The Best and Worst Star Wars Retcons of All Time

Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford in "Star Wars A New Hope" star wars retcons

Change has become a defining characteristic of Star Wars, with later additions to the franchise retconning several pre-established details about the Star Wars universe time and time again. Whether it’s a sudden revelation about a character’s past or complete overhauls of an entire period in Star Wars’ chronological history, George Lucas and Disney have never shied away from tweaking their expansive franchise as time goes on.

With all the Star Wars retcons over the years, some of these changes have met with a more controversial response from viewers. On the flip side, though, some of these retcons did help ensure a more cohesive narrative within Star Wars, guaranteeing a smoother chronology from one film to the next.

From details about certain characters’ biographies to critical changes about Order 66, check out some of the best and worst Star Wars retcons fans have seen yet.

Best: Darth Vader’s Origin As Anakin Skywalker

Star Wars Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back James Earl Jones, David Prowse
Image Credit: 20th Century-Fox.

While George Lucas has always claimed to have the entire Skywalker Saga mapped out in his head from the very beginning, specific details surrounding the Original Trilogy call this into question. (After all, if Lucas had always envisioned Leia and Luke as siblings, why on Earth did he have them share a kiss in not one, but two separate movies?)

This scrutiny over Lucas’s alleged long-term plans for Star Wars also extends to the origins of Darth Vader. In the preliminary drafts of The Empire Strikes Back, Vader exists as a separate character from Anakin Skywalker, with writer Leigh Brackett’s initial screenplay even depicting Anakin’s ghost assisting Luke in his duel against Vader. Reworking Brackett’s script, Lucas decided to merge Vader’s character with Anakin, providing The Empire Strikes Back with its famous twist ending, as well as laying the groundwork for Vader's redemption in Return of the Jedi and Anakin’s backstory in the Prequel Trilogy.

Worst: Han Shot First

A New Hope Harrison Ford
Image Credit: 20th Century-Fox.

George Lucas has made many, many, many changes to Star Wars over the years, with each change meant to tie into his original creative vision for the series. Of course, these changes have not been without controversy, with one of the most notorious retcons coming in the form of the whole “Who shot first?” debate in A New Hope.

In the 1977 version of A New Hope, while held up by Greedo in the Mos Eisley cantina, Han draws his blaster underneath the table, gunning Greedo down before the Rodian can get the drop on him. In the 1997 cut of A New Hope, Lucas re-edits this scene so that Greedo shoots first, with Han dodging the blaster shot at the last moment, killing Greedo in self-defense. Like many changes Lucas made with his re-released Original Trilogy, fans continue to criticize Lucas’s re-edited scene, believing Han’s murder of Greedo made his transformation from a morally indifferent smuggler into a noble Rebel leader that much more endearing in the original films.

Best: The Inhibitor Chip Behind Order 66

Star Wars The Clone Wars (2008)
Image Credit: Lucasfilm.

George Lucas and Dave Filoni’s Star Wars: The Clone Wars made a wave of modifications to the continuity of Star Wars, introducing a large assortment of brand-new characters while resurrecting a few old ones. Along with the dramatic return of Maul, George Lucas also adjusted the explanation behind Order 66 in the final seasons of his hit animated series.

In the original version of Revenge of the Sith, the Clones carry out Palpatine's order to exterminate every Jedi without the slightest hesitancy. Looking at it from an objective point of view, watching the Clones turn against their Jedi comrades with such expediency seems a bit out of character, especially given the camaraderie between the Clones and their Jedi commander.

Perhaps taking these criticisms to heart, Lucas and Filoni retconned the background of Order 66, revealing that Palpatine triggered a behavioral inhibitor chip that reverted all Clones into mindless, merciless, Jedi-hating sleeper agents. The retcon not only helped explain the Clones’ seamless metamorphosis into robotic killing machines in Revenge of the Sith, but it also added a new layer of depth to the Clones’ sudden betrayal of their friends and brethren in the Jedi Order.

Worst: Snoke’s Backstory

Star Wars The Last Jedi Adam Driver, Andy Serkis
Image Credit: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

Disney had its hands full when it came to following the success of George Lucas’s first six Star Wars films, with J.J. Abrams, Rian Johnson, and their respective creative teams coming up with all sorts of ambitious plans for their Sequel Trilogy. Like Lucas’s Original Trilogy, however, the development of the Sequels evolved over time, with a key character envisioned as the Sequels' main villain soon relegated to a mere supporting role instead.

