26 years ago, Star Wars fans invented their own calendar system — ‘Andor’ finally makes it canon


Where were you when Luke Skywalker blew up the Death Star?

In terms of how Star Wars fans measure years in canon, everything happens too before or after the Battle of Yavin, also known as that pivotal moment at the end of A new hope when Luke shuts down his targeting computer, trusts the Force and saves the day.

For die-hard fans, “BBY” and “ABY” (which stand for “Before the Battle of Yavin” and “After the Battle of Yavin, respectively”) are common usage, but it’s never been used before in Star Wars canon. Until now.

in the Star Wars: Andorthis extra-fictional dating system is presented in-universe as on-screen text. It means that, Somewhere in the Star Wars universe, characters also use these abbreviations. This creates a massive metafictional question: Who is telling this story?

Fascinated? Let’s dive in. (Spoilers ahead for the first three episodes of Andor.)

5 BBY a Andorexplained

Diego Luna a Andor.Lucasfilm

As the on-screen text tells us in the first episode, Andor takes place in “5 BBY”, meaning it takes place five years before the Battle of Yavin. This sets Andor in the same period as the first season of Star Wars rebels and, more importantly, five years before Cassian’s death at the end of Villain One. (This movie and A new hope both happen in 0 BBY/0 ABY.)

The fact that Andor appearing in BBY isn’t odd, but the fact that there is text on the screen relating to this information is. For one, no character in it Andor ever refer to the year they live in as “5 BBY” because the Battle of Yavin hasn’t happened yet. This is why people in movies about Julius Caesar don’t say, “Hey, it’s the year 10 BC.” Chr.”.

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in the Star Wars rebels, we learned that most planets have their own local dating system, which makes sense. For example, 5 BBY 3272 LY is on the Lothal calendar used on the planet Lothal in the Outer Rim Territories.

So when Cassian and all the characters are in Andor are not time travelers, why is there text on the screen that says 5 BBY?

5 BBY is both canon and extra-fictional

Luthen Rael (Stellan Skarsgard) in Andor.Lucasfilm

Since 0 BBY is the year of Cassian’s death, one could take the on-screen text as a reminder that our main character will indeed die at the end of all this. This gives the series a sort of novel-like quality, which its creator Tony Gilroy says is intentional. Early reports of Andor‘s Plotten described the series as a “Dickensian detail”. In some books by Charles Dickens (notably A fairy tale about two cities), deaths are predicted before they occur. By showing “5 BBY” on screen at the beginning of the show, Andor tells us, “It was the best of times. It was the worst ever.”

As the opening text creeps at the beginning of most Star Wars films, there is no given author of this text. George Lucas originally wanted the entire story of Star Wars to be told by timeless beings called Whills, who would have provided some kind of in-universe basis for where all these tales came from. But as it stands, Star Wars doesn’t have a unified “narrator”.

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The prescient “5 BBY” in Andor somehow implies a narrator, or at least a POV, separate from any other type of narrative framework we’ve seen before in Star Wars. You could say that “5 BBY” onscreen is no different than the introductory text crawls from the movies, but these text crawls never predict an event five years in the future of the story you’re about to see. Instead, they give us the backstory and context of the present.

So the question is: do people in the Star Wars galaxy actually use this dating system afterwards? A new hope, or is it just something to help geeky fans keep track of the timeline?

The origin of BBY and ABY

Luke Skywalker doesn’t know, but he’s in the process of inventing a new kind of calendar.Lucasfilm

The first time the Star Wars timeline was organized using the designations “BBY” and “ABY” was in 1996 Star Wars RPG Sourcebook by Bill Smith. Wookepidia considers the “BBY/ABY” canon as of 2014 because two in-canon reference books “have made extensive use of this system”. But this is the first time we’ve seen it in a major Star Wars release.

There’s another problem with converting BBY to canon: Why would anyone within the Star Wars universe use the Roman alphabet?

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The universal alphabet in Star Wars is mostly Aurebesh, and these letters don’t always match English letters. “BBY” in Aurebesh would be the letters Besh Besh Yirt. Obviously, a suspension of disbelief is required here, because in Star Wars we are supposed to believe that “Galactic Basic” sounds like English to our ears.

Some English letters appear on screen from time to time in Star Wars, particularly the theatrical release of A new hope, where Obi-Wan had clearly been messing around with the words “tractor beam” on the control panel. (This was changed to Aurebesh in the special editions.) But for the most part, fans now read any English text as mistakes or weird deviations in canon.

Cassian (Diego Luna) and his droid B2EMO in Andor.Lucasfilm

The existence of Aurebesh also makes very common Star Wars abbreviations like C-3PO and R2-D2 somewhat confusing, as again those letters and numbers don’t have these exact in-universe pronunciation equivalents. The same logic would apply to “BBY”. No one would call it that because the letter “B” doesn’t appear in Star Wars canon (although BB-8 clearly does exist).

The only real explanation for all of this is that Star Wars was “translated” for us by someone else, so we can see the written Aurebesh but not worry about whether the spoken language matches. What Andor “BBY” has succeeded in bringing the viewer a little closer to the narrative framework of Star Wars. By using this fandom year system, Andor subtly acknowledges that the audience exists, something no other Star Wars story has done in this way before.

Andor is now streaming on Disney+.



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