The Third Leader: Revenge of the rewrite

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Back not forward. The force, judging by Revenge of the Sith, the latest Star Wars instalment, is definitely more to do with beginnings than boldly going. There are those, of course, who suggest that this third prequel in the saga is not so much about artistic direction as maximising returns on a very successful franchise. But down here in The Third Leader Department, we are not at home to that sort of cynicism.

Back not forward. The force, judging by Revenge of the Sith, the latest Star Wars instalment, is definitely more to do with beginnings than boldly going. There are those, of course, who suggest that this third prequel in the saga is not so much about artistic direction as maximising returns on a very successful franchise. But down here in The Third Leader Department, we are not at home to that sort of cynicism.

No, down here, we look at the popularity of the prequel as a form, and wonder whether it reflects a prevailing force in the thoughts and doings of humanity: a lack of confidence in the present and the future so severe that it expresses itself not just in a desire to return to the past, but to the past of the past.

Deep stuff, but worry not, as it doesn't really stand up. For a start, "prequel" may be a recent coining, but Virgil was at it in the Eclogues, as was Wagner with Das Rheingold and Siegfried. C S Lewis did it, and Tolkien may have just done it with The Silmarillion. Sterne even managed it inside the same book.

The urge to return is as old as Eden. It is, the experts will tell you, to do with emerging from the sea, the womb, and all that. The appeal of the prequel is that it manages to combine this with another strong impulse of ours, to invent and reinvent the past, as evidenced by all our great writers and Jeffrey Archer.

Its opponents, we feel, are the humourless ones - with far too strong an attachment to order - and you know how much trouble they've caused, just on this planet.

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