What Makes a Good Sequel?

Day 16. The weekend is now here, and it is time to relax. Winter break has begun, and for many of us restful waters are ahead. I now have the time to create longer posts, and that should start today. We are heading towards the end of the 25 Days of Stadarooni, and it is surprising to me how far it has come since December started.

As you are aware, the past weekend has seen an abundance of analytical posts that are a bit smaller in scale. While these are fun to make, I can assure you that there will not be too much more after today, as I take a step back into storytelling and a retrospect I am excited to write and share with you all. The last story on this blog has had a great response, and tomorrow’s will have a similar tone and mood behind it.

Now, why don’t I answer the question in the title?

As I am sure all of you have a story that you adore to no end. I want you to imagine what you loved about it. Was it the characters that grasped your attention, or perhaps the setting? And if it had a stellar ending, did you want it to continue? Or is it like a Pixar movie, where a sequel is ultimately unnecessary?

For beginners, a sequel should be its own story. It should continue threads and aspects of its predecessor, but not be a continuation. This may be argumentative when trilogies such as The Lord of the Rings exist, but it is important to note that they are a grand story told in three parts rather than three separate stories. Such sequels should have a resemblance to what they follow, but it is fantastic for them to try new ideas and concepts, and evolve those from its predecessor. There are some examples of perfect sequels, one of which is The Empire Strikes Back.

esb

Perhaps Star Wars may be seen as overrated or overdone these days with a film coming every year for the foreseeable future, but it remains a classic for good reason. A simple story with relatable contexts to the real world, and deeper philosophical meanings hidden away in grander places. It is a classic tale of good versus evil, and it has the necessary scope, scale, and pacing to tell its plot from the dunes of Tatooine to the trench run of the Death Star.

How does The Empire Strikes Back eclipse the success of (at the time) immeasurable greatness? It is important to note that making every ‘bigger and badder’ is a terrible way to evolve a story’s formula, and can keep immersion and investment away from their audience. The Empire Strikes Back has a much smaller scale than A New Hope, and it focuses far more on its characters than everything else. It is darker in tone, as the totalitarian force of the Empire triumphs over the rag-tag Rebellion and is always one step ahead of them. This is beautifully shown in both the Battle of Hoth and the events that transpire in Cloud City, as every victory is no match for the Empire’s brutality.

There are no Darth Star-esque mega weapons or elaborate new plans to destroy the Rebels once and for all in this film. It develops the Empire and Rebels in meaningful ways and pushes the characters in areas where they can grow immensely. The introduction of Yoda is the most ingenious part of the entire Star Wars saga, and for good reason. World-building is put into center stage as the mythology of the Force is perfectly blended with Yoda’s character and Luke’s deeper character development. Luke’s character arc also culminates with one of the most memorable moments of the original trilogy, where Darth Vader utters his famous line.

The darker tone of this movie is an amazing twist on A New Hope’s more light-hearted tone, but it remains consistent. The Empire is given time to be shown as a great threat, and Darth Vader is made even more menacing and complex by his relationship with Luke and the subtleties in his character. His relationship with Luke is revealed very naturally and is a twist that does not come out of left-field. It may be shocking, but it is logical and adds more layers to both characters.

The Empire Strikes Back is a great sequel and stand-alone story, which is why it is one of a very few ‘perfect sequels.’ It further examines elements and ideas from A New Hope, continues developing the original cast in meaningful and unexpected ways, and more importantly takes risks to be different. This includes tone, the complexity of its story, new characters, and the fact that the good guys do not win in the end.

While trying new ideas are novel when making a sequel, there is a limit that can be hit. To callback once again to my first post, I present The Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Avengers-Age-of-Ultron-Guide

Now, I believe I said Age of Ultron is a pretty good film, but it does not soar to the greatness of the first. This is partly due to the fact that The Avengers is a film that should have failed, as its plot is not very strong and is full of a hundred holes. The reason why it stands above most other MCU films is due to how awesome it is. Yes, that is the massive appeal for The Avengers. It is an awesome film.

Age of Ultron sadly is more of a ‘milestone’ sort of film for the MCU as a whole rather than a strong sequel to its predecessor and is only such as the Avengers have assembled. The scale is lowered from aliens to a rogue AI, but the sheer amount of heroes makes the film lack focus and cohesion. It attempts to weave together too many different plotlines around, but most are half-hearted and only exist as a setup for future films. Why is Age of Ultron not a better sequel?

The answer is that it goes nowhere. It stays in its own bubble and does not correlate with the events of its predecessor. It is a bit tricky to draw the line of ‘predecessors’ and ‘successors’ in the MCU due to its interconnected stories and universe, but it certainly does not have much to do with the characters and their development from the first film. It opens with a fight against a Hydra cell that is just a cool fight scene for anyone that did not know that, but the context behind its importance is missing.

Compare this with The Empire Strikes Back. It is a self-contained story, but also a sequel to A New Hope. You can watch it without any prior knowledge of Star Wars and appreciate every single detail without having to do homework on your understanding of lore. Age of Ultron is inconsequential, too safe but also too wandering, and relies too much on other films in the MCU to the point where I can say it falls flat as a nice, self-contained sequel to The Avengers.

With a sequel, don’t be afraid to be fresh. Don’t be afraid to introduce new elements to shake up your setting, but don’t change it to the point where it is completely unrecognizable. A sequel should still feel like its predecessor, but not be constrained by its existence. A layer of creativity still exists, as characters can be taken to places unexpected that still falls in a logical sense to their development. There is a reason why franchises and series’ exist, and these long-term sagas and arcs attract so many people for good reason. Some of them may be overdone, but isn’t that always the case when you love something a bit too much?

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