The newest comic book show, KRYPTON, aired on Wednesday, March 21. It is the third DC show, after SMALLVILLE and GOTHAM, to take place in the home of a future superhero. While KRYPTON, SMALLVILLE, and GOTHAM claim to tell their own self-contained stories, they are all prequel Tv shows setting up Superman and Batman respectively.

After KRYPTON, DC has ordered a new live-action series called METROPOLIS run by the executive producers of GOTHAM. Follow this up with SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY (a prequel disguised as an anthology), FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD, and BUMBLEBEE: THE MOVIE and we are living in a prequel era.

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There is a general distaste for prequels with the word often being used as a slander. Prequels often fail because they usually play into what audiences already know. They rarely try to tell their own story and become their own thing. Prequels can find success by diverging from the originals in interesting ways. Here are some of the mistakes that prequels often make and techniques a few prequels have utilized to rise above their station to tell fascinating stories.

Don’t Destroy The Mystery

Do you want to know how Wolverine got his leather jacket? What about how Han Solo gained his lucky die? Ooo, what about how Bumblebee lost his voice! Not everything has to be explained through the medium of a film! In fact, its often is much more effective if there is not an explanation for everything.

Take Clint Eastwood’s the Man with No Name for example. He’s a cigarillo chewing, poncho-wearing, bounty hunter rogue who rarely talks. In Sergio Leone’s “Dollars Trilogy,” we never learn of the Man with No Name’s origin, family, or even his… name. In 1996, when honoring Clint Eastwood with the American Film Institute’s Lifetime Achievement Award, Jim Carrey was correct when stating “’The Man With No Name’ had no name, so we could fill in our own.”

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Clint Eastwood as The Man With No Name. Courtesy of United Artists

When attempting to fill in that past, or that name, prequels almost always disappoint; rarely can a film compete with a person’s imagination. Wolverine’s Weapon X past often falls short because we imagine his past to be impossibly cool. George Lucas’s version of Darth Vader’s past may have been released from 1999-2005 however, fans first imagined a young Darth Vader’s backstory back in 1977 when STAR WARS first came out. Audiences love filling in gaps in a character’s past themselves and so there usually is no creative need to do so through a film.

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That is why I am less interested in prequel films reliant on answering questions from their original films. Sure you can answer questions set up by original films, just as long as that is not what your film revolves around or as long as it doesn’t feel like pampering the audience. Which leads me to my next point.

Stop The Fan Service

It’s not surprising that prequels are stuffed with fan service. Prequels love to throw winks at the audience as if to say “get the connection?” One of the most forced winks has to be from THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES where Thranduil says to his son Legolas “Find the Dunedain. There is a young ranger among them. You should meet him. His father Arathorn was a good man. His son might grow to be a great one.” This ranger is, of course, Aragorn from THE LORD OF THE RINGS. As a Tolkien fanatic, this fan service is aimed directly at me and it almost works. That is until I think, why would Thranduil seek out Aragorn? More importantly, why is this in a movie set 60 years before THE LORD OF THE RINGS?

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Lee Pace’s Thranduil in THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF FIVE ARMIES

THE HOBBIT trilogy takes the fan service towards LOTR fans way too far. By playing up connections to Sauron, Gimli, and Isengard — all elements from the LOTR movies — it distracts from the story which THE HOBBIT movies are trying to tell. That should have been a story about a small Hobbit who discovers adventure. That story was compromised by studios wanting to elate fans with LOTR references.

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Shows like KRYPTON risk falling into a similar trap as THE HOBBIT. For instance, the trailers state that Seg-El, the main character, has a grandson named Kal who “becomes the greatest hero in the universe.” Seg-El’s wants to save his family to ensure Superman is born. I shouldn’t care about Seg-El because he’s related to Superman. I should care since he’s an interesting character. KRYPTON is an interesting concept by itself. It shouldn’t have to distract me with fan service to make me invested.

Tell A Different Story

The best aspect of KRYPTON so far was its world building. I love how the show has built up society in Kandor City. It is unique from other worlds we witnessed on the small screen. Prequels can set themselves apart from leaning into less of what people know and more of what they don’t.

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Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander in FANTASTIC BEAST AND WHERE TO FIND THEM. Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Take 2016’s FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM. The best parts of that film were the whimsical beast trapping sequences as well as the fascinating reflection on American wizarding society. The film fell off when it attempted to connect this stand-alone story back to Harry Potter.

It did this by including references to Hogwarts, Dumbledore, and the appearance of Johnny Depp’s Grindelwald. The former parts of the story felt like a breath of fresh air from previous incarnations of the Wizarding world. The latter seemed like Warner Bros. wanted a HARRY POTTER story without Harry Potter.


Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Review

Same applies to SMALLVILLE and GOTHAM. Those shows can’t decide whether they want a story set before Superman and Batman respectively, or just a story about Superman and Batman. In SMALLVILLE we see Clark fight his classic rogues’ gallery, save people, meet the Justice League — do Superman things. In GOTHAM, Bruce becomes a vigilante in black, insane criminals run rampant, and there even exists a version of the Joker. These shows need to commit to the story they want to tell.

Honor Thy Original

The greatest prequel of all time is actually encased in a sequel: THE GODFATHER PART II. Half of this movie tells the story of young Vito Corleone, there played by Robert De Niro. Marlon Brando had previously won an Oscar for portraying Vito in THE GODFATHER, so showcasing this character’s origin would clearly be popular.

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Robert De Niro as Vito Corleone in THE GODFATHER PART II. Courtesy of Paramount

However, THE GODFATHER PART II’s story about Vito is a fantastically deep, compelling, and provocative tale that beautifully plays off the original GODFATHER’s story as well as the sequel story of Vito’s son Michael (Al Pacino). The two stories of father and son form beautiful parallel narratives in which Vito builds the Corleone family and Michael tears his family apart.

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No prequel has come close to GODFATHER PART II in the way it nails its preceding narrative. I do have an odd appreciation for the STAR WARS prequels as well as Ridley Scott’s PROMETHEUS. While none of these films are strictly very good, they try something different from their source material that seeks to give it a narrative spin.

The STAR WARS prequels attempt a reflective story on the problems with fanatical organizations as well as a sobering look at the fall of democracy. PROMETHEUS deals with the themes of Gods and their creations and how that finds its way into artificial intelligence. The STAR WARS prequels and PROMETHEUS fail to honor their source materials with a story worthy of or thematically connected to them.

These films do a lot to contradict the originals which cause many of its own problems.

How To Write A Prequel Today

Writers should not hesitate to make prequels today. As much as we explore the world after the original in the sequels, we can explore the prior landscape in prequels. Sequels are obviously easier to make because they are building off the story of the first one. Prequels take place before the stories we all know and that’s why they can feel regressive.

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Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso in ROGUE ONE. Courtesy of Lucasfilm

People need to take chances and write prequels with new characters and locations and with different stories. ROGUE ONE (another secret STAR WARS prequel) almost succeeded in this. ROGUE ONE almost made a gritty war film about the ground level fighters in the Rebellion. The film is great still but its constant references to other STAR WARS films cheapen it.

The desire to over-connect prequels to originals is tempting. Fans are already buzzing about which superheroes will appear in KRYPTON. If ratings are all KRYPTON is after, then I will expect they will cover their episodes with references to future comic heroes. If the writers care about the world they are establishing and their story, that should focus on making that as interesting as they can.

That is how to write one satisfying prequel.

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