2020: A World Renewed

Literature & Media

Reboots, Sequels, and Reconsiderations

Introductory Questions

    • What was your favorite book growing up? Was it part of a series?
    • What is the best sequel you can remember? The worst?
    • Should different authors be allowed to write book sequels?
    • Should different directors be allowed to direct movie sequels?
    • What movie or television show would you reboot, if you could?
    • Are there any new stories, or only new ways of telling old ones?
    • If you could write a sequel to any story that doesn’t have one yet, what story would you pick?
    • What role should fans have in the shaping of new stories by existing authors and franchises?
    • What seemingly “dead” character from a work of fiction would you like to see brought back to life?
    • For what series would you like to see one more novel published, season made, or film produced?
    • If you could spend a day in the world of any novel, television series, or film, what world would you select?

Interlude 0: Time & Turning

Beginning with Part 2: The Paradox of Sequels

    • In every genre, sequels dance between different masters. They must be more of the same; they must be new and fresh. They suffer from the burden of elevated expectations: there usually wouldn’t be a sequel if a work hadn’t succeeded enough to demand one, and that means the sequel needs to succeed too. Be sure to look up the following terms to help set the stage (and screen) for the guiding questions below:
      • sequel | prequel | midquel | sidequel | reboot
      • trilogy | paraquel | franchise | retcon

    • Poetry
      • Poetry is not a genre in which we normally think about sequels. No one expected Robert Frost to write “Part 2: The Road I Took”. But there are exceptions of different kinds.
        • Homer’s Odyssey is often seen as a sequel to the Iliad—and Virgil’s Aeneid as a kind of Roman counterpart to them both. Work with your team to decide the best way to describe their relationship. Would it affect your analysis to know for certain whether Homer actually wrote both the Iliad and the Odyssey?
        • Though not strictly poetry, some of Shakespeare’s most famous history plays are direct sequels to one another. Consider the following monologues from his “Henriad”, which show the evolution of a misbehaving prince into a grand English king, and discuss with your team: are there other series you can think of where a character demonstrates this kind of growth from one installment to the next?

        • Poets have written sequels—or paraquels—to famous stories of the past, sometimes taking new perspectives. In Mrs Midas, Carol Anne Duffy imagines the plight of King Midas’s wife. What would it be like to have a husband who turned everything to gold? The modern Greek poet Nikos Kazantzakis wrote an entire epic sequel to the Odyssey, and others have written shorter pieces: consider Kim Lasky’s “The Bed that is a Tree” and Lord Tennyson’s “Ulysses”.
        • Some poets’ works are collected into books later, but there are also those who write and publish them in collections of their own design. Consider the Instagram poet Rupi Kaur, whom many would argue is renewing the entire genre of poetry for our generation. (Others would contend that she is writing, at best, unoriginal “pop poetry”.) Kaur’s first poem collection, Milk and Honey, was a publishing sensation—a global bestseller. In interviews, she noted that she struggled with writing her second book, The Sun and Her Flowers. Check out her poems “Pace Yourself” and “The Year is Done” for a sense of her work, then discuss with your team: is Instagram a good thing for poetry? What would you advise Kaur, and any author, struggling to write a sequel to a collection of poems? You may want to research the concept of “second book syndrome”.

