Lucas: Ultimately, I'm going to probably move it into television and let
other people take it. I'm sort of preserving the feature film part for what has
happened and never go there again, but I can go off into various offshoots and
things. You know, I've got offshoot novels, I've got offshoot comics. So it's
very easy to say, "Well, OK, that's that genre, and I'll find a really talented
person to take it and create it." Just like the comic books and the novels are
somebody else's way of doing it. I don't mind that. Some of it might turn out to
be pretty good. If I get the right people involved, it could be interesting.
To read the rest of the article, click
For my recommended reading
list of Star Wars stories,
Infinities and Star Wars
A recent issue that has developed is that of the "Infinities" label that Lucasbooks
and Dark Horse Comics created in 2001 to designate and allow for stories
that fall outside of continuity. It encompasses both serious stories,
humor and parodies.
Some confusion has arisen in regards to the first twenty issues of Dark Horse Comics' anthology Star
Due to the Infinities label being placed inside the front cover, many have wondered
whether every story in the Tales series is "Infinities" and
outside of continuity. Compounding the issue is the fact that novel
and comic book authors have utilized details from some
of these stories as historical events in their works. The answer was finally settled satisfactorily by Chris Cerasi of LFL via Steve Sansweet's
column on the official site, which
indicates that Tales allows for stories inside and outside of continuity
to be told (a fact which harmonizes with the original concept of
the series and the thoughts of many of the writers who contributed to it).
"In order to allow unlimited freedom of storytelling, the Infinities label has been placed on the anthology series, Star Wars Tales. This means that not only can the stories occur anywhere in the Star Wars timeline, but stories can happen outside continuity. Basically, if an event happens in Tales, it may not have necessarily happened
in the rest of the expanded universe. For some stories, the distinction is
largely inconsequential. For others, it's the only way they could exist."
The Star Wars Expanded Universe
Timeline endeavors to
present those Tales stories which did and did
not happen in
the Star Wars Universe and have designated the page,
the latter stories which
outside of continuity. This includes earlier stories which existed
before the Infinities label even came about, but which cannot be made to
harmonize within the framework of The Star Wars Expanded Universe.
stories which are part of continuity are mixed in throughout the
various eras of the timeline itself. As of issue #21, the Tales
anthology has changed focus to tell in-continuity stories, and
each issue indicates the specific era in which the story takes place (including Infinites stories
which will continue to be presented albeit on a less frequent basis).
So enjoy the richness of the entire Star Wars Saga and use this timeline as
your guide through the eras, the five thousand years of adventure and
strife, from the reign of the ancient Dark Lords of the Sith and the terror
of the Imperial war machine to the scourge of the Yuuzhan Vong and beyond ...
For a recommended
reading list of Star Wars stories,
Fiction Within Fiction:
The Star Wars Saga as "History"
Right from the opening page of the very first Star
Wars novel ever released – the then titled Star Wars: From the Adventures
of Luke Skywalker – we read of a back-story of the rise of the Emperor
culled from a document referred to as "The Journal of the Whills." In thus setting the stage for the story to come, George Lucas (via Alan Dean
Foster who ghost-wrote the novel) followed the paths of numerous
fantasy-literature authors before him who to sought to enhance the feeling
of verisimilitude by inventing the fiction that the story you're about to
read comes in fact from a lost historical source. L. Frank Baum, H.P.
Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Arthur Conan Doyle, J.R.R. Tolkien and others
used the fictional ploy that they "discovered" actual documents that they're
translating and/or transmitting to the readers.
With the Star Wars Expanded Universe having grown so
large and encompassing, it's also a great way to explain many of the
discrepancies and continuity-errors that occur from time to time within the
body of lore comprised by the books, comics, films, cartoons, video games
and more. There are various factors that can shatter the willing
suspension of disbelief, but none greater than the dreaded continuity
error. As has been stated in the article "Continuity
in the Expanded Universe", Lucasfilm and the many freelance authors that
work for them have oftentimes used continuity errors as a means of creating
far more interesting scenarios and new stories for the readers. For
authors like Karen Traviss and Abel Peña, creating imaginative and
believable "retcons" (retroactive continuity) is an enjoyable and rewarding
exercise. And the fans certainly appreciate it! But not
every continuity error and contradiction has been addressed. Star Wars
is a BIG galaxy, and well over a thousand stories have been written in it.
