The Dark Side of Retconning

If you don’t know what retconning is let me give you a quick definition of the word retcon so you’ll understand the rest of this article:

ret·con
ˈretkän
verb
  1. revise (an aspect of a fictional work) retrospectively, typically by introducing a piece of new information that imposes a different interpretation on previously described events.
    “I think fans get more upset when characters act blatantly out of established type, or when things get retconned”

So basically retconning in the case of Star Wars has happened since The Empire Strikes Back when George Lucas and friends decided to make Darth Vader Luke Skywalker‘s father, completely negating Obi-Wan‘s story he tells Luke about Vader betraying and murdering his father. And it doesn’t stop there, everything has now become retconned either through the Extended Universe (which may no longer be official canon – but is still guilty) that identifies random things like whose skull Luke Skywalker threw at the door controls in the Rancor pit to crush its head (spoiler alert: it’s Bidlo Kwerve), or the prequels, which have not only over-explained The Force as nothing more than microscopic lifeforms but also made the horrible decision to make Anakin Skywalker the creator of C-3PO.

These are the kinds of things I’m talking about when I mention retconning. And Star Wars is chock full of it. From the saga films and cartoons to the EU novels and comics. Nearly everything in Star Wars gets retconned in some form or another. While it’s not all bad, a lot of it creates problems in continuity and logic as I’m going to explore in this article.

Since I like lists, let’s make a list of 10 of the worst things that have been retconned relating to the Original Star Wars Trilogy.

