A History of the ICS Canonicity Myth

The June 2003 issue of the "Star Wars: Insider" magazine published an article about the making of the Original Trilogy and Episode I Incredible Cross-Sections books, written by the author of those children's books.  The Insider article included the following statement in the first paragraph:

"The first two Incredible Cross-Sections books were conceived to explore bold new territory in the Star Wars universe, taking a rare look inside more vehicles and vessels than we had ever seen before, and doing in in unprecedented detail. These books would represent the most thorough research ever done on these vehicles and would receive Lucasfilm's formal imprimatur as canon. These volumes would henceforth be sent out to licensees as reference guides and would become useful manuals for Industrial Light & Magic, where some of the artwork influenced details in Episodes I and II."

 - David West Reynolds, Star Wars Insider #68, p. 36

Some took this to imply that the ICS books are just as canon as the films, because Reynolds said Lucasfilm said so.  The claim was precarious for a wide variety of reasons.

For starters, this would be the first book that Lucasfilm had declared to be canon.  As specified on the pages of this site, the inclusion of the novelizations is mostly traditional, based on a 1994 comment by Rostoni and Allan Kausch of Lucas Licensing, which for a long time was the only indication of a canon policy.  Their words have since been backed up in part by Steve Sansweet of LFL Fan Relations via his quotation of Cerasi's stance, but nonetheless we've never seen any formal imprimatur of book canonicity from LFL.

As a corollary to that, it would be altogether peculiar if the first book to get such a status was a children's book.  Star Wars juvenile fiction works are not generally ranked with as much importance by the EU fans or by Lucas Licensing . . . to have Lucasfilm hold a completely contrary viewpoint would be quite odd, indeed, especially given the unexpectedly-low sales of the Episode I ICS (source).

Further, the timeline of this formal imprimatur was precarious, at best.  The article required us to believe that this declaration of special canonicity occurred no later than 1999, when TPM came out, and possibly 1998, when the first of the books appeared.   We hadn't heard a peep of this out of Lucas or Lucasfilm.   That is, of course, unless you count when Lucas said (in 2002)  that books are part of a parallel universe from his own, or when we heard from Sansweet and Cerasi in 2001, who said that the absolute canon is the films.  They only mentioned the novelizations as being "very accurate depictions" of that absolute canon.   Where were the earlier ICS books?

Of course some retorted, and quite correctly, that newer policy statements override older policy statements.  They believed that because this 2003 article said the books were canon then it must be so, no matter what was said before.   

However, that argument was wrong in two ways.   First, a newer comment can only override an older comment if the speaker's rank is sufficient.   Rostoni of LucasBooks and her 2001 "everything's canon" statement doesn't override the Sansweet/Cerasi LFL position from a couple of months earlier, because Sansweet outranks Rostoni in that regard.    Rostoni, meanwhile, would outrank an EU author like Reynolds, and an EU author would outrank a janitor.  If, tomorrow, a janitor pointed to a spot of goo on the floor at Lucas's ranch and said that was The One True Canon, we could comfortably ignore him.   Similarly, Reynolds can be disregarded.

Further, Reynolds does not simply say that the ICS is canon now.  If it said the ICS had just been canonized, there might be a worthwhile argument.   However, because he says the ICS was canonized at least four years ago, we have a four year body of evidence from LucasFilm to compare it to . . . producing a contradiction with Lucasfilm statements.  According to StarWars.Com (1, 2), for instance, the ICS books had always been a part of the Expanded Universe materials, which are not canon according to Lucas and LFL.  (To be sure, Lucas Licensing considers it canon as far as they are concerned, but we'll return to that point shortly.) 

Therefore, though it might be a recent comment, it says something we know to be incorrect.

Some then theorized that the quote simply meant that those earlier ICS books had been retroactively canonized.  However, that made little sense.  The formal imprimatur supposedly came before the books were used for TPM and AoTC, which means that the canonization couldn't have been retroactive from 2003.  (Can Lucasfilm 2003 change Lucasfilm 1999 policy in 2003?  Of course!   Can Lucasfilm 2003 change Lucasfilm 1999 policy in 1999?  Of course not!  (In other words, you can change your mind now, but you can't change your mind then.))

