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A term meaning a work made after another work, but taking place before that other work.
Maybe the last entry in the series left no room for a sequel. Maybe the writers just want to explore the Backstory. Either way, it's time for a Prequel, a Portmanteau of "Previous" and "Sequel": a sequel that is set chronologically before the previous work. On one hand, this allows for excellent foreshadowing. On the other, the prequel often heavily Ret Cons the backstory, it can have consequences that should have been mentioned in the original story, and it's difficult to keep up the tension when the audience knows how it ends.
For example, in The Phantom Menace, the young boy who would become Darth Vader interacts closely with several characters he would meet again in the original Star Wars trilogy, but in that film he shows no evidence of recognizing them. Because the second Indiana Jones Film was a prequel, audiences knew he would survive, and that he wouldn't get to keep the girl.
TV Series usually wrap a prequel in a Whole-Episode Flashback. A movie may get a prequel TV series. Sometimes writers will squeeze a story between existing entries in a series, making it both a sequel and a prequel. Prequels are also an easy way to make use of an Expansion Pack World and introduce new conflicts without undermining the resolution of the previous work by introducing an even more ultimate evil. Occasionally said ultimate evil can get their own prequel with a Start of Darkness.
Prequels are generally likely to be mediocre for several reasons, including Sequelitis (as prequels are inherently sequels, and usually not even the first ones), and the fact that the plot may largely seen to be a Foregone Conclusion (as every new character will either be Put on a Bus by the end, or be Doomed by Canon). Video game prequels seem to be the largest exception to this rule (see Ocarina of Time for a good example).
One issue with prequels in electronic media is that if they come out years after the original, you have the problem of technology in Real Life advancing to the point that special effects, graphics, etc. make the prequel look more advanced than the original, which you ends up with a Cosmetically Advanced Prequel. Depending on the series, and the circumstances surrounding it, this can be overlooked, or jarring.
Remember, the term does not mean simply anything that took place before. It has to come out after the first thing, or it's merely a previous installment. None of the Rocky movies is a prequel, because they all take place after each other.
Is often, but not always, an Origins Episode.
- Saiyuki Gaiden is the story of the main four's godly past lives (and in Goku's case, forcibly forgotten childhood). The author acknowledged in the first volume that the ending is obvious for anyone familiar with the main series, and used it to heighten the tension: the audience knew from the very first page that Konzen, Kenren and Tenpou are going to die, and that Goku will lose his memory and spend 500 years imprisoned. What we don't know is how, or when.
- Spiral: Alive is the prequel to Spiral: Suiri no Kizuna, and mostly focuses on the serial murder of several Blade Children whose existence was missed by the Organization, and what the killer hopes to gain, involving Kiyotaka, Kousuke, Ryoko, Rio, and more.
- Codename: Sailor V occupies the strange definition of being both a prequel, and the source, of Sailor Moon. This is because, though Sailor V came first; most of Sailor Moon came before Sailor V which ran sporadically and wrapped up after Sailor Moon ended.
- Gundam Wing had a manga-only prequel named Episode Zero that showed formative moments from the early lives of the Gundam Pilots and Relena. The stories actually began life as a pair of flashback episodes that had to be cut when scheduling complications arose, and have the benefit of being penned by the show's head writer.
- Fist of the Blue Sky is a distant prequel to Fist of the North Star, set in pre-World War II Asia. It doesn't have much to do with North Star, but stars Ryuken's elder brother and predecessor Kasumi Kenshiro, whom the Kenshiro from North Star was named after. The more recent spinoffs of Fist of the North Star are standard prequels and side-stories though, centering around characters from the original series (the 25th anniversary movie Hokuto no Ken Zero is a prequel set a year before the events of the original manga).
- Many comic book prequels explain how things are different after a Retcon. For example, the Superman Birthright miniseries by Mark Waid shows young Clark Kent's life in a different way than the Man of Steel miniseries by John Byrne had; the latter was Canon until the former came out.
