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Star Wars Chronology

On a lighter note, Jonathan Last notes that George Lucas has been introducing some puzzling chronology problems into the Star Wars movies:

INFINITELY WORSE is the end of the new DVD version of Return of the Jedi, which has been altered so that when Luke looks over at the ghosts of Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda, and Anakin Skywalker, the actor who played Anakin in the original trilogy, Sebastian Shaw, has been replaced by Hayden Christiansen, the actor who portrays Anakin in the prequels. . . .

(2) This creates a timeline problem for Lucas: If Anakin Skywalker is in his early twenties when he becomes Darth Vader, and Star Wars introduces us to a Luke Skywalker who is also in his twenties, that means that (a) When Darth Vader dies, he's only in his forties; and (b) the reign of the evil Empire has been barely 20 years--not nearly long enough for all the drastic changes we're led to believe have happened since the Emperor took over. For example, after only 20 years, would people already be regarding Jedi knights and the Force as "old wizards" who practice a "hokey religion"?

I would say, though, that the damage here has already been done by Episodes I and II. But it's a serious problem. The clear implication of Episodes IV-VI, and especially of Episode IV is that the Galactic Empire has been in place for a very long time and that the bulk of the Jedi were killed long enough ago for many people -- including high-level Imperial military personnel -- to think the whole thing is some kind of goofy myth.

October 4, 2004 | Permalink


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» The Problem with Star Wars from Backwards City
My big problem with Star Wars is that in a huge galaxy the same group of people keep running into each other over and over again. It's completely unbelievable. And Darth Vader built C-3PO, but nobody ever saw fit to mention this before now? And Uncle... [Read More]

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Jonathan Last on inconsistencies in Star Wars: This creates a timeline problem for Lucas: If Anakin Skywalker is in his early twenties when he becomes Darth Vader, and Star Wars introduces us to a Luke Skywalker who is also in... [Read More]

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But you're up against another constraint, namely that the span of Darth Vader is the age of Luke Skywalker and Leia. And they were pretty young in IV. Your just going to have to assume that the Emperor is much more competent at total evil than George Bush.

Posted by: Tim H. | Oct 4, 2004 10:08:37 AM

Oh, I don't know about that -- look how different the world is after only four years of Bush! I imagine that if these guys stay in power for another 20 years, rational folk like us will be sitting in padded cells, dimly trying to recall a world in which decisions where made based upon what was best for the country.

Posted by: Jordan Goldstein | Oct 4, 2004 10:16:12 AM

Bear in mind that the Senate was still in existence until a third of the way through Ep. 4.

What "drastic changes, " though? Stormtroopers garrisoned as far away as Tatooine? Remember, the Death Star was just becoming operational in Ep. 4, and the Senate was only then dissolved. The only incredible leap between Ep. 3 and Ep. 4 seems to be the decline of the Jedi reputation.

Posted by: Grumpy | Oct 4, 2004 10:23:02 AM

I agree with Tim H. The constraining factor is not any decision made in Episodes I or II, but the age of Luke in Episode IV. Clearly Luke had to have been fathered before Anakin turned to the dark side, so it could only ever had been 20 years. Although, I agree, they do make it seem like a lot longer (at least 50 years) in the earlier movies.

Problem (a) of the passage you quote isn't really a problem, as Anakin could easily look much older than his early-40s, since he's basically been on a life support machine for half his life. That can't help one's pallor.

Posted by: right | Oct 4, 2004 10:26:13 AM

Huh. Maybe it isn't true after all.

Posted by: praktike | Oct 4, 2004 10:29:56 AM

The answer lies in relativity. Let us suppose that part of what makes the Evil Empire evil, is that they do not allow freedom of movement within the Empire. Also, they most certainly are not free traders, thus creating the market for smugglers like Han Solo. Rebels, smugglers, and certain members of the Empire military are the only people that are traveling at light speed or beyond. These people are not aging at all, while thousands of years pass on the planetary level. The average recruit to the military only ceases aging when they are deployed. Darth Vader has presumbly spent his whole middle age at light speed or above, and is therefore ancient compared to the planetary beings.

Posted by: MichaelA | Oct 4, 2004 10:30:27 AM

Well, Hitler was in power for, what, about 11 years in Germany, with the last 6 being the effort to invade all of Europe. If you consider everything between movies 1 and 2 to be the build up of force, after a quick victory in the third movie, you'd have about 18 years of total domination and reeducation before the terrorists -- sorry, rebels -- defeated him. That long a reign could have some pretty lasting cultural effects.

As for the hokey religion thing, if you consider that the Jedi's lost so completely as to discredit themselves, and probably faced a massive propoganda campaign to dissuade dissidents from "using the force", and the idea the the Emperor's military leadership is bureaucratically suspicious of this Supernatural nonsense (although why the Emperor, a Sith, wouldn't train more of his forces in the mystic arts is beyond me), it's not inconceivable that the military would think of Jediism that way.

