If you liked a story, surely you’d love to see what happened before that story, right? No? Well, that’s the logic that drives so much of what we’re talking about today: prequels. Why do prequels happen? Why are they usually bad? Is there anything we can do to make them less bad? We cover all that and more, plus a list of all the upcoming prequels that no one asked for.
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Opening and closing theme: The Princess Who Saved Herself by Jonathan Coulton. Used with permission.
Generously transcribed by Danita. Volunteer to transcribe a podcast.
Chris: You’re listening to the Mythcreants podcast with your hosts Oren Ashkenazi, Wes Matlock, and Chris Winkle.[opening song]
Wes: Hello and welcome to another episode of The Mythcreants podcast. I’m Wes. With me today is
Wes: And today we’re talking about the things before the things that you liked and you’re probably not going to like them. Sorry.
Oren: Yeah, how about instead of this podcast, we just like recorded us preparing for the podcast?
Wes: And then the origin stories of us preparing for the podcasts?
Oren: Yeah, I was bitten by a radioactive podcast.
Wes: So yes, today we are talking about prequels. It seems like, I don’t know, maybe I am just noticing it with having done some research for this podcast, but it seems like in the last maybe like 10 years prequels have been kind of a thing and it’s not that we’ve never lacked just more like sequels or content or things like that, but I wonder if it’s just that filmmakers and story writers know that you know people – oh people like this.
People like Frozen, let’s make a Frozen Two. People like, you know, I don’t know any number of those but at some point there’s definitely going to be diminishing returns on a sequel or maybe a story runs its course and so they’re like, how do we keep people on the hook? I know we’ll just plot a prequel and throw them at it and we’ll say this is like the grandmother of this character that you like and there’s the character that you like as a baby. And so, you’re into this right?
Chris: I do think we’ve witnessed recently a sort of rebirth, or the birth of the large franchise and I remember when sequels had such a bad reputation.
They’re not always good today, but they certainly gotten better and I think movie studios in particular have sort of leaned more and more on expanding the same story because they know that will bring in money and that’s why now, we’re wandering. And again, I do think prequels do sort of feel like a last resort or just they want to add variety.
That’s what’s going on with Star Wars, right? We’re already making sequels. So instead of trying to sell more sequels, what if we distinguish this by saying it’s a prequel?
Oren: Right. Well in some cases I can see why they would do prequels, right? Like, if you’re Phillip Pullman and you need to re-roof your house and you’re going to write another Dark Materials book, it can’t really be a sequel because we beat God in the last one and like the whole thing was about how they can’t ever be together for reasons, but maybe you could do a prequel.
You’re not technically forbidden from doing that by anything that happened in the plot and now you can re-roof your house. That’s nice. And same thing with Star Wars movies. I don’t know about why Lucas decided to do prequels originally. I don’t understand why Lucas does anything, but if you’re Disney and you own the Star Wars franchise and you’re waiting for the next in the main line of movies to come out you don’t want to make a movie that takes place after that one, right?
That’s going to cause all kinds of problems, but you’re like, oh well, maybe we could do a movie that takes place before the ones we’re doing now. That way they wouldn’t get in the way and I can understand that logic to a certain extent.
Chris: Sure. I guess I would say the one thing for prequels is that it allows the audience to keep that happy ending that we got originally with a sequel or the first story.If we had a nice ending the tied everything up now, we don’t have to disrupt it. We don’t have to say I told you they lived happily ever after but then…
Oren: But wait!
Chris: But then one of them got sick and died. We don’t have to take that away.
Oren: Right? That’s a case of a misunderstanding of how this prequel is going to work out like, you know, they’re making a prequel for Grease for reasons.
Chris: What I had not even heard that.
Wes: Oh my god really? Oh no.
Chris: Why would you do that? Oh my gosh.
