I would like to clarify at the beginning of this post that I am not against prequels or sequels. A prime example would be the newest Batman trilogy. Batman Begins was more or less a prequel; introducing Bruce and his road to becoming the caped crusader. The Dark Knight is a sequel to the first installment; in my opinion, arguably the best superhero film ever made (Thank you, Heath Ledger/Joker). So there you have it, I can find happiness in the before and after of a clever concept.
With that said, I also have to wonder sometimes about the importance of sequels. If the tale has been told, I would generally prefer it not to be soiled by a shoddy follow-up. Disney has long been a culprit of expanding a successful story into multiple incarnations. Many of them not worth viewing. Nevertheless, there are notable mentions that should be sought after: The Lion King 2 (Shakespeare really does improve on the African savannah), Toy Story 2/3 (No other franchise could have made me cry in the theatre and proceed to return home, an adult, to play with my childhood toys).
The reason these (and other sequels) were successful was the planning. Taking time to expand the story with dignity. A haphazard mishmash of ideas cannot be stabilized by even the cleverest foundation. CoughMatrix2/3Cough. Sequels generally suffer from (what I’ll call) longevititis. The longer they run the worst they become.
Then, there are the prequels. Their likelihood of achieving greatness is the same as the sequels; dependent on character development, a strong plot and the carefully planned introduction of ideas. Unlike the sequels, these lead-in tales are often admired as an original manner of expanding the franchise. And it can be. But it can’t work for everyone. One such pair occurs in the same universe; the Wolverine prequel paled in comparison to X-Men First Class. The establishment of the x-men was more compelling than the angsty rampages of Wolverine. Another wildly inventive prequel came from a powerhouse conglomerate that I had previously paid no attention to: Star Trek. Nearly everything about its patchwork of stories and characters meshed together seamlessly to introduce the young Enterprise crew.
The biggest drawback of prequels lies in the fact that the audience already knows the characters and has envisioned their beginnings. Sequels remain mysterious, but prequels can be left to the devices of the fans. Due to these expectations, some prior stories can never hold up.
Star Wars. I have few complaints about its prequel trilogy. Beautifully presented, fresh new faces, hints at the original trilogy- what else could I ask for? Unfortunately, I believe the most glaring problem reared its sith head in Anakin’s transition to the dark side. Pitiful. Unbelievable. Laughable, even. I’ll end my grievance there.
Although many times, prequels and sequels have gone wrong, it can be done right. I stand by saying that it is all in the planning. I would rather the preceding installments of a story take years to debut and be inspiring than rush to premiere with a resounding thud.