Thoughts On Canon, Part II: How To View New Stories

You may have heard there’s a new Star Wars movie.

Something something something Dark Side.

You may have also heard that there’s new novels, too.

Something something something fully gay lesbeans.

And I did a post a few weeks back about the false historicity of canon in terms of pop culture — we feel that it’s all very real, all a history rather than a story someone just made up, and we like to know what’s TRUE versus what’s FALSE in terms of the fictional historicity of the work. It’s both seductive and a little bit dangerous.

While I was at NYCC, at both panels I was at and also in person, folks wanted to talk about the EU and Legends. Politely, to be clear — I was not harangued by anyone. (If you go to the Del Rey Star Wars books Facebook page, you’ll find the same polite responses and requests — and you’ll find some of that haranguing.) Some folks generally have this sense of, if it’s not the thing I grew up with, if it’s not the thing I expect, then I don’t want it. You start to get that talk of childhoods being killed and all that fun stuff, as if people have traveled back in time to someone’s adolescent years in order to Fahrenheit 451 all their EU/Legends books, but only just before karate-kicking their original Star Wars VHS tapes into a cloud of plastic particulate matter.

While there at the con, I hit on a metaphor I like as to how to overcome this feeling that OLD IS BEST and NEW IS BAD and SOMETHING SOMETHING FIRE THE CANON CANNONS.

And I’m going to share this with you now in the hopes it helps you understand the silver lining, here — this is me trying to turn this feeling from a drain into a fountain.

You know Matt Groening, right? The Simpsons creator.

Well, once upon a time as some know, he did a comic called LIFE IN HELL. Amazing comic. Subversive and socially powerful, and also deeply absurdist fun. He hit on things with childhood and work and school and relationships — I still go back to read them from time to time.

In one of the comics, the one-eared rabbit boy, Bongo, is coloring with crayons.

And a bully comes along.

The bully then proceeds to break all of Bongo’s crayons in half. Snap, snap, snap.

Bongo, for many panels if I recall correctly, stares down at his crayons.

And you think, he’s upset.

He’s a kid.

A bully just broke all his crayons.

How could this not destroy him? Someone came along and destroyed the things he had in his hands. The things that he loved. He can’t create anymore. His crayons are ruined.

But then Bongo says: YAY.

And why does Bongo say yay?

Because, he explains, regarding his bounty of broken crayons: NOW I HAVE TWICE AS MANY.

You think someone broke your stories, your universe, your canon.

Instead, maybe envision it instead as YAY, NOW I HAVE TWICE AS MANY.

And then read it all greedily and happily, in glorious gulps and swallows.

21 responses to “Thoughts On Canon, Part II: How To View New Stories”

  1. Chuck, you are so right. You and I and your legions of fans who like the SUBVERSIVE way your brain works resonate to Bongo’s response. Sadly, the people who object to the changes want their orthodoxy, which means they don’t like subversive, and they don’t want to hear a different narrative. Narrative in both the literal storytelling sense, and narrative as in how we tell ourselves the story of our lives.
    Btw, I lived in LA and got to read Matt’s cartoons in the LA Weekly. So fantastic…

  2. Mr. Wendig, you have to stop reading your reviews.
    Maybe it doesn’t make a difference, but you should know that your blogs (and books) about writing have saved me, sometimes at my worst moments. Last week, I ran into a guy on a train while I was reading 1001 Ways to Be A Kick-Ass Writer, and he’d read it, too, and we spent the whole train ride talking about how amazing you are. And he’s a university psychology professor who doesn’t even write fiction!
    So, you just go do you. And let those assholes go do their sisters or their cousins or whoever they’re doing in their backwoods, banjo-playing hillbilly universes where lesbians are legumes and they don’t know the rule about i before e.
    And keep writing great stuff–there’s a bunch of us out here who can’t wait to see what you come up with next.

    • I agree, Jennifer.
      Keep on keeping on, Chuck. There will always be asshats spewing their opinions on the Internet. Honestly, most of the negativity I read sounded far more like sour grapes from wanna-be writers than level-headed readers thinking through their reviews. I hope you got a smile when you cashed that check. And if not, then give your family a hug. That always works for me. 🙂

  3. I am always enthralled with the way in which you manage to house so much calm, reason, and plain old common good sense within the same headspace as the gonzo-beans, Hunter S. Thompsonish, profanity-laden hilarity that you simultaneously entertain and teach with. Your skill and talent are truly impressive. Thanks for another thought provoking post.

