Monday, May 09, 2011

Story Musings and Prequelitis

I got my traditional Mother's Day nap yesterday (three years running makes it a tradition in our household) and was amazed how much that helped me, energy-wise, going into the new week. Perhaps it should be a weekly tradition!

Following the nap, I was treated to Chinese food and a video with my dear family. We decided to go on and see The Empire Strikes Back, as the sweet girl had decided (after weeks, or was it months?) that she was ready to move on in the Star Wars trilogy. She loved the first one, but I think the intensity made her want a long breather in between installments. Plus she's sort of charmed by the fact that her Daddy and I had to wait three years -- THREE YEARS! -- in between each movie when we originally saw them.

I love watching the Star Wars films with the sweet girl. It's fun to watch any story you know by heart with someone new, someone who is seeing the story fresh for the first time. It's even more fun when they're watching it from a young, innocent perspective. I like to observe what works and what doesn't work for her, from a story perspective. What does she intuitively get? What needs more explaining? What strikes her as hilarious? Not that every story needs to be simple enough to be fully understood by an almost nine year old, but it's still interesting to ponder what works and what doesn't on a child's level, and which story layers work on more than one level.

She loved Yoda, of course. She lit up like a Christmas tree when we told her he was voiced by Frank Oz! She is a BIG fan of Miss Piggy and Fozzie Bear. She thinks Han Solo is very funny. The running gag of the hyperdrive not being fixed was probably her favorite part (well, next to checking out Princess Leia's changing hairstyles). She practically cackled in glee when Han landed the Millennium Falcon on top of the huge Imperial ship ("it looks like a tiny skylight!" she crowed) and then floated away with the garbage. I think she was momentarily stunned by the big reveal of Luke's parentage -- I was glad she was cuddled on my lap at the time, so I could squeeze her shoulder in sympathy.

Of course, Dana and I ended up getting into a long, geeky discussion, as we brushed our teeth and headed toward bed, about the prequels. And about how we would have written Darth Vader's back story completely differently. (Oh go on, admit it. You would have too! If any villain ever deserved a better back story than the one he got, it's Vader!)

But I think I've had prequels on the brain, ever since we started viewing (thanks to an unexpected wait on a movie at the top of our Netflix queue) the first season of Star Trek: Enterprise. This is a series we've often talked of wanting to watch -- we never caught any of it. Well, D. says he caught part of an episode once in the wee small hours when the sweet girl was a baby, but as you can imagine, that's a bit blurry. I don't even recalling seeing that. So it's all new to us.

I've been hearing that a lot of Trekkies weren't overly fond of the series because it messed with canon and with their preconceived ideas about what the Star Trek universe looked like prior to Kirk, Spock and crew took to the skies. They have my empathy, but I honestly think, based on the three episodes we've seen so far, that the writers were spot on, at least early. The third episode, which we watched a few nights ago, was especially rife with original series "vibes" and references. And it's just plain fun to see the beginnings of things we've grown accustomed to in the Star Trek universe, like phasers and transporters. Their trepidation over using the transporter (and their insistence on using shuttles) is particularly fun -- sort of like reading mystery novels set anywhere prior to the mid 1990s, when you sometimes find yourself gnashing your teeth because the characters in danger don't have cell phones. I also enjoy the sense that the crew members are like kids in a candy shop when it comes to space exploration. Meeting alien races! Cool! Much less high-falutin' talk (no prime directive yet) and much more "let's just go see what's out there." It works for me.

So in general, how do you feel about prequels? Should writers avoid them like the plague? Are they always rife with potential pitfalls? What about companion stories written from a different POVs (like Ender's Shadow/Ender's Game?)And what book, or series of books, would you most love to see "prequelized"? I'd love to have some geeky book/movie discussions about this topic.


Erin said...

What a fun blog post! And really neat to hear what the budding Star Wars fan thought of Empire! (How did she react to the Carbonite scene??)

So, what did you come up with for Vader's backstory? ;) Hopefully something that never involved the words "This is tense!!" while being shot at by a dozen different ships or gallumphing up a hill on some sort of bizarre alien beast of burden in one of the weirdest romantic gestures I've ever seen...

I missed Enterprise too. Finally saw the first episode a while back, and enjoyed it for the reasons you said, plus 80s geek me just loves Scott Bakula. But I'd like to watch more of it sometime.

I definitely get the danger with prequels - messing with established history and characters, the chance of it being boring since you already know where things are going, that sort of thing - but I think it can be a lot of fun, a great way to dive back into already beloved worlds. Of course, that's what fan fic writers do all the time, but pressure's on a bit more when it's supposed to be something really official!

Beth said...

Erin, the Carbonite scene didn't seem to bother her too much. I admit I prepped her a bit in advance and made sure that she knew Han was going into a deep-freeze hibernation (not dying). She said, rather sanguinely, "Like a frog in winter," to which I replied, "exactly!" ;) Well, close enough! Then she reminded me, smart kid, that E.T. didn't die either, but only went into a sort of hibernation like a frog.