- The Elf Quest comics had a number of prequels over the years, most notably Bearclaw. The title character was the father of Cutter, the hero of the original series. The Bearclaw series sets up many of the events which occurred before the main story began, and in particuar explains the implacable enmity between the human and elf tribes which led to the humans burning the elves out of their forest home at the beginning of Elfquest #1.
- Transformers Beast Wars had gotten prequels from Transformers Timelines, in multiple media formats.
- The Godfather Part II is at once a prequel and a sequel to the original film, jumping back and forth between the young Vito at the turn of the century and Michael in the '50s.
- Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is a prequel to the first film. As well, there was a TV series, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles.
- The second Star Wars trilogy, which provides the backstory for Anakin Skywalker's fall into the Dark Side and the creation of the Empire. Some viewers objected to the way the series has Anakin interact with characters he does not seem to recognize later in the original trilogy. The Extended Universe attempts to retcon some of the discrepancies away.
- Cruel Intentions II is a Prequel to Cruel Intentions.
- The Tsui Hark movie A Better Tomorrow III was the prequel to the two John Woo movies that would kick off the Heroic Bloodshed genre. It follows Chow Yun-Fat's Mark Gor as he goes to Saigon, falls in love, and develops into the gunslinging Badass that we know from A Better Tomorrow. And no, he does not keep the girl.
- Uwe Boll's House of the Dead is actually a prequel to the video games. Its canonity is disputable.
- Likewise with the first two BloodRaynes.
- Mallrats is set the day before the events in Clerks.
- The Scorpion King is supposed to be a prequel to The Mummy Returns, although the fact that there is nothing to indicate that Mathias will turn evil appears to break that connection. However, Word of God is that the Scorpion King featured in The Mummy Returns is actually Mathias's Identical Grandson. It is probably more of a spin-off than a true prequel.
- The Direct to Video film The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior is a prequel to The Scorpion King, making it a prequel to a prequel.
- Paranormal Activity 2 is (mostly) a prequel to the first film. Its follow-up, Paranormal Activity 3 is a prequel to the second film.
- Final Destination 5 isn't explicitly advertised as such, instead opting for a Twist Ending in which the final two survivors of the bridge collapse die in the Flight 180 disaster that started the first film. However, some of the trailers spoiled this by showing new footage of Flight 180.
- 2011's The Thing is set less than a week before the first movie; it shows how the monster was first discovered and what did to the Norwegian base.
- Although the films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe are standalone for the most part, their internal chronology makes Captain America: The First Avenger a prequel as it takes place entirely before the events of Iron Man.
- Most people would be surprised if you pointed out that The Muppet Movie was actually a prequel to The Muppet Show.
- Several books in the Narnia series are prequels or interquels to books written before.
- This series is probably the worst offender of Interquelitis and Prequelitis. The chronological numbers of the books and when they were published is 2,4,5,6,3,1,and then 7. There should be a trope all about books being published in a screwed up order like the Narnia series.
- This is further complicated by the fact that the prequels assumes that the reader is reading the books in the published order. The Magician's Nephew, for example, is the first novel (chronologically speaking, but the 6th in the publishing order), but unless one has read The Lion, the witch, and the Wardrobe (the 2nd novel chronologically speaking), one can miss a lot of the subtext and the deeper meanings worked into the novel.
- While the author and most experts agree that you should read them in order of release rather than chronology, the publisher continues to insist on numbering them in chronological order, further confusing new readers.
- Before Narnia there were James Fenimore Coopers Leatherstocking Tales, published in this order: 4, 2, 5, 3, 1.
- When Jennifer Fallon was writing the prequels to her Demon Child series, she had a large board labelled "These People Must Die" next to her desk, indicating characters she had to kill off before the end of the prequel series in order to avoid having to explain their absence in the original series.
- The Dunk & Egg novels of A Song of Ice and Fire are set hundred years before the main series. They're portray the golden age of House Targaryen and feature many "legendary" characters from the main series, and links between the books have surfaced, including the Myth Arc.
