It's prequel time, with Caprica newly out on DVD and both Star Trek and Wolverine hitting theaters soon. So we decided to rank 10 science fiction prequels in order of crappiness.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word "prequel" was actually invented for science fiction by Anthony Boucher, writing in the Magazine Of Fantasy & Science Fiction in 1958. But prequels have become ever more common in recent years, with prequels to The Thing and I Am Legend also in the works.
Star Trek and Wolverine may turn out be the greatest movies ever - and Caprica was way better than I'd hoped. But let's face it: most prequels are awful. And by prequel, I mean something that takes us back before the start of a saga, to show us the events that led up to the saga's beginning. So Phantom Menace is a prequel, but Batman Begins isn't. Okay?
So... starting with least sucky, and working our way up to suckiest, here are 10 science fiction prequels that are already out there:
10) Wild Seed by Octavia Butler. This is one of my favorite novels ever, so it's hard to believe Butler actually wrote it after three other novels in the Patternmaster series. It tells the relationship between a telepath named Doro and a shapeshifter named Anyanwu. Their telepathic descendants later become ultra-powerful in the novels Mind Of My Mind and Patternmaster, which Butler wrote earlier but are set later.
9) Prelude To Foundation by Isaac Asimov. One of Asimov's later Foundation books was actually a prelude, telling the story of Hari Seldon's early years. And Seldon turns out to have hung out with R. Daneel Olivaw, who's operating under the name Demerzel. By all accounts, it's pretty worthwhile addition to the saga, although this guy says "the characters seem unusually shallow, even for Asimov," and maybe we didn't need to know that much about Seldon's early life.
8) Caprica. Like I said, this was way better than I'd hoped. This Battlestar Galactica prequel, newly on DVD, is a slightly overwrought melodrama, but it does explore interesting questions about artificial intelligence and the difference between a digital copy of a person and the "real" person. The least interesting thing about it is how it's going to connect with BSG.
7) When The Tripods Came by John Christopher. Did we really need to know how the alien Masters conquered humanity? The original Tripods trilogy starts out with humans already conquered, and then fills in the details of how it happened. But author Brian Aldiss insisted it wasn't credible these aliens could have conquered 20th century humans, with our awesome technology. So Christopher went back and wrote a prequel, explaining how the Masters took us over using mind control via a television show called The Trippy Show. Not really an essential addition, and it slightly dilutes the awesomeness of starting with humanity already crushed.
6) Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom. Not nearly as bad as Crystal Skull, but not nearly as good as Lost Ark, this movie is actually the earliest cinematic Jones story, despite coming out after Raiders. It has a few highlights, like the early poisoning sequence, the subterranean train chase and the gun/knife fight. But it's mostly cheesy and dull where Raiders was sharp and fun.
5) The Dune Prequels by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson. Frank Herbert wrote six Dune books. And since his death, his son and Anderson have written 10,000 books, mostly set before the original novels. They include Lost Lunch Menu Of Dune and We Were Going To Have A Jihad But Then We Found That Lunch Menu And Decided To Get Lunch Instead, Of Dune. Just check out David Louis Edelman's review of the prequels, in which he calls them out for pointless unpleasantness, turning Baron Harkkonen into a cartoon, and making "a much-studied and richly detailed universe a smaller place."
4) Cube Zero. I don't know much about this prequel to the first two Cube films, but it looks totally awesome. Check it out:
3) The Aliens Vs. Predator films. These are essentially prequels to the original Alien films, since they take place on present-day Earth, before humans have spread out across the stars. And if Aliens Vs Predator: Requiem had been a hit, the directors planned a third AVP film which would have linked the series to Alien directly. Thank goodness for small mercies. The first AVP film is pointless, if fun. The second one? My. Head. Hurts. I watched it sober, and still have no idea what was going on, especially with the Turducken-like PredAlien hybrid.
2) Star Trek: Enterprise. The new Trek movie already has a huge advantage: It can't be as annoying as this look at the "original" Enterprise, with constant sequences of underwear-clad decontamination and people's arms getting pregnant. I still don't understand what the "temporal cold war" was about (why was it a cold war?) and who that shadowy figure was. And later episodes spent way too long giving us the origins of Khan, the Klingon head-bumps, and Vulcan pacifism. Even the producers thought the show was so boring, it would be better to end it with Riker and Troi playing dress-up.
1) Star Wars: Episodes I-III. Ack. I don't even know where to start. I actually spend way too much time in the shower trying to figure out how these could have been compelling movies, instead of blah. I think the biggest problem is that we never once root for Anakin Skywalker, or care what happens to him. It would be a challenge to make us root for the guy we know is going to become Darth Vader, but that's the challenge you take on when you decide to tell this story. Instead, George Lucas punts, making Anakin an unlikable twerp from day one.