And so, the lone source of this statement of ICS canonicity was the author of the first two ICS books himself, Mr. Reynolds . . . and his lone voice was contrary to the rest.

As a result, those who were familar with the Star Wars canon policy were perplexed.   Had Lucasfilm engaged in a special declaration of book canonicity and then carefully hidden the fact?   Or was there some more reasonable explanation?

In fact, there was.   Numerous observations about the Reynolds claim appeared, some based on the points above.   Others involved the simple fact that very few people distinguish between Lucasfilm and its subsidiary companies, such as Lucas Licensing and its subsidiary LucasBooks.   Then there was the confirmation of EU status which appeared in the very same article's sidebar, where the ICS books are placed in the same category as other Dorling Kindersley-published works like the "Inside the Worlds" series.  The purpose of those books is described by the series editor and author as "to accurately rationalize what's seen in the film and then extend the universe that little further."  Extending the universe is, of course, the role of the Expanded Universe. 

Of course, the reason the debate raged was simple.   If the ICS for Episode II were canon, then the firepower figures that Saxton, Wong, and others "calculated" would be official Star Wars fact instead of simple overinflation of misinterpreted EU sources.   The weak link in the argument is that the Episode II ICS was not mentioned as being canon like the rest of the ICS books supposedly were, not to mention the fact that the author of the E2ICS (and continuing EU author) Curtis Saxton seemed to be blissfully unaware of the canon status of his book.  Hence his efforts to explain himself regarding it, while not bothering to mention that the work is canon and thus official Star Wars fact.

Last but not least, the only party who has directly claimed that any book was canon has been the group from Lucas Licensing, including Rostoni and Chee.  Lucas Licensing uses the term "canon" to describe their in-house continuity of Expanded Universe materials (1, 2, 3), but they are obviously unaware of any special Lucasfilm canon status assigned to the book.

These various observations can only lead toward one inescapable conclusion.  Reynolds simply erred by referring to the general company Lucasfilm, and instead was referring to the fact that the book was canon insofar as Lucas Licensing made it so.

In other words, accepting that the ICS books were LucasBooks/Lucas Licensing "canon" explained everything.  

While the logic was inviolable, there were counterarguments which were attempted.   One was to claim that since the ICS was used backstage, it had to be canon.   Make no mistake, it is quite true that the ICS books were used backstage.  Besides some people spotting ICS books being used on the Star Wars Hyperspace webcam that showed behind-the-scenes activity during the making of Episode III, we had additional statements to confirm its use.  As per Hans Jenssing, one of the artists for the ICS books, "Our work is considered definitive and used for reference by Lucasfilm and ILM!!!"   Ryan Church, SW Concept Designer for the films, referred to the ICS books as a source of inspiration and "a great starting point when we're adding to existing locations", though another Star Wars book featuring pictures of the actual sets and models was considered their "bible".

But does use backstage prove LFL canonicity?   Well, no.  Backstage use has never been suggested or implied as a criteria for canonicity in the canon policy of either Star Wars or Star Trek, or even in religion.   No such rule has been in place, either explicitly or implicitly.  And, besides the scripts to the films, no backstage-employed material has been canonized.   So, to conclude the existence of such a rule was illogical.

The most frequently-employed countargument is that Steve Sansweet of LFL Fan Relations was listed as an editor for Insider, for which he wrote articles on collectibles.  As an editor, it was argued, he would have seen that statement and its mention of Lucasfilm and allowed it to pass.   Thus, they believe, the statement has the full weight of Sansweet behind it, even though it is a direct contradiction to his own previous statements and quotes (and even moreso since Reynolds claims that at least one of these books has been canon since 1999).

The problems with that counterargument are manifold.   First, it assumes that Sansweet and Reynolds both would've been insistent on the correct use of "Lucasfilm".   If there's one thing that becomes clear when you look through the canon policy quote list, it's that few people have bothered to do that.   All too frequently, "Lucasfilm" is simply used as a blanket term for any Lucas company.  This was even common even before the 2003 corporate reorganization, before which the Lucas companies were entirely separate entities instead of subsidiary separate entities.    Given Sue Rostoni's blanket use, that of numerous EU authors (including Saxton of the E2ICS, who should know better), and especially the use of it in the press, we can hardly expect that Sansweet would've been a company-name-Nazi like I am.   This is especially true given that Sansweet has frequently referred to LucasBooks as if it were an actual company with employees (1, 2, 3).   LucasBooks is merely a publishing imprint, a union between Lucas Licensing's Publishing department (and then only the adult fiction novel side of it) and Del Rey, the publisher.   Thus, we have no reason in the world to suspect that he'd have been "on the ball" in that regard.

