Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald SPOILERS to follow. Also for the Star Wars prequels, if you live under a rock.
Harry Potter is one of the most successful properties in pop culture, so it's no surprise that Warner Bros. wanted to keep the good times rolling after the eight-part film series concluded. Thus came Fantastic Beasts, a five-part prequel series that delivered its second film earlier this month. Unfortunately, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald and this prequel franchise haven't really captured the magic of Harry Potter. That's not too different from another prequel series for a massively popular franchise: Star Wars.
The Star Wars prequel trilogy is famous, and not for all the right reasons. The films were hated by fans when they first came out thanks to bad writing, acting and directing that made the movies a slog. As time has gone forward, the vitriol for these prequels has died down considerably (check out the PrequelMemes subreddit to see what I mean), but that doesn't change the fact that there are lessons to be learned from these movies. The prequel trilogy did good and bad things, and it wouldn't be a terrible idea for Fantastic Beasts to take a page or two from Star Wars on how to avoid the biggest missteps.
Do Something New
George Lucas made a lot of questionable decisions when it came to the making of his Star Wars prequels, but he wasn't content to do more of the same. Every prequel introduces something new, whether its vehicles, planets, characters or alien races. The prequels rarely retreaded old ground, seldom taking anything from the original films that it didn't need. While Fantastic Beasts isn't too riddled in nostalgia, it can stand to broaden its scope a bit.
We're only on the second movie, and we were already back at Hogwarts. The films introduce plenty of new magical creatures and characters, but many of those characters are tied to the original movies (we'll get to that). How many new spells have we seen or magical locations that weren't a government building? It creates a lot more excitement when fans are exploring new territory.
Develop The Love Story
One of the biggest complaints about the Star Wars prequels is the romance between Anakin and Padme. The problem is that it's so poorly written, so wooden and so unbelievable. There's a lot of plot placed on the shoulders of this romance, but it falls short in just about every way. Fantastic Beasts does not depend on the budding relationship between Newt and Tina, but they are clearly being pushed together and it's falling flat.
The Crimes of Grindelwald doesn't devote enough time to develop the romance to make the audience care. Star Wars had the opposite problem. There was a lot of time dedicated to Anakin and Padme (there was a whole scene of frolicking through grass), but it was so cheesy and it didn't sell WHY these two are falling in love. If Fantastic Beasts wants to couple Tina and Newt or Jacob and Quennie, then it has to do the work and explain why these people should be together.
Don't Put Too Much Emphasis On Family Lineage
It's easy to understand the impulse of trying to connect the prequel with the original, but it is possible to go too far. Fantastic Beasts does this partly by including Harry Potter characters like McGonagall or Nagini, but it loses itself in the question of Credence's family. So much time and energy are spent on explaining who Credence truly is, which apparently means whatever powerful magical family he's from. This is meant to give the film a big twist to take us into the rest of the franchise, but it feels unnecessary.
Star Wars almost revolves entirely around the Skywalker clan, but in the prequels, Palpatine doesn't really care about Anakin's name. He just wants him because he's super strong in the Force and he's a dummy that can be manipulated. If anything, Harry Potter is about how family is the people you surround yourself with, not whose blood you have, which makes it odd that Fantastic Beasts obsesses over the latter.
Don't Give One Person All The Creative Power
George Lucas was overseeing almost every element about the Star Wars prequels. He wrote, directed and produced each of the three films, and had full creative control. Lucas is the master of all things Star Wars and it makes you wonder if anyone ever actually said no to him during the making of these three movies. How else do you get movies about trade disputes or lines about how bad sand is? The guy had free reign! In some cases, this worked out, but more often then not, people need someone to check their work.
Fantastic Beasts is in a similar boat with J.K. Rowling. No one knows more about Harry Potter than Rowling and she's writing the script for each Fantastic Beasts movie. However, these movies aren't quite vibing the way Harry Potter did. Writing a script isn't the same as writing a full novel, and there's a lot that can happen to a script from the page to the screen, but I think the same principle that people should be questioning those in power still applies.
Broaden The World
One thing that Star Wars and Harry Potter have in common is that they take place in worlds with endless possibilities. You could tell literally any kind of story within those franchises and it doesn't even have to revolve around the main character. The prequels did a good job at this because it took what people knew about the original films and expanded them. Fans learned how the Jedi Council worked and what the universe was like when Jedi were still around. It was illuminating, but Fantastic Beasts hasn't quite pulled that off.
It was interesting to see how the American Wizarding World is different from the one we know, but it pretty much stopped there. Part of the challenge is that Harry Potter is set in the "real world," so it's harder to go to fantastical locations as Star Wars can. Still, there's plenty of material that Fantastic Beasts can explore, and the franchise shouldn't box itself in.