  4. The sets may change, and the adversaries and allies may change, but Han and Leia are likely still the people we came to know and love–changed by time and experience, but the same at their core. To me, that’s canon. And from there, I’ll get new people to know and love, in a universe I already enjoy. Maybe I’m not as big a nerd as I thought, but as long as the new folks mesh with the old, I’m good.

  5. Killer analogy to the Groenig cartoon – reminds me of a clip I had by him at my desk at work for years about the 20 signs of stress or something, and one panel “Strange Dreams” then “Really Strange Dreams” with the like rabbit character and another, mini-rabbit character face poking out of the top of one of his ears.

  6. Totally.

    I have the “luxury” of having started reading Star Wars novels only slightly before the new canon began. “Honor Among Thieves” was the first hardcover book I bought, so yeah, I’m new to this. But I never planned on turning into a Star Wars historian. So when I go back and read the Legends stories, I don’t get hung up on “Wait, this didn’t happen, this can’t be real!!”. I just dig the stories!

    Currently reading “Shatterpoint”, a clear front runner in the category of great Star Wars novels with embarrassingly bad cover art.

  7. Good old Life in Hell! I had like five of those books as a kid. Loved ’em.

    I’ve been enjoying the new canon stories, but I’m avoiding any of them that take place after Jedi until I see the new movie. Comes from a paranoia about… not even spoilers, really, I just don’t want any hints until I’m walking out of the theater. New Vader material though, shovel that right into my slovenly harvester maw.

    (“Fully gay lesbeans”? Is that like a coffee brand? Are their 2% gay lesbeans? Skim?)

  8. I have been reading EU for over 20 years. Im embarrassed to admit how much shelf space my books require. I love those stories. However, I dont understand the outrage. How can anyone be upset over MORE Star Wars…new Star Wars? They dont have space in there imagination for multiple story lines? Keep up the good work sir. Carry my childrens generation into a galaxy far far away!

  9. Nice. IIRC, I had incredible emotional swings while watching LotR:FotR and first JJA Star Trek ‘reboot’. In fact I was a wreck after seeing them both for DAYS, until my brain processed everything and I adapted. They later (in the instance of ST reboot, much later) became favorite movies of mine, But during that process I was as surly as a hungry junk yard dog until I coped.
    I’m not that attached to SW as some of my friends, but they are euphoric for the new movie. And I cannot understand unchecked enthusiasm in light of my experiences. But hey, good for them and I don’t want to piss on their parade. But I cannot go opening night and risk the possibility of seeing my friends freak out much like I did when it came to canon for some of my beloved histories.

  10. I grew up with fanfiction and that’s pretty much the philosophy I’ve adopted. There’s lots of stuff out there and some of it you might hate, but that sheer variety means you can do whatever you want and it’s totally liberating.

  11. I’m not sure why folks were so surprised the EU didn’t stand up…I mean Lucas had already torn it up from time to time and the whole thing operated under the conditions it was “mostly” just fan fiction and non-cannon. I remember how they used to make Boba Fett look like without his helmet back in the day…He was pretty much always dicey about what was real or not.

    Really, I havn’t read much of the SW EU…but I hear most folks bitch about the Thrawn Trilogy, which they say was ungodly awesome.

  12. I’ve been nervous about the rebooted Star Wars…but as I said when I commented on your last canon-discussion-post and shared it on my blog: I’m going to give it a chance!

  13. I’ve heard some mixed reviews about the new Star Wars, and I can’t tell if it’s because people are upset about the changes or if they’re legitimately about the movie. I’m really glad you’ve taken some time to write about this (and you’ve convinced me to go and see the movie for myself!).

    • Of course it’s all a matter of opinion. Whether some like it or not that people will share their opinion. I have read all of the EU and am a HUGE FAN!!! I’ve also read all of the new…and thus far, I must say that most of the new just hasn’t had the same SW feel. So far, the best by far of the new books is Lost Stars.

      you will find that the vast majority of people aren’t mad that they created the new…they are upset that they ended all of the EU. They could have easily continued the EU alongside the new material as an alternate timeline or whatever else you would call it. Remember that the EU is all that was out there for fans when there was no other SW happening and it was and is still very popular. By just ending it the way that they did, just created a huge outrage among fans and has even split the fans on many levels.

      if they would just announce that they would continue with EU material, they could easily have more revenue streams and it would end most of the mud slinging and most likely get the EU fans on board with some of the new.

      I’m all about new SW’s but this new story group needs to remember it’s past and not just kick it to the curb. I personally can’t wait for the movie and hope that these new stories get better…time will tell.

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