Oren: Because they want money and they think that people will go to see Grease, I guess. And that’s a case where like yeah on the one hand, it would be a little weird to do a sequel to Grease but a prequel is just as bad. It’s not really any worse to do a sequel at least that way you won’t have to deal with the continuity issues that your prequel is going to cause.
Wes: I really hope that they cast actors in their 30s to play teenagers again.
Oren: Yeah, that’s like a Grease tradition at this point. But while it’s certainly true that prequels have a bad reputation. I don’t think we’re going to see the rehabilitation of the prequel like we did with the sequel and partly that’s just because one of the reasons sequels have gotten better is that we’ve been making stories more geared towards them, right? Like we’ve been making stories with more continuation possibilities.
That’s a thing that more movies want now. That doesn’t always work out but it’s at least something you can plan for. I don’t really think you can make a story with a prequel in mind because if you’re leaving out stuff on purpose for the prequel then your story is going to feel incomplete.
Chris: I mean, I think you probably could plan for a prequel.
Chris: But that’s another step removed. Why would you go back when you can go forward? Why would you plan for a prequel when you can plan for an additional sequel instead because sequels are just going to be better. So, should we go over some of the reasons why prequels are often kind of doomed?
Oren: I would be happy to.
Chris: So one of the biggest issues is stakes. I mean just knowing the future means that especially if you are trying to show any of the characters that appear in the original work, now we know that they’re not going to die. We know exactly how they’re going to end up and then when we introduce new characters, it’s like oh well, those people are going to die because they’re new, because they can die.
And so it’s hard to have significant stakes to the story and consequences of the story when the audience knows where it’s going to end up right? It’s also just a little weird when you introduce a new character and even if that character doesn’t die, it’s like well, I guess we never saw them again.
Oren: That’s kind of weird. Both Discovery and Solo have this problem where Solo introduces this lady that Han knew and she’s super important. And she doesn’t die at the end. She apparently goes to team up with Darth Maul. I guess. I really hope you watch the Clone Wars otherwise that ending is not going to make sense. And it’s like okay, she didn’t die but it just feels weird that she’s such a big deal at this point in Han’s life. And then we never saw her again in the chronologically later movies. Obviously, the reason is that she didn’t exist yet.
Chris: Yeah, that’s the character development problem with prequels. Where we also expect just as we start to see the world move forward and change. We also expect characters to. And it’s weird when there’s a huge part of their life that didn’t seem to exist any before and it’s weird when their issues like in Solo, Oren that’s another you’ve talked about with Solo, is that Han Solo was so involved in the action. He’s so badass in the prequel that it’s weird because in the original movies it didn’t seem like he was prepared to go up against the Empire at all. Where the Solo prequel makes it seem normal which interrupts his character.
Oren: Right? That’s just Tuesday for him. Apparently.
Chris: Right? It’s weird. And then back to knowing where you’re going which is hard you have this specific ending which creates just another constraint right? We have this predestination problem. You have some works like Rogue One that decided to take care of this stakes issue by just all new characters.
Oren: Rogue One is almost the thing that I would normally recommend for prequels of being so removed from the original story that it’s not even a prequel anymore.
Chris: That’s the trick to writing prequels. It’s to make them basically not prequels.
Oren: Okay all we need to happen with Rogue One is that at some point the Death Star plans need to get sent to Leia’s ship. That’s it. Like there are no characters from Rogue One that we need to know about and them all dying actually worked very well.
There are still some prequel issues. Certainly when I was watching A New Hope, I did not get the impression that Vader had just come from a battle with Leia’s ship. He’s like “several transmissions were beamed to the ship by rebel spies.” It’s like yeah, and I guess I know that because I literally watched it happen.
It’s not the impression I got from those scenes in New Hope, and I love Rogue One. Don’t get me wrong. It’s just a good movie because it avoids most of the prequel problems, but it still has a couple in there.
