Better Call Saul and Obi-Wan Kenobi make a case for prequel art

Of course, prequel series are all the rage these days, including The Lord of the Rings and the upcoming Game of Thrones-inspired House of the Dragon, taking the mantle of the big franchises. Yet these stories are far removed from the events depicted in the previous projects, making them an almost entirely different beast.

Both Obi-Wan and Saul, however, unfold around characters from their predecessors with enough narrative proximity to the projects they launched (Star Wars: A New Hope and Breaking Bad, respectively). and to show directly tap into these situations and see how these offshoots feed off of the earlier stories.

Paramount+ has been particularly aggressive in this regard with its Star Trek universe, including the latest addition, Strange New Worlds, which also features younger versions of many well-known players. In fact, the studio has been so eager to expand its overflowing fleet of Trek series that the spinoffs now have spinoffs to go with sequels like Picard.

Unlike sequels, which theoretically can boldly head in uncharted directions, the prequel presents a unique set of challenges. Because audiences are aware of the limits of what can happen — and perhaps more importantly, what can’t happen — this creates a hard line for storytelling. So the construction is something like a puzzle where everyone knows what the picture will look like in the end and success depends on how you put the pieces together.

Logistically, prequels can focus more narrowly on specific characters and don’t have to assemble much of the original cast. Recent examples, such as The Sopranos film The Many Saints of Newark, reflect the opportunities that arise, but also the potential pitfalls.

“Saul” and “Obi-Wan” are obviously not entirely analogous, starting with the expectations (and baggage) that come with anything in the decade-long “Star Wars”-related timeline and the fact that the former is essentially fostered became a relatively small character front and center. Still, they share some key attributes that underscore why they’ve worked, in a way that other films and series that take on the task often don’t.

These are, in no particular order:

Leave enough runway, but not too much

While it helps to be close enough to the earlier productions to make a narrative contact (thousands of years, not so much), there needs to be enough breathing room to design a storyline that stands on its own – and maybe even does leaving the door open for an encore if desired and feasible.

To be fair, that wasn’t immediately obvious with Better Call Saul, as it felt like it might step out of pre-Breaking Bad territory before there could be a third season, let alone the current six. And it highlights a starting point for TV prequels of something like Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, which was helpfully conceived as a standalone film (although Disney+ is always imaginative, it’s found a way to milk that with — what otherwise? — a prequel, “Andor”).

The bottom line is that prequels need to carefully calculate where to start in order to convincingly get where they end without trampling on or in any way detracting from the source material that inspired them.

Give viewers that “Ohhh…” reaction

One of the thrills that prequels can offer is an enhanced insight into and understanding of events that viewers are already familiar with. “Obi-Wan” has intriguingly followed that lineage, building nuances in the Kenobi-Anakin/Darth Vader dynamic as Saul played not only the title character, but also Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) and later Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) bestowed wealth. reveals what brought them to the places they were when we first met them in Breaking Bad.

There’s invariably a level of fanservice that can smack of pandering in these moments, but done right, it just feels like a value-added reward for past patronage, which is why these projects practically exist in the first place.

Create your own new mythologies

Despite linking to previous material, any prequel worth its salt needs to establish its own characters and storylines, especially if it’s to possess any kind of longevity.

Better Call Saul was a masterclass in that, particularly in the central issue surrounding Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn), a key figure in Saul’s life whose absence later became the show’s central mystery throughout its run.

As closely related as Obi-Wan was to bridging the gap between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, it too found a way to explore characters beyond those rooted in the original story while simultaneously exploring levels and Adding depth to what happened in the galaxy in the intervening years.

The past isn’t always the prologue, but given the inevitability of future prequels thanks to the appetite for such content, are these lessons taken to heart? To paraphrase a certain princess, we can only hope.

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