We live in a world of sequels, reboots and spinoffs. But the absolute worst of a world where nothing is original? Prequels. Prequels suck.
From Lord of the Rings to Game of Thrones, from Obi-Wan Kenobi to Andor, a prequel has to follow one golden rule to justify its existence.
A prequel has to tell us something we don’t already know.
What is a prequel? It’s a story that delves back into an earlier point in the backstory of a fictional series. The term was apparently first used in 1958 by sci-fi author Anthony Boucher, though creators have stepped back in time to explore the history of their characters since ancient Greek epic poem The Cypria filled in events before The Iliad, or ol’ Bill Shakespeare followedeth Richard III by rewinding to Richard II. As franchises and cinematic universes have become the dominant force in media, we’ve seen a glut of such tales, including 2022’s biggest TV shows: Game of Thrones spin-off House of the Dragon, Lord of the Rings story The Rings of Power and Star Wars series Andor — which is technically a prequel to a prequel!
It was Star Wars that brought the term “prequel” into the forefront of the modern media industry. In the late 1990s, I wasn’t alone in getting excited about the Star Wars prequels. George Lucas telling new Star Wars stories? Yes please! A bunch of cool stars, including the pitch-perfect casting of indie darling Ewan MacGregor as a young Obi-Wan Kenobi? Sign me up! And the Force was strong with the Phantom Menace trailer, which marked a significant moment in the early history of the nascent Internet.
The excitement didn’t last.
I’m not going to rehash every criticism of the Star Wars prequels — which actually weren’t all bad — and I’m not here to single out George Lucas, who after all did give us the original trilogy. I refer to the infamous Star Wars films because they’re the first modern prequels, and in some ways they’re the apotheosis of the problem with prequel stories.
The pleasure of a prequel — or sequel or reboot or remake — is obvious. Any opportunity to spend more time with a beloved character is welcome. And if, as with Star Wars or Breaking Bad, the story has come to a natural end, a simple way to dip into that world again is to go back to an earlier point in the story. See the start of the Empire, or the origin of Saul Goodman in Better Call Saul. And it’s always fun to re-create a beloved story on new terms — basically, playing “Who would you cast in a remake of…?”, the fun game my friends and I used to play at school because we didn’t have girlfriends.
. . . .
And look at The Hobbit movies, a prequel trilogy to the Lord of the Rings series. OK, I know plenty of people love those movies and relish the return to Middle-earth. But that’s one movie’s worth of story stretched into three overlong epics. Do we really need these multiple movies, or could directors like Peter Jackson, Jon Watts (Spider-Man) and Taika Waititi (Thor) spend those years doing something new and original instead?
At least The Hobbit doesn’t actively contradict the beloved original films, another potential danger of a prequel. When a prequel messes with the continuity and canon of a series, it runs the risk of rendering the original nonsensical. Star Trek prequel TV shows Enterprise and Discovery both found themselves stuck in such a continuity cul-de-sac that they had to resort to time travel silliness to make it work (the same nonsense that hamstrung the big-screen JJ Abrams reboot). And once again, we can go back to Star Wars: When various characters meet each other in the prequels, it actually contradicts the original films.
But when it all comes down to it, the fundamental flaw with prequels is that all too often, all they tell us is what we already know. Ultimately, nine hours of prequel movies explaining Anakin Skywalker’s family history don’t have the emotional impact of the single line “No… I am your father.”
Link to the rest at CNET and thanks to F. for the tip.