How does the Star Wars fan deal with irreconcilable issues of continuity
that haven't yet been addressed? And how does an appreciation of Star
Wars-as-History aid in this regard?
The answer may come right from the films themselves.
The start of every opening crawl of each of the six films begins with the
words, "A Long Time Ago in a Galaxy Far, Far Away." Lucas used this to
set the stage for his saga, indicating rather openly that this is a fairy
tale, a "once upon a time" space opera, and neither a "realistic" drama nor
a hardcore tale of science-fiction. And while that might seem
to destroy the feeling of verisimilitude, it also conversely paves the way
for it, utilizing the same kind of literary power the "Journal of the
Whills" imparts. This indicates on an almost subconscious level that
not only are the rules of this universe different, but that this is ancient
history, something that has already occurred, albeit elsewhere, a long
In other words, George Lucas is spinning the yarn of
Star Wars as History, telling us a story based on past events, which
the novel indicates derives from an ancient tome, or perhaps a cache of
ancient tomes, the mystic Journal of the Whills. Like the
Red Book of Westmarch which Tolkien "discovered," which told us of an
ancient world of Hobbits, Dwarves, Elves and Men, the Journal of the
Whills has somehow come into the privileged hands of George Lucas. A quote from him in the reissue of the novel Splinter of the Mind's Eye
indicates his awareness that there are "thousands (of stories) that could be
told about the characters who inhabit its galaxy" and that "these were not
stories I was destined to tell." Thus, Lucas hired a team to oversee
the telling of these stories. That team of course is Lucasfilm.
Utilizing the theory of Star Wars-as-History, it's clear that they are in
possession of the Journal of the Whills. But what of the
various writers who go on to create all the novels, comics and games? It's common knowledge that everything, from the proposal to the
plot outline to the finished product goes through Lucasfilm. We know
from real life, which could be called the Star Wars-as-Literature
perspective, that this is done so that everything accords with Lucas' vision
and Lucasfilm can maintain a high quality standard. All well and good.
But from a Star Wars as History perspective,
the most important reason this is done is so that Lucasfilm can coordinate
each author's stories with the history that is presented in the Journal
of the Whills and other historical texts.
The roleplaying game company West End Games which
held the Star Wars license for some years introduced in-universe historian
Voren Na'al as the "author" of several of their sourcebooks. This was
done so to allow for a degree of error in case continuity conflicts arose or
so if gamers wished to ignore a point for their personal campaigns it could
be deemed historical error. But it built upon the notion that Star
Wars stories are based off of "historical" documents. Thus, it appears
that many of Na'al's journals survived intact, and in fact, he rose to
the prominent position of Archivist Emeritus on the Historical Council of
the Galactic Federation of Free Alliances (as recorded in his body of work
that makes up The New Essential Chronology.) Other surviving
documents are those of Na'al's teacher Arhul Hextrophon. And more
recently Lucasfilm has revealed that journalist Janu Godalhi and his son
Palob's highly regarded historical texts are also extant. What this
gives Lucasfilm is a body of work from which freelance authors can expand
turning only the briefest of annotations within such historical documents
into full flesh-and-blood prose stories.
Of the Journal of the Whills itself, we've only seen a few paragraphs presented to us,
and only once in the very first Star Wars book published,
and in it we find what is but a brief overview of events. We also find
a quote from a character we've come to know well, Princess Leia. But
from this small bit of evidence, it's safe to deduce that the Journal
is a compilation of historical events written possibly years after the fact
(and likely utilizing even older historical sources), and they're presented not in prose form (which would
be both unwieldy and unlikely), but annalistic form (a style akin to
The Silmarillion, portions of the Bible, and countless history
books) which means that the Journal does not feature fully detailed
narratives. So too with the surviving documents of Na'al, Hextrophon,
and the Godalhis. The New Essential Chronology and other modern
sourcebooks may represent wholly intact recordings of these men which
substantiates the idea that these works are presented in almost exclusively
annalistic style. And that's where the modern authors come in.
also where continuity errors arise.
