The problem with headcanon (Part 2)
In what I guess will now be known as part 1 of this article, I explored one of the reasons I find issue with the notion of headcanon in the Expanded Universe. That article mainly talked about the issue in the context of the great argument about what of the EU was canon, and if you haven’t read it yet then you should probably start with it because it is probably better than this one. However, this time I want to focus on why having headcanon can be problematic for an individual and how it contradicts the notion of an Expanded Universe.
Now the notion of an Expanded Universe is just that, that the universe is expanding, or to make larger or more extensive. Often when I hear what constitutes someone’s headcanon it is the antitheses of this. They often say that to them what is canon is some finite measure, some span of years in the time line, certain authors, certain series, etc. In fact, I often find it ironic that people who love something with the word expanded in it are so often against that thing getting any larger than they like it.
So definitions aside, what really confuses me about the notion of headcanon is that it goes against everything the creators said they were doing. I attribute my views on this to having researched the quotes of the publishers, authors, and employees of Lucasfilm. While what they said had slight variations over the years, they always encouraged continuity, they always encouraged authors to pull from what was written in the past, and with a few notable exceptions (don’t worry I’ll get to them) the authors always did their homework before writing. The Expanded Universe is incredibly self-referential, with familiar technology, planets, species, characters and even plot points, showing up across series, across authors, and even across eras and publishers. It is because the EU is so interconnected that headcanon becomes problematic.
Let me put it this way. Think of your favorite book of all time, it doesn’t even have to be Star Wars. In fact, go get that book right now and have it in your hand. Now open to a completely random page on that book and tear that page right out. I bet you won’t do it, in fact you shouldn’t do it. Why? Because no matter what is on that page, it has an important role in telling the story. If you ripped that page out of the book, something would be missing, some key dialog that builds relationships, a description that sets the scene in your mind, a key piece of action that turns the tide for the heroes, or the tragic death of an important character. Even if it contains none of those things when you would read it you would notice something is missing. You would notice the sentence cut off and was not finished, or that the story arbitrarily skipped ahead. So why not just rip out the entire chapter then? That way you don’t have the problem of a half sentence or a gap in the flow of the story. Only then you are missing out on an entire chapter worth of the story. So why not just cut out all the chapters except the parts I like? I think you get the picture.
Now you are probably thinking that the EU is different from a single book, and you would be right it isn’t. However, the comparison works because on the whole it functions like a single book. Like I said earlier every author that came into it knew of the previous material written, and was actively encouraged by Lucasfilm to use as much of that previous material as possible. By creating your own headcanon you are removing parts of the story from your own enjoyment, and therefore literally ripping the pages out of the book.
If you don’t believe me, here are a few notable examples of just how much the creators behind EU media worked to ensure that.
Dark Horse Comics knew that an invasion to the galaxy was in the works so they created the character Nom Anor, who showed up in Dark Empire 2 to be the first wave of infiltrators for the invasion; later, Del Rey used this character in their invasion story New Jedi Order.
Every author that wrote for Bantam Spectra in the 90s was required to read the previous works, and each of them made mention of the specific events that had mentioned previously in their novels. The Novel Death Star was written to give a clear timeline of events to explain all the aspects of Operation Sky Hook that had each been told individually in different media.
Michael Stackpole, when writing I, Jedi, personally called Kevin J. Anderson, who was writing the Young Jedi Knights series at the time with his wife, to ensure that Kevin was not doing anything with Exar Kun’s temple on Yavin, so he could blow it up in his own novel that would take place a few decades prior to Kevin’s series.
The authors of New Jedi Order were required to read the previous Bantam novels, to get a better understanding of the galaxy, events, and characters that they could use for the new series.
I could go on but there are just too many to list.
Yes there are exceptions to this, and not all the creators took the same care as their counterparts - Dave Filoni being the most commonly cited example. However, you simply cannot cut the works of those who didn’t follow the trend and still have a coherent story. Because the other authors, along with us, were promised retcons for these bad apples when they would come. They were tasked with tying in and retconning these changes themselves.
I hate to pick on Filoni's Clone Wars (TCW), but the retcon for Darth Maul’s origin was directly referenced in Darth Plagueis, and while a lot of fans don't love TCW I haven’t heard of anyone who thinks that the Plagueis novel should go because of this. But, I often see people asking to strike other second wave clone wars material because they mention TCW. Probably because Plagueis is considered good and those other novels bad but again that is no reason to arbitrarily remove them from the canon. Other authors when they wrote their works treated TCW as they treated everything else, made it fit, and did it in a way that was completely believable when we eventually got the retcon we had been waiting for.
The fact is that all works in the EU, with obvious exceptions being Tales and Infinities (which by design were written outside the existing continuity), were written to be part of a larger story. To include works of the past and set up works of the future. Issues may arise, but they have always been retconned to maintain the overall continuity. All are intertwined, and as such all help to tell one complete story, and that story is always expanding. When you create a headcanon, you are stunting that expansion, and ripping pages right out of that story. That is the problem I have with head canon.
Now there is still one more good argument left and that is to break down just how interconnected the EU is when it comes to the stories. However, counting every novel, comic issue, sourcebook, video game television episode and short story, there’s well over 1000 works of EU out there and that is a task that I am just not qualified to tackle given just how much of it I haven’t read. But anyway those are my thoughts as always let me know what you think and as always until next time
*Neither I nor the Expanded Universe Website are responsible for any damage that may have occurred to your favorite book while reading this article