Tuesday May 17, 2005

On Continuity

On my about page (go ahead, I'll wait) I mention an interest in various wife-numbingly geeky subjects, including "the problem of maintaining continuity in long-running multi-author works like comic books and television shows".  I'd always intended to write a long post (or possibly dissertation) on this subject, so I was delighted to read this article by Todd Seavey about continuity in general and Star Wars continuity in particular.  (hat tip: No-sword)

I have one quibble with something Seavey says.  Fair warning: I'm going to geek out here, so either put on your Spock ears with me or bug out now.

Seavey writes:

Luke Skywalker’s mentor, Obi-Wan Kenobi, seemed unaware of the existence of Luke’s sister Leia in 1980’s Episode V. But Kenobi, played by Ewan McGregor in Episodes I–III, is likely to be quite actively involved in the whole plot about Vader and his estranged children. Will Kenobi indeed be kept in the dark about Leia’s existence, or will a contradiction be introduced?

I believe Seavey is referring to this exchange in The Empire Strikes Back:

YODA:  (sighs) Told you, I did.  Reckless is he.  Now matters are worse.
BEN:  That boy is our last hope.
YODA:  (looks up) No.  There is another.

This could be interpreted to mean that Yoda knew about Leia but Ben didn't.  However, consider this exchange from Return of the Jedi where Leia's parentage is revealed to Luke:

LUKE:  I can't kill my own father.
BEN:  Then the Emperor has already won. You were our only hope.
LUKE:  Yoda spoke of another.
BEN:  The other he spoke of is your twin sister.
LUKE:  But I have no sister.
BEN:  Hmm.  To protect you both from the Emperor, you were hidden from your father when you were born.  The Emperor knew, as I did, if Anakin were to have any offspring, they would be a threat to him.  That is the reason why your sister remains safely anonymous.
LUKE:  Leia!  Leia's my sister.

At this point in the story Yoda has already died (or done whatever it is that Jedi do when they evaporate inside their clothes).  Luke is asking Ben to explain what Yoda meant when he said there was "another Skywalker" and Ben, without apparent confusion, tells him about his sister.  This implies to me that Ben has known all along.  I certainly never got the impression that Ben hadn't know about Leia at the time of ESB and that Yoda has filled him in in the meantime.  I just figured that Ben didn't consider it a viable alternative to reveal Leia's past to her and start training her as a Jedi from scratch, so Luke was therefore their "only hope".

And thus, by arguing with a minor point in Seavey's article, I prove his larger point, which is that geeks pay an unreasonable amount of attention to consistency in fictional universes—not only do I have an opinion about what Ben knew at the time of ESB, I can write several paragraphs about it off the top of my head.  I actually have more to say about the problems associated with maintaining continuity, but it'll have to wait for another post.  I swear I only meant to write a quick single-paragraph post about this subject, and here I am rambling on way after the jump.  Sigh.

I am The Tensor, and I approve this post.
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» Darth Lucas: Continuity is for chumps from Semantic Compositions
Yesterday, The Tensor posted about an excellent essay on the subject of continuity in big, multi-author works written over long periods of time. Since today is the opening of the last Star Wars film, it's a good time to take [Read More]

Tracked on May 19, 2005 4:01:45 PM


Thanks for the tip on the article! It was quite amusing... stuff I don't spend too much time thinking about. I liked his points about Luke's aunt & uncle. The only thing I've thought about since ep. I, and I'm sure it's been written about at length already, is the cataclysm that must occur between ep. III and IV that sends the universe into a technological Dark Age.

Posted by: eric morse at May 17, 2005 1:00:13 PM

DC comics is the really interesting example there, I think, since "Crisis on Infinite Earths" (where they destroyed the entire universe) is the only really broad, official effort I know of to fix a broken continuum. I really hope the bastards don't do it again, though, since it's such a cheap way out.

Mainstream comic fans seem to be pretty much inured to continuity errors nowadays, actually (unless they're really egregious). There are just too many to bother.

Posted by: random at May 17, 2005 7:42:49 PM

I followed the link form no-sword, too, and had pretty much the same reaction you did: recognizing the description of my geekish self, and then reverting to those geekish tendencies by nitpicking his points. I even had the same reaction about the Obi-wan thing; the continuity problem with Obi-wan isn't about Leia, it's his failure to recognize R2 in A New Hope.
Ditto with "imagining a better story". It's kind of sad to not be able to turn those tendencies off.

Posted by: Big Ben at May 17, 2005 9:02:07 PM

This has always worried me about prequels. Though Mr. Lucas has kept his vision fairly consistant throughout the SW series. Though how thi all will fit in with the book/comic series I don't know. For example Luke's search for his mother in the book series and how she was part of a super-secret concurrent path to the Jedi, which never even got a mention in these prequels.

Posted by: Alistair at May 18, 2005 9:32:37 AM

Thanks for the link!

I'll just note that the specific continuity problems identified here are _also girl-related_.

The conclusions to be drawn are obvious.

Posted by: Matt at May 18, 2005 9:59:13 PM