Movies and TV
Star Wars Apocrypha: The Expanded Universe Canon and Religious Mythology

Marshall Lemon | 12 Jun 2014 12:00
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Star Wars: Coruscant

"Gospel, or canon as we refer to it, includes the screenplays, the films, the radio dramas and the novelizations," read an interview with Lucas Licensing's Sue Rostoni and Allan Kausch. "However, between us, we've read everything, and much of it is taken into account in the overall continuity. The entire catalog of published works comprises a vast history-with many off-shoots, variations and tangents-like any other well-developed mythology."

"There's three pillars of Star Wars," George Lucas once explained, "the father, the son and the holy ghost. I'm the father, Howard Roffman [president of Lucas Licensing] is the son and the holy ghost is the fans, this kind of ethereal world of people coming up with all kinds of different ideas and histories. Now these three different pillars don't always match, but the movies and TV shows are all under my control and they are consistent within themselves."

Lucas himself held contradictory opinions towards Expanded Universe canon over the course of his career. On the one hand, he considered the Star Wars films as his complete story, and stated that he never would have accepted the direction the EU took. On the other hand, he occasionally drew content from the Expanded Universe when designing later films. The capital world of Coruscant first appeared in Heir to the Empire and was edited into later editions of Return of the Jedi. Boba Fett, the infamous bounty hunter from Episode V and VI, was actually created for the Star Wars Holiday Special. These contradictions were reflected in some interviews with Lucas, where he admitted to referencing EU material while still treating the films as his personal universe.

"I don't know anything about that world [the EU]," Lucas said in 2005. "That's a different world than my world. But I do try to keep it consistent. The way I do it now is they have a Star Wars Encyclopedia. So if I come up with a name or something else, I look it up and see if it has already been used. When I said [other writers] could make their own Star Wars stories, we decided that, like Star Trek [novels], we would have two universes: My universe and then this other one. They try to make their universe as consistent with mine as possible, but obviously they get enthusiastic and want to go off in other directions."

By comparison, Christianity took a much longer period of time to lock down its official canon, a process that is difficult to fully summarize here. In short, the matter wasn't broadly discussed until Marcion of Sinope published his own canon and declared, controversially, that the God of Isreal could not be the same God referred to by Jesus. The growing Orthodox church rejected Marcion's claims and excommunicated him, but it prompted a centuries-long debate on which Christian texts should be considered canon. Various gospels were suggested as a central text, but in approximately 160 CE Irenaeus proposed four be considered canonical: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. A list of canonical texts was developed around these four gospels, eventually solidifying into the New Testament we know today by the 5th Century.

As Christian canon was established, apocryphal works slowly fell to the wayside. The gnostic gospels, several apocalyptic prophecies, and Jewish-Christian works that upheld Mosiac Law were treated as unofficial at best, and heretical at worst. Unlike Star Wars, these writings couldn't be republished under a Legends brand. For centuries, the only way we knew these apocryphal texts existed was because of the sparse references and quotes from accepted Orthodox sources. It wasn't until the discovery of the Nag Hammadi library in 1945 that scholars were able to study such books for themselves, many of which don't seem nearly as controversial as some Orthodox thinkers once claimed.

Interestingly, one could even argue that the early Christian approach of suppressing everything but definitive canon was something George Lucas also believed in. On more than one occasion, Lucas expressed a desire to remove elements of Star Wars from public knowledge, ranging from the Star Wars Holiday Special to theatrical versions of the original trilogy. While his interactions with the Expanded Universe were limited, direct and complete control of the EU would probably have enraged fans just as much as Greedo shooting first. Fans may be disappointed that classic EU content was rendered unofficial, I expect they would prefer it over the historical precedent established hundreds of years ago; to have only one option made available for everyone.

While some only consider the films canon, and everything else a kind of semi-official fan fiction, Expanded Universe writing has evolved much in the same way that religious texts did 2000 years ago. The correlation certainly wasn't intentional but it speaks broadly to how organizations develop pop culture mythologies, both spiritual and secular. As it stands, today's Star Wars fans now have a unique opportunity to choose the mythology that appeals to them, be it Disney's "official" scripture, or apocryphal texts crafted over the past two decades.

You don't need to see Marshall Lemon's identification, but you can follow him on Twitter @Marshall_Lemon. Move along.

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