Friday, December 18, 2015

Problem with Prequels

No, this is not just about the Star Wars prequels (even though they will play a role). It’s a general post about the problem with making prequels to movies, TV series, or other stories. I might do another post on an idea for better Star Wars prequels, too, but this one is a general ‘why prequels rarely are a good idea’ post.

The main problem with prequels is, obviously, that the audience knows what will happen afterwards. We’ve already seen the X-Men movies before the Wolverine one. We know who must survive (because they turn up later). We’ve already seen the original trilogy years before “The Phantom Menace” came out. We know what will happen to Anakin Skywalker in the end. One of the most interesting parts of a movie - who will make it to the end - just isn’t there in a prequel. We know who needs to survive the Wolverine origin movie. We know who will survive the rise of the Empire in the Star Wars prequels - and who will not, like basically all Jedi who are not Yoda or Obi-Wan.
You can still make prequels, of course, but you must realize what problems you will be facing. You have to make sure you don’t make things too straightforward (or invent stupid new stuff for no apparent reason). You have to make sure not to bore or annoy people with ‘how it all happened.’

Let’s turn to Star Wars for a moment, shall we? There is no question that the prequels failed in a lot of ways. As a such, the question how Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader and the question how the Emperor gained absolute power are interesting. They promise a new story in a universe the audience is already familiar with. Where the prequels failed was not the premise. Where they failed was the actual execution. Where they failed were new characters and parts of the story. I’ll do a post with a possible alternative story for the prequels later, so I won’t go in depth here.
They failed in making us care about Anakin. They failed in drawing a succinct picture of the Jedi Order or the Republic. They failed in keeping characters the way we know them to be later in life. They introduced too many new characters at once. They tried to do too much (such as introducing the whole political level). They got a little too carried away with things nobody needed (like the pod race, seriously). They failed to make Jar Jar Binks disappear after the first movie. Is a little accident too much to ask for?
Instead, they took out a bad character good for at least three movies in the first one. Darth Maul should never have died in “The Phantom Menace.” He was too interesting a character to start with. And, no, his latter resurrection in the “Clone Wars” series doesn’t count.
Then there’s the long gap between “The Phantom Menace” and “Attack of the Clones.” Yes, a few years for Anakin to learn the ropes of the whole Jedi business are perfectly fine, but if you feel you must introduce the love interest in the first movie, don’t put that much time between them. Padmé is a good deal older than her boyfriend/eventual husband. Less time would have been better. If you’re going for a trilogy, don’t try to introduce all and everyone in the first movie, either.

If you look at the Wolverine origin movie, you can also see quite some little things. They might not be as glaring as with Star Wars (although naked Hugh Jackman jumping into a waterfall might have clouded my thoughts here), but they still are there. A walking Professor X wasn’t all that necessary. The extra-heavy bones Wolverine has because of the metal are only a topic once or twice. Either make them relevant for the story or forget about them - and since they’re not relevant later, just leave them out.
What I liked, however, was how they twisted expectations for the end of the movie. From the beginning, you expect the final fight to be between Wolverine and Sabretooth, between the half-brothers who, let’s be honest, can’t really kill each other, because they’re both healing so damn fast. It would have been a great fight, too, but having them both going up against Proto-Deadpool instead was better. Still, the final villain was a little bit pulled out of the hat at the last moment.
“Enterprise” failed to convey the feeling of the original “Star Trek” series. Each of the sequels were different, too, but they stayed within what the fans knew and liked, adding zeitgeist to the formula. “Enterprise” did not.

Sure, making a sequel is a lot easier than making a prequel, because you actually have free reign. Yes, you have established characters, but who says you need to use them? And even if you do, can’t they develop some new sides?
You can’t give a prequel character abilities which they didn’t have in the original story, unless you can give a damn good reason for them losing that ability later. You can’t make them stronger in the prequels than they were in the original story, unless you  have a good reason for their declining strength (like old age or a sickness).
Then why make prequels? Perhaps because you feel you need to give the characters more background. Perhaps because you can’t go forward. After seeing the first trailer for “Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them,” I’m pretty sure the movie will enhance the Harry Potter Universe. But then, it’s not about what an established character did before, it’s about a guy who wrote a book used as textbook at Hogwarts. Much easier to do.

You should think very carefully about whether or not you want to make a prequel. You should think twice before writing the script and three more times before starting to film it. Then you have a chance to make a good prequel.

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