Star Wars fans have latched onto the BBY/ABY calendar-era format, but as the franchise’s lore grows, this approach makes less sense.
The lore of Star Wars is among the deepest of any franchise, with detailed profiles and histories written for innumerable characters, locations, organizations, items and concepts. As part of the effort to provide a coherent timeline, multiple official publications have created several different calendar eras, with the BBY/ABY format emerging as the most commonly accepted. However, this year numbering system makes little in-universe sense, and it might be time to change it.
BBY and ABY stand for “Before Battle of Yavin” and “After Battle of Yavin,” respectively, and use the eponymous battle depicted in A New Hope, in which the Rebel Alliance destroys the Empire’s first Death Star, as its year zero. This notation first appeared in the second edition of Bill Slavicsek’s A Guide to the Star Wars Universe, which was released before George Lucas began work on the prequel trilogy. In this context, it made sense to use the first film in the franchise as a reference point.
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Several other calendar eras existed before the BBY/ABY format and more have been introduced since. Timothy Zahn’s The Thrawn Trilogy, published just before Slavicsek’s Guide, used the Battle of Endor as a year zero event. Recently, Disney has attempted to engineer a BSI/ASI format in reference to the Starkiller Incident that occurred in The Force Awakens. However, neither have gained much acceptance in the broader Star Wars community, as popular sites like Wookieepedia continue to use BBY/ABY.
Though it is now standardized and is generally understood by most fans, the more the Star Wars universe expands, the less meaningful the Battle of Yavin becomes in hindsight. Though Yavin was a major victory for the Rebellion, the Battle of Endor, which takes place in 4 ABY, is much more significant as it represents the beginning of the end of the Empire. In 5 ABY, the Battle of Jakku became the last major conflict in the Galactic Civil War and ushered in the New Republic era. Either of these years would be a more fitting point for a new galactic government to structure its calendars around.
Still, it seems impractical to date events by relatively arbitrary political successes such as battles or regime changes. After all, countries in the real world don’t generally reset their calendar eras after they achieve independence. After the French Revolution, France attempted to create the French Republican calendar, but it did not find any success and was quickly removed. And even if some modern cultures have their own calendar eras, they have also largely adopted the standard BCE/CE system for ease of communication with others. This kind of standardization would certainly be even more important on the galaxy-wide scale of the Star Wars universe.
There are a number of more symbolic and time-tested dates that could be used by the franchise. The Old Republic was formed in 25,000 BBY and represents the formation of the first canon galaxy-wide civilization. After the fall of the Old Republic and a century-long Dark Age, the new Galactic Republic was formed in 1032 BBY. Under such a calendar system, for example, the Battle of Endor, would take place in something like 1036 AGR, or “After Galactic Republic.”
There is an argument to be made that the BBY/ABY system is mainly used by fans to keep track of the story, and is not explicitly referenced in any of Star Wars‘ movies or shows. Therefore, it’s more practical to use a date that lies approximately in the middle of the events the franchise is mainly focused on. On the other hand, Disney has indicated it is interested in broadening the scope of the franchise’s stories, with the upcoming show The Acolyte said to take place during the High Republic era, which lasted between 300 BBY and 82 BBY.
If more media explores the time before The Phantom Menace and further into the future post-Rise of Skywalker, the BBY/ABY format may become cumbersome and unwieldy. This would only further highlight that the Battle of Yavin is a fairly random reference point within the Star Wars universe chosen decades ago, before a significant amount of world-building had been done by numerous writers, including Lucas himself.
There are also other options for signifying time periods within the franchise, such as era names, using the titles introduced in the High Republic initiative, a similar tactic to the one used by J.R.R. Tolkien for The Lord of the Rings. For example, a year could be designated as High Republic 125 or Reign of the Empire 14 and so on. This would be a more efficient way to identify years without choosing a specific year zero or asking audiences to remember four-digit year numbers.
Choosing to center calendar eras around a date like the formation of the Galactic Republic or another more significant event would present its own challenges, but at least it would be a decision motivated by the internal logic of the history of the Star Wars universe. Whichever method ends up gaining popularity, it is definitely high-time to give the BBY/ABY calendar era format a second look and consider how it can be adjusted to make more sense for the future of the series.
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