In his earliest incarnation, Supreme Leader Snoke fulfills the larger-than-life role left behind by Palpatine, succeeding the Emperor’s place as the malevolent personification of the Dark Side. Rather than a Sith lord, the novelization of The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi–as well as the visual compendium for The Last Jedi–makes it clear that Snoke has no formal affiliation to the Sith, although he did witness the Galactic Civil War in its entirety. In The Rise of Skywalker, Abrams chose to alter Snoke’s background, revealing he had been a literal puppet of Palpatine’s created to lure Ben Solo to the Dark Side–one of the most eye-rolling Star Wars retcons ever.

Best: The Return of Maul

Star Wars The Clone Wars. Darth Maul's reconstruction
Image Credit: Lucasfilm.

Decades after its release, a pointed critique often lobbed at The Phantom Menace revolves around the movie’s underwhelming use of Darth Maul, the devilish apprentice to Darth Sidious who Obi-Wan kills in the movie’s climax. With many fans believing the movie failed to utilize such a promising villain, Lucas made the decision to resurrect Maul in his fan-favorite animated series, Star Wars: The Clone Wars.

Rescued and nursed back to health by his brother, Savage Opress, Maul embarks on a mission of vengeance against all those who wronged him, taking special aim at Obi-Wan and his former master, Sidious. Uniting various crime syndicates into one vast criminal empire, Maul became the antagonist fans had long wanted to see, living up to the expectations set by viewers upon the character’s introduction in 1999.

Worst: Palpatine Surviving Without Any Explanation Whatsoever

Star Wars Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker Ian McDiarmid
Image Credit: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

Among the biggest plot lines of The Rise of Skywalker fans that took issue with came with the sudden return of Darth Sidious after his apparent death in Return of the Jedi. While it’s impossible to take anything away from Ian McDiarmid’s unparalleled performance as the Dark Lord of the Sith, the circumstances behind his return in The Rise of Skywalker continue to frustrate viewers to this day.Rather than explaining how Palpatine escaped his death in Return of the Jedi, J.J. Abrams chocks up the Emperor's return with a vague, “Somehow, Palpatine returned.” Not only does this leave viewers guessing as to how Palpatine cheated his very clear demise, but it also retracts Anakin’s redemptive story arc throughout the Skywalker Saga, preventing him from fulfilling his prophesy and “bringing balance to the Force.”

Best: The Real Reason Behind the Death Star’s Design

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Mads Mikkelsen
Image Credit: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

A long-running joke fans often aim at A New Hope involves the major design flaw in the Death Star's construction–a flaw that allowed the Rebels to destroy the entire battle station with a single proton torpedo. In Rogue One, the filmmakers helped solve the discrepancy by showing the Death Star’s grand architect–Galen Erso–completing the battle station against his will.

Realizing the potential for such a destructive weapon in the Empire’s hands, Erso added a critical weak point on the Death Star’s outer surface, a feature so small the Empire never noticed its presence. This weakness became the thermal exhaust port the Rebels destroyed in A New Hope, with Galen ensuring the Death Star had a tangible target for the prospective enemies of the Empire to exploit. It's one of the best Star Wars retcons, and one of the most thoughtful. 

Worst: The Midi-Chlorians

The Phantom Menace Liam Neeson
Image Credit: 20th Century Fox.

A significant reason for Star Wars’ initial success came from the mystical power known as the Force. Described by Obi-Wan as “an energy field” that binds the universe together, the Force became a core component of the Star Wars universe in the decades ahead, serving as the backbone of the Jedi Order and their adversaries, the Sith.

In the Original Trilogy, Lucas hints that individuals can learn the ways of the Force through careful study (like Luke) or by preternatural gifts that make them susceptible to the Force (like Leia). In the Prequels, Lucas walks back this idea, establishing that microscopic organisms known as “midi-chlorians” influence users’ connection to the Force. The introduction of midi-chlorians reduced the mystique surrounding the Force for many.