  1. “A certain point of view” – Even as a kid this comment bothered me because although I was only a child it struck me that this was some sort of cop-out. It wasn’t until I got older and realized that Lucas and friends were simply writing themselves out of the corner that they had put themselves in by making Vader Luke‘s father.
    It wasn’t a ‘certain point of view’ that Obi-Wan was speaking from when he told Luke that Vader “betrayed and murdered your father” – it was the way Lucas had intended the story to unfold until Empire when he and his movie making partners thought it would be cool to have a big reveal that Vader is actually Luke’s father.
    Now this works great dramatically, sure, but what happens when people start wondering why Obi-Wan would lie to Luke so blatantly and pretend that Vader and Anakin were two different people? And then you realize that it’s because Lucas refused to stick to his own canon. I’m sure something along the lines of, “we’ll figure it out in the next movie” was probably muttered many times throughout the making of Empire.
    Once Return of the Jedi rolled around of course they had to figure out a way to make the audience believe Obi-Wan said what he said in A New Hope on purpose so they concocted the stupid line: “What I told you was true. From a certain point of view”.
    Then when Luke actually calls him out on it Ben goes on to deflect with some nonsensical commentary about perspective – basically telling the audience ‘look, it doesn’t matter what he said in the first movie because we changed it – so just deal with it’. This is one of many problems I have with Return of the Jedi as a film. But those other reasons are for another blog at another time.
  2. Anakin Skywalker built C-3PO – When this reveal came onscreen during The Phantom Menace I rolled my eyes and realized right then and there exactly how the prequels were going to go: badly. This was a very poor choice in my opinion, and made the Star Wars galaxy suddenly very small. There are literally a thousand different ways C-3PO could have been introduced in to the prequels, and having Anakin build him is probably the worst out of all of them – second only to Threepio actually being revealed as the Sith Lord.
    By making it so Anakin actually built Threepio completely goes against the original trilogy. Vader sees Threepio in Empire on Cloud City. At no time does he have any recollection? Of course not because it’s retconned.
    Originally Vader had no knowledge of who Threepio was beyond just being a typical Protocol Droid. And for that matter, neither did Uncle Owen who is around Threepio and R2 in Attack of the Clones yet has absolutely no memory at all when they randomly both show up at his house being sold by Jawas years later.
    These are the kinds of problems that retconning creates that people don’t think about when they do it. It undermines everything that came before it and wants you to just buy in to the nonsense for no other reason than someone thought it would be a cool idea. In this case that someone was George Lucas.
  3. R2-D2 knows everything – In Revenge of the Sith there is a scene in which Lucas tries to fix all of his retconning by simply having C-3PO‘s memory wiped, yet not R2’s.
    Huh? Why would you retain the memory of the Astromech but not the Protocol Droid? Is it simply because R2 can’t speak in anything but chirps, beeps and whistles? This seems like a silly reason not to wipe R2’s memory since R2 could just tell Threepio – or any other Protocol Droid (or anyone who has a translator for that matter!) everything he knows.
    So basically if you buy in to this logic, R2 knows everything in the galaxy. He knows who Darth Vader really is, he knows about Luke and Leia and yet at no time does any of this information (which would be VERY helpful) get shared for the sake of keeping people out of harm’s way. So R2 is either a sadist or he just doesn’t care. Either way it makes no sense. And it shouldn’t because this was all contrived years after the Original Trilogy.
    When Ben Kenobi sees R2 for the first time in A New Hope he acts as if he’s never met him before in his life. That’s because at that point in time he hadn’t. Yet R2 is the droid that saved Queen Amidala‘s ship from destruction when they were fleeing Naboo and trying to get past the blockade surrounding the planet. And during The Clone Wars Kenobi and R2 were around each other all the time, and in fact R2 saved Kenobi’s life more than once during The Clone Wars – either directly or indirectly. So for Ben Kenobi to not recognize R2 – or pretend not to – would be absurd. But it’s not then, because none of that ever happened until the prequels were made.
  4. Luke and Leia are brother and sister – It’s one thing to have Vader be Luke‘s father, but what really adds insult to injury is having Leia be his sister. Not only is Luke attracted to Leia in A New Hope, but they actually kiss more than once. This is because the film needed a hint at romance to give audiences that feeling of classic adventure. The hero rescuing the damsel in distress. Leia of course does not necessarily fit this trope, but she does need rescuing and adding the romantic/swashbuckling aspect to the film (specifically the scene where Luke and Leia swing across the chasm in the Death Star just after she kisses him for luck) gives the audience that needed touchstone that makes the movie just feel right.
    So making Luke and Leia romantically interested in each other in the first movie sort of makes it creepy when by the third movie they discover they’re actually related.
    This also is another one of those instances that makes the galaxy a very small place. Of all the people in the universe Luke and Leia just happen to end up together as heroes of the Rebellion?
    I mean sure, you could say “the Force did it” (which is akin to a deus ex machina resolution once Yoda tells Kenobi “there is another”) but then ANYTHING that happens in Star Wars can simply be attributed to The Force and then suddenly the movies lose a lot of their luster because once you establish that The Force controls everything, then suddenly characters have no free will and are merely vehicles manipulated to carry out the ‘will of the Force‘.
    This is compounded when Qui-Gon Jinn explains to Anakin Skywalker that The Force is really just a bunch of microscopic organisms in your blood. But I digress.
    While making Luke and Leia brother and sister feels right, it just feels too convenient at times and honestly I think it would have been better if they had just left that part out of the story. But that’s just my opinion.
  5. Anakin is from Tatooine – Here we have another instance where the original trilogy and the prequel trilogy are heavily linked by familiar faces and familiar places. It was fine when Anakin was from Tatooine in A New Hope and his brother, Luke‘s Uncle Owen, raised the boy once his father had died. That’s solid storytelling. It’s compelling and it’s interesting. You imagined that Owen and Anakin grew up together on Tatooine until The Clone Wars happened and Anakin ran off with Kenobion some damn-fool idealistic crusade‘.
    But when you have Anakin being ‘the chosen one‘ who was born out of the will of the Force (again, weak storytelling) and you discover that his “brother“, Owen, is not actually his brother at all, and is later asked to raise the child of Anakin by Obi-Wan so the baby’s crazed, blood-thirsty father doesn’t find and kill them all, it takes something away from that original concept.
