Have you heard all the hoopla surrounding Star Wars being bought out by Disney and all the new movies? Some are all for it, but others, including Mark Hamill have some... issues... with the new storylines. Why though?
Well, to get at the answer, you have to understand a few things about the Star Wars fandom and the franchise itself over the past thirty years or so.
Those new to or outside the Star Wars fandom usually have no clue how much time and effort Lucas Film put into the Expanded Universe, the umbrella name for all of the books, games, comics, etc. centering on the Star Wars universe produced between the first movie's release in 1977 and the Disney buyout in 2012. There were hundreds of games, comics, reference books, short stories, novels, and more all thought out and meticulously planned to maintain continuity within the Star Wars universe over a time spanning more than 35,000 years.
For some fans, who got into the series as kids during the 70s, 80s, and 90s, the Extended Universe comprised a good chunk of their childhood and adolescence. They spent years reading these comics and books, playing the games, and hoping for new movies. The prequels were both blessing and a curse to them, but it was something new, and flawed as they were, they fit the established canon. The prequels, along with a couple best sellers by Timothy Zahn, renewed interest in the series and ushered in the Star Wars renaissance. The late 90s and early 2000s was a great time to be a Star Wars fan.
Through all of this, the fandom was alive and well, the same as it is today. Fans ate up canon, fandom, and fanon material alike, and by and large, they were rather happy.
What is fandom and fanon anyway?
A fandom is comprised of all the fans of a particular work or series. It encompasses everything they do in relation to said work or series: reviews, discussions, purchasing habits, fan works, shipping, cosplaying, conventions, and so on. Some are huge. Some are tiny. Some have excellent reputations and others not so much. Some are active and thriving, others are in hibernation or just flat out dead.
Fanon is any idea that's not included in the canon material but so common within fan works it's almost considered canon by the fandom. Take the Buffy the Vampire Slayer fandom for an example. Faith, despite her character's surname never being mentioned at all in canon, is almost always referred to as Faith Lehain .
Not all, but a lot of any fandom accepts if not embraces fan works and fanon while looking to canon for what is "real" within the series' universe. What constitutes canon varies from series to series. Some, like the Star Wars universe of yore, have a very clear cut and cultivated canon. Others like Doctor Who or Highlander play rather fast and loose with what is or is not considered canon.
Opinions on how good or awful this is vary widely. The same goes for opinions on rebooting, retconning, reclassifying items as canon or not canon, fan theories, and additions to canon outside of published works. On the whole though, you can gage how a certain fandom on the whole will react to such based upon how grounded in "past is past" a series itself is and the amount of dedication a fandom has to "official" material versus fan materials. You'd expect a tamer reaction to reboots from a fandom of a series where time travel and alternate universes are the norm like say Star Trek or Doctor Who than one where timelines and reality is more fixed.
Elements like time travel and alternate dimensions are more or less absent from Star Wars' base material. The fandom was very invested in the established canon throughout the movies and all Extended Universe materials, and a large faction of the fandom is vehement on accepting only "official" materials. (See the 501st reputation.)
When you know this about the fandom as a whole, is it any surprise so many had such a bad reaction to Disney scrapping thirty-five years of canon and doing whatever they please with the franchise? They poofed beloved characters out of existence while resurrecting long dead ones and stripping them of their heroic sacrifice at the same time. They erased entire species with complex cultures and backstories and replaced them throw away designs. They completely ignored some of the series best written, complex female characters and threw a couple together in what "reads" like a last second rough draft, and then they didn't even bother to make sure and produce more than a handful of toys because, "Star Wars is a boys film."
Now to be clear, while I'm not the biggest fan of the latest films, I don't hate them either. I do care about the official canon of a series, but I don't look down on fan works and fanon. I'm okay with a reboot if it is done well and fits with the overall nature of the series or admits to being a straight up AU of the original. I absolutely hate retconning though, and that is exactly what tossing established canon in the garbage and rewriting it to suit your vision as a "second generation owner" is at the root. It's lazy and disrespectful of the original creator and their fans.
I can understand why they did it. That's a lot of material to go through and a ton of small details and foreshadowing to keep straight. It would have been an almost impossible task.
But would it have been so hard to at least keep the Skywalker families intact as they were in the EU? Is it so impossible to give a nod or two to the fans who saw the series through the almost twenty years where it seemed dead?
Every successful work of fiction has its canon and fandom. They're all different, but at their core, they're the same: a group of people brought together through a shared love of a world and its stories. It behooves creators to remember their works live or die by their fandoms. Those whose creators and fandom support and respect one another thrive, and others go down in flames due to a lack of the same.
In addition to working as a freelance writer, A. B. England is a novelist, all around geek, avid crafter, and a homeschooling mother of two.
She is an autistic creator with a love of mythology, fantasy, and all flavors of science fiction.
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