The BIONICLE Tiers of Canonicity

by Planetperson
BIONICLE Tiers of Canonicity

In the BIONICLE fandom the issue of “canon” comes up very often. The BIONICLE story was presented through a variety of media during its run, often made by different authors, different artists, or different contractors outside of LEGO. Naturally, these different pieces of the BIONICLE storyline didn’t always agree in the details. For example, the scene where the Toa descend to Makuta’s lair through Kini-Nui in the Mata Nui Online Game (MNOG) by Templar Studios is very different from the scene described in the book BIONICLE Chronicles #1: Tale of the Toa by Cathy Hapka. In one version, the Toa’s golden masks appear on their faces, and they unlock Kini-Nui with the Makoki Stones. In the other, the Toa get their golden masks by putting their collected Masks of Power on statues, and then a tunnel opens up in Kini-Nui, and no Makoki Stones are involved. The book is supposed to be “more official,” but then the fully canon BIONICLE Encyclopedia also says that the Toa used the Makoki Stones to open Kini-Nui. So, what’s the official version of this story that all BIONICLE fans should agree on?

In the Great Archives encyclopedia and timeline, our mission is to present all of these differing versions in parallel – the reader gets to decide which version he or she likes best. But, for simplicity, we BIONICLE fans often like to stick to one, official, “canon” version of events. Plus, there will always be cases even on the Great Archives where we have to choose one version which will be presented more prominently (for example, we have to pick a version to write first, and sometimes we might put one version in the main text of an article and another in a footnote). On top of this, there’s also the issue of deconflicting the nitty gritty details of Greg Farshtey’s answers in the Official Greg Discussion topics. For example, what are we supposed to do with quotes like these?

14.Is Fenrakk a native species to Voya-Nui??
14) No, and Vezon is the only one who has one. The other Piraka don't.
Official Greg Discussion, Apr 22, 2006
13. Are Fenrakk native to Voya Nui?
14. If so, are they common?
13) Yes
14) I wouldn't call them common, no
Official Greg Discussion, Jun 14, 2006
4. How many Fenrakks are on Voya Nui?
4) A fair number
Official Greg Discussion, Jun 24, 2006

We’ve had countless similar situations pop up in BIONICLE lore discussions on our Discord server, which can best be summed up with the following video:

It would be nice if there were a consistent way of resolving these conflicts. That’s why I and several other BIONICLE enthusiasts have come up with a systematic way of ranking sources of BIONICLE lore: the BIONICLE Tiers of Canonicity! The Tiers of Canonicity are a list of rules that helps us rank the “officialness” of different sources of the BIONICLE story in an automatic, impartial way. This is actually a concept already used in at least two other fandoms: Neon Genesis Evangelion and Star Wars. The Tiers are a tool that we will be adopting on the Great Archives website and wiki, but we encourage others in the BIONICLE lore community to use it to their advantage as well!

I’d like to thank the following people for co-authoring this set of rules (in alphabetical order): aikuru, Dag, Gonel, HahliNuva, JSLBrowning, Lehari, maxim21, Nicrophorus, SurelNuva, toaskello, and Wolk. Believe me when I say that we didn’t simply pull arbitrary rules out of a hat. We did a lot of sleuthing in the Official Greg Discussion Archive to make sure that the rules we came up with are as consistent as possible with what Greg Farshtey (who was a member of the core BIONICLE story team) has stated on issues of canonicity in the past. We also tried to design the rules according to the general principle that the closer a source’s author was to the core story team, the higher it ranks in canon. We also took into account the fact that Greg Farshtey, by his own admission, is not a visual thinker [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8], so sometimes visual details in other media can take precedence over his written work. In all cases, we tried to source our rules in explicit quotes about levels of canonicity from Greg Farshtey when they were available.

The BIONICLE Tiers of Canonicity are as follows, where rules are listed in decreasing order of precedence:

