Not Every Character Needs an Origin Story
I just finished watching “Bangarang: The Hook Prequel”, which is supposed to be the origin story for the beloved character Rufio from the film Hook. In the original film, Rufio had become the leader of the Lost Boys in Peter Pan’s absence, and it was to Rufio that Peter was forced to prove himself in order to regain his status as leader and gain the support of the Lost Boys in his fight against Captain Hook.
Rufio was a popular character, so it was perhaps inevitable that someone would want to make his origin story. The short film by Jonah Feingold was not a bad little movie. Sure the acting and writing could have been improved, but the short film captures the same sense of childish adventure of its source material. Even so, the whole time I was watching, the only thought in my mind was “Why does this exist?”
Origin stories are quite popular in Hollywood these days. Filmmakers often justify unneeded prequels and reboots by suggesting they are important origin stories. The popular TV series Sherlock started as an origin story. Star Wars: Rogue One is an origin story of sorts for the Death Star and the Rebellion.
In fact, we might be able to trace back this obsession with origin stories to Star Wars, and the critically panned “prequels.” One of the arguments then was that Darth Vader did not need an origin story, that his arc was completed in the first three films and that the mystery of his past only added to the character’s appeal. This is, indeed, the same argument being made today. Star Wars also recently gave us a Tarkin origin book, and will soon be giving us a Han Solo origin film. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Princess Leia film shortly after.
The problem with origin stories is that they are usually unnecessary, and as such end up being more filler than premium content. X-Men Origins: Wolverine certainly felt less complete and compelling than the first two X-men films. It was nowhere near as compelling as Logan, which might as well be called a “conclusion story.”
The Rufio origin film suffers from this and many other issues. Despite his popularity, we do not need to know the origin of Rufio. His character’s arc is complete in the original film. Moreover, the short film actually hurts his character by softening him too much and making him too childish.
The film also contradicts its source material in serious ways. The plot of Bangarang is Rufus (Rufio’s original name for some needless reason) trying to fly in order to get rid of a bully. And he does fly. But why then, does Rufio not fly in Hook? In fact, the main plot of Hook is Peter learning how to fly again, since he is the only one in Neverland who can. Nevermind that the Lost Boys are supposed to be just that, lost. Their appeal is that we don’t know where they come from, they don’t even know. They are an integral part of Neverland. Rufio’s life in the real world ruins that.
Generally speaking, the characters who need origin stories or back stories, should have it included in their original material. It doesn’t need to be played out–like in the Spiderman films–it can simply be mentioned or even just alluded to. Side characters who fulfill their plot purposes in the main work, regardless of their popularity, do not need origin stories. Such films and books are just money grabs that risk permanently damaging the character’s reputation and prestige. Who can now feel intimidated by Darth Vader after witnessing the horrible “Noooooo” scene?
That’s not to say popular side characters are off limits. Authors would do well to gauge the feedback of their readers and give them more of what they like. But instead of origin stories, this can take the form of sequel material, or spin-offs that feature the character in a similar period to the original work. I would love to see a film showing how Rufio was leading the Lost Boys prior to Pan’s return. Done well, this would not have any detrimental effect on the original film.
I say all this knowing full well that it’s a rule I have broken. The character Iric, who appears in a flash series on this blog, is a side character in my yet-to-be-published book In the Valley of Magic. Even so, the decision to write origin material for this character was completely based on the whims of the author, not a money-making or fan-appeasing ploy. It was also one of the only angles I felt I had to reenter the world of In the Valley of Magic due to the specific plot and narrative circumstances of that book. And anyway, the character only played a very minor role in the original book.
Maybe it’s just me, but I always feel more interested in new characters done well than in old characters done poorly or even half-well.