If you’re a fan of some long series of books or comics, games or TV-show, chances are that you’ve partaken in discussion pertaining canon. That is, discussion (or more often than not, flamewar) of events that happened within a given fictional setting and how these events relate to each other. It is the nerdy version of two historians or otherwise more well-versed people discussing real world history in its proper context, perhaps even debating different points of views past scholars have made.
Let’s be honest here; canon is something that can and will change however the author, group of authors or the property owner wants at any any given point in time. It is completely malleable, everything that has been put on paper or on screen can be waved away for whatever reason given. Retroactive canon is nothing new to any enthusiastic follower of a given story with multiple entries throughout the years. Small events are changed here and there, additions and retractions. Larger stories become a mess due to constant additions. New stories set in different time frame contradict previous stories either directly or introducing stuff that wasn’t there before for no other reason but to inorganically tie this new story to the older. Then you have remakes breaking the older canon by introducing all this new stuff and supposedly fixing what was broken in the old. Unless the work in itself is completely finished and the author is resigned from changing it, no fictional story is ever set in stone.
Silly Aalt, we just didn’t know they existed before the story told us about them. I don’t play the canon game like that. They didn’t exist in the canon until they were retroactively inserted there. Discussing things as they happened is fine and dandy. However, ignoring the real world situation and events when something new and out of place is introduced, like the aforementioned relatives, the thing muddles. The authority of course will try to play things in order to placate the fans, or in some cases, the investors. This doesn’t remove the fact that something like Spock’s adopted sister in Star Trek Discovery was pulled out from their ass. At this point oh so many fans will point out different variations of canon, how TV and silver screen events are only true canon and numerous books, guides, comics and whatnot do not count. Though even then, what’s on those screens doesn’t add up all the time, and then they have to issue a magazine article or a book to cover their asses.
Sometimes changing canon can change the whole motif of the work. For Muv-Luv, if you take into account the later explanations how the dimension travel and branching timelines work outside the main body of work, you’ll find out that there are multiple continuities within the BETAverse continuity itself, making Takeru’s sacrifice all but meaningless for all those other continuities. Takeru didn’t end up saving that world at the end of Alternative because of the timeline retcons, just one version of it. The literary motif of a person going through groundhog day loop to save in the name of true love was effectively destroyed.
Is that headcanon I see? No, that’s common sense. I said I don’t play these games. The obsession toward canon strong enough for people to invent new terms and ways to deal with it, like headcanon, i.e. a personal interpretation of events. In the current era of personal feelings and opinions being the height of argument, yeah just go with it then.
Though to be serious, that’s another issue with the whole canon thing. Unless the events are made crystal clear with no ambiguity, you’re more or less asked to refer to a source material like some book, or in modern cases, wikis that just list everything under the sun. Memory Alpha, the Star Trek wikia, is special spectrum kind of levels on the details they list in each entry. Things like how Warp Factor’s speed changed between The Original Series of Star Trek and The Next Generation. Nobody makes a fuss about it on the show or even acknowledges it, but writers’ guides changed how the speeds were represented. In The Original Series, you could go past Warp 10 speeds, but in The Next Generation Warp 10 was maximum speed you could go. The Star Trek Magazine did recognize this and made it work, but that’s not from TV or movies, so according to owner rules, it ain’t canon. It just stays one of numerous discontinuities between the two shows, but we fans are very apt at making excuses for sloppy writing and changed rules on a whim. For all we really know, Warp 10 as the max speed would apply to The Original Series as well and anything that went over Warp 10 should be corrected proper.
Star Trek is the most overused and driest example anyone could use for a discussion about canon, but its so persistent in our global pop-culture that there’s nothing like it. We know Spock, Kirk, Picard and so on. It’s easy. Not so much with Star Wars, but that’s a whole another topic. The fandom is known for its religious level of knowledge of the show and everything surrounding it that it’s become a living joke in itself. A respected joke, but a joke nonetheless. A Trekkie or Trekker, same deal.
While I’m at it, Ex Astris Scientia has a good article on visual (dis)continuity between Star Trek productions. if you got few minutes to kill, give it a look out of interest.
That’s not being fair. No, it it isn’t. The whole deal isn’t fair to the consumer and fans overall, and yet there is this obsession on canon, on what really happened. Well nothing really happened, but the question I always ask Why can’t we treat these as their own stories? What is it that makes fans so keen on sticking to canon? I really don’t know, and I doubt anyone has a wholly satisfying answer to give. Perhaps its the fact that these stories we love are modern myths and legends, that we find something to love and shower ourselves with the how interesting the world and its characters are. We want to know more about all of it and how it all works together as wholesome piece.
The obsession persists in every corner of each fandom. It can’t be escaped. Perhaps long-form storytelling became popular because of this, but even them most shows that try it are episodic in the end, allowing the episodes to have standalone stories within the larger line. Y’know, something some TV-shows like Buffy did well beforehand.
All this demerits each of these stories as a single standalone piece and as a totality. For whatever reason the holy pedestal of canon can’t deal with stories that stand and use the overall frame as the main part of the fictional world. For example, can’t we take all Star Trek series as their own work with works within them all the while dismissing the overlooming canon? Apparently not. People get rivaled up for everything. Reality is, of course, that Spock did not have an adopted sister or a cousin looking for God in The Original Series, but the obsession to fit everything in a single fictional history overtakes this. This is very marketable. Perhaps time and effort would be better spend in discussing the merit of the work rather than its fictional history that is very much dependent on the whims of the author.