When are Sequels Warranted?

Posted: October 31, 2012 in Uncategorized
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By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty.

It was just announced that Disney has acquired LucasFilm for $4 billion, which consequently means Disney now owns the rights to all things Star Wars and Indiana Jones. It was also announced that Disney is targeting 2015 for the seventh Star Wars film, which will be the first in a new trilogy.

 Based on the reaction I’ve read so far, Star Wars fans seem extremely excited. More films are on the way and the already massive Star Wars universe will continue to expand across all media.Image

I’m not a fan of Star Wars, though I love Science Fiction and Fantasy. So, I’ll let someone else fantasize and prognosticate about where the Star Wars franchise should go from here.

 As a non-fan, but someone who loves movies and storytelling, this announcement made me wonder about this question: when are sequels warranted?

 Is a sequel of a film or book warranted every time the first installment was good? Crime & Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky is my favorite novel, yet I’ve never craved Crimes & Punishments: The Return of Raskolnikov. Likewise, my three favorite movies (Chasing Amy, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Braveheart) are all essentially standalone films, and I crave no expansion to those stories.

 However, I also love some films that are a part of a larger continuity, such as the current Marvel Universe films (The Avengers, et al.) which are six films in with at least six more to come. And I’m excited for all of those films.

 So when should there be a sequel? The answer is simple, really. A story – be it movie or film or TV series – deserves continuation when there are more GOOD stories worth telling in that continuity.

 I’m sure Star Wars fans will argue that there are plenty of good stories left, and given that there are countless books, video games, and TV shows set in the Star Wars universe whose stories are not represented in the film canon, the fans are probably right.

 In a story universe like Star Wars or Marvel, there is always room for continuation: there are more aliens and superheroes and worlds and conflicts. The possibilities are limited only by the imagination of the writers and their ability to craft a good story set in that universe.

 Unfortunately, as we are all aware, money drives decision making. Successful franchises and stories are constantly pushed past their logical endpoint because the companies producing the material know the built-in audience is a built-in source of revenue.

 One of my favorite shows on TV for a while was WGN’s Supernatural. From the first episode, the show was building to a climax that took five seasons to reach. The final episode of Season 5 was intended by the writers and producers to be the final episode of the series, and it was one of the best and most satisfying endings of any show or movie I’ve watched. However, the show’s popularity nudged it into more seasons that felt completely unwarranted. As much as I loved the show, I wanted it to end on that perfect note. The show is now on its third season since that “ending” and I haven’t watched any of it. Endings are the hardest part of a story to write, and if you find a great one, you just can’t ruin it.

 But when money is influencing storytelling so heavily, the number of stories ruined like this will just continue to grow. And it’s not like money’s influence on storytelling is new. Going back to Dostoevsky, 146 years ago he wrote his novella The Gambler in a hurry because it was being penned in order to pay off his own gambling debts.  

 So, while I’m not in their numbers, I have my fingers crossed for the Star Wars fans. I hope this new era of films and properties will bring you stories you love. While I don’t blame any company for trying to make a buck, I hope it’s not at the expense of the story.

  1. Trish says:

    Along these lines, were you aware that Kristen Wiig refused multiple requests to write a sequel to “Bridesmaids”? The studio pushed hard, but she resisted because she felt the story she wanted to tell had come to an end, and there could be no logical reason to revisit the same territory. Dig it!

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