A retcon, short for retroactive continuity, is an interesting storytelling device. It’s essentially when filmmakers create a new work that revises the events or details established in a previous work. In other words, it’s going back and redoing stuff. Sometimes, a retcon is a good thing, as it can be used to tackle plot holes or reinterpret details. But most of the time, retcons prove to be controversial, especially when they create inconsistencies or overhaul beloved aspects of a story.
Star Wars is a perfect example of this. There have been a number of retcons in the Star Wars franchise since the original film debuted in 1977. Some of them are great. Others are, well, not so great and make us scratch our heads, wondering if the creators even know their own material. For better or worse, here are the biggest retcons throughout the Star Wars franchise.
Obi-Wan’s Master Wasn’t Yoda
Jedi Master or not, Obi-Wan Kenobi has the worst memory of any character in Star Wars. Either that or he’s the most frequent victim of the franchise’s retcons. In The Empire Strikes Back, arguably the greatest Star Wars movie ever, the Force ghost of Obi-Wan (Alec Guinness) urges a dying Luke (Mark Hamill) to find Yoda, “the Jedi Master who instructed me.” Since then, it was accepted that Yoda was Obi-Wan’s master. But The Phantom Menace, the first film in George Lucas’ prequel trilogy, retconned this, confusing fans when it turned out that Obi-Wan was actually trained by Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson). This was retconned again though — and for the better — when the last movie in the prequel trilogy, Revenge of the Sith, set-up Yoda to train Obi-Wan on how to communicate with his deceased master.
“NOOOO!” Added to Return of the Jedi
Star Wars creator George Lucas loves to edit the original trilogy. He added tons of special effects, most of which don’t improve upon the films. Other revisions include Anakin Skywalker and Return of the Jedi, the last movie in Lucas’ original trilogy. One in particular is enough to make you scream, “NOOO!” at your screen. Now if you’re a Star Wars fan, you know exactly what this refers to: that scene in Revenge of the Sith when Anakin (Hayden Christensen) becomes Darth Vader, learns of his wife’s death, and delivers one of the oddest yells in cinema.
Even if you’re not a Star Wars fan, you probably know this moment; the image has become a viral meme on the internet. For whatever reason, Lucas decided to add this same vocalization in Return of the Jedi, at one of the most pivotal moments in the story, which sadly takes away from the scene. Apparently, Lucas didn’t think that Vader silently glancing back and forth between Luke and the Emperor, and then picking the Emperor up and tossing him to his death to protect his son, didn’t make his conflict clear enough.
Hayden Christensen in the Original Trilogy
At the end of Return of the Jedi, after redeeming his father, Luke gazes out into the distance, at the Force ghosts of Obi-Wan, Yoda, and his father, Anakin. In the original version, Anakin is played by an appropriately older gentleman, Sebastian Shaw. But Lucas retcons this in the newer version of the film and replaces Shaw with Hayden Christensen, who portrays Anakin in the prequel trilogy. It’s an odd choice. Why is Anakin so young while Yoda and Obi-Wan are so old, appearing as they did at their time of death? Lucas said that it’s because Anakin died the day he became Darth Vader, but it still feels like a silly and unnecessary change.
Obi-Wan’s Previous Relationships
A lot of characters meet for the first time in the original Star Wars film, A New Hope. Or do they? In this movie, Obi-Wan and everyone’s favorite sassy droid, R2D2, appear to be strangers. Yet in Lucas’ prequel trilogy, we see these characters interact, along with C-3PO, many, many times. Revenge of the Sith retcons this detail for C-3PO when they mention erasing his memory. But R2’s memory, and certainly Obi-Wan’s memory, are never erased. So how could they not recognize each other in A New Hope? Although a better question to ask may be: why would Lucas go this route when R2D2 and Obi-Wan give no indication that they know each other in A New Hope?
In that same scene, Luke and Obi-Wan already seem well-acquainted; Luke immediately identifies him as Ben Knobi, and Obi-Wan calls him “young Luke” without them being introduced, as if they had already known each other for years. The Obi-Wan Kenobi show on Disney+ retcons this for the better, establishing that Ben and Luke actually have met before. But the show also negatively retcons Leia and Obi-Wan’s relationship, showing that the two of them should be much closer than implied in A New Hope.
Darth Maul’s Death
For many fans, The Phantom Menace is one of the weakest films in the Star Wars franchise. But one of its brightest spots is Darth Maul (Ray Park), the horned Sith lord and badass with the double-bladed lightsaber. Maul quickly became a fan-favorite villain — so much so that Lucas retconned Maul’s blatant death (the dude was sliced in half). He was brought back in the animated TV show The Clone Wars and in the live-action film Solo. But because the character was so beloved among fans, nobody seemed to mind.