I agree, I think the overall story would have held together with more time between the establishment of the Empire and Episode IV, but when Lucas is throwing in things like Anakin building C-3PO, timelines are the least of our worries.

Personally, I think the second movie should have been the first (did we really need to see five year old Anakin running around?), the second should have been Anakin's fall (to parallel ESB), and the third should have been Vader's rise and the victory of the empire.

But he didn't ask me.

Posted by: Royko | Oct 4, 2004 10:31:54 AM

Taking the above comments a step further--the main leap seems to be in the view of the Jedi as some sort of old hokey religion. But saying this represents a vast change in 20 years relies on the assumption that the Jedi were widely seen as great and wonderful beings of power at the time of the first movies.

Is there any evidence for this, though? I could easily imagine that, in a galactic empire, the small number of Jedi could be seen as crazies by the great mass of people, especially the sort of can-do technologists that would likely be attracted to a military career.

Also, they'd just won a big war against the Jedi, wiping them out. That would naturally spawn som arroganec on the part of the victorious military leaders of the Empire.

Posted by: Doug Turnbull | Oct 4, 2004 10:33:44 AM

Note than in Eps IV-VI there's nothing to indicate that Anakin turning to Vader predated, or coincided with, the fall of the Republic and the rise of the Emperor. The impression I carried away was that the Empire had been in place for a long time, and that Anakin had been seduced by an already-in-power emperor.

Posted by: Jacob T. Levy | Oct 4, 2004 10:37:22 AM

With regards to the Jedi, remember that it is a "religion" that can only be practiced by the chosen few. Most people simply are not strongly enough connected to the force to get super-powers, so they're probably pretty resentful of it. So, it's not so surprising that they'd have the attitude that it's dying.

Posted by: Dan | Oct 4, 2004 10:45:12 AM

Was talking about this with my kids last night. Issac Asimov recounted an experience he had where he disputed a literature professor's interpretation of one of his works and the professor responded, "Why do you think you have any special insight into what this story means?".

At first Asimov thought the guy was crazy, but later realized he might be right. Asimov said he never again tried to interpret his own work or dispute anyone who did (that is what he wrote anyway. From other biographical sources I would wonder about that).

It is clear that George Lucas never had such a moment, and he badly needs one. Needed that is. Episode I might have been salvagable, but it is too later Ep II.


Posted by: Cranky Observer | Oct 4, 2004 10:53:58 AM

I think Doug Turnbull has the most acceptable apologists' take: The Jedi were never really publicly well understood or acknowledged to begin with. This doesn't seem to jibe well with the fact that even insectoid pawn shop owners on Tatooine seem to allude to them with a pop culture sensibility ("What are you, some kind of Jedi?"), but, well, had George Lucas done the prequels right (or not at all), the Jedis would be unseen ascetics.

As for the strength of the Empire, there's nothing that out-of-place about it. Imagine WWII militarizing and command economy on a galactic scale, and remember that what is known to be the Empire really comprised a galactic core with a few governors spread to insignificant outposts and a large dependence on Old Republic infrastructure (e.g., the clone army). Note that the Empire mostly traded on their name: They ruled with fear and they might have actually ruled had one of the Death Stars gone off without a hitch. Instead they were largely a naval fleet, a zealot's junta, with many sympathetic elements from the pre-existing Republican structure.

The real limiting factor here is Obi-Wan Kenobi. There's no good explanation for how you go from Ewen McGregor to a senior Alec Guiness in a matter of 20 years.

Posted by: Kriston | Oct 4, 2004 10:56:06 AM


Well, with Special Relativity, it is possible that it has been only 20 years for a Darth Vader jetting around at near light-speed, and yet 60 years for a planet-bound Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Not that Star Wars acknowledges the existence of science as something distinct from magic.

Posted by: Daryl McCullough | Oct 4, 2004 11:00:15 AM

Kriston --

Hmm. The desert is pretty rough. Compare Uncle Owen as well.

I don't think it's remarkable at all for a mysteriously strong minority to be resented, after they're wiped out, mocked and trivialized in short order.

Posted by: dbt | Oct 4, 2004 11:02:23 AM

The real limiting factor here is Obi-Wan Kenobi. There's no good explanation for how you go from Ewen McGregor to a senior Alec Guiness in a matter of 20 years.

I don't see much of a problem there. Guiness was born in 1914, MacGregor in 1971 (via IMDB). That will make MacGregor about 30 years younger at the time of Episode III than Guiness was at the time of Episode IV, maybe just slightly less than that (33/34 vs. 61/62). Will MacGregor look all that different, say, 4 or 5 years from now, and did Guiness look that different 3 or 4 years before they did Episode IV than he did when they filmed it? Probably not, in both cases. There's your 20 year difference.

