In the film and TV business story is paramount. It’s so important to the final product that often screenwriters, directors or even actors will come up with extensive back story to be able to understand the characters better. Back story that is incredibly detailed and intricate, as a way of fully fleshing out a character as if they were real, that way their actions in the story seem genuine. But generally they keep the back story they’ve invented to themselves because it’s not really relevant to the story that the audience is watching. Its purpose is to inform the character. When a film or television series is successful it’s all too tempting to make sequels, and more often then not all that stuff the audience didn’t need to know comes out because it’s easier then thinking up a whole new story with even more back story. My theory is that when the back story becomes the front story everything suffers.
Let’s start with the most famous example of this, “Star Wars.” The first “Star Wars” film was good. We learn about the force and how Luke’s father was a war hero who died fighting along side Obi-wan, and that’s all we needed to know for Luke’s character to accept his destiny and have an adventure. Then they defied all the odds by making a sequel that was even better than the original. We learned about Yoda and that Luke’s dad isn’t dead, he’s Darth Vader. This is all just the right information for us to understand Luke’s journey as he transforms from a farm boy to a hero. We instantly understood that his father wasn’t dead but he was horribly disfigured and corrupted, we didn’t need to see it to know it. Then the third film comes along and while it doesn’t make very much sense, for all its faults it gives the story closure. Luke becomes a master Jedi and Darth Vader redeems himself in the end. Well done, case closed, no more story needed. Wait what? There are three more movies, you say? Oh shit!!
So the prequels roll around and all the back story that George Lucas thought up to create this different universe and explain how Darth Vader could indeed be Luke’s father and how the Empire came to power and so on, all that stuff that’s really REALLY boring and only serves the purpose of setting up the events of the original films, all of it was crammed into three really terrible movies.
In these films we learn that the cool spiritual force, the one that surrounds and binds all living thing in the universe together, well actually it’s not spiritual, it’s these little creatures called midichlorians… What? Seriously? No one needs that level of detail and it changes the single most motivating factor in the films. Then we learn that the evil villain, the one who was originally a war hero, actually he was just an annoying little douche who didn’t like it when he didn’t get his way. It’s far lamer than we could have conceived.
Remember how we already knew that Obi-wan and Darth Vader were pallin’ around fighting stuff when he tells Luke about the force? Now you can see them do it… For some reason this is not exciting at all. I heard that it happened in the first film, so that’s not really contributing anything to this story, it’s just mindlessness. The same thing with Yoda fighting and Vader losing his legs and turning into a man/machine. We heard all about it, we already know all that stuff… When we actually saw it, it was just disappointing. One jumped around like a frog on meth and the other walked off a table like a Frankenstein. And plus these films are pretty boring. In fact the only way it could be more boring is if it was filled with a lot of stupid scenes of space socio-economics and politics and whatnot that was thought up to give the back story some structure… Oh, really? It is filled with that? Come on man!!!
I think my point is made. Not only does all that stuff in no way serve the story that’s been established, but it’s boring because it’s just rehashing things that we were already aware of. It actually has a negative effect on the original movies that we loved as well (and this is without considering the negative effect caused by the special editions). By filling everyone in on a level of detail they never should have known, the movies we love get retroactively hurt in the process. You can’t watch the original “Star Wars” without picturing Hayden Christianson in that black suit or Ewen McGregor as young Obi-wan. Or when Luke meets Yoda and he’s surprised that such a tiny little guy was a warrior, now no one in the audience can share that surprise. All we can picture is a CGI Yoda jumping around like a little green weirdo. And so the story is ruined by too much ancillary information. In the case of “Star Wars,” the amount of information was so staggering somehow they were able to make three more whole entire movies.
