When sequels attack

When does a bad sequel or prequel or spin-off ruin a franchise? Most of all how does it? Everyone can name a franchise that went all to hell after the first story. Did anyone *get* Highlander after ‘there can be only one’?

Success breeds a vacuum. The thing fans want is MORE. But they’re a diverse bunch. They want change and everything the same, except the bits they didn’t like. And they can’t agree on what they didn’t like. I think except for Jar Jar Binks. I think he was universally hated.

Should it matter? Everyone may have hated Jar Jar but they still saw the films. Should writers even consider the fans? They didn’t the first time, because before the first time, there were no fans.

I think, in the end the answer is no. A writer (or a bunch of writers) makes up a world, and stories and characters for that world. Once they start writing for fans, they’re writing fan fiction. Which can be sweet and lovely, but often the most entertaining and meaningful stories go where the fans wouldn’t think to take them. Anyone believe Wash would die? Well except that it was Joss Whedon writing, no. Yet the danger needed emphasis and the crew of Serenity needed an emotional driver to react against. You don’t have to like it, but it worked in terms of the story. And writers should and do think in terms of the story. The Story Is All. Fan fiction writers don’t need to think like that.

Incidentally, I’m not against fanfic, I’ve given it a go myself. I’ve been a regular reader of Tea at the Ford discussions and (their collective creative writing) which was/is a response to the Whedonverse, and has many interesting things to say about fanfic.

There is also a difference between stories created over the course of three or a dozen books or films and sequels made because of the success of the first film or book. The three Lord of the Rings fit together and are necessary and in fact are only a part of the creative endeavour by JJR Tolkien in his universe. The sequels to the Matrix, however, seem ‘the same only more so’. There was more of the technical wizardry and the return of a defeated character, but the stories lacked the shock and depth of the first film. If it had stood as one shining successful film perhaps it would be more fondly recalled. As it is now, The Matrix’s reputation has suffered because of the poor response to the follow-up films. It seems this could end up being the case, on a smaller scale, for Donnie Darko with the release of the S. Darko in 2009. Has anyone even seen it? I only knew about it because it was in the discount bin in a low-cost department store.

Did anyone watch The Lone Gunmen, ok there was me, but the X Files had what was missing from TLG. Mulder and Scully – their relationship, their frisson. Between Mulder’s obssessional drive and deadpan humour and Scully’s straight know-it-all-don’t-believe-in-anything-I-see-except-God attitude they had it made. Sadly none of the TLG had the presence of even one of Mulder (the tragic hero). Luckily TLG did no harm to the franchise – that came later with the sadly uninspiring second film. If there is a third film I can only hope it leads back to the mythos and chemistry that inspired it and the audience.

And that’s what all bad sequels/prequels and reboots have in common, a failure to adequately do justice to the established mythos and chemistry of the original. And sadly no course or experience can teach these things. But I suspect ego has a play in their absence, when the writer/creator has that mystique so they can’t be criticised and can’t see the lack of what made the original so, so good. And of course, where franchise owners see bucks before story.

Next time, sequels – who gets it credit for the attempt and who gets it right.

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