The term “retcon” usually has a negative connotation, which is understandable. It brings to mind sloppy fictional timelines and contrived contradictions, which are not signs that everything is going great. But retcons can be used for good. Sometimes, the best way to deal with a story’s problem is to act like it never existed, as any in-universe explanation would be more trouble than it’s worth.
Star Wars has benefited from this type of retcon before, and we haven’t always noticed. You might recall how The Phantom Menace declared that there were only ever two Sith at the same time, something immediately ignored by TV shows because it would mean too few villains.*
As we move into the ever deepening pool of Disney+ Star Wars shows and even see the glimmer of movies on the horizon, the franchise could benefit from a few more retcons. What retcons does it need? I’m glad you asked!
Spoiler Notice: Obi-Wan Kenobi and The Mandalorian Season 3
1. Getting Stabbed Is Lethal
Star Wars has never had the best track record when it comes to realistic injuries. Back in Revenge of the Sith, Anakin somehow survives losing three limbs and getting crisped by a volcano. Meanwhile, Padme dies because the entirety of Star Wars’ pregnancy care is having a medical droid standing around looking confused.
Recently, a new trend has emerged that isn’t just pushing the boundaries of realistic injuries. In fact, it seems intentionally designed to destroy our suspension of disbelief. What is it, you might ask? Not dying when someone impales you through the abdomen with a lightsaber.
The first time occurs in the Kenobi midquel when Reva stabs the Grand Inquisitor so he can’t take credit for capturing Obi-Wan. He appears to die, which is a bit suspect because we know he’s still alive in Rebels, but maybe there will be an explanation. And there is! The explanation is that he… didn’t die. That’s it. If we want to be really generous, we could say that Vader was waiting just off camera with an advanced scifi med team.
But then it happens again when Vader stabs Reva in the same place. This time, we know for sure that there’s no super medicine available – the wound just fades away between scenes. The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett pull a similar trick, with Fennec somehow surviving a blaster bolt to the gut and a long bantha ride back to town. I’m starting to think this is a campaign by Disney to trick us into believing there’s nothing important in the human abdomen.
Fortunately, this retcon is remarkably easy to implement: stop shooting or stabbing characters in their center of mass when you want them to survive! There’s already a rather iffy conceit in fiction that any limb injury is survivable, and there’s no reason to push things even further. The alternative is watching this problem spread to other Disney properties as well. Black Panther 2 already had Shuri walk off an impalement like it was no big deal, and I don’t want to see the same thing happen in Snow White’s inevitable live action remake.
2. Droids Are People
I was expecting many problems from The Mandalorian’s third season: a meandering plot, Grogu having nothing to do, the Naboo starfighter not making any sense as a bounty hunter’s ship, you get the picture. What I wasn’t expecting was for Din Djarin to purchase an unwilling astromech and then bully the poor droid into performing a dangerous task that Din doesn’t want to do himself. And I definitely wasn’t expecting a plot where Din is racist against droids for a while, only to be told he’s wrong to do that because droids are super loyal servants who love their servitude.
I’d assumed that, after the failure of Solo, Star Wars would just ignore its Droid Problem forever, but apparently not. What’s the Droid Problem, you ask? Droids in the Star Wars universe are clearly sapient, as thinking and self aware as you or I, but they’re bought and sold like property. Fun fact: that’s called slavery!
Of course, one can quibble about how sapient droids really are. Modern AI programs like ChatGPT make it easier to imagine a robot that can mostly mimic human speech without being what we’d consider intelligent. There’s no way to say for sure, but there is an easy way to see that Star Wars doesn’t want us to think of droids as walking (and rolling) chat bots; if it did, it wouldn’t build attachment to characters like R2-D2, C-3PO, BB-8, K-2SO, etc. We’re supposed to care about those droids the same way we do organic characters, whatever the technical specifics.
What makes droid slavery such a thorny problem is that heroes do it just as often as villains. Even paragons like Luke Skywalker treat droids like property; he’s just nicer about it than the Empire. That’s why Disney is extremely unlikely to ever canonically address the problem, much as I’d love to watch a droid uprising trilogy. Disney wants to keep selling merchandise, and parents might be a little less eager to buy a Luke action figure if the franchise acknowledges that Tatooine’s favorite son engaged in a bit of light slave trading on the side.*
The closest Star Wars has ever gotten to dealing with this issue onscreen is in Solo, where L3-37’s fight for equality is the source of much comedy. It’s unlikely Disney will try that again since they seem to view anything from Solo as financially cursed. And, frankly, if that’s the best they can do, I’d rather they not address the problem at all.
