Nano Blog 1: The Prequel problem

3 Nov

So earlier this year we had the release of God of War: Ascension.  The game received rather mediocre reviews from most of the gamers.  Why?  Because the story felt like a rehash of the first game.  After all, we already knew that Kratos was betrayed by Aries.  But Ascension says that it wasn’t the first time.  We get to sit back and watch as his family is turned to dust and he has to gain redemption.  Of course, this is so he can fight Aries again in another game.   Them Greek Gods always causing issues.

But this led me thinking about other games and movies that focus on adding a Prequel theme that just doesn’t work.  Now I know this can be a very sensitive issue for a few of you readers out there.  After all, we had moments of excitement and thrill at the announcement that led to our devastating heartbreak at the release.  Metroid Other M took the iconic Samus and turned her into a whiny brat.  Star Wars gave us Wanakin.  Star Trek Enterprise gave us a weak sauce TV series about the creation of the Federation and the man who hops in others bodies to…oh wait, wrong show.

Now I do realize that this isn’t entirely fair.  People didn’t like the new Devil May Cry or Tomb Raider, but not for story or gameplay reasons.  Both games gave us interesting character development mixed with an impressive story and thrilling gameplay.  So why did they suffer?  In the case of DMC, it was a specific group of fans who didn’t want a prequel and were vocal about it.  They wanted DMC 5 and didn’t care that they were being offered more. (Made better by the fact that the DMC timeline is less than linear anyway.)  Tomb Raider was aimed at an audience that was more interested in Croft’s chest size than why she ended up in the treasure hunting business.  In both of these cases, the fans decried the game more out of what it wasn’t more than what it was.  We as both fans and the audience sometime need to accept that we don’t always get what we want.

But sometimes a prequel just sucks.  When we all sat down to watch Phantom Menace we were eager to see a young Anikin Skywalker change into the great Lord Vader.  This story had been imagined by hundreds of writers and probably millions of fans.  We remember listening to Ben Kanobi talk about the Clone Wars and the Jedi.  Yoda talked about failing in his duty.  Even the ever shocking moment of realizing that Vader was Anikin was enough to cause wannabe writers to dive at their typewriters.

But instead we were given kid Anikin talking about Podracing.  We had our story distracted by a trade embargo that seemed completely pointless to the well-being of the Universe.  Nothing about the first movie so much as made a whole lot of sense other than to make us realize that Luke might have actually been better off with Vader destroying the Republic.  We were given a small child with very painful dialog such as, “Now this is Podracing!”  Even Jar Jar, who most people hate probably more of out what he represented than any fault of his, couldn’t do anything to help.

But we held out.  We raised our heads high and claimed “He’ll get it right next time.”  And then we were given “Attack of the Clones.”  Most of us dropped our head and said never mind and gave up.  But some held our hope until Anakin and Padme ran through the field of flowers.  That probably finished off the rest. It was mind-blowing to so many that Lucas, who gave us the ever impressive Star Wars trilogy could massacre a three movie Prequel.  It was like the studios approached him and had this conversation.

“My Lord.  Fans are asking for more movies.  What shall we do?”

“Whip them out.  All of them.”

The formula for the movies seemed straight forward.  We know that Anikin becomes Darth Vader.  We know that the Empire rises from the ashes of the Republic.  And we knew that the Jedi would be destroyed.  So all we needed was logic to it.  Why does Anikin Skywalker turn?  We knew it was going to happen.  Give us a good reason.  Make us care.  Make him a fallen hero instead of a hormonal idiot.  The bastard murdered a room full of children and you still couldn’t kill him Kanobi?  Really!

We expect sequels to suck on some level.  If the story finished, the question is posed as to why you would make another movie.  Because audiences want another movie and you can make money with it.  But prequels are different.  The audience has to be invested in your story enough that people want to know more about before. So when you go down this road you need to remember that we have expectations.  We asked you for a good story.  You need to make us love you for taking the time to tell it to us.  And as your telling it to us, the feeling shouldn’t be us scratching our heads wondering if this is at all related. (Looking at you Abrams.)

But we rarely see good ones.  TV shows will get prequels and you grab your head in pain.  Movies get them and people wish for their money back.  Games get them and tend to gather plenty of dust on the shelves.

 So a question comes from this.  Can one do a prequel right?

The answer is Yes.  And that probably explains why people keep doing them.

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