The Star Wars Canon: 
        Ultra-Condensed Overview

Quick Reference:
I.    Introduction
II.   Methods
III.  The Star Wars Canon Policy
      A. Confusion and Civil War
      B. Resolution:  A Tale of Two Canons
          1. The EU Continuity and the OCP
          2. The Lucas-LFL Canon
IV.  Conclusion
V.  Addenda

Note:  Quotes not linked to in the text will be followed with a » symbol.
This will open up a new window taking you to a quote list with full references.

I.  Introduction

The Star Wars entertainment empire is composed of a huge assortment of material and merchandise featuring the Star Wars brand name and the Star Wars intellectual property.   However, only some of the material constitutes official fact, meaning that we must discover what sub-set of the Star Wars intellectual property is actually a part of the Star Wars saga.

This topic has consumed some Star Wars fans, and the battle between so-called "Movie Purists" -- those who consider only the films to be official Star Wars fact -- and "EU Completists" -- those who believe the EU is a true part of Star Wars -- have raged online for years.

What is needed in order to have a meaningful discussion on Star Wars is to have an objective standard of what Star Wars is and what it is not.   Even fan consensus (were it possible to achieve it) would merely be an aggregate subjective opinion, and simply isn't an objective standard.   Thus, we're left to looking toward the makers and owners of Star Wars to learn just what the canon policy says.

II.  Methods

Of paramount importance in logical analysis is having and maintaining a consistent, logical methodology.  This is where many in the canon debate falter, for they apply varying standards at a whim.  Extreme care must be taken.   The most logical method of employing such care is to pay careful attention to the rank of the speaker.   In the case of Star Wars, Lucas rules as both the maker and the owner, so he naturally comes first.

After that, we have to deal with some corporate information.   Lucas's company Lucasfilm, Ltd. (LFL) is the keeper of Star Wars.  It's stated on the Lucasfilm website that "Lucasfilm manages the rights to films in the Star Wars saga", and per the US Patent and Trademark Office LFL owns the Star Wars brand name and trademark.  LFL also owns myriad subsidiary companies.   The most important for our purposes is Lucas Licensing, Ltd.   Lucas Licensing is said to be "responsible for licensing and merchandising activities" related to the Star Wars brand name, managing "all the global merchandising activities in the fields of publishing, toys, games, collectibles, apparel and home furnishings for Lucasfilm's entertainment properties" (source 1 , 2).   Lucas Licensing is correctly identified as "Lucas Licensing, a Lucasfilm Ltd. company" (1 , 2).   The term 'division' is sometimes used of these different Lucas companies (e.g. the Lucasfilm site), though this is not technically accurate in regard to separate subsidiary companies.

Licensing features a publishing department (referred to here as LLP) tasked, among other things, with the creation of new Star Wars-brand fiction products.  Through the publishing imprint (i.e. 'trade name') LucasBooks, Licensing and publisher Del Rey have expanded on earlier Star Wars-theme fiction products to create the Expanded Universe we know today.

The above having been said, we can work toward acknowledging the sub-Lucas ranks appropriately.  Also, it makes no sense for Lucas and Lucasfilm to be unable to change their minds, so we must accept that the newer quotes supercede the old in importance.    Of course, if we had a case of, say, one of Lucasfilm's janitors saying something tomorrow that was contrary to Lucas's statement from yesterday, we obviously shouldn't consider that an override.

And so, let us begin:

III.  The Star Wars Canon Policy

In the early days the Star Wars canon policy was a nebulous thing, as often happens in the beginning of a franchise.  When there wasn't much material anyway, there was little need.   And so for years, the most definitive statement on the matter was a quote often attributed to Lucas:  "As George Lucas says, the movies are Gospel, and everything else is Gossip".  The earliest online source for that quote that I've found comes from a reprint of a 1980 Fantastic Films magazine issue, though no additional details are provided.  Even by that point, though, the quote was given in a form indicating that it was common knowledge, though it now represents a largely forgotten piece of information.

A.  Confusion and Civil War

Confusion only started to set in during the 1990's.   By this point, the Star Wars brand name encompassed the films, film novelizations, a handful of novels, comic books, the old National Public Radio dramatizations of the films, West End Games (WEG) materials that had kept interest so alive, and other various toys and such.   But with all the new and retold Star Wars stories, people were once again wondering what exactly constituted Star Wars fact.

A variety of quotes appeared over the years, many from Lucas Licensing folks.  As Sue Rostoni of LLP made explicit in 2001: 

"Our goal is to present a continuous and unified history of the Star Wars galaxy, insofar as that history does not conflict with, or undermine the meaning of Mr. Lucas's Star Wars saga of films and screenplays."»

Public statements by Licensing folks about this continuous and unified plug-in history often confused people, especially given how they took to using the term "canon"
 to refer to it, and so the civil war thus continued unabated.   Many found the contradictions confusing, over and above the contrary positions . . . after all, how could Lucas say one thing and these other people manage to say something else?

The Purists generally took to ignoring these lesser statements in favor of Lucas's own words, while the EU Completists generally attempted to ignore the face-value meanings, re-imagining Lucas's words into something non-contradictory.

But what if both sides were wrong?

As noted, it makes sense to organize the myriad statements by speaker rank.   In doing so, one quickly realizes that the contradictions only exist across a certain rank boundary line.  As a result, the only self-consistent way to comprehend the myriad statements is to acknowledge that two separate canon policies exist under the Star Wars brand label.   One, known informally as the 'canon policy', is maintained by Lucas and Lucasfilm, Ltd.   The other, termed the "official continuity policy"», is maintained by Lucas Licensing.