Best: Adding Temuera Morrison’s Voice As Boba Fett

The Empire Strikes Back Jason Wingreen
Image Credit: 20th Century-Fox.

Like almost every main character in the Original Trilogy, George Lucas made some serious changes to Boba Fett’s background as his Skywalker Saga evolved over time. A roguish bounty hunter with an enigmatic past in his earliest iteration, Lucas soon cast Fett as the clone son of the Mandalorian mercenary Jango Fett in 2002’s Attack of the Clones.

With this change in Fett’s backstory, Lucas replaced Fett’s grizzled voice actor in The Empire Strikes Back (Jason Wingreen) with Temuera Morrison’s distinct voice in later editions of the film. In addition to Morrison becoming the canonical voice for Fett, more recent series like The Bad Batch have revealed Fett’s birth name as Alpha, as well as the fact that he has a long-lost sister, the experimental clone Omega.

Worst: Darth Vader’s “Nooooo” in Return of the Jedi

Return of the Jedi
Image Credit: 20th Century-Fox.

The 1997 re-release of Star Wars contains no shortage of strange changes, from the digital addition of SFX creatures in Mos Eisley to the insertion of Hayden Christiansen in the closing moments of Return of the Jedi. As logical as some of these alterations might have been, one that continues to leave fans scratching their heads revolves around the climactic moment in Return of the Jedi.

As an injured Vader witnesses the Emperor torture his son on the Death Star II, the former Dark Lord realizes the error of his ways, turning against his master and saving Luke from certain death. In the original cut of the film, viewers wonder about Vader’s thought process as he looks upon Luke’s torture, with Vader never uttering a word in the entire scene. In Lucas’s recut of the movie, Vader instead mutters “No” to himself, before letting out a prolonged “Nooo” as he hurls Palpatine to his death. Many fans saw Lucas’s added dialogue as a pointless change, with the over-the-top delivery of the line somewhat … awkward, to say the least.

Best: The Entire Clone Wars

Star Wars The Clone Wars Victory and Death
Image Credit: Lucasfilm.

Like many aspects of Star Wars, the Clone Wars have changed dramatically since Luke first mentioned them way back in A New Hope. In fact, a primary reason Lucas decided to make the Prequels in the first place came out of his desire to flesh out the Clone Wars in more meticulous detail. As impressive as Lucas’s depiction of the Clone Wars had been in Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith, and Genndy Tartakovsky’s 2D animated Clone Wars series, Lucas soon provided a major overhaul to the intergalactic conflict with his expansive Cartoon Network TV series, Star Wars: The Clone Wars.

Working with showrunner Dave Filoni, Lucas introduced an array of changes to the entire Clone Wars chronology, forever altering Star Wars’ greater continuity. Ignoring Tartakovsky’s Clone Wars series, Lucas and Filoni added in a large assortment of characters never before seen or mentioned in the Prequels or Original Trilogy, like Ahsoka Tano, Captain Rex, and Cad Bane. Such changes had a profound effect on various Star Wars-related projects, with said characters playing a central role in later series like Rebels, The Mandalorian, and The Book of Boba Fett.

Worst: Rey’s Backstory

The Force Awakens Daisy Ridley
Image Credit: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

The question of Rey’s heritage served as one of the main pillars of the Sequel Trilogy, with fans engaging in fierce debate over who Rey’s parents might be over the course of the three films. As it happened, though, not even Disney, Rian Johnson, or J.J. Abrams seemed to agree on the identity of Rey's parents, with each film weaving in a new explanation regarding Rey’s mysterious family ancestry.

Fueling fan speculation prior to the release of The Last Jedi, Rian Johnson subverted expectations when it came to the key reveal in his film. Rather than having Rey the off-spring to any pre-established characters in Star Wars’ universe,  Johnson had Kylo Ren confirm that Rey’s parents had been anonymous junk traders, abandoning Rey on Jakku in exchange for drinking money. Yet in The Rise of Skywalker, J.J. Abrams retconned Johnson’s backstory, establishing Palpatine as the estranged grandfather of Rey. The creative decision met with a divided response from viewers, many of whom felt it a half-baked twist that undermined Johnson’s assertion that heroes can rise from anywhere. The twist also fueled ongoing debate over if Rey qualifies as a “Mary Sue” character–something Johnson and The Last Jedi sought to avoid.