We didn't really come up with a back story for Vader, at least not fully. I played around with one for a while until D. reminded me that Obi-Wan has to be a good bit older than Anakin (I was playing around with them both courting the future Mrs. Skywalker) for anything to make sense. We spent more time talking about what didn't work in the existing prequels, I think (though we were both getting groggy with sleep, so I may have dreamed part of the conversation).

I didn't realize how recent Enterprise is -- it was on 2001-2005. Bakula is great, though I am beginning to suspect that he mostly just acts like himself, whatever role he plays. He's so likable though, it's hard to mind!

I'm wondering if prequels or sequels feel more challenging for writers -- I think both would be challenging in different ways. From a creative standpoint, I'm more intrigued by the possibilities and limits involved in creating a prequel, because you've got set "boundaries" already established -- whereas a sequel can spin off in all sorts of directions. If Rowling ever dips into HP world again, I've often wonder which direction she might move -- forward or back?

Elouise82 said...

The first Star Wars I ever saw was Return of the Jedi - everything preceding it was explained to me by a bunch of kids age 12 and under. And yet, oddly enough, it didn't ruin the trilogy for me! I loved it all, and the last scene between the Emperor, Luke, and Vader, left me breathless.

I don't know if I would have minded the banality of the prequels quite so much if it weren't for the fact that I'd been into the Extended Universe for several years, and the back story that the novels hinted at was So Much More Interesting! I would really, really love to see Star Wars prequels created by Timothy Zahn or Michael A Stackpole - they were my favorite writers of the EU, and I think they would have written a fantastic back story.

I've only seen bits and pieces of Enterprise episodes, but I didn't care for the acting particularly much. Not that I can say much - Voyager is my favorite Star Trek series, and that one is also fairly well hated by most purists!

A books series I would really love to read a prequel to would be Susan Cooper's Dark is Rising - I would love to read more about Merriman and Arthur, and some of the earlier battles against the dark - maybe even the creation of some of the Signs.

Beth said...

Elouise, I've been having some problems with blogger this week. And one of the problems is that it ate the lengthy comment I thought I posted to you a few days ago!

Well, I won't try to recreate it :) but just respond freshly to your great comments.

That's interesting that you saw the original trilogy out of order & still loved it. Does Jedi hold a special place in your heart, I wonder, because you saw it first? (I ask because I'm that with a certain book series I read out of order...I'm still particularly fond of my "entrance" into that fictional world. Sometimes jumping in feet first isn't a bad thing!)

I am so glad to hear that there are prequel books that are far more interesting than the "banal" (good word) movie prequels. My husband and I were discussing that the other night. Neither of us has read any Star Wars books. If we wanted to take a dip into the extended universe, where would you recommend we start?

We've still only seen four episodes of Enterprise, but I'm still liking it. The acting may not be totally top-notch (it's hard to best some of the original actors, or for that matter, Patrick Stewart in TNG!) but I think the cast works. And I'm still digging the way they're playing up all the potential problems and pitfalls of the early Enterprise, not to mention the naivete of people exploring deep space for the first time.

If you can believe it, I've never read Susan Cooper. She's been on my TBR list for some time. I think I've given her a try once or twice before, but the books must not have caught me at the right time. I'm pretty sure whatever of her's I tried was not The Dark is Rising series though.

Elouise82 said...

"Jedi" is still, I think, my favorite. Even though most people hate the Ewoks (and I can certainly see the ridiculousness of their triumph over the Stormtroopers, who HAVE to be the most ineffective military force, ever), I still like that one the best out of them all!

I haven't read any of the EU novels set in the prequel times, but if you're looking to dive into the world of the novels, I don't think you can do better than where it all began - with Timothy Zahn's Heir to the Empire trilogy (Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising, The Last Command). I also thoroughly enjoy the X-Wing series, started by Michael A Stackpole and continued by Aaron Allston. I do have to say, because the EU novels are written by so many different writers, some of them devolve quickly into nonsense and carry the universe in a pretty lame direction (the New Jedi Order books are, quite frankly, ridiculous, and what stopped me reading Star Wars novels altogether, and wishing I could write my own EU). The ones I mentioned, though, are both well-written and in good keeping with the original movie trilogy.

Beth said...

Well, I'm quite fond of the Ewoks myself. And Erin (who posted above) is a huge Ewok fan! :) I think what I always loved about them was how well the embodied the foolish things of the world overcoming the mighty and strong. Although you're right, when it comes to ineptitude, those Stormtroopers just can't be beat.

Thanks for the EU recommendations for Star Wars. I will have to add Timothy Zahn and Stackpole/Allston to that ever-growing TBR pile. I went digging around a bit the other day, intrigued to learn more about the Star Wars book world, and learned that Lucas put a virtual ban on all prequel novel musings prior to the release of the prequel trilogy on screen...well, that is if Wikipedia can be believed. (I trust them on this kind of stuff usually!) At any rate, he seemed to want any Anakin back stories squashed prior to his getting out the film version. I have a feeling the door's been opened since though!