Years ago for savethesweu.org I wrote this article on continuity. I just recently uncovered it in my computer files and wanted to post it here on the site for other to read, since it's been over 7 years!
What is continuity?
Let’s look at the definition: An unbroken and consistent existence or operation of something over a period of time.
That’s nice. So what does it mean?
Continuity in story telling shows a higher effort and concentration of keeping everything consistent with what has come before. It saves the reader from the confusion and aggravation of facts being changed or becoming inconsistent with one another.
We live with consistency in our everyday live as well. When I step outside, I know gravity will keep me on the ground. The sun will always rise in the east and set in the west. That’s plain science, it’s consistent. Knowing one plus one will always equal two is also consistent because that’s math. Math and science are a big part of our lives.
We also have consistency in sports. If a baseball player hits the ball we know he’s running to first base and not to third. If a batter gets his third strike, he is out. Those are the rules and they’re consistent wherever the sport is played.
But say we were playing baseball and I decided to change the rules. Instead of running to first base, you must run to the pitcher’s mound, back to home plate and then advance to first. Would you accept my new rule and play it that way or would you be upset and refuse to change?
Why can’t we just change the rule? Can’t you accept it? Forget about how the game’s been played for a hundred years, it’s my way of playing the game and I can change the rules however I want. And if you don’t love new rule then you’re not a true fan of this sport!
Does that analogy seem fair to you?
Maybe not. But if Major League Baseball decided to accept such a scenario officially you’d have to deal with it while other folks mocked and ridiculed the original rules that were played by. Some won’t even know how it was played in the first place and tell you that “running to first” was always a rule to begin with.
But let’s move to the subject of continuity in storytelling. It’s the most popular form of art in our society today. We all tell stories, whether fictional or true and everyone loves a good one. But we love consistency in them as well.
A good joke is delivered the same way so its effect is just as funny when you heard it the first time. If you don’t deliver the set up or punch line, the joke fails or misses its mark. The same can be said with a story. If it doesn’t hold consistency it risks losing its audience and allure. Yet consistency in story telling is a dying trait, and in comics and Hollywood, it holds very little value at all anymore.
Hollywood is all about the reboot. Stories being retold again and again with less behind it each time. There have been two Spiderman’s on the silver screen in less than a decade and soon we’ll have a third. Instead of giving us new ideas or building on the works of their predecessors, Hollywood chooses to hit the restart button in an attempt to create the same worn-out product, leaving a tremendous gap in the development of original stories and ideas.
The myth that “consistency hinders creativity” is not usually the case. Continuity inspires and challenges you to build upon what came before and make it better. One of the keys to successful sequels is that they stand on the facts established in the previous films and therefore can take the story to other levels. It’s an amazing accomplishment that the audience appreciates.
Take Aliens, for instance. How good would the movie be if James Cameron had decided to reboot the story and tell it all over again? He’d have to reintroduce characters and elements to the audience they’ve already seen before moving his vision forward.
However, the time it takes setting everything up is half the movie. Reboots contain an unnecessary redundancy that the audience could do without. The thing many disliked about Amazing Spiderman was that they had to sit through yet another origin story a few years after Sam Raimi had already done one.
In my opinion, hitting the “reboot” button instead of continuing the story is lazy and uncreative. If there’s no more story to tell then end it and create something better. Reboots only make movies look like expensive fan films instead of something truly inspired.
Consistency is also a reward to the fans who’ve loyally followed the story and appreciate ties to the previous films. It’s a way of thanks for their long standing support.
A prime example is the Tremors franchise. A series which started in 1990 has seen 3 sequels and a short-lived TV series. Each sequel stays in perfect continuity with later installments and even brings actors back to portray their original characters when necessary. The franchise pays close attention to detail because they know it’s what the fans want. They recently announced a new movie coming this October..Tremors 5: Bloodlines will continue the story of our hero Burt Gummer as he sets out to save the populace from graboids. To see they’re keeping “5” in the title instead of making a tag line is an indication that the creators are proud to stand alongside previous works as the fifth installment of this series.
But let’s move over to the Star Wars Expanded Universe for a bit. This is a series that spanned over 35 years of one continuous continuity. Recently, since the purchase of the Disney corporation, it was decided that everything but the films and recent Clone Wars animated series should be discarded in favor of a reboot .
Those who defend the original continuity are sometimes even mocked by fans of the films on online forums and message boards, with comments such as, “Get over it” and “Stop whining,” revealing the ignorance of those who miss the point. The Expanded Universe gave fans one cohesive story through the eyes of hundreds of authors who carefully constructed an arc over the many years of its existence.
Others have stated, “I loved the EU too, but I got over it, why can’t you?”
For many, the answer is clear. They care about it more.
Some will accuse such adherents as being elitist.. However, if one claims to care about something, but isn’t upset it’s gone, then that person may need to reevaluate how much she “loved” it in the first place.
If one’s friend passed away and I said to you “I’m sorry about your loss,” ut I came back weeks later and say “You’re friend’s gone! I miss her too but you don’t see me whining about it, do you?! Now get over it!” How insensitive would that be?
I don’t share the same connection you did with your friend. The arrogance of assuming I’m wiser than you is foolish. The reason some Star Wars fans can’t understand why the Expanded Universe meant so much is because they didn’t share the same connections that many did to the story.
Generally speaking, people don’t like reboots. Reboots generally don’t do well and comics have lost an enormous amount of readers over the years because of it. So why is it so casually accepted today?
That’s why I refer to reboots as lazy. The Star Wars Expanded Universe raised the bar for story telling as time went on, becoming a more creative and encompassing force the longer it went on. Unfortunately, continuity is not in keeping with the corporate bottom-line, and the fans are left to suffer because of it.
The upcoming Star Wars novel “Aftermath” will continue the process (following the new line of comics by Marvel) of bulldozing decades of a historic content that’s been around, and while some cheer its demise others will see it as reminiscent of the tragic ending of Revenge of the Sith, which depicted the destruction of the Grand Republic that had stood for over a thousand generations.
Long live the Expanded Universe. An extraordinary saga that proved how creativity and continuity go hand in hand.