Second, it assumes that Sansweet (a) saw the statement and (b) approved of it.   We know Sansweet has a title of editor there, but his precise role is not known.   It seems unlikely that a man as busy as Sansweet is expected to personally slog through the magazine, and given his contrary opinion stated elsewhere it's more likely that he didn't see or approve of it.

Third, it argues for a "tacit consent" theory of decision-reversing and policy-making . . . i.e. the assumption that those of lesser rank can override the stated positions of higher-ranked authorities so long as the higher-ranked authorities have not explicitly argued against the lesser-ranked statement after the statement was made.   Or, put more simply:  we know what Sansweet says, and it ain't what Reynolds says.   You can't say Sansweet agrees simply because he was there.

Finally, Leland Chee and Sue Rostoni of LucasBooks placed it as a canon work only insofar as the LucasBooks/Lucas Licensing in-house canon is concerned.  Rostoni went further on another occasion, answering a question about ICS and placing it along with "everything else" . . . i.e. the EU.   And, a year after the article first appeared, Leland Chee placed it in the EU even more explicitly, stating that the ICS and similar books "are treated no differently than any other books".   He himself places them within the EU continuity, and not within the ranks of the Lucas/Lucasfilm canon.

Sansweet has not explicitly reversed his viewpoint on canon, a viewpoint which has been well-established and is in keeping with Lucas's own well-established viewpoint.  Therefore, unless and until Sansweet explicitly reverses himself, the logical position would simply be that he either didn't edit that article or, if he did give it a read-through, let an instance of company-confusion slide.  After all, the book is canon to Lucas Licensing's publishing department, as they've said repeatedly.

Otherwise, we're left with the peculiar belief in a strange claim of Lucasfilm-decreed secret canonization of a children's book some years ago.   

And yet, in spite of the failed counterarguments to the obvious conclusion, some continue to insist that the ICS books are just as canon as the films, or at least just as canon as the novelizations.   

One thing I don't mention in the above is that the Episode II ICS book, now held as the Holy Bible of pro-Wars debaters, is never referred to by Reynolds as having the same formal imprimatur as his own books.   This fact is commonly ignored by pro-Wars debaters, who insist that it's part of the same series and therefore must get the same treatment.

The primary question that claim and the rest of this situation brings up is, just how flimsy are our standards of evidence to be regarding the canon issue?   Are the hallowed halls of canon to be opened up to the EU hoi polloi just because any Joe Blow says so, or are we to determine what is canon with as much rigor as we approach everything else?    I prefer the latter . . . hence my disallowance of the Trek tech manuals based on a lack of direct statement of canonicity.  My opponents, meanwhile, prefer the former.

And let's face it, I find the situation rather amusing.  When Lucas's Cinescape quote about the "parallel universe" came out in 2002, they wailed and gnashed teeth and are still trying to figure out some sort of logically-valid escape route from it . . . mostly they just put their fingers in their ears, close their eyes tightly, and do a lot of shouting about a fragment of the quote which they feel can be reinterpreted, and that this will override the rest of Lucas's quotes.

In 2003, this questionable quote came out.   One high profile pro-Trek debater conceded almost immediately, and I was desperately seeking confirmation from Lucasfilm sources to see what I needed to do next.   It turned out to be nothing, of course, but this wasn't known at first.

Makes you see which side has the honest people in it, doesn't it?  One side rejects things out-of-hand, the other side looks at the evidence honestly (even if they disagree about what it means).


(Several objections have already been mentioned in the above.  Below are lesser objections that, though invalid, are worth comment.)

0.  Why do you say it's a children's book?

Because they say so.   Unlike the Trek technical manuals of Sternbach and Okuda, the ICS books are specifically listed as children's books.   Published by Dorling-Kindersley and part of their long line of cross-section books aimed at pre-teens (1, 2, 3, 4), the ICS books are intended for 8-12 year old children (1, 2, 3, 4, 5 (see DK's selected press reviews), 6, 7) and marketed alongside Star Wars sticker books, Essential Guides to Disney characters, and so on.