B.  Resolution:  A Tale of Two Canons

It wasn't until circa 2002 that this pattern in the statements became apparent, but it was still years before enough of a pattern had been amassed that the extremists of the civil war could be properly ignored as such.

1.  The EU Continuity and the OCP

Whereas before maintaining the EU continuity was achieved via stacks of binders consitituting the EU "bible" or "canon", since circa 2000 this has been largely handled via a computer database known as the Holocron.   Holocron maintainer Leland Chee states:

"The Holocron is an internal database maintained by Lucas Licensing that tracks all the fictional elements created for the Star Wars universe. The database includes material from the films, books, comics, videogames, trading cards, roleplaying games, websites, toys, cartoons, and just about every officially sanctioned fictional element of the Star Wars universe."

"Understand, that the Holocron's primary purpose is to keep track of Star Wars continuity for Lucas Licensing, and to some degree Lucas Online. To my knowledge, it is only rarely used for production purposes."»

The Holocron makes use of a canon field coded with a G, C, S, or N, to refer to different layers of Licensing canon.

However, this applies only to Licensing, and Lucas is largely uninvolved.  After all, Lucas himself stated in 1999, "I don't even read the offshoot books that come out based on Star Wars."»  He's also said that "”Star Wars” has had a lot of different lives that have been worked on by a lot of different people. It works without me."»   In 2002 he said "I don’t get too involved"» in the EU.  And in 2005 he stated that "I don't read that stuff. I haven't read any of the novels. I don't know anything about that world."»

Of course, it's worth directly reiterating that even if Lucas were personally writing the EU novels (and hence had the highest possible level of involvement), it would still take just a single statement from him to render them canonically invalid.

And indeed, Lucas has done so.

2.  Lucas

As noted earlier, it wasn't until about 2002 that things really started getting clear:

There are two worlds here, explained Lucas.There’s my world, which is the movies, and there’s this other world that has been created, which I say is the parallel universe – the licensing world of the books, games and comic books. They don’t intrude on my world, which is a select period of time, [but] they do intrude in between the movies. I don’t get too involved in the parallel universe.”"

- George Lucas, Flannelled One, July 2002 - as reported on the Cinescape site, from Cinescape Magazine

"STARLOG:  The Star Wars Universe is so large and diverse.  Do you ever find yourself confused by the subsidiary material that's in the novels, comics, and other offshoots?

LUCAS:  I don't read that stuff.  I haven't read any of the novels.  I don't know anything about that world.  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 people] could make their own Star Wars stories, we decided that, like Star Trek, 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."

- George Lucas, Flannelled One, Aug. 2005 - "New Hopes" interview in Starlog #337
  (see it for yourself here)

It really doesn't get much simpler than the quote above.  Lucas considers the EU to be the second of "two universes", "outside [his] little universe", part of a "different", "other" world, a universe that is a "parallel universe" to his own . . . the makers of it "try to make their universe as consistent with mine as possible, but obviously they [...] go off in other directions".  His story, the saga of the Skywalker family from Anakin to Luke, is over, and while other tales inspired by the galaxy Lucas created also bear the brand name, they don't affect his Star Wars story in any way.

As of December 2006, Licensing personnel are also united in this view.  Leland "Tasty Taste" Chee, maintainer of Lucas Licensing's EU information database known as the "Holocron" and most frequent Licensing speaker on continuity issues, directly confirmed the idea in forum posts responding to these questions at StarWars.Com:

"The only relevant official continuities are the current versions of the films alone, and the combined current version of the films along with whatever else we've got in the Holocron. You're never going to know what George's view of the universe beyond the films at any given time because it is constantly evolving. It remains elastic until it gets committed to film or another official source. Even then, we know there's always room for change.

[...] Anything not in the current version of the films is irrelevant to Film only continuity.

Managing Editor Sue Rostoni of LLP knows this to be Lucas's view as well:

"Within the issue of Starlog magazine with the War of the Worlds cover is an interview article with George Lucas. He stated something which he had said before, which is that he doesn't follow the SW EU, he doesn't read the books or comics. He also said that when they started doing all this (which is allowing other storytellers to tell their own SW tales), he had decreed that the Star Wars Universe would be split into two just like Star Trek (I don't know nuts about Star Trek, so don't ask me about that), one would be his own universe (the six episode movie saga), the other would be a whole other universe (the Expanded Universe). He continued to say that the EU tries as much as possible to tie in to his own universe, but sometimes they move into a whole other line of their own. 

Yeah, this is pretty much what I've heard, except that people have said he reads the comics."

- Sue Rostoni, Lucas Licensing (LLP Managing Editor), Sept. 2005 - forum post

So there we have it, from Lucas himself to the makers of the Expanded Universe.  

IV.  Conclusion

The only self-consistent way to understand the myriad canon policy statements is to acknowledge the dual-canon approach wherein Lucas Licensing's Official Continuity Policy and Lucas/LFL's canon policy co-exist.

In the Lucas/LFL canon policy, Lucas's films and the associated scripts and novelizations constitute the whole of the Star Wars story.   Meanwhile, we get to see a different interpretation of that universe in the parallel reality known as the Expanded Universe.  

V.  Addenda

As this is the condensed version, you can imagine that a lot of extra detail is available, including an extensive list of other resources.   For those, I simply point you to the non-condensed version here, or even the less-condensed version here.

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