With Star Wars Episode I hitting theaters all over again, there's been a whole new wave of interest in George Lucas' biggest letdown. And we've been remembering some of the other prequels that have tried to fill in backstory over the years.
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. Note: This list doesn't include reboots, like Rise of the Planet of the Apes or Batman Begins.
So... starting with least sucky, and working our way up to suckiest, here are 10 science fiction prequels that are already out there:
10) 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.
9) Caprica. This show was at its best when it was blazing its own trail, exploring stuff like virtual-reality murder games and the weird relationships between gangsters, computer geeks and religious zealots. When the show tried to tie up loose ends from Battlestar Galactica, or link in directly to Cylon mythology, that's usually when it tended to stumble.
8) Cube Zero.
Actually, this was sort of a fun approach to explaining the mysteries of the first Cube — and not nearly as pointless as Cube 2. It's certainly debatable whether we needed an explanation of the Cube, and a view of it from the POV of the people operating it, but at least this was a thought-provoking expansion of the universe. It did take things in a somewhat more zany direction though.
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 Thing We generally kinda liked this prequel to John Carpenter's The Thing — but there were a few huge problems, including the fact that the Thing kept wanting to torture people instead of just killing them and replicating. And the special effects were severely uneven, to put it mildly. Most of all, the great weakness at the heart of this new Thing... was the Thing itself. And that was bound to make fans of Carpenter's original classic sad.
4) X-Men Origins: Wolverine
We almost included X-Men: First Class on this list, but First Class was almost a reboot rather than a prequel — you'd have to go to a lot of effort to make it connect up with the Singer/Ratner X-Men trilogy. Meanwhile, Wolverine is clearly a prequel to the X-Men films, even down to the Patrick Stewart cameo. And gah, what a mess. It does tell us how Wolverine got his Adamantium skeleton and claws and stuff, but manages to make Logan a less interesting character in the process. But it also commits one of the crucial sins of prequels: packing in too much extra garbage, like trying to show us a young Scott Summers, and a ton of mutant cameos. One version also would have had a young Storm. Even the Patrick Stewart cameo seems to be there to try and tie the series together, rather than as a storytelling point. And then there's the amnesia-inducing bullet... sigh.
3) 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."
2) 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.
1) Star Trek: Enterprise. J.J. Abrams' Star Trek movie started out with a huge advantage: It couldn't possibly 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.
This io9 flashback originally appeared in April 2009.