Interlude I: Words Renewed

Beginning with Part 2: The Paradox of Sequels: Part 2

    • Video Games
      • Released in 1980, Pac-Man quickly became the world’s most popular video game, especially in the United States. Enter the sequel, Ms. Pac-Man. Learn more about its origins as a harder-to-master clone of Pac-Man, then discuss with your team: would it still have succeeded by its original name, Crazy Otto? Was Atari right to accuse the creators of intellectual property theft, and was coming to an arrangement with them ultimately the right move for the Pac-Man franchise? For context, consider this actual sequel from the original game makers—Pac-Man 2—which came out a decade later. Was it too different from the original to find great success, or was it the right product for its time? Discuss with your team: how would you redesign Pac-Man for the year 2020?
      • Pac-Man inspired a Saturday morning TV series—the first time a TV series was ever based on a game. In one episode the ghosts steal a space shuttle. Discuss with your team: should successful products and ideas be extended into as many forms of media as possible? What other video games do you think would make successful television series—or movies?
      • The 1980s also saw the rise of the first immersive simulations and role-playing games—one of the most influential was the fourth installment of the Ultima saga. Explore the role of its creator, Richard Garriott and the idea of authorship in video games. Are individuals such as Garriott and Civilization’s Sid Meier best described as writers, artists, producers, or something else entirely?
      • Consider the following additional games from the 1980s. Which ones had sequels, and in which cases were those sequels successful? Were any of them also turned into TV shows—or movies?
        • Centipede | Mario Bros | Donkey Kong | SimCity | Tetris
    • Long-Form Narratives
      • Even podcasts have sequels now, and they struggle with the same challenges as sequels in any medium. Consider the once-groundbreaking podcast Serial—the first podcast to reach an audience of millions. Like a Netflix show designed for binge viewing, it offered a serialized storyline meant to hook listeners from one episode to the next. In its second season, listeners stopped taking the bait. Read this review, and discuss with your team: do you agree that high expectations were ultimately to blame? Is the best way for sequels to meet high expectations to continue doing what worked the first time, or to try something new?
      • Podcasts were not the first audio works with serialized storylines—radio dramas once did something similar every week. Premiering in the 1920s, they soon ranged from works by the era’s most acclaimed authors to pulpish soap operas to the adventures of superheroes you would still recognize today. You can find one example here. While radio dramas faded in popularity after the rise of television, they didn’t disappear entirely: in 1981, one radio station made a successful investment in the rights to Star Wars. Explore the history of radio dramas and discuss with your team: could they (or their podcast-equivalent) could become popular again? Are there stories that are better suited for this medium than they would be for TV or the written word?
      • Novels were once commonly released in serial form too—not book by book, but chapter by chapter. Consider the first three chapters of Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities, and discuss with your team: does each chapter end with a serial-style cliffhanger—and would novels published in this way, one chapter per week, be popular today?
      • Charles Dickens died before releasing the back half of his final novel: “The Mystery of Edwin Drood”. Many people have tried to finish it in his absence, including at least one ghost. In the years since, the process of completing a series after an author’s death has become more formal—as when Guy Gavriel Kay helped complete The Silmarillion for the Tolkien estate, and Brandon Sanderson the final books of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time. Pay special attention to Kay’s realization about mistakes in the writing process, then discuss with your team: if someone other than the original author finished your favorite book series, would you view it as an authentic ending? Why do people seem more accepting of different movies in the same series having different screenwriters and directors, than they do of different novels in the same series having different writers?
      • Sometimes, a television or movie series that goes on long enough will need to replace the actor playing a character. There are two traditional approaches: in one, the change of actor is explained in the story itself. Consider the Doctor, or Dax. In another—as with James Bond or the Hulk in the Marvel Cinematic Universe—a different actor assumes the role, but the storyline continues as if nothing has changed. Today, there is a third option: CGI can be used to reanimate the dead—as in the forthcoming James Dean film Finding Jack. Discuss with your team: is it better when stories acknowledge a recasting or when they ignore it? Is the use of CGI to recreate actors something that audiences will eventually embrace?
      • Those fans who wanted a new Harry Potter story finally got one in 2016—but perhaps not in the form they were expecting. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child premiered as a play in London. In an interview, series creator J.K. Rowling explained that “when audiences see the play, they will agree that it is the only proper medium for the story”. Discuss with your team: when is a story is best continued in a different medium—and what makes a story perfect for one medium or another?