Chris: So one thing that I think is funny is it’s like the reverse of knowing that the characters are going to live and there’s no stakes. There’s the opposite where you know, that really bad things are gonna happen. It’s not out yet, but there’s a prequel series to The Dark Crystal.
Wes: Oh, yeah saw the trailer for that.
Chris: That’s coming out on August 30th, and I- Dark Crystal still has so much nostalgia for me. I’m definitely going to watch that. But, in the Dark Crystal movie there are only two gelflings left. The rest were killed and in this prequel series it seems like there’s a lot more than two gelflings. I mean, I guess I don’t know. Maybe there’s only three gelfling main characters. Maybe there’s that’s all there is left but you know, you know that this is gonna be bad.
Oren: Yeah better prepared for that. I don’t- honestly I would not watch that series if it wasn’t super nostalgic for Chris. I’m just not interested in seeing the genocide of the gelflings. Maybe it happens off screen and then we find our three main characters who are like we gotta do something. I don’t know. It just doesn’t seem like a good idea. Who knows I could be wrong. This could be the Rogue One of the Dark Crystal. Who knows.
Chris: You know the Dark Crystal the original movie was surprisingly dark for puppets, right? It’s like the dark puppet movie. So maybe this one is just going to be dark. Wes, I know you had a list of prequel stuff. Do you want to talk about anything in particular?
Wes: Well, let’s see. I guess I was just trying to think as we’re talking about these prequel traps and stuff is. If you’re mining for prequel material, there’s like a need to “I have to explain this thing”.
Right and whether you decide to use midichlorians and then, I guess, walk that back. I’m not necessarily sure where we landed on that but, I kind of pitched this podcast idea because I read about The Hunger Games prequel that’s coming out next year.
Chris: Yes there’s a Hunger Games prequel.
Oren: Oh my God.
Wes: Yes, Suzanne Collins is writing a Hunger Games prequel.
Chris: It’s placed 64 years before I believe.
Wes: Which is quite specific.
Chris: It’s starring other characters and it’s taking place over the war that happens in Panem. Right, that was District 13. So maybe it’ll be about saving District 13. Who knows?
Wes: Yeah, maybe it is. I mean, I kind of got where you brought up Dark Crystal. It was good and it’s just that trailer gave like resistance vibes to me, but I was like, oh no, but yeah the gelflings like, oh gosh like this tragic resistance and then I’m like well we know what world happened 64 years later in the Hunger Games. There’s all these districts and 13 got wiped out and then things happen but I yeah, I’m just like why? I’m not saying it’s not going to be good. But I’m still just like why are we? What are we going to explore that might be more meaningful and different that the trilogy didn’t cover already?
Chris: Yeah. That’s a really good question. I mean it definitely can’t be as epic in scale.
Chris: Well at least it doesn’t have a finale right that. I mean, I suppose the scale could be just as epic. But the ending certainly is going to be less final. So yeah.
Oren: I mean admittedly what the red flag that that sends to me is that the Hunger Games was best when it was about The Hunger Games and then when it got into actual war I didn’t think it was very good.
Chris: I think this is actually going to cover more Hunger Games.
Oren: Is it?
Chris: Yes, it’s going to start with the 10th Hunger Games apparently.
Oren: Wait I thought the Hunger Games started after the war.
Wes: I think that is the setting is like immediate fallout of the war. Because wasn’t the point that that they made Panem kind of- I can’t remember the order of events.
Chris: Yeah, it’s pretty vague right now. There’s a lot of speculation so maybe. At this point because we know so little. Getting mixed messages about whether it’s more about the conflict or it’s more about The Hunger Games.
Oren: it’s hard for me to imagine a scenario where this doesn’t go bad because if it’s about the war, Hunger Games was never particularly good at war and if it’s about The Hunger Games, it’s like, okay, so we have to watch a bunch of normal Hunger Games that didn’t have weird endings. No thanks.