This problem exists in a ton of different movie franchises; it would take less time to list all the movies in which it doesn’t happen. And while sequels in general are fraught with other story telling problems as they try to recapture the magic of the first film, a big part of it is lazy story telling. It’s the reason I’m very skeptical about sequels all together. Remember “The Matrix?” That movie was awesome until the sequels came out, and unfortunately the original can’t stand alone once the sequels infect your brain. The first one had the agents, and the next one had ghosts or something. In the first they talk about Zion and it gave us context for who these people were outside the matrix. Did it add anything to see the cave dance? In the first film we found out that the machines created the matrix as a way of using humans for fuel. Did we really need to know that Colonel Sanders was the architect who made it or that there were like 20 or something Neo’s already? The answer is no, it adds nothing but an absurd level of continuity that didn’t even happen in the story we are watching. Only the Wachowski’s need to be aware of these things in order to bring to life the amazing first film. The sequels don’t make the story better; they just add a lot of bullshit.
You might say what’s the big deal? Who cares if they make sequels that suck? It doesn’t hurt the integrity of the original. But sadly you are wrong. When they establish new things that change the continuity of the original, or that just adds nothing but boredom, it takes what you the viewer already imagined and makes it into something that’s concretely worse, it ruins everything.
This doesn’t just happen in film; the most recent example of this happened on the TV show “Lost.” Recently there was an episode that focused solely on the mythology of the island . If you are a fan of “Lost” then you know what I’m talking about. If you are not a fan of “Lost” then you should stop reading now because this is about to get really uninteresting for you. In the most recent episode we found out that the island’s pseudo-god, Jacob, is actually the brother of the smoke monster, and their mother was some kind of witch who was an island native. Now if you don’t watch “Lost’ and you kept reading despite my warning, doesn’t all of that gibberish sound completely retarded? You also found out that the whole reason that Jacob is on the island is to protect a glowing yellow light that’s in a cave… That’s the whole reason for the show… The entire show! So this is all obviously pretty stupid, but the way it was executed was mind-blowingly bad.
The whole episode was very much like a fairy tale or an ancient myth. Nothing is really explained, you just have to accept the symbolism of everything even if it doesn’t make any sense at all. The problem is that this show has been structured for six years as a mystery show, and finally all the answers are revealed and it turns out they are quite lame.
Here countless people have devoted time to a story and it turns out this whole time what they thought they were watching, a show about a plane crash, was actually a show about a glowing yellow light in a cave… *sigh*. America has been duped. Its one thing if you do that in a hilarious way like say “St. Elsewhere,” essentially giving the audience the finger. I wish the “Lost” executives had realized that there is no way they could end the show that would satisfy the audience and just said “hey, fuck it; it’s all a dream by an autistic guy.” It would even have been better if they just didn’t even explain anything at all and just ended the show. Too much information ruins the story again. Instead every single hour of show that came before this episode is tainted because now it’s a show about a magic yellow light in a cave… And that’s it, nothing else. That’s the ultimate conclusion of the show. All of the rest of the story is totally negated by this one revelation.
That really blows! Fuck you “Lost”! This episode shows a complete lack of respect for the audience’s intelligence. The same audience that stayed with the show and kept it on the air because they wanted to see the resolution of the story, and the writers took a big shit on them. And the fact is that the “Lost” people pulled it off, they tricked everyone into watching a show about a magic light in a cave by not telling them that the show was actually about a magic light in a cave, for six years!! They win, we lose… Truly anything would have been better than what ended up happening.
The “Lost” executives have responded to fans who hated the episode by trying to say that everyone is just mad that they didn’t get the answers they wanted with the level of detail they wanted. But that isn’t the case at all. The fact is there was too much. We would have been better off not knowing any of that stuff. Keep the excessive back story to yourselves because it always ruins the story. I’m sure this isn’t the last time any of this will happen. It doesn’t make me angry, I transcend anger all together and break through to the other side where there is only soul crushing disappointment. I just know that soon enough there will be a new “Lord of the Rings,” movie called “Baby Gandalf” or “Golem Goes to Camp” and yet another great story will be ruined forever. I don’t blame the Hollywood machine and its insatiable hunger for money at the expense of storytelling. Who wouldn’t want to make such easy money? I blame the lazy writer’s who don’t take the time to give the audience something better and establish a brand new continuity, instead of using the stuff that wasn’t good enough to make it into the first film.