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Friday Flix: Mystery Men

June 10, 2011

About three weeks from when this posts, I did a Wednesday entry called “Need to Know Basis” about how many questions an author should answer.  The illustrious Mr. Pagel wrote in his comment:

The problem of PREQUELS was aptly explained by Cracked, recently: you have to take your character and make him/her LESS interesting than he/she was in the first and then have him/her become the character we love.

The other day I got thinking about this and it occurred to me that the problem with prequels like “Star Wars” and “X-Men:  Wolverine” is that the prequel takes away the mystery of the character.  That, at least in my opinion, brings the character down a notch.

In the case of Darth Vader, I think it was more fun not knowing how exactly he got to be the way he was.  It made it fun for me and other fans to imagine our own versions of how it happened.  Then the prequels come along and we’re spoon-fed something that let’s face it wasn’t as good as what just about any fanfic could have done.  (I mean would any fan have gone on for three movies with lame political machinations like that?  No.  Because we’d want the action, damn it, not politics!  Would any of us have come up with as lame of bad guys as the Trade Federation and Count Dooku?  Hell no!  Really, racist sort-of-fish-looking dudes and an old guy with a lightsaber that looks like part of a cane?  Yeesh.)  So now we get locked into this story and it’s just not that fun anymore.

In the case of Wolverine, the prequel was completely unnecessary because I didn’t really give a shit about how he came to be.  He was fine with no backstory.  And fans of the comic books (or X-Men Legends video game) already knew most of it anyway, so what was the point?

The thing is, fans care about the present, not the past.  Vader and Wolvie kick ass and that’s all we cared about.  Only the creator (in Vader’s case) or people wanting to make a buck (in Wolvie’s case) cared about any of that.

As Mr. Pagel, via Cracked, was saying, when you make a prequel you wind up making the character less interesting than what you started with.  Then in theory he’s supposed to wind up as interesting as when you started, except this isn’t really the case.  Because now you’ve stripped the mystery away from the character, which makes him less than before.

And as I said in my reply comment, the only time a prequel really works is when you take a secondary character and expand his/her role.  I could go on about my example, but I think the best example would be Ender’s Shadow, a prequel of sorts to Ender’s Game.  About all we knew from that was Bean was short and maybe young, so Card could do pretty much whatever he wanted in the prequel, so long as eventually Bean ended up at Battle School the same time as Ender.  There wasn’t really any mystery to spoil, which allows the prequel to work better.

So there you go, another long-winded piece of tripe about the dangers of prequels.

Monday it’s rambling about villains!

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15 Comments
  1. Hmmm, never thought of it that way.

    Gosh, I know I own Ender’s Shadow, but now I don’t remember reading it, LOL! Gotta say, though, the Ender series is one of my favorites!!!

  2. I don’t care if other people like Orson Scott Card. I don’t have a crusade against him. As far as prequels go, there were parts of episodes 1, 2, and 3 of the Star Wars franchise that I absolutely loved. 1) I thought Darth Maul was amazing and the lightsaber battle between he and Ewan McGregor as Obiwan Kenobi absolutely made me “wet”. 2) I loved how the lightsaber was used to cut through blast doors…it seemed to be more of a tool as opposed to something used exclusively for battle. 3) I had many of my questions answered about the universe. I saw Coruscant (a mysterious planet described in the extended universe books), I finally understood why Yoda just didn’t go and kick the emperor’s ass, I finally understood what the term “Clone Wars” meant because I’d speculated over it for so long and wanted an answer. Personally…I don’t share your “hatred” of the prequels. I loved getting answers to questions from Lucas as opposed to some other writer or filmmaker to come along after he dies and answer the questions for him. I thought “Attack of the Clones” was really good but Count Dooku was a lackluster kind of villain to be sure and so was General Grievous. However, Darth Sidious was a complete badass and the fight with Mace Windu still gives me goose pimples. My favorite line when he unleashes force lightning on Mace Windu is Darth Sidious pounding his fist on the window frame and yelling “ABSOLUTTTEEE POWERRRR!!!” and cackling. I could feel the energy coming from that as this evil bastard seethed with ambition and sought to destroy one of the most powerful Jedi Masters to have ever lived.

    Oh and just one other thing on OSC… I dislike how people just read his story and don’t see the allegory behind it all. It makes me give a blank stare and I think to myself, “Do you read everything and take it only for face value?” And then I think…what a naive world this person must live in.

    • Killing off Darth Maul was probably the biggest mistake Lucas made because none of his other villains were as cool. I mean come on, a dual-bladed lightsaber! That thing was freaking sweet. Of course the problem with Darth Maul was Lucas cast Ray Park but then dubbed someone else for his lines. Come on, Park’s voice isn’t THAT awful that it needs dubbing. But I suppose that situation limited what they could do with the character. Or if they didn’t want him to talk, why not just have him speak in subtitles or something? Or not at all like Snake-Eyes in GI Joe.

