I love Star Wars. I am a big old Star Wars nerd. I don’t own all the figures and the toys and the books, but I have a reasonable collection of books and a few knick-knacks. I read the books avidly, and for the most part I loved them. The tales of rogue squadron and their battles against the empire really fleshed out the Star Wars universe for me. Of course the Empire didn’t just fade away, we’re talking a galaxy spanning military juggernaut, and how the hell would they capitulate from a (admittedly significant) superweapon loss? Or even two? I really loved how a lot of the tie in products, not just books, expanded the universe. Nowhere in the movies will you find an ‘Interdictor’ class destroyer, which looks like a normal star destroyer but with balls fused into the hull, for example.
Characters that were effectively just a name in the movies became fully fleshed people (or aliens) in the Expanded Universe (EU), and I loved it. New characters and races were also introduced, such as the Chiss- a humanoid species with glowing red eyes and blue skin, and Admiral Thrawn, a Chiss military genius. And beyond the characters were all the spaceships and planets. At this stage, it is the setting as much as the story, that I love. Once a new race, character or planet was introduced, it was added to the Star Wars continuity, gradually building the ‘canon’ of the Star Wars universe. So when they announce that they were revising what was ‘canon’ in light of the upcoming new trilogy (and spinoffs), I was confused. Would this mean everything I read was pointless? Would it, finally, erase the holiday special?
As it turns out, the change didn’t ‘erase’ anything, but segregated material into different layers of canon. So rather than erasing anything, think of it as writing over an old save. The new canon was classified-in order of importance- G canon, T canon, C canon and S canon. G-canon is George Lucas canon, and includes the most recently released versions of Episodes I–VI and the upcoming movies, the animated film Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and also any statements by George (who shot first!?) including unpublished production notes from him or his production department that are never seen by the public. G-canon is the ultimate authority, so if George says that there is only one black guy in the universe, then racial diversity is dead.
T-canon is Television canon. This is basically just the two animated shows, i.e. The Clone Wars, and the newer Rebels. This notably does not include the very good Genndy Tartakovsky Clone Wars animation series (yes, Star Wars: The Clone Wars can refer to two animated series and an animated movie.)
C-canon is Continuity canon. This is a lot of what I have from the Expanded Universe including books, comics, and games. Games and RPG sourcebooks are a special case in that the stories and background information is C-canon, but the other elements like stats and gameplay are, with few exceptions, N-canon. As of 25/4/14, however, all previously released C-canon material became S canon.
S canon stands for Secondary Canon. It is basically the same as C canon except flimsier. If Grand admiral Thrawn features in a new C-canon book as a seamstress then all his martial glory in past novels was just a fevered dream.
Finally N-canon is “Non Canon.” This is the realm for ‘what if Han shot first like a cool smuggler instead of second like a retconned asshole’… apologies, I digress. This includes any crossover material like Yoda and Darth Vader featuring in a Soul Calibur game, for example.
Now all this sounds very complicated, and, well, it is. But it basically goes if S canon says it was brown, and C canon says it was Burnt Umber, then it was Burnt Umber. If a new episode of Star Wars: Rebels comes out and the plucky teenage protagonist sees it as more of a Chestnut, then C canon is wrong. And if a new movie comes out and it is Russet in colour then the retcon is on. And if George comes out and says… well you get the picture. Conversely, if a character from S canon is not mentioned or explicitly ruled out in any higher canon, then we can only assume he/she/it exists! Confused yet?
In one sense I feel that it invalidates the stories and characters that came before. Another name for the S-canon is ‘legends’ and that is probably the best way to think of it. It may not be 100% accurate, it may not have happened, but it makes for a hell of a story. The Star Wars canon classification is actually pretty detailed and does pretty well considering the myriad of stories within that universe. But I have decided to add my own level of canon, namely, Shem Canon. This contains everything I like in Star Wars and leaves out the things I don’t like. In Shem canon, Mandalorians are badasses, Han shot first, and there is no such thing as the holiday special. I am bringing this approach to continuity to my future DM sessions too. Did I like it? It happened. Did it not work out? Then it never happened. Never. Happened.
Except the Holiday Special. Which did.