Instead, the most practical solution is to simply start acting like droids aren’t property and have never been property. This wouldn’t be hard, and I doubt most fans would even notice. In addition to removing the obvious stuff like people buying and selling droids, we just need to see a few independent droid characters who don’t take orders from their organic costars. They can still do jobs like co-piloting X-wings and programming moisture vaporators, but for themselves, not an organic owner. If we want to get really fancy, one of Disney+’s bazillion new shows could work in a story where some droids commission and program a new droid – if someone decides it’s important for us to know where baby droids come from.
3. The New Republic Isn’t Terrible
It used to be that if you wanted to know anything about the government our heroes set up after Return of the Jedi, you had to read a book like some kind of nerd. But thanks to the latest crop of Star Wars streaming shows, we’re seeing more and more of the New Republic onscreen. It’s just a shame that we aren’t seeing anything good.
The first thing we see is that the New Republic is one of those governments that only ever exercises its authority in a way that hinders the main characters. It would be easy to assume that shows like The Mandalorian simply take place outside of the New Republic’s reach, but apparently not. They soon send a few X-wings to harass Din and Grogu while doing nothing about the many Imperial remnants running around in plain view. It doesn’t help that the X-wing pilots have the energy of bored cops trying to fill out a speeding ticket quota.
Back on Coruscant, we also learn that the New Republic is busily scrapping every ex-Imperial ship it can get its hands on, as well as the Rebel Alliance’s fleet. This is just such an odd choice when there are still Imperial warlords trying to bring the Empire back. But don’t worry, the New Republic isn’t just ineffectual, it’s also evil!
Enter the Imperial Amnesty Program, where everyone has their name replaced with a number. Because when I think of the good guys in Star Wars, I want to associate them with a dehumanizing bureaucracy. And if anyone steps out of line, the program puts them in a machine that forcibly rewrites their brain, or just fries it if someone sets the dial incorrectly. Adding insult to injury, it’s not clear that anyone in this program has actually committed a crime other than being in the Imperial military, which would have been standard practice for about twenty years.
To be fair, there’s no rule saying that the post-Empire government can’t be awful. It’s just not a good feeling. Our heroes spend three movies fighting to overthrow the Empire, and this is the best they can come up with? It’s not even that far in the future, so characters like Leia Organa and Mon Mothma are probably still involved. They seemed to know what they were doing, and it’s disheartening to see their efforts come to so little. I’m sure there’s a novel somewhere that explains how this all happened; I just don’t care.
Righting the New Republic’s ship in-universe would likely require more attention than Disney wants to give it. Certainly more than Din’s season three offer to do a bit of contract work on the side. We’d need an exploration of New Republic politics to show where this premature call for disarmament is coming from and what sinister forces are behind the so-called “amnesty” program. That’s a lot of bother for a government that gets blown up in the sequel trilogy anyway, and it would probably still be a major downer.
A more practical solution would be for future shows to change the way they portray the New Republic. If the writers don’t want Admiral Ackbar and his fleet swooping in to save the day, that’s fine. They just have to keep that lack of involvement consistent, rather than using the New Republic as an occasional speed bump to slow the heroes down. It also wouldn’t hurt to off-handedly mention something good accomplished by this second try at democracy, as a morale booster.
As for the so-called amnesty program, just… don’t do that kind of thing? I didn’t anticipate the need to explain why an ostensibly ethical organization wouldn’t take people’s names away or put them inside mind-control machines. It’s hard to imagine how this circle could be squared, even if they revealed that a bad guy was manipulating things from behind the scenes. Far too many people would have to go along with it. Better to never mention the program again.
4. The Jedi Aren’t a Cult
In the ancient days of The Empire Strikes Back, something happened that set the Star Wars universe down a dark path which would forever dominate its destiny: Yoda urged Luke not to rescue Han, Leia, Chewie, and C-3PO from Darth Vader.* How heartless and cruel! Why would a Jedi Master say such a thing? Oh right, because it was obviously a trap and Luke would get his butt kicked.
That all sounds fine, but somewhere along the line this scene morphed into the idea that Jedi aren’t allowed to form “attachments,” as established in Attack of the Clones. At first, this idea was mainly used to throw a wrench into Padme and Anakin’s romance, and like most other elements of the prequels, it doesn’t make any sense.
Attachment isn’t like getting married, you can’t just choose not to develop it! Spend enough positive time with someone and attachments are going to form. And we know it’s not just a euphemism for sex because the idea recently showed back up in The Mandalorian, where Grogu had to choose between Jedi training and ever seeing his adopted father again. We also know that the Jedi aren’t against any and all attachments because if you look at the relationships between master and padawan, it’s pretty clear people are getting attached.
It’s not entirely clear why the Jedi have this rule, but the best argument is that getting attached risks a fall to the dark side since a Jedi is likely to get upset when something bad happens to their friend/parent/mentor/lover/former roommate. Not only is that a dismal way to live, but it also doesn’t even make sense. What happens when a Jedi’s master or fellow knight is killed by one of these Sith that are always getting underfoot?