Interlude II: Worlds Renewed

Second Time’s the Charm | Reboots & Revisions

    • In 2011, the prime minister of Poland gave President Obama a copy of The Witcher II, a popular video game based on fantasy novels by Andrzej Sapkowski. Netflix was soon producing its own Witcher series—one of many new shows designed to attract viewers still hungry for dragons and dark magic after Game of Thrones. In much the same way, Star Wars “inspired” The Last Starfighter and Battlestar Galactica, and after the success of Twilight bookstores stocked their shelves full of novels about vampires. Discuss with your team: should shows, books, and academic competitions that take advantage of other works’ popularity be criticized for lack of originality, or praised for finding new ways to satisfy audience demand? Are such “copycat” works ever better than the originals?
    • Novelizations of movies are generally seen as lowbrow entertainment—the authors hired to write them are rarely well-regarded. No one remembers the book version of Back to the Future. But movies based on novels have the potential for greatness—from Gone with the Wind to Jojo Rabbit. Television series can achieve great popularity drawing from source material—from Riverdale, inspired by long-running Archie comics, to Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, which utilizes characters from a series of popular novels but not exact plotlines. Discuss with your team: why is this relationship asymmetrical? What would it take to give novelizations the same level of prestige and cultural impact as film adaptations?
    • Had the Harry Potter series continued in film form, it would have relied on the same actors; had there been an eighth novel, readers could have imagined Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson (or anyone they wanted) in their mind’s eyes. Casting a play, however, meant finding new faces for these iconic roles. This would have been a challenge under any circumstances, but the choice of a black actress to play Hermione sparked controversy among those who believed she surely had to be white—and arguments about whether she could have been black in the books all along. Discuss with your team: when continuing a story, do its creators have a responsibility to keep characters—and plot elements—as consistent as possible from one installment to the next?
    • Rather than risk accusations that they are “retconning” diversity into an existing storyline, many reboots and sequels have started fresh with new characters. In 1994 the Next Karate kid was a girl; in 2010 he was African-American. Between 1984 and 2016 the Ghostbusters transitioned from all men to all women; in 2018 the latest sequel to Ocean’s Eleven reduced its number of titular scoundrels by 3—and the number of men among them by 11. Even the new Star Wars trilogy featured a consciously (and controversially) diverse cast of heroes. Work with your team to explore how audiences have responded to reworkings of stories to accommodate new social sensibilities, and discuss with your team: is a dedicated fandom a barrier to progress, or an opportunity to expand awareness of important issues?
    • Sometimes, existing works are rebooted to promote an even more specific moral or political vision of the world. Consider “The New Gulliver”, arguably the first-ever full-length animated film, in which a Soviet filmmaker reimagined the world of “Gulliver’s Travels” to advance a communist agenda. Discuss with your team: when is it acceptable to change old stories for ideological reasons? What old stories do you think your country would want to adapt for its own political ends today?
    • “The New Gulliver” took a classic story from prose to animation. Even if it stays within the same medium, a reboot or sequel need not be the same format as the original. Director Judd Apatow’s hourlong coming-of-age drama Freaks and Geeks led to a sort-of-sequel—a 30-minute comedy about college life, titled Undeclared, which starred some of the same actors in vaguely similar roles. Going in the other direction, director Morgan Cooper released this fictitious trailer for an imaginary reboot of the 1990s comedy “Fresh Prince of Bel Air” as a darker 21st century drama. Discuss with your team: should we consider a mock trailer—a preview of something that doesn’t exist—a film on its own merits? Could mock trailers also be made for entirely new nonexistent series?
    • This sort of fiction about fiction seems to be growing in popularity. Consider High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, which recently concluded its first season. Is it a sequel to the original film, a reboot, or something else entirely? Discuss with your team: what factors may be making this sort of self-aware storytelling more common? Certainly, the idea of fiction within fiction isn’t new. In Hamlet, Shakespeare had his characters perform a play—about what was happening in Hamlet. Is anything different today?
    • Most of Shakespeare’s plays, including Hamlet, would have had to be censored to receive a PG rating in Singapore—as far back as Victorian-era England, prickly parents hesitated to read them aloud to their children. In the early 1800s, the British doctor Thomas Bowdler edited out all the “undesirable” content and published a new family-friendly collection. This season, we hoped to include the film Steve Jobs in our outlines, but many schools would have objected to its use of adult language (to which scholars are never otherwise exposed). Had there been a so-called “Bowdlerized” version, we could have linked to that instead. Discuss with your team: does Bowdlerization allow important works to find a broader audience—or is it an unacceptable desecration?
    • When people revisit books from the past, they may discover not just language but also assumptions about society that are no longer acceptable. Sometimes, publishers release new editions that address these concerns—as seen here with Doctor Doolittle and the Hardy Boys, where new editions tried to mask lingering racism and other problems in the text. Discuss with your team: does this kind of editing offer new life for old works, or does it undermine their authors—and does it matter if the author was involved with the changes? Are there classics from your own country that you might consider updating? Should old films, too, be edited to reflect more progressive values?
    • Such edits do happen. In the original release of Star Wars, Han Solo shoots and kills an alien bounty hunter at a bar. The alien (charmingly named Greedo) is saying ominous things but poses no immediate threat. For a later re-release, George Lucas, apparently troubled that Han Solo had come across as a cold-blooded killer, edited the scene to have Greedo abruptly shoot first—turning Han’s shooting him back into a moment of self-defense. He has continued to tinker with the sequence since. Discuss with your team: which version of this scene is more legitimate? How much (and for how long) should a storyteller be able to change his or her story after it has already been told? Is there a difference between correcting a mistake and making an improvement?
    • Sometimes a story is changed in the brief window between its completion and its release to the public. When audiences first saw the previews of Paramount’s live-action film based on the popular 1990s video game Sonic the Hedgehog, they responded so negatively to Sonic’s new, more realistic look that director Jeff Fowler literally went back to the drawing board. Changing him into something more cartoonish delayed the film a year and cost millions of dollars. Discuss with your team: when (if ever) is it appropriate for a studio to make changes to a film—or an author to a story—based on audience feedback?
    • That audience could even be an entire country. In the original 1984 Red Dawn, the Soviet Union invades the United States. For the remake 30 years later, the filmmakers switched out the defunct Soviets for new antagonists—the Chinese. China disapproved. To forestall a crisis, the producers altered the film using CGI so that the invaders appeared North Korean instead. Discuss with your team: are there any issues with storytellers changing their work to satisfy large global markets? Would you view the situation differently if the story had been filmed with North Korean antagonists in the first place? Would it be better to set stories in fantasy worlds to minimize potential offense t0 people in the real world?
    • Different nations can end up with their own versions of the same films and television series. The Colombian telenovela Yo Soy Betty, La Fea inspired remakes around the world; Korea had its own designated survivor; director Marc Webb is now adapting the Japanese anime film Your Name into a live-action film set (controversially) in the United States. Discuss with your team: what other works would lend themselves to being remade in different countries? Is localization a worthwhile artistic pursuit, or should people be encouraged to watch original productions—even if it means using subtitles?