- David & Leigh Eddings wrote prequels of their Belgariad and Malloreon decalogy, in which all "hidden" details, Noodle Incidents, and Unspoken Plans are explained. Interestingly, the Framing Device was a sequel, where the main characters are asked to write their memories.
- Fate/Zero is a series of novels that detail the events leading up to famous Visual Novel Fate/stay night. Considering the relatively short timespan between the two story-wise (ten years), much of the events in Zero had a significant impact on stay night.
- When The Tripods Came, the prequel to The Tripods trilogy.
- The Star Trek: Terok Nor novel trilogy; Deep Space Nine prequels set during the Cardassian occupation of Bajor.
- Timothy Zahn wrote Survivors Quest before Outbound Flight; Outbound Flight takes place about fifty years before Survivor's Quest. Only a few characters overlap. Outbound Flight could also sort of count as a prequel to The Thrawn Trilogy, since the events of the novel involve a younger Thrawn becoming aware of The Empire which he later joins.
- The Silmarillion is an example of how good some of these can be. None of the foreshadowing starts till the end of the Quenta Silmarillion, with Akallabêth and On the Rings of Power and the Third Age.
- Not a wholly straightforward example though, since Tolkien started writing The Silmarillion long before he wrote The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings (in fact, The Hobbit was not initially part of the same continuity) and continued afterwards. Consider also that the main events of The Silmarillion are set thousands of years before The Lord of the Rings (though a few characters are still in both.)
- Julian May's Saga of the Exiles has a series of sequels- Intervention and the Galactic Milieu Trilogy. Due to the nature of the series, they're chronologically later than the original series.
- New Spring is a prequel to the Wheel of Time series, taking place about 20 years before The Eye of the World. What's particularly jarring is that it's actually a lot better written than the previous few books.
- In the Ryanverse:
- Without Remorse covers the backstory for John Clark formerly Kelly, set before Jack Ryan, Sr becomes an adult.
- Patriot Games occurs before The Hunt for Red October, in which there are a few off-hand references to PG's events.
- Red Rabbit takes a step back to the very start of Jack Ryan, Sr's involvement with the US government, though was published after Executive Orders.
- Sergey Lukyanenko's novel Dances on the Snow takes place about a century prior to the events of Genome, the first novel of the series. However, the author insists that Genome should still be read first, even though the novels target completely different issues and don't feature any of the same characters (except for one mentioned off-hand).
- Lukyanenko's short story Shadows of Dreams is a prequel to Line of Delirium, as it describes one of Arthur's previous failed attempts to get to Grail with a teenage girl as his bodyguard. The latter is not revealed until the end of the short story, though.
- Warrior Cats has two prequels called Bluestar's Prophecy and Crookedstar's Promise, which chronicle life in the clans a few years before the first arc. Also, the fifth arc Dawn of the Clans is a prequel set fifty years before the first book.
- Wolfram von Eschenbach's unfinished epic poem Titurel was a prequel to his Parzival.
- The Walking Dead Rise of the Governor is a prequel to the comicbook series The Walking Dead.
Live Action TV
- Star Trek: Enterprise, which is set 100 years before Kirk's time period.
- Hannibal Rising is a full indication of just how badly these can go.
- The Dirty Harry parody TV series Sledge Hammer ended its first season by blowing up Los Angeles, since the producers were expecting the series be canceled. When, much to their surprise, the series was picked up for a second season, they had to set it five years before the finale and called it Sledge Hammer: The Early Years.
- Caprica is a rare example of a Prequel TV series (to Battlestar Galactica). The prequel is so far separated in time (it begins 58 years before BSG) that only one character, William Adama, is shared between them--and while he was unquestionably the male lead in BSG, he's a secondary (if important) character in Caprica (and the vast time difference makes things, if anything, more interesting: How does he go from Willie Adama, gangster-in-training, to William "The Old Man" Adama, hardened officer of the Colonial Fleet?)
- He doesn't. He dies, and his parents have another son whom they name William. He is the one who will become "The Old Man".
