How Early Christian Canon Resembles Star Wars Fandom

starwars_luke_icon[This post pre-dates the Disney buy-out of Lucasfilm, which expunged all previous canons]

Consider the following quote: “[Canon]…should be looked at as a set of stories written by many different people which document past events. Although some stories are more reliable than others, they all are looked upon as part of the overall history.”

Although you might think I am citing from a New Testament textbook…I’m actually pulling this from the exhaustive and thoroughly enjoyable compendium of Star Wars lore: Wookieepedia.

Why would Lucasfilm publish an entire article on canonicity?

Well, you see, the ‘90s was a tumultuous decade for the Star Wars faithful. After the publication of the bestselling Zahn novels between 1991 and 1993 CE, Star Wars stories exploded in popularity. Novels, comic books, and video games all plumbed the depths of the Star Wars universe that the movies couldn’t possibly have covered with their limited storylines.

However, with this newfound popularity, a schism was brewing.

Countless “purists” rejected these texts as heretical bastardizations of the original movies, deriding momentous events like the birth of Jacen and Jaina Solo or Luke Skywalker’s marriage to Mara Jade  as spurious fabrications simply because they did not derive from the canonical movies inspired by the Creator—George Lucas.

In the early 21st century CE, though, Lucas Licensing  convened several councils to agree upon the Star Wars canon. Through their efforts, they have developed a hierarchical structure dubbed the “Holocron continuity database” that tracks all Star Wars spin-off material into a harmonious corpus.

The 6 movies constitute the G-canon (the George Lucas canon if you will), which takes priority over all other material as “what actually happened” in the Star Wars Universe. The Television Canon (T-canon) covers all of the Clone Wars TV series—ranking a step below the movies in terms of believability. Finally there is the C-canon, which is an apocryphal collection of texts that may or may not be historically accurate but definitely are held dear by fervent sects within the Star Wars community.

Sound familiar?

Both Star Wars fandom and the nascent Christendom of the first centuries CE share some similarities:

1. An inspired creator (God)

2. Authoritative authors (the Apostles)

3. Purists vs. less-discriminating fanboys (4-Gospels-only vs. Gospels of Thomas/Peter/Andrew)

4. Arguments over canonicity (St. Athanasius, Eusebius, Synod of Hippo)

5. Spin-off series and sequels (Acts of Paul and Thecla)

6. Prequels (Infancy Gospel of Thomas)

7. A rabid fan base

This analogy more importantly highlights their respective concern for historicity…”what actually happened.”

Although I can’t begin to surmise why Star Wars fans care so much about historicity, I imagine many early Christians did because their faith was contingent upon historical events that needed to be true…namely the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Such a glut of contradicting stories about his resurrection (compare the docetistic Acts of John with the Gospel of John, for example) likely caused consternation not unlike our feelings of shock and confusion when we realized that Yoda was not Obi-wan’s master as The Empire Strikes Back implied.

However, I might be importing a modern concern on the early Jesus followers. Perhaps they just wanted a good story? And St. Matthias fleeing a hoard of hungry cannibals sure beats St. Peter’s walk on water as far as excitement goes.

Andrew Henry is a PhD student in early Christianity at Boston University. His research focuses on the popular and domestic religion of the eastern Mediterranean, particularly the magico-religious rituals deployed to harness and direct ritual power.

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