The Nightshirt Sightings, Portents, Forebodings, Suspicions

Noooooo!!! — An Open Letter to Ridley Scott

The worst mistake a film (or any work of art) can make is to answer all the questions. “Prequels” are a particular hazard in this respect, because they tend to take away that wonderful feeling of being plunged into a world in medias res and then leaving it still with a few questions. Answering all the questions takes away the mystery.

This is why my initial excitement that Ridley Scott was making another Alien movie quickly turned to slight dismay when I learned it was going to be a prequel to the original series. If ever a story not only didn’t need a prequel but seemingly couldn’t have one, it is that of the original Alien—one of the best science-fiction movies ever made.

Consider that story: Listening posts on earth pick up an ancient alien warning signal, hinting at a serious biological peril. (If SETI ever finds a signal, I hope it’s something cool and frightening like that, not some dumb welcome message.) An amoral corporation sends a fuel-towing ship with a clueless and expendable crew to the neighborhood of the signal so it will have to investigate. The crew dutifully land on a planet, not having been told the signal is a warning, and they find that the source of the signal is an ancient, bizarre wrecked ship, inside of which is the giant “fossilized” corpse of an alien pilot (one of designer H.R. Giger’s “biomechanoids—fused to the machinery), and a hold full of eggs. Those eggs turn out to house an unspeakable biological horror, just as the Corporation had suspected and hoped. According to the Corporation’s plan, the ship heads back to earth bearing this infestation so they can turn it into a really scary bioweapon—because the xenomorph is something new under the sun, the ultimate scary threat from space, something we never knew about.

How could there be a “before” to this story?

So imagine my even greater dismay to learn that the prequel will actually be about the “star pilots” and that (according to leaked details from the script) they will cross paths with humans. And that somehow our beloved xenomorphs will naturally be involved. The vast, strange universe of Alien will now be much less vast and strange, because now it will turn out that, well, we’re all already acquainted.

Guess who made exactly the same mistake and ruined, with prequels, a really cool universe he had created? I’ll give you one guess.

George Lucas’s Star Wars prequels failed on multiple levels, but the worst offense for me—worse than Jar-Jar Binks even—was to tie up what had been an excitingly vast and rich universe into a constricted little ball where we learned that everybody already knew each other. I had loved being plunged, at the opening of “Episode IV” (ugh) into the middle of things, into a space battle over a random remote backwater planet. I loved not knowing where R2D2 and C-3PO came from (and that they didn’t really seem to know each other all that well), or where Darth Vader came from, or the Princess. I loved the randomness of meeting Han and his hairy sidekick in a bar. Like a real story, these were (mostly) unrelated disparate characters and random fate had brought them together to go on a journey. It was great. And the coincidences that were there actually wound up making sense (Obi-Wan being a neighbor of Luke, Darth being Luke’s father, etc.).

Then the awful prequels arrived, and we found out that R2-D2 was actually Obi-Wan’s old droid (so Obi-Wan’s seeming to not know the droid was just an act, apparently) and that C-3PO was coincidentally from Tattooine and was (doubly coincidentally) built by Luke’s dad Anakin. (So the droid’s bewilderment in the original movie at finding himself on that desert planet was just a big act too—or wait, was his memory erased? I can’t remember. I was probably averting my eyes.) We found out that Chewbacca not only knew Yoda but had actually fought beside him—he wasn’t just some random Wookiee. We found out that Jabba the Hutt was there when Anakin was a kid and even watched him race, er, pods. We found out that Boba Fett was once a normal kid and that he had a dad, and that they lived in a really boring little apartment. I really didn’t want to know any of this (least of all have to see the Fetts’ apartment).

It was cool just hearing fragments of past history in the original film trilogy—not having to know what the “clone wars” etc. were, but just letting the imagination run wild. I loved thinking of the Star Wars universe as vast and full of surprises. The prequels explained away all its mystery and made that galaxy far far away seem small—the narrow, comfy little world of a children’s story.

So please, Ridley, don’t do it. Don’t let the ancient star pilots out of their seats. For the love of god, don’t have them walk and talk (ugh, with subtitles). Don’t have them interact with humans. Just please don’t. It would ruin one of the most sublime visions I’ve ever seen in film—an ancient alien we’ll never learn anything more about, victim of an equally mysterious and ancient horror, entombed in an ancient ship on a lonely, desolate world far far away.

About

I am a science writer and armchair Fortean based in Washington, DC. Write to me at eric.wargo [at] gmail.com.

2 Responses to “Noooooo!!! — An Open Letter to Ridley Scott”

  • Oh thank god!!