Interlude III: Mistakes and Forgiveness

Concluding Questions

    • It’s only a matter of time before Baby Yoda shows up amongst the roller coasters at Disney’s Galaxy’s Edge, while those who prefer wizards to Skywalkers can pop by Hagrid’s hut at Universal Studios’ Wizarding World. Explore the emergence of immersive theme parks in which fans can interact with their favorite narratives. How different is Galaxy’s Edge from the motion simulator ride “Star Tours” in the 1980s? In what ways are these experiences similar to stories in more traditional media, and what challenges do they present to the idea of what is and isn’t “canon”? What other stories would be well-suited to adaptation into immersive theme parks? Is there a reason these parks tend to favor fantasy and science fiction for their source material?
    • Do writers have a responsibility to finish the stories they set out to tell—or is it up to them to decide whether they will ever publish a promised sequel or conclusion? When a series is canceled, do its producers owe fans some sort of closure on dangling story elements?
    • Put on your creative hat. Which of the short stories and poems selected above would be best adapted into a film? Which one leaves you wanting a sequel?
    • No one knows for sure who wrote it, but this description of several major Western religions depends on audiences to understand the language of sequels. When did these terms and concepts become common enough that people could use them in jokes for the broader public? Could you apply the same terminology to political regimes, military campaigns, and product launches?
    • These days, reboots of film franchises (like those of comic books) are generally accepted as normal; they happen all the time, and thus you have a lot of actors walking around who have played Spiderman. Why do you think existing novels are rarely (if ever) rebooted by new authors?
    • Are prequels less likely to succeed than sequels? If so, why do people keep writing and producing them? Consider this criticism of the recent Harry Potter prequels; is the takeaway that prequels should be written by someone new?
    • Is each World Scholar’s Cup season a sequel to the previous one? If so, what challenges does that present for its producers and for its participants? Could you imagine one designed as a prequel—or a sidequel?

Last Updated: January 13