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Why does Hollywood keep making prequels if everyone hates them?

Solo: A Star Wars Story
Photo: Jonathan Olley (Disney, Lucasfilm)

Original content is a unicorn in this day and age, and the happiest people are the ones who’ve come to understand that fresh, thrilling stories can be told in the guise of an existing property. Just look at Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal or Noah Hawley’s Fargo—original ideas can blossom in old settings. In other words, creativity and commerce can coexist; it just takes the right mind at the helm.

Whether or not that will happen in the upcoming Solo: A Star Wars Story remains to be seen, but a new essay pondering the plight of the prequel from n+1 has surfaced in the wake of its latest trailer. It essentially asks two questions: Why do people hate prequels? And, if that’s the case, why do studios keep making them?


For writer Adam Kotsko, the answer at least partly circles around questions of ownership, and how much those in control of the intellectual property acknowledge the cultural conversation surrounding the story.

Generally speaking, movies and TV shows show back-story only when it is essential to the story at hand, for instance, when it is necessary to clarify motives or lend greater emotional depth. By presenting itself as back-story to an existing narrative, a prequel therefore implicitly claims that it is essential to understanding what is at stake in that story—and worse, that the existing story was somehow incomplete before the prequel came around to fill in the gaps.


By placing itself in a position of temporal priority, the prequel is also claiming a kind of logical priority, above all when it claims to show the origin of important features of the narrative world—and every claim to stand at the origin is also a claim of ownership. By creating a prequel, the producers are asserting their proprietary rights over the franchise in question. Fans object because, after devoting so many hours of their life to the franchise, they feel they own it.

Basically, the argument goes, fans are prone to hating prequels because they don’t want the fabric of the world they’ve come to love to change. Prequels, after all, exist to add weight or clarity to the original story, especially after fans have already constructed their own backstory via fan fiction and speculation. George Lucas all but ignored the expanded universe built by the countless Star Wars prequel novels with his prequels, choosing instead to pursue his own vision.

As for why studios keep making prequels, well, why wouldn’t you if you have the rights to a wildly popular character like Han Solo? Solo is dreaded by many fans because they don’t want Alden Ehrenreich’s take on the character to color Harrison Ford’s, or for this vision of his world to alter that of the original Star Wars trilogy. We’ll find out if that’s the case when Solo drops on May 25th. We’ll also find out—fingers crossed—if Chewie gets to fuck.


You can read the whole article on n+1 here.

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About the author

Randall Colburn

Randall Colburn is The A.V. Club's Internet Culture Editor. He lives in Chicago, occasionally writes plays, and was a talking head in Best Worst Movie, the documentary about Troll 2.