As a movie geek and a fan, I like a great many things. A lot of these things can be abnormal, far-fetched, and downright silly to the outside observer. I am likely to accept a few stretches of normalcy for the sake of my fandom. That being said, I’ve come to realize that there is one sub-category of movie that I almost always dislike in some fashion.
I know, some of them are fairly universally disliked (cough-Star Wars-cough), so it may feel like I’m just beating a dead bantha to rant about them. But even more widely accepted iterations, like the recent Rogue One “standalone” (a fancy way of saying prequel) still have their Achilles’ heels.
That’s not to say these films can’t be enjoyable, of course. Movie-makers are still getting plenty of my hard-earned coin. There are just some serious, consistent disappointments when going to see a prequel film, and I think they’re worth mentioning.
The common driving force for a prequel (aside from sweet, sweet merch) is to fill in some of the gaps left by the film they lead up to, so it goes without saying that they will reference content from the original movie.
The problem lies in how much, or how little they spell out that content in the new-old film. Achieving the perfect balance of reminding about the known content, or suffocating in it is impossible, as it will vary from viewer to viewer on how much is needed.
With the now-infamous Star Wars prequels, there was so much time spent filling in the minutia and gaps left by the original trilogy. An off-line from Obi-Wan in Episode IV about a “clone war” became a long-drawn out explanation of how the clones came to be, and who they were fighting, and yada yada yoda…
All of that extra information to fill in those holes usually ends up creating way more questions than answers, and convoluting the established story of the original. Prequels give us a firm foundation as to why a character did or didn’t do something, which can make us wonder at their motivations even more.
Look at Chewbacca. In the originals, we know him as the loyal co-pilot to Han Solo, and that’s about it. Come to find out, he was a ranking warrior from his home planet, and was intimately familiar with concepts like Jedi, the Force, and was even closely associated with people he “meets” in the originals. I’m not saying that this is wrong (it actually leads to a lot of interesting questions about the walking fur-bag’s motivations), I’m just saying it convolutes things.
More than just plot holes caused by trying to fill them, there’s something to be said as to whether they needed to be filled in the first place. When watching mysterious characters like Aragorn or Gandalf in Lord of the Rings, a great deal of enjoyment is found in assuming the details of their past which lead to their motivations. By giving unanswered reasonings in a movie, the viewer can use their own experience to flesh out the character, which leads to a more satisfying connection. When the Hobbit films came along (yes, I know it was a book before, but that’s a different rant entirely), a lot of the mystery was lost for me. Sure, it all lines up with what does happen, but it doesn’t line up with what I had pictured, so some of the magic is lost. In an effort to give us more, they make us feel less.
There are exceptions for me, of course. It’s usually found in the prequels that can be enjoyed without any knowledge of the original. A perfect example is Monsters University, a film I adore. The lead characters and universe are the same, but nothing they do detracts from the events in Monsters Inc. The key here is central motivation. In the original, the plot is centered on questioning how the monster world interacts with humanity. In the prequel, that question is never raised. By not asking us the same question, there is no expectation for the same answer, which leads to an enjoyable film.
I’m sure many of you will have different opinions, which I would love to hear! Feel free to comment your thoughts below, and remember: No matter how much or little someone else enjoys a film, they can’t tell you what you like. So, happy moviegoing, and I’ll see you at the next prequel as well.