J K Rowling, George Lucas, and Retcons (Mostly A Rant)

This wasn’t a post planned in advance, but when I saw the ‘news’ where J K Rowling ‘announced’ that she regretted pairing up Ron and Hermione in the Harry Potter series not long ago, I felt the need to say something about it. (Though I am aware that in the full interview her comments weren’t as retconny or controversial as the original snippet were.) The actual content of what she said didn’t affect me much–that plot thread wasn’t super important to me when I read the books–but I found myself irritated. After all, this isn’t the first time she’s ‘come forward’ with a ‘revelation’ about the series. I doubt I’m the only one who finds this annoying.

It isn’t the content of the ‘revelations’  that annoys me, nor is it the fact that she’s still talking about a long-ended series. The revelations didn’t affect the books themselves, so I don’t particularly care, and as long as there are fans of a series, they will discuss it and have questions for the author about the world(s) an author has created. What bothers me is the fact that these Rowling revelations are more or less retcons, changing something about the story or saying she wished she’d changed something, with no good reason for it. And it’s suspicious to me that the two big ones, the Dumbledore bombshell and the more recent comments on the Ron/Hermione pairing just feel like they were done with a headline in mind (and both provided great headlines). I’m not going to say that she’s only doing this to keep the Harry Potter books in the news, but that’s one of only two possible reasons I could see for this, the other being that she lacks faith in her own creations, and feels a need to insert or change things.

Which brings me to George Lucas and Star Wars, in particular. In this case, unfortunately, Lucas actually been able to make changes to the movies. As anybody with an internet access has probably heard about at least one of the controversies surrounding changes to the original trilogy. It seems that every new release of the movies had multiple changes. Most of them are small, and a fair number are actually correcting small flaws from the originals, which on its own is alright, but others are much more drastic, ranging from adding CGI stuff to them that wasn’t originally present to actually changing scenes, most infamously the scene with Han and Greedo in the cantina and Vader’s confrontation with the emperor in Return of the Jedi. Despite being almost universally reviled, Lucas has kept these changes in, in some mad attempt to ‘perfect’ his work. While I only suspect J.K. Rowling’s lack of faith in her creations, with Lucas there is no doubt.

I don’t know if I’m alone in this, but I have trouble with creators, particularly those as successful as these two, who doubt themselves so much that they mess with it afterward. Nothing will ever be completely perfect; even the best stories will have some plot hole, something that doesn’t make sense if you really think on it enough, but that’s alright. Authors, filmmakers, artists, they’re all creators. We create new things. Tinkering with something complete, especially when it’s been acknowledged as good and beloved by many, feels almost blasphemous in addition to betraying a lack of confidence. (And just to be clear, this is not meant to apply to fixing genuine errors, such as a scene in a movie where the production crew was visible, or a typo in a book, or a place where a character’s eye color inexplicably changed. These do not change anything essential, just minor little details missed in editing that have no relation to the story.)

So now I need to figure out how to tie in my mini rant with writing, preferably in a positive way…

How about this? When we create our own worlds, characters, stories, above all else we should have faith in our creations, understand that though there might be flaws in it, it is ours, and done to the best of our ability. (And after all, if we get it published, it usually means it is good.) However great the temptation to tinker with a completed, published story, we need to trust it to stand on its own. By going back to make changes (or even by discussing changes we’d ‘like to make’, we devalue the work in the eyes of those it was put out there for, the readers. After all, we’ve all seen what happens when a creator can’t leave well enough alone, and I’ve heard of many people who can’t even stop editing as they write.

So until next time, keep writing, keep creating, and above all, trust in your creations to stand. Once it is complete, it is complete, even if you don’t like how that one town looked. (And remember that we do have the chance to fix things in editing before its out in public. That’s not only okay, but necessary. Speaking of which, I should get back to editing.)

8 thoughts on “J K Rowling, George Lucas, and Retcons (Mostly A Rant)

  1. Though in one sense I agree, I’ve always been a perfectionist type and have OCD, which is why I’m still re-writing a story I started 8 years ago! Yes, I know, that sounds bad, but shortly after each draft I just don’t like it. I’m trying to change that, but it’s hard. It’s possible both Lucas and Rowling have similar issues as I do. In fact, I’ve met several other people on writing sites who are working on the same project for years.

    1. I definitely understand your point; I used to be a bit too perfectionist myself. It very well may be that Rowling and Lucas have done what they’ve done because they’re perfectionists, but in their case it’s different from someone who’s constantly revising something they’re working on. Their works were released to the public, at which point they should be done. That’s the only reason I take issue with them. Making changes to something already out (and very much loved) is the problem, especially when those changes make it makes the work worse or is used for publicity.

      1. Then I’m just as guilty as them as I’ve told others and even posted drafts I claimed were finished and then shortly after take it down or make changes and over that I rarely tell anyone what I’m doing because I know their annoyed of hearing me say “it’s done” and then turn around and say “nope, never mind, I’m re-writing it again.”

      2. Point taken, though I still maintain that there is a difference when someone of their level of fame retcons or otherwise tries to alter their widely popular and successful work. That’s the only reason these incidents became ‘controversies’ (especially in the case of Lucas, who’s continued to make changes despite a vocal fan-base voicing their anger over past changes).

  2. “This is where the phrase, “perfect by its imperfections” applies. Stories work best via contrast. Action needs moments of quiet. Comedy needs moments of seriousness. Likewise in a work by a person with a singular vision the tiny missteps can highlight the greatness of the best moments. It’s part of why I think so many objected to George Lucas’ special edition of Star Wars. While I understand Lucas’ desire to remove the imperfections in his movies, the removal of those imperfections lessened the moments that were pure perfection. Likewise with the prequels. There are some great moments in them, which just makes the really bad points harder to ignore. This isn’t an excuse to be sloppy – all storytellers should strive for perfection – but rather permission to accept the mistakes you’ll end up making.” –Me.

    1. I agree completely. Once the story is done and released, it should be done (with books, fixing typos readers find is ok, but that’s it.) As I think I mentioned in the post, it’s a matter of the writer having faith in the quality of their creation and trusting readers to like the story despite a couple minor imperfections.

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