Leia’s Memories of Her Mother
In Return of the Jedi, Luke (Hamill) asks Leia (Carrie Fisher), “Do you remember your mother? Your real mother?” Notice the emphasis on real here. Leia tells Luke that her mother was very beautiful, kind, but sad. These qualities do describe Padmé (played perfectly by Natalie Portman), Luke and Leia’s biological mother, except there’s one problem: Padmé dies during childbirth in Revenge of the Sith. Sure, Leia mentions that her mother died when Leia was very young. But unless she has some crazy Force powers (she can fly through space, after all), Leia shouldn’t have any memory of her birth mother.
Palpatine’s Surviving the Events of Return of the Jedi
This is arguably the worst retcon of all time — not just in Star Wars but in anything. Known as the sequel trilogy, Episodes VII – XI were a hot, incoherent mess that yanked the Star Wars franchise in many different directions. And none of them very good. While The Force Awakens was a nostalgic, carbon copy of A New Hope, The Last Jedi tried so hard to be unique. Too hard, some might say. The film presented bizarre new Force powers, established its heroine Rey (Daisy Ridley) as a nobody, tossed its main villain Snoke (Andy Serkis) carelessly aside and gave him no backstory, and criminally underutilized Star Wars’ greatest hero, Luke Skywalker (Hamill), excluding him from the action and leaving him to die alone on a foreign planet. The Last Jedi divided audiences worldwide.
Desperate, Disney brought back J.J. Abrams, the director behind The Force Awakens. Abrams basically retconned everything from The Last Jedi. But the most glaring retcon was the return of Emperor Palpatine, who had apparently survived his death in Return of the Jedi and had been pulling Snoke’s strings all along. While this retcon did make Rey more interesting, it completely took away from Darth Vader’s satisfying redemption and the Return of the Jedi’s finale. In the end, it’s Rey who kills the villain that’s dominated Star Wars for nine movies, not Darth Vader. This retcon felt like the filmmakers were on the ropes and out of ideas, so they resorted to Palpatine, a well-known and previously established villain, and brought him back from the dead — and that’s probably how it actually went.
Changing Who Shot First
“Who shot first?” is one of the most hotly debated questions among Star Wars fans. And it all stems from a George Lucas retcon. Han Solo (arguably Harrison Ford’s most iconic role) is the badboy of Star Wars, a rough-around-the-edges character who won’t hesitate to pull the trigger of his blaster. Or is he? In the original version of A New Hope, Han is cornered by the bounty hunter Greedo, the most famously short-lived character in Star Wars. As Greedo threatens to turn Han over to Jabba the Hutt, Han stealthily grabs his blaster and shoots Greedo dead, unprovoked, right there at the bar. It’s an iconic Han Solo moment. But George seemed to think that it made Han look a little…too rough around the edges. Over the year, Lucas has revised this scene multiple times in multiple ways.
In the 1997 version, Han does an awkward and blatantly obvious CGI dodge and shoots his blaster after Greedo fires his, making the kill an act of self-defense.The 2004 version has both characters firing at the same time, though Greedo still fires slightly earlier. And the 2011 version shows this scene happening so quickly that you can’t tell who shoots first. Although it’s a fiercely debated topic, real Star Wars fans know the truth: Han is a badass and, of course, he shot Greedo first.
Death Star’s Flaw
The Death Star is famous in Star Wars mythology. And it pops up again, and again, and again throughout the films. Back in 1977 though with A New Hope, the Death Star was a cool and original idea. But there was always one problem: there was a gaping flaw in its master design that, when exploited, could destroy the entire Death Star. How could the Empire overlook such a glaring issue? In a truly brilliant move, Rogue One, easily the best Star Wars film to come out of Disney, reveals that this design was intentional. The space station’s architect, who didn’t support the Empire, secretly built a vulnerability into the Death Star, which the Rebel Alliance later takes advantage of in A New Hope. Touché, Rogue One, touché.
Darth Vader Really Did Kill Anakin… From a Certain Point of View
Here we have one of the most famous and beloved retcons of all time. In A New Hope, Obi-Wan (Guinness) tells Luke that Darth Vader betrayed and murdered his father, Anakin Skywalker. But The Empire Strikes Back flips that statement on its head when Darth Vader declares one of the most famous (and most misquoted) lines in movies, “No, I am your father.” Obi-Wan’s Force ghost confirms this in Return of the Jedi, famously telling Luke, “What I told you was true…from a certain point of view.” Understandably, Luke responds to this with a baffled expression. Decades later, Disney+’s Obi-Wan Kenobi double-downed on this perspective and backed it up. During their final battle, a beaten, helmet-shattered Darth Vader (Christensen) tells Obi-Wan, “You didn’t kill Anakin Skywalker. I did.” Obi-Wan’s “truth” may be a bit silly, but it ultimately led to one of the greatest twists in cinema.