Best: Luke and Leia’s Status As Siblings

Return of the Jedi Harrison FordCarrie Fisher
Image Credit: 20th Century-Fox.

One of the most troubling aspects about the Original Trilogy involves the relationship between Luke and Leia, two strangers brought together by fate while rescuing the galaxy from the Empire. In both A New Hope The Empire Strikes Back, Luke and Leia enter into a complicated love triangle with Han, with Luke and Han vying for Leia’s affection.

With Return of the Jedi, Lucas dismantled this love triangle in a clear-cut, satisfactory manner, casting Luke and Leia as siblings separated since early childhood. In the Prequels, Lucas depicts the circumstances of their forced separation, showing the twins’ birth and the subsequent death of their mother, Padmé. (This scene also retcons Leia’s conversation with Luke as she reminisces about her birth mother, in which she describes Padmé as “kind, but sad.”) With this alteration, Lucas concluded the perverse love triangle that existed between Luke, Leia, and Han, drawing up a more cathartic ending for all parties involved. Mark Hamill actually accused Lucas of making up the plot twist on the plane to the Return of the Jedi set!

Worst: The Explanation Behind Han Solo’s Name

Solo: A Star Wars Story Alden Ehrenreich
Image Credit: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

Star Wars has always done a great job expanding upon certain characters’ biographies, ensuring greater depth and more nuance in terms of their personality and past history. Every so often, however, a Star Wars retcon goes a bit beyond the norm for explaining characters' canonical backstories.

Fans can spot a standout example of this in the 2018 spin-off film, Solo: A Star Wars Story. Joining the Empire in a last-ditch effort to escape the slums of Corellia, an Imperial recruiting officer bestows Han the last name of “Solo” after Han tells him he “doesn’t have any people.” Though this scene does explain how Han got his name, fans expressed little interest in such a minute detail about Han's biography…not to mention such an obvious twist. 

Best: The Empire’s Literal Lack of Plot Armor

Star Wars Episode IV - A New HopeJames Earl Jones, David Prowse, Peter Geddis
Image Credit: 20th Century-Fox.

The Imperial Stormtroopers’ apparent inability to hit even the simplest targets with their blasters has become a recurring joke among the Star Wars fandom. Along with their inaccurate skills with a blaster, fans have expressed confusion about the quality of the Stormtroopers’ protective armor (susceptible to blaster shots, arrows, and even projectile weapons hurled by Ewoks).

Since Disney acquired Star Wars, the company has offered a new explanation regarding both Stormtroopers’ poor combat skills and the inefficient quality of their armor. As seen in Extended Universe lore and series like The Mandalorian and The Bad Batch, the Empire cuts financial corners in their ongoing military operations, equipping their troops with faultier weapons and cheaper armor. Valuing quantity over quality in terms of their standing army numbers, the Empire had little reason to have their troops carrying expensive or even accurate blasters, hence the Stormtroopers’ poor marksmanship in the Original Trilogy.

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Richard Chachowski is an entertainment and travel writer who has written for such publications as Wealth of Geeks, Looper, Screen Rant, Fangoria, and Sportskeeda, among many others. He received his BA from The College of New Jersey and has been a professional writer since 2020. His geeky areas of interest include Star Wars, travel writing, horror, video games, comic books, literature, and animation.

Richard has been an avid consumer of movies, television, books, and pop culture since he was four-years-old. Raised on a diverse mix of Clint Eastwood Westerns, Star Wars, sci-fi and horror films, Alan Moore comics, and Stephen King novels, he eventually turned his various passions into a creative outlet, writing about film, television, literature, comics, and gaming for his high school and college newspapers. A traveling enthusiast, Richard has also managed to create a career out of journeying abroad, venturing to such awe-inspiring places as the Sonoran Desert of Mexico, the rainforests of Costa Rica, and the scenic coastline of Haiti. Upon graduating from TCNJ, Richard set his sights on a career in journalism, writing extensively about the art of traveling and the entertainment medium for various online publications. When he’s not busy making his way through The Criterion Collection, he can be found either reading or planning a trip somewhere (preferably someplace with a scenic hiking trail).