When I think about sequels, the first thing that comes to mind is this movie. I can’t help it.
Let’s face it. Most sequels suck. If anything, they strive to emulate the original film too much and fail to stand on their own. Many of them never needed to be made in the first place.
But then there’s The Empire Strikes Back, which, in my not-so-humble opinion, was a far better film than Star Wars: A New Hope and is unquestionably the finest addition to the saga. It added depth to the villainous character of Darth Vader, forwarded the idea that the Sith Lord was a slave to the Dark Side as opposed to being its master, introduced the iconic Yoda to the franchise, turned the developing romance subplot on its ear, presented arguably the most famous struggle in the series by initially polarizing Luke and Vader and then revealing their bond, made us concerned about landing our starships inside giant worm-thingies, and left us with some quotes that will probably be floating around American Pop Culture as long as there’s an America that pretends to have culture.
The latter, of course, is most impressive when viewed in the light of how quotable the first… err, fourth film was. (Hell, A New Hope is still the first film even if it isn’t the first episode.) My personal favorite quote from the entire franchise is still: “Do or do not. There is no try.”
So how did screenwriters Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan (Lucas wrote the story but not the screenplay) and director Irvin Kershner manage to follow up what is among the most popular films in movie history with a sequel of superior quality?
That’s the question I’m pondering right now as I’m working on the sequel to The Wolf of Descarta.
Movies have the obvious advantage of the visual spectrum. The film doesn’t have to explain what a Stormtrooper looks like to the audience. It merely presents an image:
The film sequel presents the same image with a bit more flair (or humor, in this case) for those who are already familiar with it:
A novel, on the other hand, has to present the image through descriptive text. The more world building, the more descriptive text is required. But how much of that description is required in a sequel? And this question is just a drop in the bucket. What about back story? Character development? The inner workings of a previously published speculative universe? How much should be rehashed?
I ask this because I, first and foremost, am guilty of not reading book series in order. I’m usually able to figure out what I’ve missed, but I’ve heard the following gripes from fellow fans who have picked up other authors’ book series:
“Book 3 was mostly a retelling of books 1-2 with a little bit of plot advancement.”
“Book 2 had so much filler that I just kind of skipped around.”
“I wasn’t able to get a copy of the first book, so I had no idea what was going on for half of this thing! I had to wikia what happened!”
“Yeah, you can basically just skip books 5-7.”
“…and then this character came out of nowhere, and I had no idea who he was! I checked the first book, and it turns out he was, in fact, mentioned quite a few times. I guess I just kind of forgot about him.”
Do you see my conundrum here? To retell or not to retell? That is the question.
Film relies primarily on dialogue to both advance the plot and reveal characterization. This might seem like a limitation compared to devices like internal monologue in prose, but it also eliminates the problem of retreading familiar territory and wasting the reader’s time.
I guess my point is that when it comes to novels and screenplays, we’re comparing apples and oranges. The Empire Strikes Back can’t serve as a model sequel because film sequels eliminate many of these novel issues (har har) by means of process.
So, uh… Anybody read any books lately that were sequels and actually better than the original story? I think the last one I read was The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander.
I was in fifth grade. -.-