Continuity with a Smile: The Lessons of HoloNet News

Hey, it's the two-headed Benedict Cumberbatch alien.
Hey, it’s the two-headed Benedict Cumberbatch alien.

Canon and continuity seem to be an excessively important issue for a big chunk of the hardcore Star Wars fandom. It’s been almost two years since the Star Wars continuity was rebooted and trimmed down, and the continuity wars (well, to be honest, the continuity playground arguments) don’t seem to be going to die anytime soon. The current official position appears to be a more informal approach to continuity, one less bogged in minutiae and more interested in storytelling opportunities, something that we have argued for from this website. And still, for all the disturbing behavior of a very vocal sector of the Bring Back Legends crew and for how tempting it is to point and laugh at them, we can’t ignore that that anal, exhaustive, all-encompassing approach to continuity that they seem to prefer was for a long time the official stance.

Yes, the sweet lie of a water-tight Star Wars continuity was a lie fed by Lucasfilm and its affiliates, sometimes quite aggressively. This tedious, mind-numbing, encyclopedic approach to what should be a fantastic universe full of magic and mystery was fed by hundreds of guides and technical specifications and was sponsored by just as many novels and comics, whose only purpose was to patch a completely unwieldy continuity that had grown without control or direction. Let’s not forget that all these works were official ones, that the G-canon, C-canon, WTF-canon nonsense came from Lucasfilm employees. That’s why it’s necessary to look at the times the old EU seemed to shun that approach, as a way to perhaps learn how to avoid these pitfalls in the futures. And one of the best examples of this is, without any doubt, the defunct HoloNet News, the website Lucasfilm released to promote Attack of the Clones. The website decided to smooth over continuity using two weapons: humor and a knowing wink.

Don't be racist.
Don’t be racist.

HoloNet News (HNN) was basically a parody of news websites like CNN or Fox News. It contained in-universe news detailing all of the events leading to Episode II, and was updated every week “in real time”, with the final issue being published the same week Attack of the Clones premiered. It was written by Paul Ens and Pablo Hidalgo and illustrated by Joe Corroney, a trio of Star Wars veterans already back in 2002. Despite its obvious promotional nature (not that there’s anything wrong with that), HNN took the chance to try to smooth down some of the many incompatibilities between the universe George Lucas depicted in the then-upcoming movie and what had been portrayed in the Expanded Universe for many years. Perhaps because it was intended for a wider audience than usual, perhaps because there was no way to explain many of these discrepancies, it usually did it with a smile, in a non-insulting way that excited the old-timers, amused the newcomers and that even the most staunch movie purists found cute. Senator Bel Iblis of Corellia isn’t even a factor in the official Clone Wars? See, Corellia left the Senate before they could appear on screen. The lack of a Republic army seems to fly against the existence of the venerable Carida Academy? They actually trained planetary militias. There has been no war in one thousand years but the EU mentioned a recent one? Well, about that. No TIE Fighters in the Republic despite being mentioned in the EU? Well, yeah, there were prototypes. And… is that a reference to the Ewoks TV movies? Hey, look, why not.

Fun for the whole family!
Fun for the whole family!

The website also poked some fun at some issues within Attack of the Clones itself, explaining why Threepio’s head could so easily be transplanted into a battle droid body by depicting a USB-like standard for droid limbs or why Artoo didn’t use his rockets in the classic movies. All of them hilarious bits of information shown in a way that didn’t really seem to try to retcon an infinity of small inconsistencies, but to poke some fun at the fact that these inconsistencies existed in the first place. And yes, they did some wondrous world-building at the same time. Never has the Star Wars galaxy felt as alive and real as it did in HNN, with the exception perhaps of some of the old RPG manuals.

Seen with the benefit of time, HNN doesn’t seem like the continuity-heavy piece it originally seemed to be. Sure, there’s some impressive research behind it, but the whole website seems more like a light-hearted celebration of the Star Wars universe, crazy fandom included. HNN didn’t take itself, the Star Wars universe, or the concept of canon at all seriously. And with good reason: the whole concept is more than a little silly. If there’s a lesson than both pros and fans could take from it, let that be the one.