Instead of a precaution against the dark side, this rule feels like it’s designed to cut Jedi off from any support or social connections outside the order. Combined with how Jedi are almost exclusively recruited as children and… well, if it walks like a cult, talks like a cult, and isolates its members like a cult, it might just be a cult.*
Here’s the thing: I don’t want the Jedi to be a cult, and I don’t think Disney does either. This is the same company that made Rian Johnson walk back all his critiques of the order at the end of The Last Jedi. There’s no way we’re supposed to think that Luke and Obi-Wan are part of an evil religion. The anti-attachment rule is nothing more than a contrived way to generate social conflict, and there are so many better ways to do that!
One way to deal with this would be a story about reforming the Jedi’s rules, but it’s hard to imagine that going over well. For one thing, we’d have to acknowledge that the rule was wrong in the first place, which is unlikely. For another, the TV shows’ favorite era is a few years past Return of the Jedi, which means we’d have to bring back CGI Luke, and the less I see of that guy, the better.* The only other option would be a story set after the sequel trilogy, a time period that is currently off limits.
The much simpler option is to simply drop the anti-attachment rule going forward. Modern Star Wars is always super vague about what happened in the prequels anyway, so it’s not like we need this rule to explain Anakin’s fall to the dark side. Heck, we were most of the way there until The Book of Boba Fett invoked the rule to explain why Grogu would return to Din so soon. Before that, Rebels had Kanan getting romantic with Hera, and it didn’t cause any problems!* Just stick to that path and we should be good.
5. The Rebellion Wasn’t For Nothing
The Star Wars sequel trilogy is based on a flawed concept. I don’t mean that it has too many women or characters of color, or whatever else reactionaries are mad about today. I mean that someone* looked at these new films and thought “what if we just did the original trilogy again,” with scrappy rebels fighting the good fight against an evil space empire. Also, with an untrained Jedi fighting against a masked Sith Lord.
There’s an obvious problem here: the whole point of the original trilogy was defeating the evil space empire. The untrained Jedi went on to redeem his masked enemy/father and presumably train a new generation Force-wielding space wizards. Not only is doing all that again repetitive, but it requires undoing everything that our original heroes accomplished. The New Republic is unceremoniously wiped out by the First Order’s off-brand Death Star, and Luke’s academy is destroyed offscreen when Kylo Ren turns evil for… reasons.
This approach is responsible for a number of the plot issues that plague all three of the sequel films, but it has a deeper effect: everything in Star Wars feels pointless now. I suspect this is why none of the recent shows have been willing to go more than a few years past Return of the Jedi. What’s the point of building anything up since we know it’s all going to get nuked for the sequel films anyway?
It’s difficult to imagine anything that takes place after the sequel films, because what’s left for the heroes to do? Are they going to rebuild the Republic and the Jedi Order again? What would be the point? Even if everything works great this time around, it’ll be overshadowed by the sequels’ message that there’s no use in rebuilding since it’ll inevitably go to hell anyway.
When I first considered this problem, I thought the solution was to paper it over. They could say the Republic wasn’t destroyed, just put temporarily on the back foot. Perhaps enough of Luke’s students survived that they’ve restarted his academy, this time with 100% fewer broody Skywalker children.* Just reset everything and forget Starkiller Base ever happened.
This is all in line with my solutions in the previous sections, which is what you’d expect from a retcon article. But the more I consider it, the less I think that approach would work here. Previously, we were dealing with accidental implications or worldbuilding choices that don’t affect the plot too much, and none of that is true with the sequel films. Any retcons would probably ring hollow against the knowledge that Star Wars destroyed its future for the sake of reliving its past.
The only solution I can think of is to set the next generation of Star Wars stories far enough past the sequel films for the galaxy to have moved on into something entirely different. Of course, it can’t be too different. Remember the precious merchandising. But I still think it could work.
Instead of a second New Republic and Jedi Academy, why not show us a more decentralized Star Wars universe? Focus on individual star systems rather than assuming a single government would span the entire galaxy. The Jedi could work more like wandering mystics rather than having a central temple with bureaucratic administration.
This approach would allow for new stories that aren’t mired in the sequel trilogy’s defeatism, and it wouldn’t lose anything essential to the Star Wars brand. We’d still have spaceships, blasters, droids,* lightsabers, etc. It might not technically be a retcon, but it would definitely move the franchise in a different direction.
In any long-running story, fans will probably get attached to the continuity. That’s understandable, since well-planned continuity makes a setting more immersive and adds extra dramatic weight to the plot. But not all continuity is good continuity, and storytellers need to understand that. One might even say that we should let the past die, possibly kill it if we have to.
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