Ahh retcons. We love them when they’re good, hate them when they’re bad.
Otherwise known as retroactive continuity, retcons attempt to take canonical facts and reshape them somewhat. This is done by inserting a new detail or element that changes the interpretation of what has occurred before. When used lightly, it can correct an inconsistency, but can otherwise be used to alter previous events completely.
It’s one of the ways subsequent filmmakers in sequels or franchises can weave together a cohesive storyline across a movie series, pave ways for new developments, or introduce new characters and new ideas that completely reshape the movies that came before it. Some even attempt to change the entire course of a franchise’s trajectory.
While some retcons can build or save a tanking franchise (The killer T-800 in Terminator is now a saviour in Terminator 2: Judgement Day, or that Luke and Leia are actually twins), some become the very reason why beloved franchises meet an end (Did you know that the immortals in Highlander are actually aliens, as revealed in Highlander II? NOPE!).
Here are our Top 10 Movie Retcons.
1. The resurrection of Emperor Palpatine in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
Until the movie opens, we’ll never know if Darth Sidious aka Emperor Palpatine is alive, but as indicated in the trailers, he’s not dead. In the Return of The Jedi, viewers saw Darth Vader end his master. In a battle with Luke, Palpatine urged Luke to kill Vader when Luke bisected his hand. It was in this moment Vader saw Palpatine’s selfish motivations and realised that he was just as disposable as his master’s previous apprentices. Vader then throws Palpatine over the railing, leading to what we believe as Palpatine’s death. However, The Rise of Skywalker trailer took fans by surprise when it ended with Palpatine’s laugh on a black screen. This means one thing – Palpatine could still be alive and we can expect to see him in this final instalment.
So who died in RoTJ? Is this Palpatine a clone? Or a feint by JJ Abrams?
2. Sandman killed Uncle Ben in Spider-Man 3
Our collective hearts break each time Uncle Ben dies, be it in the comics or movies. In the first Sam Raimi Spider-Man movie, Uncle Ben taught audiences a major lesson – “With great power comes great responsibility”. But apart from that, we didn’t see much of the man because well, he died – killed at gunshot by a burglar. We mourned briefly with Peter but we soon forgot about Uncle Ben’s death once Spider-Man started taking down villains like the Green Goblin in Spider-Man and Doctor Octopus in Spider-Man 2.
But in Spider-Man 3, we meet a new villain – the Sandman. The movie introduced him as a criminal who robbed banks to provide for his sick and dying daughter and for a while we feel sorry for him. But, he was still a villain who did bad things. The movie later revealed that he was the culprit who killed Uncle Ben. Accompanied by flashbacks of the robbery, we see Peter’s inner conflict between doing the right thing for New York City (like taking down New Goblin and Venom) or avenging Uncle Ben’s death. Fans are rather on the fence about this retcon. Was it necessary? Were you convinced?
3. Peter Parker in Iron Man 2
In Iron Man 2, the climactic battle between the superhero and Whiplash took place at Stark Expo. Whiplash spent time reprogramming the Iron Man suits to follow his every command and used them to attack Iron Man and those in attendance at the expo. While Iron Man busies trying to stop Whiplash, he had to take down all his other drones.
In one of the attacks, Iron Man stopped a drone from killing a kid wearing an Iron Man mask. Tony destroys the robot – saving the kid – looks at the kid and tells him: “Nice job kid,”. Before Spider-Man: Homecoming, the child was nameless but Spider-Man star Tom Holland and director Jon Watts have come out to say that this kid is young Peter Parker. This explains why Peter looks up to and idolises Stark more than the other Avengers. Stark saved his life. And if Stark hadn’t saved Peter, our friendly neighbourhood Spider-man would have ceased to exist.
4. Gamora: The last of her kind?
When we were introduced to Gamora in the first Guardians of the Galaxy, we were told that she was the last of her kind. This makes her a lone wolf, an independent woman and a badass that we all know and love. But in Thanos’ backstory in Infinity War, it was revealed that Thanos took Gamora in as his daughter. This creates a flaw in Gamora’s character and backstory because Thanos’ ideology was to wipe out half of the population. Thanos even mentioned that her planet was able to flourish since halving the population. This means that Gamora isn’t the last of her kind. But hey, I guess it paved a way for the film to introduce the complicated father-daughter relationship between Gamora and Thanos. It was a huge unaddressed Daddy issue that led to her untimely death. Yikes.
5. Star Trek Reboot aka Kelvin Timeline
Straying away from the MCU, let’s look at another franchise that loves playing with alternative timelines – Star Trek. In Star Trek, whenever there’s a timeline change – no matter how small or large – it indicates that the original timeline is gone and replaced with a new one. In City on the Edge of Forever (Star Trek: The Original), Kirk makes a comment that if they don’t straighten the timeline, millions will die. As such, time travel in Star Trek was a means of declaring a need to restore the original timeline. But as the series progressed, that fact became malleable and in the classic Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, Yesterday’s Enterprise, characters from one timeline could remain in another.
When Star Trek got rebooted in 2009, J.J. Abrams (him again) made use of this convenient time travel mechanic to create an “alternate timeline”. This allowed him to streamline decades of storylines from Star Trek: The Original Series, recast the crew of the original Enterprise, and provide an alternate history where the characters – their backstories, connections etc – are different. Despite the differences, the characters are still who they are at their core. This retcon introduced a whole other world for Trekkies and creates a reason for non-Trekkies to care about the franchise if they didn’t before, ensuring the continuity of Star Trek.
