Few sagas have as many canon inconsistencies and retcons as Star Wars, but those are actually a great thing for the franchise. Starting in 1977 as a big gamble, Star Wars quickly evolved into a global phenomenon that today represents an important part of pop culture. Despite the periods without movies being released, Star Wars never left the popular imaginary and remained a valuable brand.
A lot of this comes from the fact that Star Wars has grown into other media. In addition to the movies themselves, books, comics, games, and TV shows have become quintessential not only to the Skywalker Saga but also to other stories within Star Wars. Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm changed the rules about canon and continuity, but the making of more and more Star Wars content for different media never stopped.
A legacy of over forty years crafted by different creators in different media also means the existence of many canon inconsistencies. No matter in what order one watches the Star Wars movies, headscratchers and plot holes will be part of the experience. Although theoretically negative, those canon failures and timeline gaps are inevitable and can help Star Wars feel always alive and open to new interpretations — thus being the best for the franchise.
From Luke and Leia being revealed as siblings in Return of the Jedi after kissing in The Empire Strikes Back to Kanan’s Order 66 experience being different in comics and animation, Star Wars collects not only plot holes but also dozens of retcons based on said plot holes. The original trilogy alone had a long list of inconsistencies, including but not limited to why Vader could feel Luke was his son but not Leia, why Luke seems to have spent a few weeks of training with Yoda when Leia and Han Solo were with Lando in Cloud City for what if felt like a few days only, or why the Emperor never went after Skywalker’s children if he knew about them.
Compared to the plotholes that would emerge with the making of the Star Wars prequel trilogy, however, the mentioned inconsistencies seem small. By setting the Star Wars story back 30 years before the Battle of Yavin, George Lucas was given the chance to show the origins of iconic characters like Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi, but the creative choices made by the sole director and writer ended up adding major plot holes to an already convoluted saga. Obi-Wan was no longer Yoda’s sole pupil as suggested by The Empire Strikes Back but instead, the apprentice of a never before mentioned Jedi name Qui-Gon Jin; the local clothing of Tatooine happened to be the same clothing every Jedi used; Leia’s mother Padmé died in childbirth despite Leia stating she remembered her; Obi-Wan knew R2-D2 and had an R4 despite stating in the original film he never owned a droid, and the “Darth” in Darth Vader was no longer a first name as suggested in the original Star Wars but now a title shared by other villains.
A franchise that has existed for 45 years in different media is bound to have canon inconsistencies no matter how well planned it is. In the case of Star Wars, in which new backstory and important events are always being written and the gaps are always being filled, this is even more understandable. As important as canon is to a large part of the fanbase, for a long time the creative wishes of George Lucas and whoever else bought a license to write Star Wars trumped any attempt to establish a single, cohesive story.
Star Wars‘ own conception was bound to produce canon inconstancies as the stories for the first three movies were not defined from the start. Up until the second draft of The Empire Strikes Back, Darth Vader was not even supposed to be Luke’s father – which shows how little in advance the major points of Star Wars were planned. That said, many of Star Wars‘ plot holes could have been avoided – especially those originating from the prequel trilogy. George Lucas had three movies worth of lore, dates, and background to write the prequel trilogy based on, but the director preferred to go against what he had already established. It is worth noting that the prequel trilogy was made more than ten years after Return of the Jedi, meaning Lucas must have changed his mind about the story he was telling. The director was not afraid of retconning his creation, and thus elements like Yoda not being Obi-Wan’s sole master or Luke and Leia’s mother dying in childbirth came to be. Essentially, in the eyes of Lucas, those inconsistencies were a price worth paying.
In addition to the prequel trilogy, another factor that contributes to the creation of plot holes in Star Wars is how it became a transmedia franchise. Even before Disney acquired Lucasfilm, the Star Wars saga was already being told through books, comics, animated series, and video games. When so much content is being created, and usually by completely different creative teams and studios, keeping consistency is extremely hard.
Maintaining consistency was exactly the mission Disney set out after buying Lucasfilm. In fact, before Disney, there was never such a thing as an official Star Wars canon. Everything George Lucas had a say on, and that included the six movies and Star Wars: The Clone Wars, were obviously as “canon” as something could be, but nothing was saying that a book from the Star Wars Expanded Universe or a video game was not part of the official story. However, the fact the definition of the Star Wars canon was so loose created so many inconsistencies that Disney had to try some sort of reorganization, especially to have a clean slate for the sequel trilogy. It was then that all books, comics, and video games released before the acquisition were declared non-canon and labeled Legends.
The decision was controversial, but it ensured that for the first time in decades Star Wars had a well-defined canon and chronology. This especially helped new audiences, who now knew what they should and should not consume to follow the Skywalker Saga. However, not even Disney’s Lucasfilm was able to prevent every plot hole or canon inconsistency from happening. Star Wars: The Bad Batch, which showed a different Order 66 moment for Kanan and his master compared to the story shown in the post-Disney purchase comic arc, is just one example.
Almost half a century after the first Star Wars movie was released the saga still does not have a perfect canon and nothing indicates that things will start to change. That, however, is not necessarily a bad thing. As proven by the examples listed in this article, Star Wars was born off of retcons and last-minute changes, and a lot of the saga’s charm comes from those little trivia and age-old debates such as working out the correct order to watch the Star Wars films.
In the real world, history is rarely a matter of clear and established fact, with it being written by victors and including biased or misremembered accounts of events. The history of the real world is also filled with myths and legends that might once have been based on factual ideas but have since been discounted as fiction. The original Star Wars of 1977 nodded to this idea with Han Solo dismissing the idea that Jedi and the Force were real. The endless retcons and contradictory stories that appear in the Star Wars universe canon and in Legends help to be part of what makes all of the stories told around George Lucas’ original idea feel more real and as part of a wider reality. History in the real world is imperfect, and Star Wars‘ lack of a perfect canon makes it richer by making reflecting that aspect.
More than that, the constant mission on the part of not only the audiences but also creators to fill in gaps and fix the Star Wars plot holes and retcons can often be the inception of new, fresh stories that end up adding a lot to the saga. Obi-Wan Kenobi, which will further develop the relationship between Vader and Obi-Wan despite A New Hope being dubious about what their last encounter had been, is a great example. Essentially, having to improve the story and explain gaps in the timeline, something shows like Clone Wars and The Mandalorian have done so well, is one of the reasons why Star Wars remains a living-breathing saga that is still a commercial success.
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