  1. Explicit Greg quotes can override any of the rules below.
  2. The LEGO sets. Certain visual details about the LEGO sets (weapons, masks, colors, etc.), including the system play sets, take highest precedence, even over movies and written story [9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15]. The set designs coexist with the more organic visualizations from the movies and books, which are simply a different artistic expression of the sets [16, 17, 18]. The sets are considered more authoritative, but neither the sets nor the movie visualizations are considered “non-canon” [19, 20, 21, 22]. The forms of the 2010 BIONICLE Stars sets are considered canon, though not their scale compared to previous set waves [23, 24, 25, 26].
  3. Movies. Some visual details and plot details may be overridden when there are contradictions (e.g. the Rahaga’s propellers). Movies, books, and comics are all about equal in canonicity [27, 28], but the stories for the movies were developed by multiple story team members, and the movies generally take precedence over their respective novelizations, which were typically based on earlier versions of the final scripts [29].
  4. Published written work by Greg Farshtey. This includes novels, guide books, web serials, podcasts, magazines, some web content, and the written part of any visual media worked on by Greg, including the 2005 web animations. The story and plot details take precedence, but since Greg by his own admission is not a visual thinker, some visual details may be overridden by other visual media that otherwise have lower precedence. Published work takes precedence over online quotes from Greg by default [30, 31, 32]. This category also includes the character “stats” used from 2007 to 2010, which were written by Greg [33].
  5. Movie novelizations. When movies and their novelizations contradict, the final movie takes precedence, since the novelization is often based on an earlier version of the script. However, scenes that exist in the books but not the movies are fine, since they do not contradict the movies [34].
  6. Cathy Hapka books. Certain plot and visual details are often in conflict with other sources (for example, BIONICLE Chronicles #1: Tale of the Toa does not mention the Makoki Stones when the Toa pass through Kini-Nui, but MNOG and the BIONICLE Encyclopedia do). Reconciling this with the Templar work might be a special case, since the Templar work came first and is well-loved. The reason this is a separate category is because Hapka was never a member of the story team, although she did have access to the story bibles [35].
  7. Any visual media by Advance/Ghost, including visual media on bionicle.com. This can override the comics [36]. Christian Faber worked closely with this group, so visual details here generally override versions in other sources.
  8. Visuals from media for which Greg wrote the script, including the comics, 2005 animations, and level 3 readers. These were written by Greg, but sometimes visual details got lost in translation between Greg and the artists [37]. See [38].
  9. Websites and CD-ROMs. More generally, officially published material not written by Greg or a member of the story team. These things were often written by people in Denmark. This includes: much of the content on bionicle.com; content from official micro-sites such as the movie micro-sites, the Metru Nui Ministry of Tourism, and The Legend Continues; promotional CD-ROMs such as the Bohrok-Kal CD-ROMs, the Toa Metru CD-ROMs, and so on. The Legend Continues is mostly official [39].
  10. Work by Templar Studios (MNOG, MNOG2, and the Bohrok and Bohrok-Kal episodes). Although most BIONICLE games are considered basically non-canon, MNOG and MNOG2 are a special case and are mostly official [40]. Some specific things have been retconned; for example, Bob Thompson hated the idea of “taxi crabs” [41], and Lewa getting his golden mask from his suva contradicts other canon material. MNOG and MNOG2 were never actually approved by the story team [42, 43].
  11. Product descriptions for the LEGO sets. On rare occasions, they contain inaccuracies, such as the 2010 Skrall set having shadow powers.
  12. Fan-created work canonized by Greg, such as short stories, artwork, and LEGO models (MOCs).
  13. Greg quotes.
    1. In general, when Greg quotes contradict, earlier answers take precedence. This applies to both BZP-era quotes [44] and LMB-era quotes [45]. Greg quotes which inadvertently contradict previously established canon should be considered non-canon [46, 47], especially on the LMB. Later quotes override earlier ones only when specifically acknowledged as a retcon.
    2. Responses along the lines of “fine” or “sure”, though weak affirmations, are still affirmations and should be considered canon.
    3. Responses along the lines of “I guess” are considered a weaker form of affirmation than the above. They should be considered canon on a case-by-case basis.
    4. Responses along the lines of “maybe”, “most likely”, and “probably” mean exactly that – they affirm that something might be true or probably is true, not that it necessarily is true. This information should be qualified as such when documented on the Great Archives and should not be stated as fact.
    5. Similarly, responses along the lines of “possibly,” “it’s possible,” and “anything’s possible” should be qualified as such on the Great Archives, if they are documented at all. Whether or not they are documented should be decided on a case-by-case basis. Affirmations of frivolous hypothetical scenarios (e.g. “would character X do Y in situation Z?”) should not be included. However, there is precedent for hypothetical things being considered canon despite not appearing in story, especially when they pertain to world-building or pre-existing LEGO models, such as Toa Nui, Bohrok Kaita, Akamai Nuva, or Makuta-Nui.
  14. Written material from bioniclestory.com (not serials). Although it generally accurately reflects the storyline, it is sometimes inconsistent with it. It is not clear who wrote it.
  15. Other video games with story elements that are compatible with the rest of the story. This includes the BIONICLE: Quest for the Toa and BIONICLE: Maze of Shadows GBA games. Otherwise, video games are generally considered non-canon, since they were not made by LEGO and often had to suit the needs of gameplay [48, 49].
  16. Certain visual details or lore details from work that is otherwise not considered canon. These cases are documented in the OGD anyway. Most video games and online games fall into this category, including BIONICLE: The Game, VNOG, and BIONICLE Heroes. The trading card games would fall into this category as well. This category would specifically include the Mask of Elemental Energy from BIONICLE: The Game and some of the creatures and locations from VNOG. However, many other visual details from these sources are not considered canon. See [50] and [51].
  17. Any unpublished work that was later uncovered through unofficial means, such as the Legend of Mata Nui PC game or the written material in the 2003 style guide.

The most up-to-date version of the Tiers can always be found on their Great Archives wiki page.

Do you have comments or criticisms about the Tiers? Let us know on our growing Discord server or Twitter!