    Suddenly Tatooine becomes just a plot device to link these stories together in a rather flimsy way. Also, Anakin being the first human to podrace and then the first human to ever win the biggest podracing event on Tatooine less than 40 years prior to the events of A New Hope, and yet Luke not knowing anything about his father is absurd. It would be something that people who lived on Tatooine would tell their grandchildren. The story of Anakin Skywalker – the young boy who was the first human to ever win the Boonta Eve Classic and then run off to become one of the most well known Jedi in the history of the galaxy!
    Not near enough time has passed since The Clone Wars for no one to know who Anakin Skywalker is or ever talk about him or for Luke not to have any insight as to who his father was – especially since during The Clone Wars his father was a bonafide hero of the Republic. And doesn’t Luke ever wonder about the headstones out back and who they belong to?
    Again, this is an example of retconning going horribly wrong.
  6. Chewbacca knows Yoda – This really bugged me when they brought Chewbacca in for Revenge of the Sith. It just got to a point where Lucas was trying to connect so many dots that everything just became a huge mess. I understand this is before Chewbacca and Han Solo meet, but once again we’re forced in to a position to suddenly believe that Chewie was in The Clone Wars and fought alongside Yoda and helped him escape Order 66. I mean, c’mon! Seriously?
    I would have been OK with a cameo or something where maybe we see Chewbacca fighting alonside some other Wookiees, but for him to be one of the prominent Wookiee leaders in the war and to have that Yoda connection just feels (wait for it) forced. Just another unneeded character from the OT shoved in to the prequels so they could sell more toys.
  7. Yoda Fights of Fancy – I know I’m going to get bantha fodder for this, but I could have done without Yoda flipping around like a monkey jacked on heroin fighting Dooku and later Darth Sidious. It was unnecessary. We didn’t need it. Yoda is a bad ass mofo without having to do gymnastics.
    And he’s 800 years old. He literally dies not 30 years later. If he was that close to death I doubt he was limber enough to do the things he did in Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. It was dumb.
    He had issues lifting Luke’s X-Wing out of the swamp in Empire yet he was fighting Sidious 3 decades earlier without a hitch? It’s not consistent behavior for the character and it just comes off as bad storytelling. Yoda is not about fighting, he’s about wisdom. He’s the wise old sage who gives advice and teaches Jedi. He’s not a warrior. Not like he was depicted.
    But I know, I know. It was ‘cool’, right? No, it wasn’t.
  8. Padme’s Death – My problem with Padme‘s death is not the fact that she died (although her dying of a broken heart seemed very silly) it was her seeing her children as babies for only a few seconds before they’re whisked away to Tatooine and Alderaan. My issue with this is that in Return of the Jedi Leia recounts to Luke memories of her mother. Yet Luke has no memory of his mother. They’re twins and they were born at the same time and taken away at the same time. There should be no discrepancy here, and Leia would not remember her mother having just been born. But Leia does remember her mother. Enough to remember her being very beautiful but very sad.
    It’s a faux pas that should not have happened. But it did and now we’re stuck with these sort of inconsistencies that make these movies very disjointed from one another.
  9. Anakin’s Force Ghost – A lot of people have expressed their anger for George Lucas changing the end of Return of the Jedi and replacing actor Sebastian Shaw with Hayden Christensen for the Special Edition re-release. While Lucas was trying to tie the prequels to the Original Trilogy more directly it actually does not make sense why Anakin would even appear at the end by the prequel’s own logic.
    At the end of Revenge of the Sith Yoda tells Obi-Wan that he has some training for him while he is in exile watching after Luke on Tatooine. As Yoda states, “An old friend has learned the path to immortality. One who has returned from the netherworld of the Force… Your old master.
    This concept is explored further in The Clone Wars series where Qui-Gon and Yoda actually talk about this ability. Qui-Gon teaches it to Yoda and we can assume teaches it to Obi-Wan since Luke hears Obi-Wan during the Battle of Yavin and sees him in Empire and Jedi.
    It’s safe to assume that no one taught this trick to Anakin (nor Vader for that matter) and so for him to appear at the end of Jedi with Obi-Wan and Yoda makes no sense really.
    But that’s really not the major problem with the scene as much as the replacement of old Anakin with young Anakin. It makes no sense why Anakin would revert to his younger self since he died an old man. Some have made the leap that Anakin reverted to his younger self since that’s what he looked like when he was still a Jedi and before he became a Sith. But this doesn’t make sense either since Anakin killed the Emperor and basically redeemed himself by saving Luke (and the galaxy for that matter) and has returned to being Anakin when Luke talks to him just prior to his death.
    It is definitely up there with Greedo shooting first as far as stupid Special Edition changes, but it’s now canon and there’s nothing we can do about it except watch the pre-Special Edition versions and forget that the prequels ever happened.
  10. Midi-chlorians – By far the biggest mistake George Lucas ever made (besides Greedo shooting first) was explaining The Force. Throughout the Original Trilogy – and specifically in Empire – you are told that The Force is a mystical, ethereal energy field. It’s given a very esoteric explanation that completely works and gives it its mystery.
    As Obi-Wan told Luke, “It’s an energy field created by all living things,” and then expounded on by Yoda, “Life creates it. Makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us, and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter.
    It’s really a very beautiful thing in the Original Trilogy, but then that’s all swept aside as Qui-Gon tells Anakin, “Without the midi-chlorians life could not exist, and we would have no knowledge of the Force. They continually speak to you, telling you the will of the Force. When you learn to quiet your mind, you will hear them speaking to you.
    Now some make the claim that Midi-Chlorians are not literally “The Force” per se, but are, as Qui-Gon put it, “a microscopic lifeform that reside within all living cells and communicates with the Force.” Hence those fans feel that The Force is still The Force, and that Midi-Chlorians were simply invented to explain how Anakin could be ‘measured’ in terms of being ‘the one’ and having more ‘Force’ than anyone else. But I call BS on this because while his ‘Midi-Chlorian count’ is a simple way to convey to audiences how and why Anakin is the chosen one, his abilities and Qui-Gon’s ability to sense his connection to The Force would have been enough to convey the same ideas without adding these pointless microscopic life forms to the equation.
    Essentially Qui-Gon is saying that the Midi-Chlorians are the building blocks of all life and that they are how Jedi and Sith (and anyone for that matter) connects to The Force. Apparently all it takes to be a Jedi or a Sith is to have a high Midi-chlorian count.
    This completely takes away all of the spirituality of The Force and reduces it to scientific gobbledy-gook. It was one of the worst moments in Star Wars that I have ever experienced and I would rather have a stand-alone Jar Jar Binks film than the existence of Midi-Chlorians. But to each their own.