- Parodied in one I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue round, which proposes such prequels as Alice Lives Here, Too Much Cheese Before Bedtime On Elm Street, The Empire Gets Struck and Taking The Long Way Round, Avoiding The River Kwai.
- Rock And Chips, a feature-length prequel trilogy to Only Fools and Horses, which tells the story of Joan Trotter's relationship with Freddie the Frog, and also introduces previously-unseen characters such as Grandad's wife Violet, and Del's old friend Albie Littlewood, as well as include many previously-mentioned things such as the much-talked-about first Jolly Boys' Outing, and Roy Slater joining the police force.
- The Legend of the Five Rings CCG featured two prequel sets: Scorpion Clan Coup, about the events that set the Clan War in motion, and Dawn of the Empire, which finally put the legendary gods and heroes of Rokugan's founding into CCG form.
- While Oedipus the King is chronologically the first play of Sophocles' Theban trilogy, is was the second in production order, making this trope Older Than Feudalism.
- Shakespeare did it too. The second history tetralogy (Richard II, Henry IV (1&2), and Henry V) were prequels to the first history tetralogy (Henry VI (1,2&3) and Richard III). And even those probably weren't written in order either; Henry VI 2, 3, and Richard III are almost one long play in three parts, the first part of Henry VI may well have been written a few years later.
- Another Part of the Forest by Lillian Hellman was a prequel to her play The Little Foxes set 20 years earlier.
- In Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis the main villain is a Soviet general called Guba, and one of the protagonists is a US special forces soldier by the name of Gastovski. The expansion pack Resistance features a new campaign set three years earlier, in which then-colonel Guba leads the Soviet invasion of a different island than those featured in the original game, and Gastovski is there to lend the locals a hand. Naturally, there are zero references to this earlier armed conflict in the original game.
- Lots of video game examples: Fire Emblem: Blazing Sword, Baten Kaitos Origins
- In The Legend of Zelda, Skyward Sword is chronologically the first game in the series, serving as an origin story for the Master Sword, the Kingdom of Hyrule, and even why evil is always able to rear its ugly head again and again, particularly with regards to Ganon's inability to stay fully dead.
- Tales of Symphonia takes place thousands of years before Tales of Phantasia, the game it precedes, and this is only known through references in the game, rather than being explicitly stated... such as the two worlds having the same names as the two moons of Aseria in Phantasia, the existence of Martel who guards a giant tree named Yggdrasill, the world maps in Symphonia being that of Phantasia split in two, Suzu and Sheena Fujibayashi, the Eternal Sword, discrimination against half-elves (although it's not as big a plot point in Phantasia as it was in Symphonia), Magitek flying machines (the Techbirds of Phantasia and the Rheairds of Symphonia have very similar designs, and in both games powering them up involves gaining the aid of the lightning summon spirit Volt).
- In Dragon Quest III, you play what appears to be a standalone game in the series, only towards the end you end up in an alternate universe -- the universe of the first 2 Dragon Quest games. Only it's hundreds of years before Dragon Quest I. At the end of the game, your hero is given the title of Loto (Erdrick in the original US translation) -- which is the name of the legendary hero that the Dragon Quest I character is descended from...
- Infocom's Interactive Fiction game Zork Zero is, as the name implies, a prequel to the company's previous Zork and Enchanter trilogies.
- S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Clear Sky is a prequel to S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow of Chernobyl.
- Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is a prequel to the entire series and details the backstory and Start of Darkness of Big Boss.
- Street Fighter is pretty bad about this. After the constant updates of Street Fighter II, the Street Fighter Alpha series arrived onto the scene in 1995, with the purpose of fleshing out the backstory by... showing what happened in between the original Street Fighter/Final Fight and Street Fighter II. After Street Fighter III (as well as 2nd Impact and 3rd Strike) came and went, Street Fighter IV comes out and... it takes place after II and before III.
- IV could substitute II in the chronology, since thanks to the RetCons, it adds virtually nothing to the chronology.
