Prequels have become an interesting phenomena in the cinematic storytelling process these past few years. They have been a way for producers to take well-known stories, and go back to fill in character development that most of the time, fans may or may not have asked for. The end result has had unintended repercussions.
The biggest culprit is Star Wars, and its legacy. George Lucas took a beloved franchise which had sat dormant for nearly 20 years, and decided to use another 3 movies to tell fans how Darth Vader came to be. When the final credits rolled in 1983, I don’t think any kid asked for that story. If anything, we wanted to know what happened afterwards. Now that we’ve gotten those films, audiences are divided about how much they like them. With those prequels, Star Wars unnecessarily broke a lot of stories in the narrative:
- In the opening scene, Vader comes back home to Tatooine and doesn’t even make a house call. We don’t find out that this is Anakin’s home until The Phantom Menace is released.
- Midichlorians? But in the original movies we are lead to believe that anyone could be inspired to use the Force!
- We find out that Yoda and Obi Wan have to learn how to become Force Ghosts…so who tells Anakin?
- How in the heck did Obi Wan not recognize R2D2 and vice versa? Better yet, how did Owen Lars not recognize C-3PO?
There are so many more issues that have come up, but it’s better to leave those for another time. If nothing else, one could argue that the prequels destroyed the mystique and menace of Darth Vader. The point is, prequels have a bad habit of “fixing” things that aren’t broken.
Another way to look at prequels is like starting a story at the middle of a book. Then, reading that book all of the way to the end, only to go back to the beginning just to see how you got there. It’s never made sense to treat a story like that. It wasn’t common practice for anyone to make a story and then decide, “Oh, let’s go back to the beginning” when it’s assumed that a story being told IS the beginning. Anything prior to that beginning is left up to the audience to fill in for themselves.
There are other side effects of the Star Wars prequels. First, their existence has caused debates about the proper order in which to watch the films so that one can get the best enjoyment out of the full story. Still, that’s made people ask, “If you already know exactly how the story ends, why do a prequel?” Then there are the fill-in stories… While there are a few who loved Solo, and will say that in some ways it was more entertaining than the new trilogy, there was no need for this movie. Like the prequels, Solo: A Star Wars Story took a lot of the mystery from not just one, but two established Star Wars characters.
Now, let’s look at the Lord of The Rings franchise. The movies are a great testament on how to create a visually stunning story, and the original trilogy is still one of my all time favorites (Spoiler: The One Ring gets destroyed). But, why go back and make three movies from a much shorter book, when we already know where it’s going? Yes, the books have been around for nearly a century, but let’s consider those who don’t read and what a treat it would have been to see this story cinematically told in chronological order.
On the flip side of this, there is the Harry Potter series. We had a series of books which became a successful movie series. Now, movie makers are going back to talk about what lead up to the events of the ‘present day Potterverse’ (again, SPOILER: Voldemort dies). While hardcore fans may not mind this little detour into the early 20th century, I am sure that many fans are probably more interested in the aftermath of the fall of Voldemort. The biggest issue with the new movies, is that there have been events shown in the movie that threaten to destroy the integrity of the canon.
Many fans can surmise that part of the reason for prequels is mostly for monetary gain. Make these films allows for Hollywood (on both the big and small screens) to attempt to play within a narrative of an already established franchise to fill in the blanks. Do we always need those blanks filled in? Well, if the box office numbers for films like X-men Origins: Wolverine, Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, and so many others are an indication, then no. If the failure of Solo and Disney’s abrupt turnabout on what they planned to do to make Star Wars movies is any indication, also no. While some fans may love these stories, more fans want to be surprised, and ask that new mysteries be presented. If you already know the end of a story, there is much less of a need to go back and to see how the the beginning unfolds. The biggest issue, is that by continuously making prequels, these stories always threaten to mess up the canon of existing lore. I mean, you wouldn’t build the 2nd story of a house before building the foundation, would you?
What are your thoughts? Do you like prequels or do you like stories that add on to the continuity?