      Anyway, I suppose if you’re the type who goes to conventions or on message boards and has to debate people about Klingon brow ridges in the movies/Next Generation vs. original series than prequels are a good way to settle it. I just can’t care that much about trivial details.

  3. Mutt, check out this fan video made in 2004. It’s one of the most impressive dual-bladed lightsaber fight scenes I’ve watched.

  4. I agree with Michael — I kind of liked the prequels. I thought Lucas was really reaching for something.

    Except I agree with Rogue, too: Darth Vader was better before he was whiny Anakin, and Lucas really waffled on how Anakin becomes Darth Vader: Was it forbidden love? Was it fear? Was it both? And, of course, midichlorians destroyed the magic of the Force.

    Think about this: Midichlorians had to be a big secret — because Han Solo didn’t know about them; he thought the Force was a religion. So Jedi kept midichlorians to themselves, which means that THEY COULD BE TRANSFERRED, or otherwise affected. Otherwise, why hide them?

    (I didn’t think all of that up; some of it was pointed out in a webcomic.)

    Anyway, some prequels work — I liked the second Indy movie (which didn’t really need to be a prequel, I guess.) But mostly, removing the mystery from a character does make that character less interesting.

    • There are so many things that I would have changed about the prequels. Darth Maul being killed in the first one is one. The Force being parasites? Yuck, I’d dump that too. (No one would have complained if Qui-gon had simply “felt” that Anakin was strong with the Force, would they?) And the whole Anakin virgin birth thing.

      And what was the deal with the Trade Federation? They were bad but then they were maybe not so bad. What was up with that? Seemed like they were fighting the Republic because they wanted some tax breaks, like a Galactic Tea Party or something. The same with the clones. Why did they call it the Clone Wars anyway if the clones were presumably still around during the Empire? Timothy Zahn actually had a much better scenario in “Dark Force Rising” (the second book of his Expanded Universe trilogy) where I think the Clone Wars had clones on both sides but because the technology wasn’t perfected yet the clones got out of hand so that all the cloning technology was destroyed. What you could have done is the Trade Federation could have had droids in the first one but then since the droids sucked they decide to try using clones, only by the end the clones turn on them and thus in the “Clone Wars” the Jedi, etc have to battle clones running amok through the galaxy. We could have even had Darth Maul killed in the first one but then the Trade Federation clones Darth Maul and he becomes even more evil than before!

      Actually I would have just eliminated the whole first one and moved the sweet lightsaber duel to later. Most Jedi never know their parents, so there was no need to get into his mom and such. I think the love angle was good but heavy-handed.

      And what the series needed was another Han Solo. They needed a scoundrel to liven things up because Jedi are so goody-goody that it’s boring. Plus as I noted a while back, chicks like the bad boy characters so that would have helped win over the female demographic.

      Why the hell didn’t Lucas call me first, damn it?

  5. Good post. Very insightful. But after your title I’m disappointed that I didn’t read about the Ben Stiller led superhero epic from the 90’s. I love that movie.

    • Good to know at least three people remember this movie. To some extent didn’t that “Megamind” movie rip this off? You know, the plot where the real hero is gone (in this case killed) and so an unlikely hero(es) has to take his place.

  6. This is exactly what I was talking about in my post today. You know, the one where upyou said, “duh!” 🙂

    I’ve always wonderd this too… why they keep expanding on stories when they should just leave it. Its because film makers would rather invest in something filmgoers are familiar with than new stories. I used word sequel, but it applies just as much to prequels.

    Anyway, I agree. I loved the mystery of Vader more.

    • Well really I mean what other reason is there that they want to make sequels except that sequels make money? (Usually.) Oh, sure the “art” of creating an epic saga or something. Ha ha ha. As if studio execs know anything about that.

  7. I think that midichlorians were more symbiotes than parasites. But you’re ABSOLUTELY right: there was no Han Solo, and having someone like him would have really helped those first three — because Jedi ARE goody-two-shoes who mostly sit around talking. Obi Wan was kind of a fighter for a while in the first three, but not nearly enough.

  8. I agree–if a prequel says too much about a character in a book that comes later, then it does take away something from the character. There’s less discovery to be made in the story.

  9. Never thought of it that way, but it’s true. I don’t really care about a character’s backstory. It’s interesting in the present. I like the action, not the endless history behind it.

  10. Can only speak to Star Wars. The prequels didn’t have the pzazz of story, characters or actors to my mind, but you’re right, who cares why Darth Vader got to be the way he did. Although I think there is a bit of that mentioned in the first Star Wars movie about how he turned to the dark side… The action is better too, unlike the prequel, because I cared about the triangle relationship of the MCs.

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