Fandom rumors should always be treated with a grain of salt. Indeed, there’s arguably not enough salt on Crait to account for some of the speculation.
Ever since the Star Wars sequel trilogy wrapped up, and arguably even as soon as The Last Jedi was released, there have been fans clamoring to erase the sequels from “the canon.” It’s worth acknowledging this move up front for what it is: an attempt at fandom gatekeeping and a desire of a certain generation of fans to assert that their fandom “trumped anyone else’s,” especially against those who enjoy and appreciate aspects of the franchise that the self-appointed gatekeepers do not.
Before digging into this argument, it is worth pausing to acknowledge the reality that exists outside the vocal Star Wars fandom corner of the internet. The first two movies in the sequel trilogy were successes by any measure. Both The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi earned rave reviews from film critics, earned “A” CinemaScores from audiences, and were the highest-grossing movies of their respective years. Both also sold remarkably well on home media, suggesting a healthy afterglow.
Of course, that is obviously less true of The Rise of Skywalker. It earned less than The Last Jedi, despite a “more advantageous holiday calendar” and a considerably longer gap from other Star Wars theatrical releases. It earned the worst critical reviews in the franchise and the lowest CinemaScore of a live-action Star Wars film. Naturally, all of this is relative. The Rise of Skywalker was a disappointment, as much as a billion-dollar movie can be a disappointment.
As such, it seems fair to acknowledge that an extremely vocal reaction from a subset of the online audience does not necessarily constitute reality. That makes it interesting when rumors unfailingly appear in familiar places that Disney is planning to erase the Star Wars sequel trilogy from continuity. These sorts of rumors inevitably circulate on Twitter or YouTube and arrive like clockwork once every few months to stoke the fandom hivemind.
Many of the claims originate from commentators claiming to have anonymous sources, pumping out mind-boggling volumes of speculation and then claiming vindication when the stopped clock is right twice a day. After all, how many times has Kathleen Kennedy been “pushed out of Star Wars” according to these sources? How many times have these conspiracy theorists claimed that Star Trek: Discovery is canceled, despite being renewed for a fourth season and launching a whole slate of spin-offs?
Of course, these rumors exist in the attention economy. They drive clicks, designed to attract those people browsing online who want validation for their opinions. After all, studies have demonstrated that anger travels faster than any other emotion online. More than that, the last few years have demonstrated that there is little social consequence for sharing misinformation in the public sphere, as long as people want to believe that it is true. A lie repeated often enough becomes a truth.
Still, the question of canon and continuity is interesting, even in abstract. It is especially interesting in the case of The Rise of Skywalker, which seemed so desperate to appease those who wanted to erase The Last Jedi that it created a narrative requiring months of patching. While the argument that Disney needed a plan for the sequel trilogy is somewhat overstated, particularly given fan reactions to other “planned” trilogies like Zack Snyder’s Superman movies, the trilogy is disjointed.
To be fair, fans perhaps place too much emphasis on continuity. After all, the original Star Wars had Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness) state explicitly that Luke Skywalker’s (Mark Hamill) father was dead. When George Lucas decided (reportedly quite late in the process) that Darth Vader (David Prowse, James Earl Jones) would be Luke’s father in The Empire Strikes Back, this required a rather inelegant bit of retconning from Obi-Wan in Return of the Jedi — “from a certain point of view.”
In truth, continuity has always been more malleable than fans like to believe. After all, it took Star Trek quite some time to decide on James Kirk’s middle initial, the mechanics of stardates, who was paying Kirk’s salary, or even if he had a salary at all. There is a constant push and pull over Star Trek continuity involving everything from the details of first contact with the Klingons to the question of when exactly the Romulans developed cloaking devices. These are not small details.
Even within the Star Wars canon there are similar contradictions and errors. Why didn’t Obi-Wan Kenobi remember C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) or R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) in the original Star Wars films given that he met them in the prequels? Despite initially promising to observe the continuity of the expanded universe, The Clone Wars rewrote large swathes of it to the point that it forced the departure of author Karen Traviss.
These internal contradictions are accepted as part of the mechanics of operating a franchise on this level. Viewers implicitly understand that these are fictional stories, not “gossip about imaginary people.” However, recent years have seen fans weaponize continuity. This makes sense. Historically, fandom clichés like the “fake geek girl” assume a fandom hierarchy usually defined by knowledge of the core text as critical fallacies: arguments from authority and “no true Scotsman” rhetoric.
This weaponization of the canon is not about continuity, but about power and institutionalized gatekeeping. It is about who gets to determine which stories matter and which stories don’t. After all, many of the fans who insist (incorrectly) that the characterization of Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi is inconsistent with his characterization in the earlier films clap as The Mandalorian offers a version of Boba Fett (Temuera Morrison) completely at odds with anything from the films.
History demonstrates that franchise fandoms tend to be reflexively hostile to new versions of older franchises. (Yes, this was even the case with The Empire Strikes Back.) Over time, fandom tends to settle down. What was new becomes old, and in doing so it becomes accepted and an object of nostalgia. Older Star Wars fans lamented that the prequels “ruined (their) childhood,” but audiences who grew up with the prequels came to embrace them in their messy, awkward glory.
One need only look to Disney+ to get a sense of the nostalgia for the once-reviled prequels. Ewan McGregor will reprise his role for Obi-Wan Kenobi. Jar-Jar Binks himself, Ahmed Best, hosts the wholesome Star Wars: Jedi Temple Challenge. Although Boba Fett dates to the original trilogy, Temuera Morrison is reprising a role in The Mandalorian that he originally played in Attack of the Clones. It could be argued that The Clone Wars presented fans with the very best version of the prequel era.
By any objective measure, the three films in the prequel trilogy were less loved than either The Force Awakens or The Last Jedi, and yet they linger. They linger because they spoke to new fans of the franchise who managed to work their way into the heart of Star Wars fandom, something that would have seemed impossible at the time of release. It is genuinely heartening to understand that the children who watched the prequels in the cinema felt a strong emotional attachment to them.
What’s interesting about this repeated and insistent argument about the “canonicity” of the sequel trilogy is a preemptive effort to erect roadblocks to this process. There are people who came to Star Wars through the sequel trilogy and for whom the sequels are “their” Star Wars. (I know because I have talked to them.) They deserve the same vindication that prequel fans eventually received, not to be told that the version of Star Wars that speaks to them “doesn’t matter.”
Of course, looking at the state of Star Wars at the moment, it is easy to understand why certain fans might feel vindicated. After all, so much of modern Star Wars is about reassuring older fans that their fandom is inherently superior to anything that followed. At the climax of The Rise of Skywalker, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) is leapfrogged by Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams). In the second season finale of The Mandalorian, the title character’s victory is trumped by a CGI Luke Skywalker.
Indeed, it’s notable that the recent Lego Star Wars Holiday Special was a perfectly functional seasonal riff on the classic A Christmas Carol. However, despite the tried-and-true format, the special deviated from the template in one notable way. There was no glimpse of the franchise’s future, only the past. It’s also notable that the sequel era was entirely absent from the slate of recent Disney+ announcements.
Perhaps it is not so far-fetched that Disney would remove the sequels from the canon. Is it so hard to believe Star Wars would erase its own future?