Is it possible to establish canon in absence of official guidelines?
While discussing yet again Prometheus (in the intent to convince people is not as bad as they think), something interesting came up. While not directly referring to the franchise (since the timeline, like it or not, is pretty clear), the question of what is canon came up to me.
As you might now, sometimes ago I in fact made an article stating Prometheus hate is consequence of non-canonical theories. Some of these theories came from comic book runs, while others were most likely fan theories. The comic book runs were officially licensed, which is the reason why they were considered canon. Of course, once Batman made its way into the Alien and Alien vs Predator comics, it was pretty clear those were no more canon, or at very least became questionable.
It goes without saying that both AVP movies are not canon.
However. what about Alien: Isolation? For those who don’t know, that’s the name of an officially licensed 2014 videogame published by SEGA, and follows Amanda Ripley’s (Ellen’s daughter) investigating her mother’s disappearance.
The game itself doesn’t present any conflict with the film timeline, as in fact it happens between Alien and Aliens. However, when talking to Metro, the game lead console designer Clive Lindop stated:
we always avoided the question of canon to a certain degree because we’re never going to retcon the story or suddenly make massive rewrites to what happened in it
Basically, he’s stating that wanting the game’s story to be part of the canon was never a goal.
Which is understandable, as it gives you complete freedom when writing the game. The fact that it has no conflict is probably a coincidence.
Of course, same case could be made with Aliens: Colonial Marines, one of the worst tie-ins ever made (if you’re asking, Isolation is a very good game).
Keeping it to the Alien franchise for one more bit, there are rumors that Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrection will exit the continuity if Neill Blomkamp’s Aliens sequel will be produced.
Anyways, the question of what is and what’s not canonical has been subject of controversies for a long time, as not always it was specified officially.
If we enter the superhero landscape, we have a perfect example, and a really, really, bad example.
The perfect example is the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Every movie has its place in the timeline and it’s perfectly placeable. Even the TV universe (Agents of Shield, Agent Carter and the Netflix heroes) are all part of it, yet the choice was made to not intertwine them too much as the style differences are quite problematic.
The really, really bad example is the Fox/X-Men franchise. To be fair, I’m not talking about the productions’ quality, rather the continuity mismanagement. As y’all probably know, the franchise continuity is all over the freaking place. Before Days of Future Past, we had the main trilogy, which was pretty easy to maintain intact since, you know, they are direct sequels (even though we still have some minor issues). Than we had X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which literally broke the timeline with Sabretooth (here’s Wolverine brother, he dies at the end, yet he’s in the first X-Men not recognizing Wolvie at all) and a Cyclope origins incipit that conflict with the original trilogy.
We arrive at First Class, which is suppose to be a reboot, yet Wolverine makes a cameo, hence becomes a prequel where Xavier and Mystique grew up together and separate in the end, yet in the original trilogy they don’t give much of a damn about each other. We have The Wolverine, which fits perfectly after The Last Stand.
We arrive to everyone favorite’s Days of Future Past, which serve as a sequel to First Class, a prequel to the original X-Men trilogy, and a reboot because the resolution creates a totally new continuity. And, until here, nothing wrong except Wolvie’s claws are made of bones and not metal at the end of his second stand-alone movie. Then we have Apocalypse (which is part of the new timeline), and nothing wrong with this. Last but not the least we have Logan, which I think is simply a sequel to Days of Future Past new future timeline.
Just because I want to make things easier, here it is:
- X-Men Origins: Wolverine Prologue
- X-Men: First Class
- X-Men Days of Future past
- X-Men: Apocalypse (new timeline)
- X-Men: Supernova (if this will be the title)
- X-Men Origins: Wolverine – after prologue
- X-Men: The Last Stand
- The Wolverine
- X-Men: Days of Future Past Old Future Timeline
- Logan (new future timeline)
Deadpool is somewhere in there, probably after Apocalypse and even Supernova (if that will actually be the name).
You can see it yourself. When nothing is officially specified, is quite difficult to build things up.
That’s why sometimes companies come up with a way to officially establish canon once and for all. You can see that with what Disney did with Star Wars, as it literally released an official timeline, stating what’s canon and what’s not, with the latter simply called Legends.
In Disney case, it was done to have more freedom for future productions. In fact a sequel trilogy existed in novel form, but for obvious reason it was scrapped to become ‘legends’. As of now, even The Old Republic novels, comics and game are not canon anymore (despite the 4,000 years difference between these events and A New Hope), probably because something based on that fictional time is in the works.
So, in absence of actual guidelines, how should we define canon?
Generally speaking, you establish what’s the primary form of the franchise: in this day an age, most likely a movie or a game, less likely a TV series, most likely not a novel or a comic-book.
The primary narrative form of the franchise will have absolute priority in establish continuity. After that, any so called tie-n product will be canon unless it conflicts with the continuity established by the main narrative form.
While it’s not a vital problem, I think this could help the audience. Even though it’s nothing official, but more a logical puzzle.