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About Star Wars Universe

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Institutions can also come to replace the author entirely. For instance, on October 30, 2012, the Walt Disney Company assumed control of Lucasfilm after a $4 billion sale. Lucas stepped down as Lucasfilm president, to be replaced by Kathleen Kennedy; this move effectively stripped Lucas of much (if not all) of his authority over the Star Wars universe, and also made Lucasfilm a direct subsidiary of Disney. Following this transition, Chee’s position was liquidated and in its stead Disney created a new story (Moore 2014). On April 25, 2014, this group announced the expunging of the Expanded Universe from the Star Wars canon; this meant that all stories (not counting the original Star Wars films themselves) released prior to October 30, 2012 were officially dubbed non-canon. In an abrupt reversal of opinion, most fans had stopped listening to either Lucas and/or Chee. They instead focused on what Disney and its story group—the highest authorities—had to say about the canon of Star Wars.

The understanding that there exists more than one type of media creator (e.g. the author, institutions that hold copyright, and those that work for said institutions) problematizes the conception of the Author-God, and by extension, how canon can be understood and also how fan editors can create articles on canon. Who is to be listened to? One group of fans may elevate the words of the author to the highest form of ‘Truth,’ whereas others may look at the declarations of the company that holds the rights to the media object. This divide causes collaboration to slow down (and sometimes cease entirely) and conflict to start.

Indeed, such a conflict was at the root of the ‘Star Wars canon’ talk page debate. Despite both Lucas and Chee being in positions of authority, fan editors had differing opinions as to the level of that authority. This necessitated an explicit delineation of who possessed it. Both of these quotes contend that Chee is to be considered an authority because he understands the inner machinations of Lucas himself. It is important to note that the two editors did not claim that only Chee was to be considered an authority figure, but rather that both the declarations from Chee and Lucas should be used to create an article on canon.

Those who approved of the link, however, rejected such a claim, arguing that Chee was merely an underling of Lucas, and thus not in a position of authority. These quotes contend that only Lucas can determine what is the ‘One True Canon.’ These four snippets of text illustrate the issue at hand: two sides of a fandom having differing interpretations of as to who is to be considered a/the author and thus who has the final authority. The conception thereof, however, is one of subjective interpretation.

A final way in which the conception of the Author-God’s authority can be further problematized is by questioning the very assumption inherent to many fan editors that they themselves do not participate in the construction of canon. From an ethno-metapragmatic view, fan editors see the talk page as a space wherein they, via debate, can locate the ‘One True Canon’ set down by the author. From their perspective, the debate is merely the process of sifting through information to find the ‘Truth’ that is assumed to be ‘out there’; in their minds, they are not creating, but merely aggregating. The reality, however, is that a debate like the one in question is productive, in that it is not merely a deposition of information that needs to be sorted, but rather an elaborate ritual in which information is cited and a final product created from these citations; put differently, it is a process. As a result, the author still holds a key role in the construction of canon, but the involvement of fan editors cannot be overlooked.

We have established that, despite the widespread belief, there often is no one Author-God, but rather many author-gods. However, in order for a single, monoglossic canon article to be construct, the fandom editors must choose and listen to one Author-God. The process by which this is done is marked by highly ritualized citation.

Returning to our case study, the Star Wars fan editors, we clearly see that the fandom editors began to make use of direct quotes from ‘expert authorities.’ Some editors, such as MikeWazowski, who contended that Lucas alone was the final Star Wars authority, based their argument largely by explicitly citing the following quote by Lucas:

Other fandon editors argued that the Extended Universe and the films did exist in the same universe, cited the following quote by Chee to support their claim:

The use of direct quotations like these is an example of the enactment of expertise. According to E. Summerson Carr, expertise (Carr 2010: 18, 19). This means that people have to become experts via the deployment of choice citations, which index valued knowledge. (Nakassis 2013: 56) The citation of authorial quotes on the part of fan editors is not only an index. Rather, it is an iconic indexical, both pointing towards the author’s original statement(s), as well as attempting to duplicate and reproduce what the author said. Put another way, by indexing the author’s sayings, the fan editor is trying to point towards the ‘real’ canon, but by iconizing the author’s quotes, the editor is also attempting to ascribe that same authority to themself. As such, instead of merely appealing to authority, the citation of authorial quotes is also an attempt to participate in that authority (Cf. Mazzarella 2015). (Carr 2010: 18) This participation allows for an editor to inhabit the role of an authority figure. Successful inhabitation of such a role therefore allows for their assertion to be seen as (more) definitive and thus be taken (more) seriously.