The "Star Wars as History"
perspective explains that discrepancies arises
because the the details are scant, leaving the authors to
have to surmise and deduce, utilizing reasoning, context and other hints left in the
Journal as to exactly what may have happened in certain instances. Perhaps Lucasfilm
is dealing with translation issues and later reached a clearer
understanding of the events. Or perhaps they simply allowed the
authors their own conclusions and conjectures on the matter, much as a
publisher might allow two competing historians to present their individual,
interpretive suppositions in their own books. Either way, the choice is
left to the reader to discern which of the two conflicting events, if
either, he or she feels is accurate. Sorting through contradictions with this method leads to a much less frustrating
The films themselves present an interesting and
unusual example. Taking a look at the Classic Trilogy (Episodes IV to
VI), not only do we have two variant versions of each of the films, but we
have a variant novel adaptation, a variant comic book adaptation and a
variant radio drama of each. Opinions are very divided as to which of
these six different versions is the true and accurate one, with most fans
siding with either the original versions of the films or the Special Edition
But the novel, comic book and radio drama adaptations hold
equal value as well, and should likewise be considered. Why? Well, looking at the Star Wars-as-History model, they're all
adaptations of the original source. Even the films. After all, the
audience isn't exactly seeing what occurred, as if a cameraman had followed these people
around thousands of years ago. We're seeing a dramatic recreation of
the events as interpreted by the actors and through the eyes of George Lucas
who holds the original story and wrote the screenplay based off it. Since
he's primarily a filmmaker, he views this as canon, however, based on his
own statements, that can't be entirely true since canon is what is said in
The Journal of the Whills. On page 72 of J.W. Rinzler's The Making of Star
Wars Revenge of the Sith, Lucas tells Rob Coleman (animation director), "the
story of Star Wars is actually recounted by R2-D2 to the Keeper of
the Whills, one hundred years after Return of the Jedi."
Thus the films are but another adaptation, and every adaptation of the
original story is valid to some degree. Which one you choose to
accept is up to the individual, but it's interesting to note that they were all
approved at some point or another by the very person who knows and holds the
original story. Now the discrepancies between sources are not
tremendous, but where they exist likely indicates that there are gaps in the
original source material, or that a different interpretation of events was
arrived at by Lucas.
Somewhere along the way, Lucas came to believe that Sy
Snootles actually had a much larger band. Or perhaps he knew it all
along but simply didn't have the budget or technology to include the other
band members in the first version of Return of the Jedi. Many
question whether or not Han shot first. And in fact there are now
three film versions of that incident. If Lucas' integrity is intact
and he's not changing the story to suit his own sensibilities, in all
likelihood, the Journal of the Whills merely indicates that a scuffle
ensued between Han and Greedo, and Lucas was left to fill in the details.
Viewing Star Wars in this kind of fictional historical
context allows continuity errors to exist and not disrupt one's necessary
suspension of disbelief. It also allows the audience the freedom to determine
which event is the real one. More importantly, it's a much more
enjoyable way to look at the Star Wars Universe (which is the primary reason
it was provided by Lucas to be part and parcel of the fiction that surrounds
the story) which trumps the blasé real
story which often involves economics, politics and sheer human error.
The Various Eras in Star Wars
for a full description of each era.
The Clone Wars
For an interesting background history on the advent of the Clone Wars,
as written by George Lucas himself, click
What is the Jedi Code?
Click here for an essay.
As is the case with the Internet, from time to time,
erroneous information gets passed and perpetuated that has little to no
basis in truth. One of these is the notion that continuity in the pre-Zahn
or pre-West End Games days was non-existent. Such statements are made to
back up the claim that the Marvel series, Splinter of the Mind's Eye
and the newspaper strips are somehow not as official as modern material or
suffer from continuity problems. Of course, anyone who's read that material
knows better, but the fallacy continues in print, if for no other reason
than the fact that internet culture is made up of people who like to repeat
what they hear without checking first the facts. The truth, of course, is
that the writers of the early Del Rey novels, Marvel and the newspaper
strips all had to go through approvals.
This article from
Archie Goodwin, taken in 1996 highlights that veracity of that. Star
Wars Insider #91 contains an interview with Jo Duffy (writer of the latter
third of the Marvel series) who adds her experiences with working with LFL.
Thus, continuity was held as in high a regard as it is now, with in fact far
less continuity-discrepancies as we find today.
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