Chris: Yeah, the problem with the Hunger Games premise is that you can only do it so many times. Right, you either have a problem where it starts to become repetitive or a problem where every single Hunger Games has weird rebel plots that blow the whole thing open. Maybe you should stop having those.
Oren: No, every single one.
Wes: We never learned.
Oren: The capital is very stubborn. I suspect, and I don’t know this for a fact, but I also suspect it will have one of the many Star Wars prequel problems. And obviously the Star Wars prequels are bad for any number of reasons, but one of the issues they have isn’t actually their fault. It’s that the opening situation of A New Hope is actually incredibly unlikely for everyone to be in their starting positions. In A New Hope a million different things had to happen exactly the right way for that to work and we just accept it because that’s what the default is at the start of New Hope.
We have no reason to doubt it. And maybe afterwards, after we find out that Vader is Luke’s Dad. We’re like, hey, hang on a minute. Luke is Vader’s son. And he was just hanging out with his last name? And Obi-Wan Kenobi didn’t change his name? That’s a little weird.
Chris: And how does he get separated from his sister?
Oren: Right and we have all these questions and we don’t usually ask them in the original trilogy, but then the prequels like we’re going to show you how that happened and it’s like, oh actually none of this made any sense at all the whole time.
Wes: I’m angry and confused.
Oren: Right and I suspect Hunger Games is going to have that same issue. But you know, who knows maybe not, the very existence of The Hunger Games in that setting is really unrealistic. But we all wanted to see a bunch of kids fight each other. So we let that go.
Chris: Maybe on closer examination that will seem less realistic. Wes, you have another story prequel you want to talk about in particular?
Wes: Oh, yeah. Sorry. Another one that I quite enjoyed was, I don’t know if either of you have read any of Gregory Maguire’s Wicked and Oz stories.
Oren: I read Wicked.
Chris: I started Wicked.
West: That was like the main one. I read that a long time ago, but I felt like that took a story that we knew right, at least from the movie. It’s like okay. This is a wicked witch and he was like, oh what if we did a story about the Witch and you know, what happened? I mean, it’s definitely the prequel via origin story but through that story we learned, I learned anyway, quite a lot more about. The Land of Oz. It built up a world it made the characters more complex than they were. The original books are not nearly as complex as McGuire’s rewrites and things like that.
But like it just it added complexity added some nuance. It got adapted into a killer show.
Chris: Was it subversive?
Wes: It was subversive in that she kind of became Wicked but it’s good commentary on the other-ing that happens to people that are different and how society can affect people that way through no fault necessarily of their own. I thought it was pretty good commentary.
Chris: So it’s the first of a- even honestly having a villain be the protagonist is kind of a subversive in itself so it wasn’t super subversive but it does build sympathy with her.
Wes: It does because you basically took the original premise which is there’s a wicked witch. There’s Glinda the Good Witch and then you rewrite a story where there’s a witch. She’s not necessarily wicked and actually seems to have a decent code and then you’ve got this allegedly good witch who is kind of terrible, right? And so the original movie gave us a good and a bad and then the book restarts both of them.
And then you see these progressions into what they eventually become. So I thought it made the character development certainly more interesting because whereas in the original story they were static in this we saw change happen.
Oren: Well, I’m going to have to intrude with the that’s not how I remember it card. Granted, It’s been a while but I did read Wicked and I liked it and I know Chris liked it because she loved it so much she couldn’t keep reading. That’s what happened.
Chris: Yeah that’s definitely what happened.
Oren: But okay, so the way that I saw it was that this isn’t even really a prequel to Oz. This is just a straight-up subversion where the wicked witch is not evil. And not wicked at all. Glinda is a bad person and The Wizard is a bad person and you can see there are, basically what it does is, if you watch The Wizard of Oz you notice that that Dorothy is basically being manipulated by Glinda to go and knock off all of her political opponents.
