Prequels, Problems With

Prequels are not always bad. Just want to throw that out there. But in general, when I hear a new book or movie is a prequel, I'm immediately less interested than I could be. Why?
  1. Because sometimes the prequel is not the story I want to know more about. The original was. Example: Phantom Menace. (I really, really, really don't care that Anakin built C-3P0, even if you could solve all the plot holes that represents.)
  2. Because sometimes the questions raised in the original are best left unanswered. Example: Phantom Menace. (Midi-chlorians. Nuff said.)
  3. Because the prequel's story often ends near the inciting incident of the original -- usually an unsatisfying place to end. Example: Phantom Menace. (I know Anakin is Obi-Wan's apprentice. I know he becomes a great Jedi then betrays Obi-Wan. I know he's corrupted by the Emperor. This is not the cliffhanger you're looking for.)
Maybe the prequel's should've started here instead.

I don't intend to ever write a prequel, but if I did, I would ask myself the following questions:
  • Is this a story I would want to tell, even if I'd never made the original? Example: X-Men: First Class. I don't know about you, but for me, the relationship between Magneto and Xavier has always been one of the main draws to the X-Men story.
  • Does this story answer questions that need to be answered? Better yet, is it about separate events entirely? Example: Indiana Jones and Temple of Doom. Yes, this was a prequel (having occurred before the events of Raiders of the Lost Ark). It might not have been as good as the other two, but it didn't try to answer stupid questions like: "Where did Indiana get his whip and fedora?" *
  • Could this story stand alone without the original? Would it be satisfying? Example: Captain America. Technically a prequel (having occurred before the events of Iron Man and directly leading to the upcoming Avengers movie), but pretty dang satisfying on its own. (Except for the fact that he probably could've avoided getting frozen in ice).

So, prequels. What do you think makes a good one? What else is wrong with Phantom Menace?

* The Last Crusade did answer those questions, but because it was a flashback, and related to the rest of the story, I was cool with it. What I didn't want was an entire movie with River Phoenix Indy.


Sarah said...

I totally agree with you. I'm sure there are many great prequels out there, but because I already know how the story ends/continues, I am immediately less inclined to read them.

vic caswell said...


Steve MC said...

As soon as you mentioned a bad prequel, I was right there with Phantom Menace. There's just so many things wrong with those films I won't go into it, but you nailed some major points.

This is not the cliffhanger you're looking for. :D

Steph Sessa said...

I really like Cassandra Clare's "prequel" series, The Infernal Devices. I'm not sure if it counts as a prequel though, because while it takes place in the same world and there are some of the same (immortal) characters, the main characters are generations before the characters in The Mortal Instruments. I think that's why it works, because the people in the Infernal Devices have completely different problems than those in The Mortal Instruments.

Nancy Thompson said...

This a problem I'm seeing in some new YA, mostly dystopian stuff. They write what they call the first in a series, but in the end, all it feels like is that they started the story way too soon (Divergent, Shatter Me). I would have preferred to see those as a smattering of backstory details in the second (coming) books. Now, as it stands, I don't think I'm interested enough in reading those second books.

dolorah said...

I take it you didn't like Phantom Menace :)

You are correct, some things you just don't want to know about. A little mystery goes a long way to make a story interesting.


Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Loved Xmen First Class!! Captain America less so, but not because it was a prequel.

I just wrote a prequel (short story!), but I was thinking of it more as bonus material. In fact, it had two specific purposes: 1) to entertain and go deeper into story issues for people who had already read the book and 2) to entice people to read the novel (because, as you say, it leaves off near the inciting incident).

As for an entire prequel novel, I'd have a hard time with that, unless it was about something else entirely in story universe. (Like Xmen FC).

Matthew MacNish said...

I have no problem with prequels on principle, but you're right, they are kind of set-up for failure for many of the reasons you point out. It's almost like sequels - in that you have to work harder, and have a better premise for it to stand up to, or even be almost as good as, the original.