I just recently saw the new Star Trek movie. As a huge fan of the original series, I was incredibly impressed. I loved all the small quick references to original episodes. Because of where I saw it, I couldn’t help but wonder how much of the plot was understood by those who don’t know what it’s like to be a trekkie. One interesting thought I had while I was watching is how many successful stories and moves will sometimes come up with the idea of a “prequel.”
Of course there are as many exceptions as there are examples, but couldn’t help thinking of the idea of making a “prequel” after the original series becomes popular. The prequel series for Star Wars didnâ€™t come about until nearly thirty years after the original series were released. A few years ago, the James Bond was re-written as a prequel. Just recently I saw a movie poster for “Underworld, The Beginning.” Because movies here are released sometimes several months behind the rest of the world, I don’t know of the original release date of this movie. Another recent popular movie/story that had a prequel released was Hannibal Rising.
I guess it’s part of human nature to want to know the origin of things. Maybe because when a story is first conceived, it is wholly conceived according to the classical intro/climax/resolution model. And because many times, after the conflict resolution, there isn’t much room for more story to please eager fans who want more, so a prequel is the only direction a writer can go. I’m sure you can think of a few stories or movies where the sequels were just not as thrilling or entertaining as the original. (Jaws comes to mind.) Perhaps writing a prequel allows for much more leeway in story creation, as in Star Trek. Or maybe humans are just naturally curious about where things come from. The more we learn about something, the more we want to find out the beginning.
When you write a prequel for a story, you aren’t bound by matching the new story to the original story. Because it is a prequel, it only has to end where the previous one began. And the more you tell a story, the further back you can go, and the more creative you can be with how the story began.
One very popular story (arguable the most popular story ever told) that comes to mind that fits this model perfectly is the story of Jesus of Nazareth. It’s generally agreed that the first gospel that was written was the Gospel of Mark, around 40 or 50 AD. Twenty years after the crucifixion. Since the crucifixion happened around 20 or 30 AD (the calendar we used to guess the date wasn’t invented until around 400 AD, so there is plenty of room for error,) most of the “story’ that was circulating around was by what they call “oral tradition.” People telling and retelling stories. The interesting thing about the gospel of Mark is that it doesn’t contain the birth of Jesus. At that point in the stories life, people were really only concerned with His teachings and crucifixion/resurrection. Only when the next two gospels appeared twenty years later (Luke and Mathew), did they contain a narrative regarding the nativity. It’s like the more the story about Jesus spread, the more people wanted to know where He came from. And as they spread, they naturally grew and evolved backwards in time, to include this information.
One of course has to wonder about the accuracy of any of these stories, as it consisted of orally passed on renditions of Gospel. I once watched a fascinating rendition of the Gospel of Luke performed by an actor who portrayed what he imagined was an accurate rendition of how this would have occurred two thousand years ago. He gave a compellingly fascinating monologue for about an hour as he described the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It was completely amazing, and would be fascinating to see how this particular story spread an evolved over time as talented orators two thousand years ago retold, embellished, added to and improvised on the story that we now call the Gospel. I think you have to agree that one thing that is always on a storytellers mind is how to keep the audiences attention throughout the monologue.
Of course the final Gospel, or at least the final Gospel that was included in the Latin Vulgate around three or four hundred AD, was written around 90 AD and borders on the metaphysical, but that’s another story.
I don’t know if this makes any sense to you, or whether or not you see a connection between the evolution of stories and the nature of human curiosity. Maybe something to keep in mind next time you watch or read a prequel.