Like if you don’t pay attention to anything that actually happens in the story and you just described the plot. That’s what it sounds like and you know Dorothy does just go off killing people based on the word of this random lady in a dress she met once. So that is a pretty significant plot problem.
And that’s basically what the book starts with but like the witch in the book is not the same witch who threatens to murder Dorothy for no reason. Like there’s no way the witch in the book does that and that’s why I would say it’s a subversion. It’s almost like Maleficent right? The Maleficent character in the movie Maleficent is not the same person from Sleeping Beauty. Yeah, it’s not the same person. It’s someone who looks like her and is themed like her because everyone loves Maleficent. Maleficent is everyone’s favorite character from that movie, but it’s not the same. It’s not like we’re not claiming that this is the Maleficent who did all the things from Sleeping Beauty, that just doesn’t make sense.
Wes: I think the point that you’re kind of getting it, it’s interesting with these things that they have prequel elements in terms of they’re introducing an origin or they’re explaining events that happen before the story but they’re also kind of a reboot and is a reboot a type of prequel.
Oren: I mean it can be.
Wes: Right that’s kind of the question where I’m at. I’m just like I think about you know, I don’t know the X-Men franchise, Star Trek, James Bond, those kind of things. Batman Begins.
Chris: It does seem to be another way to make your prequel less prequel like. In a way that frees up the constraints that make them so hard to write is if you have a little rebooting happening and if you’re coming in later with a subversive tale about the villain being the protagonist, I think at that point readers are not really expecting the canon to completely lineup.
Chris: Right. So that makes it really easier to just do what you need to do for your story without worrying about this whole predestination thing. Whereas yeah, if it was the same person the same company, right? I think immediately after the expectations would be different.
Oren: With Wicked and with Maleficent both in that case, the subversion is the point, that’s the reason you go to see those movies or in this case read that book is because you’re like, yeah. I like the Wicked Witch of the West. I didn’t like that she was a bad guy. Now. I’m going to read a book where she’s not and I liked Maleficent. I didn’t like her being a bad guy. And in this case, both of these are also somewhat subverting somewhat problematic tropes of like the evil powerful woman whose evil for no reason.
So like casting that character as the hero is actually a fairly powerful thing to do. So yeah, if you can do- if you want to do that it will definitely get you around a lot of your normal prequel problems.
Wes: That’s a good tip. All right we stumbled on some gold you guys
Oren: Just subvert it. I mean the problem is if you subvert it then you subverted it. It would be kind of weird if you subvert something and then want us to keep paying for the normal thing, right? That was a problem with Last Jedi.
Where it was hey guys, we’re subverting Star Wars. But then it’s like actually no, we’re not we changed our minds because we want you to buy Star Wars toys and it’s like, okay, maybe you shouldn’t have done that in the first place. Okay, fine, whatever.
Chris: Also if you’re want to write a prequel for your own work. I don’t know. Subverting your own works would be a very odd thing to do. And make probably most of your audience members very confused.
Oren: A little bit.
Chris: I’m not gonna say it’s impossible but has anybody ever done that?
Oren: That’s what pen names are for Chris.
Chris: That’s what pen names are for?
Wes: I guess yeah pen names.
Chris: Yes, this other pen name whose was not me gave me the license to make fun of their copyrighted works that definitely happened.
Oren: It’s fine. These are written without permission. You better read them before that other person who is not me sues me and takes them down. It’s weird how that’s never happened. Very interesting, really spices it up. Alright, I’m in to this idea of let’s do that If I ever get a book published. I’m going to write an unofficial subversive sequel under different pseudonyms. Great.
Wes: Let’s see another prequel that I this just makes me scream of why is the Joker movie that they’re doing I mean, there’s so many Batman stories. So it’s here’s a Joker movie. I’m not sure if it’ll tie into anything. But I mean it falls under that here’s a character that you’re familiar with so we’re going to do an origin story. And so I consider that prequel-ish. But again, just why I don’t really- it feels like what do they said call that like they’re doing it just for pathos but like misleads just like meant to like probably make us feel bad, right?