6. Charles Xavier’s Resurrection
Professor X died in X-Men: The Last Stand. How? Well, he was vaporised by the ever so lovely Jean Grey. His death was both a sad and touching scene, with Magneto requesting Jean to stop before calling out for Charles before he died.
But his death was retconned in every subsequent movie. Seems like before he died, X transferred his consciousness into his brain dead twin brother, essentially resurrecting himself in his twin brother’s body but.. none of this was revealed till much later.
But, this still doesn’t add up. Now we’re wondering why Xavier’s twin brother is also a cripple because why else is Xavier still in a wheelchair in every movie? Having a brain dead twin brother may be of pure convenience, but it messed up the entire timeline of the X-Men franchise.
7.Terminator: Dark Fate is the true sequel
Dark Fate is the sixth movie to come out of the Terminator franchise. It’s received mixed reviews from viewers. Maybe because James Cameron-produced Dark Fate is a major retcon that emphasises only the first two James Cameron-directed Terminator films. Dark Fate created a completely new timeline and erases the entirety of sequels that came after Terminator 2. By sweeping the three films and two seasons of a TV show under the carpet, standout elements of the franchise, such as Sarah Connor’s death and female terminators, were lost. But given the nature of the Terminator franchise – and we mean the nature of multiple time travelling and altering timelines in every sequel – there is no fate but what the directors make.
8. Egg onboard The Sulaco in Aliens 3
Look, if you’ve watched the Alien movies you for a damn fact know that there was never an egg on board the Sulaco. From the previous movies, we know that Ripley, Newt and Hicks survived the horrific events and are waiting and hoping to be picked up by another craft. Alien 3 opens with a retcon – apparently, there was an egg onboard the Sulaco all along. The retcon argues that the Queen somehow managed to lay an egg on the Sulaco before it took off. And as if that isn’t bad enough, the retcon was possibly created just as a means to kill two fan-favourite characters – Newt and Hicks. The two were murdered in their sleep by a face-hugger and fans of the franchise are unable to forgive the filmmakers ever since.
9. Letty isn’t dead in Fast and the Furious 5/6
Another famous movie franchise that enjoyed bringing characters back from the dead, is Fast & Furious. In Fast & Furious 4, viewers were led to believe that Letty died in a car accident until the post-credit of Fast & Furious 5. In the post-credit of Fast & Furious 5, Monica Fuentes (Eva Mendes) gives Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) a file. “Berlin, 3 am this morning. A team of drivers hijacked a military convoy,” she says. Luke took a further look at the scene and lo and behold, the driver in question was Letty. It took viewers by surprise. Heck, it even took Michelle Rodriguez, who played Letty, by surprise.
Fast & Furious6 villain Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) took Letty in after she survived the accident with her memory wiped out. Being the big bad guy he is, he used Letty’s amnesia and badass criminal skills to his advantage – creating a mass personal conflict within Teretto and the Fast family when they were assigned to take them down in exchange for amnesty.
10. Han’s Death in The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift
We love Han Seoul-Oh (Sung Kang) – and so do many fans of the Fast franchise. In The Fast & The Furious: Tokyo Drift, Han got hit by a silver car in the streets of Tokyo during a speed race. The car overturns itself and we see Han bleeding and reaching out to Brian (Lucas Black). Brian runs over to the scene of the accident but the car explodes into flames before he could do anything – marking the death of Han. Our hearts sank and viewers and characters in the film alike never really recovered from his death.
But in Fast & Furious 5, director Justin Lin brings Han back. How? Well, the events of Tokyo Drift takes place after Fast & Furious 5. DUH! But at the end of Fast & Furious 6, the timeline catches up with Han. But now, Han’s Tokyo accident has been retconned in the post-credit to show that his death was not a tragic accident, but a warning to Teretto and the rest of the fast family by Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), Owen’s big bad villainous elder brother out for revenge. Hot DAMN!
Bonus Retcon: “Redemption” of Deckard Shaw
We felt so strongly about Han’s death that we just needed to add this retcon into our top 10 list. Fast & Furious 6 introduced Shaw to us as the big bad guy of the franchise and in Fast & Furious7, he terrorised the Fast family for putting his brother Owen in a coma. But in Fate of the Furious, Shaw underwent a soft retcon that positioned him as a mercenary who was upset to learn that his baby brother was thrown out of an aeroplane by a group of infamous criminals. The retcon aimed to reposition how we view Shaw because Shaw ended up helping Teretto save his son, “redeeming” himself. Soon Shaw went from being the big bad guy to a part of the Fast family – BBQing and sipping alcohol at Teretto’s rooftop family gathering. Now, he even has a film – Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw.
This didn’t sit well with fans, and for a good reason. Since revealing Shaw as Han’s killer, the film did very little to provide justice for Han. The man responsible for his death was invited into the family that he lived, rode and die for as another brother and that’s not fair. And as if fans aren’t enraged enough with this retcon, don’t forget that Shaw’s brother Owen was responsible for Gisele’s (Han’s girlfriend and another member of the Fast family) death. #justiceforhan
So there you go, our top 10 movie retcons! We’ve got quite a love-hate relationship with some of the retcons mentioned above. Which ones do you enjoy? Which ones do you absolutely hate?