The Continuity Trap: Could The High Republic Signal a Creative Rebirth for Star Wars?

We all love lore. I think we can safely say that, right? No matter what angle of Star Wars tickles our fancies, be it the arrangement of the fleets of the Confederacy of Independent Systems or the hobbies and personalities of Padmé’s handmaidens, we all like uncovering new and unexpected details about the universe. But adding new lore—new continuity—to a shared universe like Star Wars is not a simple task. A well-intentioned author who loves Star Wars lore as much as we do can write what he thinks will be a fun detail: that all Mandalorian generals don green pauldrons in honor of the first mythosaur hunt, for example. Then a couple of years later, a Mandalorian general will appear in a movie or TV show, and the lead designer will have to give them red pauldrons to avoid interfering with the green screen. Was the author wrong in setting that detail in stone? Should the director have respected that choice even if it meant altering the shot?

There’s no easy answer here. The line to walk is tenuous and sometimes blurry. It’s common sense that the creators behind Star Wars should always aim to keep a certain level of consistency and plausibility. At the same time, it’s a bad idea to tie the hands of future authors just because of a self-indulgent need to classify and taxonomize every single item in the universe. Star Wars has walked this edge since its very beginning. It even rebooted a few years ago, partly because of how deep its lore has become. But how have things changed since the reboot? Have things become more accessible? Does accessibility also make things blander? And could a publishing program like the recently-announced The High Republic be the way to both have the cake and eat it?

There is a piece that I wrote five years ago for this site that gets brought up whenever I meet a fan, often cautiously. I called that piece Continuity, or Why You Are a Bad Person and Should Feel Bad, and in it, I tried to explain why I had found that the EU’s dense and impenetrable continuity had started becoming a hindrance rather than a boon. It was a little too scattered, I’ll happily admit it, and took potshots at authors and novels that would have been better served elsewhere, but I still stand by most of what I wrote there. It reflected an era that many nostalgics like to describe as a golden age of robust continuity. They are not wrong: Star Wars was, by most relevant standards, dead, so publishing had pretty much become a narrative post-mortem analysis working on the corpse of a then-thirty-year-old franchise. It’s considerably easier to dissect an inert world than trying to do it while it’s still growing and brimming with energy. It was a time when Star Wars reflected inwards, when the material was no longer produced for mainstream audiences but for more completist and die-hard fans. So yes, it indeed was the golden age of obsessive continuity and creative retconning.

But then things, as we know, changed pretty drastically. Disney entered the picture, and Star Wars was ready to return to the mainstream. The old continuity was eschewed and a new, unified continuity was established. The initial canon that new authors were bound to follow was, of course, everything that George Lucas had created: the six movies, The Clone Wars, and his jokes to Conan O’Brien and Jon Stewart. From that point on, new material would be created and added to a single timeline. We are not privy to what happened behind the curtain but we can venture to guess that a lot of things changed after the buyout. We know that at some point, Lucasfilm established the Story Group, partly to help new storytellers find their place within the Star Wars universe. We know that long novel series and multimedia extravaganzas became a thing of the past and that the number of licensees telling tales set in the Star Wars universe increased.

And then The Force Awakens came and made more than $2,000,000,000.

That’s a lot of zeroes.

Not even Lucasfilm expected the film to be this successful, and this success transformed the way new Star Wars stories were told, of course. The movies became cultural phenomena again, and there was no way that this juggernaut could be affected by a random RPG article or a young-adult novella. So publishing by necessity had to become, in a sense, reactive and safer: the Expanded Universe returned to its primary task of supporting and enhancing the films. In the past, during the prequel-era years of the EU, George had been happy to let publishing do their own thing as long as it felt true to Star Wars (and even that truth was very flexible, as Waru or the Yuuzhan Vong show). And if George went the other way and contradicted licensing, licensing could always be ignored—or retconned and made to fit the movies by a few enterprising authors. During the years after the prequels, as we’ve seen, anything went: novel duologies starring minor characters from videogames, comic book series set millennia before there were any Jedi, whatever you wanted. There were fewer risks involved, nowhere to go but up, and creativity flourished. But after TFA things were different: there was one single continuity, so careful steps needed to be taken to make sure that the creators of the films could still be free to tell their stories. And sure, on the one hand, it was a pity to lose the possibility of book series like The New Jedi Order shattering our perception of Star Wars. Yet, on the other hand, we won the opportunity for movies like The Last Jedi to shatter our perception of Star Wars.

This situation is why the announcement of The High Republic should excite Star Wars fans. The era itself sounds pretty exciting: we are going to have the opportunity to see the Galactic Republic seen in the prequel trilogy before its decay. It’s a historical era that directly ties into the saga instead of being a distant mythological era like the one seen in the Knights of the Old Republic series. It’s different from everything we’ve seen before, and that’s often a good starting point.

However, that’s not the only thing that should intrigue us about The High Republic. It appears to have been designed explicitly to be a new era for publishing to use as their sandbox for new adventures set in the Star Wars universe. In essence: they are cordoning out a whole era to let authors experiment and do fun things without as many worries. It will allow novels and comics to finally be free. No longer will they have to tie into an upcoming movie and, perhaps more importantly, no longer will they have to wait on the sidelines and let live-action take the initiative.

With no new movies on the horizon and publishing gearing up to fill in the blanks, we could easily be heading back to a continuity as opaque as the one we had in the years after the prequels, one where every single speck of minutiae from the movies is expanded, classified and cross-referenced over and over until only the diehard fan can make any sense of it. On the other hand, we could potentially bring back all the excitement and the imagination behind those last years of the Expanded Universe while allowing the whole universe to grow in a more controlled way. Only time will tell us if we’ve learned our lessons and if we are going to avoid the pitfall of turning continuity into an endgame by itself. But I’m optimistic: if the High Republic experiment is successful, publishing might be offered more separate corners of the Star Wars universe to expand.

2 thoughts to “The Continuity Trap: Could The High Republic Signal a Creative Rebirth for Star Wars?”

  1. Still though, I would not be surprised if one day a future movie will deal in the High Republic era. If we are ONE TIMELINE then every era is up for grabs.

  2. Eh, I don’t think going in a bright, new, loreless direction was gamechanger you imply it to be. People went to see TFA for the same reason they went to see TPM: they were curious about the first Star Wars film to release in many years. It would have been continuity-heavy and it still would have sold lots of tickets. It could have been nothing but J. J. Abrams sitting in a wicker chair eating a funnel cake and it probably still would have sold lots of tickets.

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