Fans will of course continue to defend the choices of George Lucas because he is after all the maker. He created Star Wars and so whatever he says goes, right? Not in my book. George made some big mistakes with the prequels and it hurt the Original Trilogy in my opinion.
But hey, we can all enjoy Star Wars in our own way. Some people don’t have a problem with these issues, others have excuses as to why they work and still others could really care less and just want to enjoy Star Wars for what it is, warts and all.

I don’t think all the retconning in the prequels was bad. I think Boba Fett being a clone and seeing his ‘father’ killed by a Jedi was fine. It makes sense and doesn’t really conflict with anything in the Original Trilogy.
The rise of Emperor Palpatine was interesting to see and didn’t really change his character in the OT. Also The Clone Wars, while not exactly how I pictured them, were done in an interesting way.
I’ll admit the prequels aren’t all bad. We were introduced to some great characters (Darth Maul, Qui-Gon Jinn, Jango Fett) and while it may have created some major continuity issues it’s still Star Wars and it’s canon, so at the end of the day all of my complaining is moot.

Still, I’d be re-missed if I didn’t express my feelings about what I see as problems with the Star Wars saga, hence this post.
Thanks for indulging me and if there’s anything I’ve touched on that you feel is incorrect or you’d just like to add your own 2 cents to the topic feel free to comment below.

May the Force be with you. Always.

2 Comments

  1. Point #2 – “R2-D2 Knows Everything”, the problem here is that while R2 and 3PO are beloved characters to us, and are very important to Luke & co. in the years to come, in universe droids are basically just appliances. Nobody recognizes R2 & 3PO because they ARE indistinguishable from any other astromech and protocol droid to them. Could you pick out your toaster in a group of a dozen similar toasters? This point also pre-supposes that R2 & 3PO are somehow unique, but in the SW universe, droids are as common an appliance as an oven or dishwasher. No more remarkable than your laundry machines are to you from any other laundry machines.
    Also, R2 never spills the beans because droids don’t “think” that way. In fact they don’t “think” at all. R2 never mentions that Leia is Luke’s sister or that Vader is their father because no one ever asked him. Does your computer just tell you things that it thinks you need to know? Of course not! You have to “ask” it. A droid, like a computer, is only as smart as it’s user.

  2. I disagree. Droids are more than just simple appliances in the SW Universe.

    Also, how many protocol droids has Owen seen on Tatooine? I doubt many, especially ones who talk with the same voice as Threepio since every other protocol droid we’ve heard has a different voice.
    Not to mention a protocol droid and a blue astromech? Not common on Tatooine I’m sure.

    Also, R2 is quite talkative and nobody “tells him” what to do. R2 does what he wants. This is apparent throughout the saga. He tells Threepio, Luke and Han that Leia is on the Death Star and scheduled to be terminated – nobody asked him for that information.

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