Posted by: Haggai | Oct 4, 2004 11:07:05 AM

Isn't it strongly implied in Episodes IV-VI that Jedi age significantly more slowly than normal beings? Yoda after all is 800+ years old. Perhaps the same holds true of Luke and Leia, since they are the offspring of a Jedi - the mitochlorians provides some sort of pseudoscientific explanation for how Jedi longevity could be inheritable, and the childhoods of both were somewhat mysterious - Luke was brought to his aunt and uncle on Tatooine as an orphan of indeterminate age, right? Hence it is conceivable that 50 years DO pass between Episode III and Episode IV. I think Lucas introduced a lot of other continuity problems with the prequels, however... I still think the original trilogy is best viewed as the stand-alone classic it should be, whereas the prequels are, to use Kerry's phrasing, a profound diversion.

Posted by: Greg | Oct 4, 2004 11:08:48 AM


Huh. Maybe it isn't true after all.

I was drinking coffee while reading that. Damn near killed my computer.

Posted by: Garth | Oct 4, 2004 11:09:14 AM

There was already a chronology problem: look at how spry Yoda is in Ep. III when he's bouncin' all over the place with a lightsaber, and he's supposed to be what, seven or eight hundred years old?

And then by the time he's training Luke, he's about to buy the farm, not nearly as spry, lookin' plenty older. Which took all of what, forty years? a couple Yoda-years?

Posted by: chiggins | Oct 4, 2004 11:11:35 AM

"There was already a chronology problem: look at how spry Yoda is in Ep. III when he's bouncin' all over the place with a lightsaber, and he's supposed to be what, seven or eight hundred years old?

And then by the time he's training Luke, he's about to buy the farm, not nearly as spry, lookin' plenty older. Which took all of what, forty years? a couple Yoda-years?"

I think that could be explained by the general decline of the Jedi. Part of the deal with the Force is that all living things are connected, right, and the Jedi draw their power from it.. it stands to reason that if the Emperor took over, tipping things toward the dark side, creating a huge imbalance in the force, killing all the Jedi, etc. it could significantly weaken Yoda's life force.

Posted by: Greg | Oct 4, 2004 11:15:48 AM

Well, the reason why every insectoid pawn shop owner on Tatooine jokes about Jedi is that every single damn Jedi we've ever seen seems to spend a lot of time on Tatooine. It's a sort of Jedi Nexus. No wonder the natives are jaded.

George can still get around the problem of Luke and Leia being 20 years old while their parents' generation has aged 50 years. The necessary gimmick has already been introduced: it's called "carbon freezing". This would be a great Buck-Rodgersesque plot twist: what better way to convince Vader that his children are dead than to freeze them down in deep storage for 20 years, then thaw them out and let them grow up? "Those are obviously no children of mine/ [SINISTER BREATHING.] I haven't touched a woman in fifty years."

But George will never think of this, because he evidently does not care.

Posted by: GeorgeO | Oct 4, 2004 11:17:46 AM

In the Star Wars galaxy sound travels in a vacuum, so our ideas of space and time might not apply there.

Posted by: boom | Oct 4, 2004 11:21:33 AM

So, does anyone here actually know how old Anakin/Obi-Wan are when Luke and Leia are born? I mean, there is an entire movie yet to be released, that does NOT take place immediately after 2. Since it's at the end of 2 that you could probably argue that the empire truly begins (unless you consider it the dissolution of the senate, in which case its mid-episode 4), then its actually more than 20 years (the approximate age of Luke in 4) that the empire existed. So the ages are not necessarily out of whack. I thought I heard Lucas say once that the time jump between 2 and 3 is the second largest, next to the time jump between 3 and 4....

And please remember that there is a HUGE change that is to take place in the force in 3. Lucas has referenced it when talking about why Qui-Gonn didn't get a ghost body. Obi-Wan references it in 4, also.

Posted by: Dan | Oct 4, 2004 11:33:03 AM

Your blog failed to mention how old Anakin Skywalker was when he morphed into Dick Cheney.

Posted by: El Pollo | Oct 4, 2004 11:39:29 AM

You didn't mention the biggest abomination:

It looks like Jar Jar lives through the whole thing!

At the new ending to 'Return of the Jedi' when it shows the capitol cities celebrating, the one shows a tiny gungan character in the tower waving a flag and...the closed captioning confirms the line...says;
"Wesa free"

Gaah! That means he's gonna live through episode 3 now too.

Posted by: Doc | Oct 4, 2004 11:46:40 AM

is that every single damn Jedi we've ever seen seems to spend a lot of time on Tatooine. It's a sort of Jedi Nexus.Which makes it all the more bizarre that Vader never thinks to look there for Obi Wan or Luke.Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer | Oct 4, 2004 11:48:21 AM

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