Here’s like a normal person who gets turned into this homicidal mastermind, right? Like I don’t need those feels.
Chris: Yeah, there’s a few people who really like those. Who really likes that dark stuff. Have either of you watched Gotham?
Wes: I’ve heard some good things about it, right?
Chris: Yeah. I think one of the reasons that Gotham works, which is like a prequel for all of the villains all of the Batman villains in a TV show at once is because it is definitely feels like a different continuity right, that’s a step removed.
But we see all of the villain origin stories. I only watched the first season. Apparently, there’s been a lot of hubbub about which person is going to become the Joker. Like they’ve been deliberately teasing the audience with a number of different potential Jokers.
Oren: So this Joker movie just seems ill-advised for a number of reasons. I mean, first of all DC’s bad at making movies. Let’s just say it. I guess maybe if the woman who directed Wonder Woman is available maybe she can direct it and it wouldn’t be bad. I don’t know. But she seems to be all they got. So there’s that. Beyond DC’s general incompetence, The Joker is just like a very tricky villain in the best of circumstances and watching someone become the Joker is just going to be like, how is that gonna work?
I’m not going to say it’s impossible. But I feel like they’re going to have to rely on a lot of ableism. It’s either going to be ableism or- The’re basically sort of three ways they could do it. You could either go ableism and just say that he’s mentally ill and that would be gross or you could go with the idea that he fell into a vat of chemicals, which is the Joker’s original backstory and okay, why did I watch that? What does that matter?
Or if you tried really hard you could maybe convince me that the Joker developed some kind of ideology like they were hinting that he has in The Dark Knight. But part of the reason it worked in The Dark Knight was they didn’t really examine it. It was like, some people just want to watch the world burn because of a child with a tangerine and a tangerine and then they just showed a tangerine a bunch of times if I remember the movie correctly.
But they just don’t get too into the Joker’s motivation. He has some weird ideology about proving the worst in humans, but we don’t explore it too much. It’s hard to imagine that they wouldn’t explore it in a prequel about him developing that ideology and I just I’m not convinced they could do that. That just sounds really hard.
Wes: Yeah, it does.
Oren: If we’re lucky, it’s just gonna be a movie about The Joker but even that presents problems because movies about villains are hard. Villains usually aren’t main characters, they work differently and they do different things. So either, you know, usually when you try to do a movie about a villain you end up with the villain either not being a villain. Or the villain just kind of kicking puppies for an hour and it’s like okay, I guess some people want to watch that.
Wes: I think one more that come that we come up as we brought up, you know dust in the Philip Pullman stuff and I think I will pick this up because I wasn’t aware that Once Upon a Time in the North was a little prequel novella that Philip Pullman wrote about.
Basically, how Lee Scorseby became friends with a giant talking polar bear and I’m cautious but it seems like this is situated far enough in like a younger Lee Scorseby’s life that it’s not going to really impact the events of The Golden Compass. It sounds like it’s more a relationship character-driven story, which is kind of a nice lighter version of events instead of the god killing narrative where, we liked this character and this character died. So there’s no sequel right. And we get to spend some time. It’s definitely lower stakes but like low-stakes means lighter story and perhaps a little bit more enjoyment.
It’s not trying to be anything more than that. Sometimes prequels just I don’t know, Chris, you mentioned that if they run out of stakes they try to invent something else. It’s okay to just make it be low stakes, make it light, make it character-driven, make it based on relationships. That can all be very enjoyable stuff. Anyway. I’ll read and let you know what happens.
Chris: Yeah. I mean we definitely need low stakes stories too. And I think the key thing is that if you had a higher stakes series. To appropriately set expectations so that people know that that shift is going to happen.
Oren: All right. Well, I think that’ll do it for this episode. Stay tuned for next week when we do the prequel to this episode instead of a sequel.
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