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The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Fit to be king
Lilli Dellheim '25 M.A., Special to the Hawk • July 13, 2024

Culture Shock: Revenge of the prequels

On Friday, Nov. 18, thousands of Harry Potter fans all over the world will proceed en masse to their local movie theaters, eagerly anticipating the first installment of “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.” The film is the franchise’s first cinematic outing in almost five years, with a screenplay penned by the fandom queen herself, J.K. Rowling.

I’m a major Potterhead, so “Fantastic Beasts,” as an expansion on a product that shaped my early life, should be right up my alley. Yet, bizarrely enough, I’m not excited for it. As a matter of fact, I’m of the opinion that—to put it bluntly—it’s going to suck. There are a few reasons for this prediction, but the biggest is that “Fantastic Beasts” is a prequel.

Having become a pop culture fan in the Internet Age, I have an automatic response to the word “prequel,” namely, that anything carrying the moniker is destined to either ruin or be inferior to the original.

This Pavlovian association is the aftermath of the infamous “Star Wars” prequels. With their shoddy character arcs, overuse of CGI, and banal writing and directing, those three films decimated the goodwill that director George Lucas had built up in his fanbase, resulting in some abandoning the franchise entirely. To be fair, last year’s “The Force Awakens” more than earned back that trust, but Lucas had no input on that project. Taking all of this into consideration, it scares me that publications like The Atlantic, The Washington Post, and even The New York Times have been asking, as far back as 2014, whether Rowling is the second coming of Lucas.

In an attempt to make sense of all this, I sought help from Jeffrey Hyson, Ph.D, associate professor of history and one of the most culture-savvy people I know. His take on the prequel is a little more optimistic. He noted that though the term “prequel” has received a stamp of notoriety in recent years, one of film’s most beloved sequels, “The Godfather Part II,” actually contains elements of a prequel: While half of the movie follows Michael Corleone in the late  1950s in a continuation of its predecessor, the other half sees Michael’s father, Vito, build his family empire in the early 20th century.

“You’re working in parallel with the present day plot,” Hyson observed. “It plays up the feature of the best prequels: That is, they make you rethink the original works.”

But in a post-Star Wars world, the phrase “good prequel” is somewhat of an oxymoron, since the term itself has become synonymous with “cash-grab” and “low-quality.”

Hyson, a “Star Wars” fan since the first film in 1977, knows that the franchise is to blame for this negativity.

“It was the most high-profile failure, but also the most high-profile attempt at something like that,” he said. “So anyone who, post-Star Wars, wanted to do a prequel, has that stench on that term.”

He cited his own experience with “The Phantom Menace,” the first and arguably the most notorious of Lucas’ prequels, saying that he felt “real disappointment” after seeing it. “There was a ton of excitement at the prospect of that universe being revisited… I came out of it thinking that there were some neat visual moments, but Jar-Jar Binks wore off every last nerve I had.”

Well, I asked, what about “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” the forthcoming December release which takes place between the prequel and original trilogies? “I remain cautiously optimistic,” he said.

Right now, the world’s Potterheads are in the same boat as those ill-fated Star Wars fans were back in 1999. While “Beasts” is receiving mixed to positive press so far, it’s important to note that “Phantom Menace” also had good reviews before its release. Nevertheless, I’ll be seeing “Beasts” this Friday with Hyson’s words in mind, and will report back on it later. In the meantime, I need a good dose of cautious optimism.

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