- Dissidia Final Fantasy gets Dissidia 012: Duodecim Final Fantasy (yes, really), which takes place on the previous iteration of the Groundhog Day Loop.
- The prequel's title kinda makes sense, given that it's about the twelfth ('Duodecim' being Latin for twelve) iteration of the cycle of conflict in which the game is set (with the first game being set in the thirteenth and final repetition), but that doesn't stop it from just sounding pretentious and strange.
- Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep takes place roughly ten years before the events of the first game. The secret ending includes a Distant Finale that takes place in the present day.
- Devil May Cry 3 is a prequel to the first Devil May Cry game. 4 might be considered a prequel too, as it takes place before the 2nd game (and after the 1st and 3rd, making it also a sequel!) In in-universe chronological order, the games go 3, 1, 4, 2.
- Ninja theory's upcoming reboot of the series is rumored to be set before 3, if it takes place in the current continuity at all.
- Castlevania had its first game set in 1691, but there have been games set before this time. And a shitload of sequels/interquels. So much so that the main climax isn't even a game yet!
- Assassin's Creed: Altair's Chronicles is a prequel.
- Deus Ex Human Revolution is a prequel to Deus Ex and Deus Ex Invisible War.
- According to Word of God, Nexus the Jupiter Incident is an unofficial prequel to the Imperium Galactica series, as it was originally planned as Imperium Galactica III: Genesis before getting stuck in Development Hell and switching developers and publishers several times. The basic storyline has not changed from the original, though.
- I Miss the Sunrise expands on and explains the shocking Sequel Hooks dropped at the end of The Reconstruction.
- The mod/scenario Fall From Heaven: Age of Ice, included in Civilization IV: Beyond the Sword, is a prequel to the popular mod Fall From Heaven II. The original mod is set in the fantasy world of Erebus at the start of the Age of Rebirth. The prequel scenario shows how the previous age (the Age of Ice) was ended by a hero unifying a scattered tribe and vanquishing a god.
- Child of Eden is said to be a prequel to Rez', although some call it a spiritual sequel.
- Halo: Reach: Since the game retells a well-known catastrophe in the franchise's backstory, much of the plot and marketing played on the drama of the Foregone Conclusion.
- Webcomic parody: In this strip of Dinosaur Comics, God publishes a sequel to the Bible, then a prequel that takes place in the universe before this one.
- The Aikonia webcomic is one to the videogame of the same name.
- In a way, Hivebent is one for Homestuck, revolving around the troll's session without any input from the kids. Of course, it's later revealed that without the kids, their entire session couldn't have happened.
- The Order of the Stick has had two print-only books. The first, numbered 0, is On The Origin of PCs, which shows what the heroes were doing before joining together. The second, #-1, is Start of Darkness, shows the backstory and origins of Team Evil leaders Xykon and Redcloak, along with how the Monster in the Dark ended up as their secret weapon.
- Season 9 of Red vs. Blue began showing a prequel story delving into the backstory of Project Freelancer.
- The Disney movie The Sword in the Stone is effectively a prequel to King Arthur's reign; it's based on the first quarter or so of the book The Once and Future King.
- The 90's cartoon short Another Froggy Evening appeared to be a prequel for most of the cartoon, where Michigan J. Frog appears in earlier time periods and meets characters who resemble the man who discovered him in the original short, but this is subverted in the Twist Ending: Michigan eventually reaches a desert island, and the castaway that sees him thinks of him as food rather than a chance to exploit him for fame. Just before the frog was put in a cooking pot, however, he was then abducted by Marvin the Martian. It turns out, happily, that Michigan's croaks are considered Martian, and Marvin and Michigan end it off with a duet.
- The Powerpuff Girls Movie was a retroactive prequel, converting what was covered in just a couple lines from the Expository Theme Tune into a full movie.
- Parodied in Earthworm Jim, with a "promo" of Young Earthworm Jim which would feature Jim's many "adventures" before the suit came about.
- Recess: All Growed Down