The Power of the Sequel

I used to have so much faith in sequels. As a kid, I longed for my favorite books and movies to come out with sequels and my favorite TV series to produce new episodes forever. Do you still feel that way?


The first crack in the damn holding back the reservoir of distaste I have for sequels came with Highlander 2. Before Highlander 2, I’d expected sequels to be like Empire Strikes Back–extensions of the genius introduced in their preceding tales and arguably even better than the story that spawned them. ButHighlander 2 could not be reconciled with the awe and mystery invoked by the first movie. That sequel was a mess that not only embarrassed itself but actually degraded the original film from which it sprang.


My faith in sequels still hadn’t been fully flooded by cynicism, though, even after that. It took another decade of disappointments to realize that sometimes–arguably most of the time–it’s better to let a great piece of fiction exist as it does. No one’s dying for the sequel to Hamlet or Great Expectations. Once a good story ends, it should be over.


Of course, taking too strict a stance against sequels would exclude some great stories. Empire Strikes Back is an obvious example. The Vampire Lestat would be another example I could think of where a sequel surpassed the story it preceded from. And more important to me personally, I love to write in sequel arcs instead of throwing one novel down and calling a story done.


Are sequels a necessary evil? Would BSG still be thought of as a masterpiece if it had continued on for many more years and devolved into drivel? What makes a good sequel? If a sequel sucks, should that degrade our view of the original? And do we have an obligation to count a sequel as existing at all if we find it ruins what we once loved?

2 thoughts on “The Power of the Sequel

  1. the original BSG *did* continue and devolve into drivel, it was called ‘Galactica 1980’. 🙂

    In the era of Star Wars, there weren’t a lot of movies doing sequels, you could almost argue that George Lucas brought street cred to the idea of sequels altogether. The planet of the apes movies were a notable example, and you could technically count the Clint Eastwood spaghetti westerns (fistful of dollars/for a few dollars more/the good, the bad, and the ugly), but it wasn’t until Empire that the entertainment industry truly appreciated the power of a sequel.

    As with many things, they misinterpreted the message George was sending, and they saw it as an extension of a franchise bottom line, as opposed to extending and expanding a story narrative.

    Personally, with books, I don’t consider additions to a series to be a ‘sequel’. As a writer, you know that the act of telling a story creates 1,000 other stories in your mind to go along with it. You create characters, and a universe for them to exist within, and it’s easy to get lost. It’s virtually impossible to do a ‘one off’, so you almost have to respect authors that stuck to the ‘one and done’ model of writing. I would never be able to do that.

    If I ever get around to publishing a finished work, I have no doubt it will not stand alone.

    Are you hinting that you’re working on a sequel to Catharsis with this post? 🙂

    In some cases, the sequel is better than the original. I would argue that ‘Aliens’ was a much better movie than the original ‘Alien’. It’s a crap-shoot. I often like to think, “What if Firefly hadn’t been cancelled after the 1st season? Would we all still think it was incredibly awesome?” What if it had followed the Buffy ‘add a kid’ formula (really, Dawn, wtf purpose did she serve?), and turned into crap?

    I have really mixed emotions about a sequel to ‘Blade Runner’, one of my all time favorite movies. If it’s an original story, it might be okay, but if it’s based on the book that followed the original from which the movie was adapted, it may well suck. That won’t make me love the original any less, but it will be a disappointment. Visually, the sequel to Tron was amazing, but it was such a convoluted and difficult to follow story line, it made it very difficult for me to connect with it, like I did the original.

    I guess my point is, a sequel is only appropriate when it’s done for the right reasons, to expand the universe of the prior work, without destroying it.

  2. Sequels are certainly appropriate where they add to the characters and their world but aren’t necessarily a continuation of a previous plot line; there are certainly elements that hold them together but are different in the basic elements of the story (plot, reveal, etc.). I am thinking of the Indiana Jones movies in this instance. Same central characters, we learn a little more about Dr. Jones each time, but he’s not chasing the same treasure or same piece of knowledge. I could also argue the Predator movies, Alien movies, even US Marshals in the follow-up to The Fugitive. They aren’t necessariliy a series, like James Bond or the Bourne series, but independent. I think that maybe the Star Trek movies pose a problem to this theory, but I also don’t claim to be an expert in the ST field. Mostly because I abhor William Shatner an everything for which he stands but that is beside the point.

    I almost can’t count Empire as a sequel; it was a continuation of a story that required another telling to continue the saga. I view Star Wars (IV, V, & VI only and not the abominations that were I, II & II) much the same way I view LOTR: They’re each different episodes in one long epic. (I am choosing the economist’s cop-out and assuming LOTR is a movie only and not just a snapshot of volumes of work about Middle Earth.) Lucas has destroyed Star Wars in pursuit of the almighty dollar, but I can’t fault him for wanting to make more money. It does somewhat offend purists like me but I digress. Sequels are so often done in response to fan demand. It’s great to see our heroes and fantasies continue on the big screen. However, I believe that sequels mostly disappoint. They can’t sustain the excitement and intrigue of the originals when we see our favorite characters for the first time and fall in love with their charisma and personas. They too often dilute the stories we love. The best example I can think of right now is “They Call Me Mister Tibbs.” “In the Heat of the Night” is one of my all-time favorites and cemented my opinion of Sidney Poitier as one of my (oft changing) top ten actors of all-time. The sequel just diluted the impact of Virgil Tibbs. I can’t find fault with sequels from solely a fan’s perspective, but as a purist and lover of cinema & literature, I almost find them to be offensive. Good stories stand alone.

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