JimRaynor55 and The Wookiepedian were able to employ several citations from multiple sources (Lucas and Chee) to back-up their point; MikeWazowski et al. were unable to do this, since they relied on only a handful of quotes from one person (Lucas).

Of course, victory only comes when that temporary authority is recognized; it does an editor no good if others ignore their assertions and citations. And what we find in the case study is clear and explicit example of temporary authority being recognized: several editors, such as SincereGuy and Beryoza, entered into the canon war and supported JimRaynor55 and The Wookiepedian’s argument. Ultimately, SincereGuy and Beryoza recognized the validity of JimRaynor55 and The Wookiepedian’s argument in large part due to their citation of recognized experts (i.e. Lucas and Chee). Eventually on September 7, 2006, the ST-vs-SW.net link was finally removed by editor Rogue 9. This meant that not only did neutral editors like SincereGuy and Beryoza agree with JimRaynor55 et al., but so did the opposition. Once again, the temporary authority of JimRaynor55 et al. was upheld.

While it was but one of many debates about canon that have raged online, the ‘Star Wars canon’ talk page debate is worth particular scrutiny for two reason. First, it is rich with detail, allowing for the relative ease of data observation and extrapolation. Second, it is easy to access, allowing a scholar to see clearly the dialogic and performative process embraced by fandom editors. As such, I contend that the debate can serve as a sort of microcosm, allowing fan scholars to better understand how some of their subjects approach and ultimately understand the concepts of canon and ‘Truth,’ and how they create articles concerning that canon.

The results of this ethnography suggest that in canon talk page debates, the talk page itself functions as a preconscious and heteroglossic forum in which competing interpretations of canon come into contact with one another. Fan editors hold an ethno-metapragmatic understanding that—by espousing these varying interpretations of canon—they are not taking part in the construction of canon (as Barthes would argue), but rather aggregating canon that has been set down by the author. As such, the author of the media franchise in question is viewed by many fans as the final authority in matters of canon. I thus contend that the author is often conceived of as a folk ‘Author-God’ (to borrow a term from Barthes), who is, as a result, often described with quasi-religious language and treated with a sense of reverence by fans. However, in cases where more than one author is invoked, fans seek to settle the debate by citing and thereby participating in the authority of the author(s) whom they are backing. The interpretation of canon that emerges victorious at the end of the debate is more often than not the interpretation espoused by the editor who is able to best cite/participate in the authority of the author. A talk page canon debate ceases when the temporary authority of an editor is recognized, and the editors agree upon one interpretation of canon. This interpretation migrates from the talk page to the main article, whereby it becomes a monoglossic representation of the ‘One True Canon.’

Perhaps most importantly, however, is that these results (which ultimately are general observations of fandom editor activity, and not specific only to editors’ understanding of Star Wars canon) can be applied to other instances of talk page debates concerning canon. This is largely because almost all media franchises grow and expand, meaning that canon for any franchise—despite some fans’ insistence—is never truly set in stone. Therefore, in almost every fandom circle, some event (e.g. a new movie/book release) will occur, opinion will divide, two or more interpretations of the ‘One True Canon’ will emerge, and the battle lines will again be drawn on Wikipedia talk pages. In instances like these, the results of this ethnography will allow media theorists to better understand the canon wars with which they are dealing.

The ethics of online ethnographer are hotly debated to this day (Wilson & Peterson 2002: 461). Others, like Lynne Schrum, have proposed guidelines for ethical online ethnography. She suggests that researchers should, among other things: be overt about their intentions, hold all correspondences as private, and strive to create a climate of trust between themselves and their research subjects (Schrum 1995: 323–324). With that being said, Wikipedia’s privacy policy makes it very explicit that every edit made is visible to all and available for use. These licenses unambiguously allow for duplication and modification, especially in regards to research (Wikipedia 2016, Wikipedia:Copyrights).

Lucas is still by and large considered the ‘author’ by Star Wars fans, but at this point, it is more of an honorific title than one bearing authority. Indeed, Lucas does not enjoy anywhere near the authority he used to; for instance, his ideas for the seventh Star Wars film were completely discarded by Disney, and he had no involvement in the film following this (Agar 2016).

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