1.  You say that the ICS books showing up in the EU section of the official site means its EU.  Well, "Infinities" stuff is on the EU part of StarWars.com too, and Infinities isn't EU.   Doesn't that support the idea that the EU section is just a catch-all, and not a basis for argument?

No.  Materials with the "Infinities" tag are still Expanded Universe materials . . . they are simply not a part of the EU Continuity.   As Chris Cerasi explained:  "In order to allow unlimited freedom of storytelling, the Infinities label has been placed on the anthology series, Star Wars Tales. This means that not only can the stories occur anywhere in the Star Wars timeline, but stories can happen outside continuity. Basically, if an event happens in Tales, it may not have necessarily happened in the rest of the expanded universe."

Note well:  "the rest of the expanded universe".   It is EU material which does not necessarily exist in the parallel EU timeline.

2.  The ICS books just talk about the movies.  That means they're no different than the novels, scripts, or radio plays, which are also canon.  Therefore, they are canon, too.

Wrong, both in relation to the ICS books themselves, and the underlying theory of how canonicity is determined.

First, specifically regarding the books, the artists are given access to backstage material, and they then get to speculate beyond that.  The same is true of David West Reynolds, the author.  Their speculation doesn't have to be based exactly on what they saw.   (The situation gets even worse when you consider the AoTC ICS, in which Saxton based his text on EU materials like comic-books, in spite of the canon representations.)

Next, the general theory itself is invalid.  What people who accept that theory have done is to try to extrapolate a general rule from the specific examples of what is traditionally the canon.   They see "movie-stuff", and think that therefore all "movie-stuff" must be canon.   

That extrapolation is invalid.  It ignores the fact that the canon elements are all dramatizations of some sort, either visual, audio, or text. A picture book with some extra words thrown in is not drama, or canon.  The TPM 16-month calendar that gave data points on the film (including how Maul tracked the Queen) is not drama, or canon.  Behind-the-scenes books are not canon, either.  More importantly, it ignores the fact that not even every dramatization is canon. Examples include the Marvel comic renditions of the films, manga versions of the movies, graphic novelizations, juvenile fiction versions of the films, and so on.  

The reasoning is invalid for those reasons, and one more, besides.  We are told, by Lucas and his authorized agents, what is or is not canon.   We don't have the liberty of guessing for ourselves, unless we wish to throw objectivity out the window.

3.  Part of your argument is just a big ad hominem against Reynolds/Rostoni/et cetera.

No, we're trying to establish the validity of the I68 preface statement.  We can't automatically assume the validity . . . the preface statement is contradictory to the established history of LFL statements.   So, judging whether or not whoever the speaker is has the authority to make the claim about canonicity is important.    Unfortunately, David West Reynolds does not have the authority to override LFL.

4.  Whaddya mean, 1999?  Who said any of the books had to be canonized then?   

David West Reynolds.   The tense the author used is somewhat arcane, but we still get a clear chronological progression at the points marked in bold:

"These books would represent the most thorough research ever done on these vehicles and would receive Lucasfilm's formal imprimatur as canon. These volumes would henceforth be sent out to licensees as reference guides and would become useful manuals for Industrial Light & Magic, where some of the artwork influenced details in Episodes I and II." (Emphases mine.)

First, there was the LucasFilm imprimatur.  Then, the material was sent out as artistic reference.  And last, but certainly not least, it influenced details in The Phantom Menace.   

TPM came out in May, 1999.   The OT ICS must therefore have been canonized prior to this date.   Attack of The Clones came out in May, 2002.   The TPM ICS must therefore have been canonized prior to that date.  And logically, of course, both would've been canonized much sooner, owing to the fact that movies aren't finished the day they premiere.

5.  Why are you saying that it wasn't the preface to the article?   

Because though the artfully-placed title cuts through the text of the article, simply reading the next paragraph makes it clear that what was thought to be the "preface" by some was indeed part of the article.   The same quirky tense is employed, and the same thoughts are extended further in that paragraph.   That next paragraph also has the author referring to himself as "me".