Prequels are tricky things. They come with the baggage of expectations based on the films that at one time exist as THE story and eventually become the later portions of the story once the prequels take root. Sci-fi fans have seen this played out in the prequels of the Star Wars films, and now, thanks to Amazon and Jeff Bezos’ love for J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth, fantasy fans will again explore the prospect with The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, having already embraced The Hobbit trilogy.
Having just tackled the extended versions of the six movies with my son, I was eager to see how the series would handle a world before the world we think we know. From my son’s perspective, watching the Hobbit trilogy first, and then the LOTR films, the final arc of Tolkien’s story was more exciting. So what can we make of the prequel before the prequel? Would it hold up? Would it engage fans?
With a pair of advance episodes, it’s clear that the production quality is on par with Peter Jackson’s films. That’s thanks to the developmental work of J. D. Payne and Patrick McKay, as well as composer Bear McCreary, and the acting of an international cast that begins a story spread out in several different perspectives.
Unlike the original films that largely showed us the original Fellowship’s perspective, Rings of Power launches us on the various paths of characters that we’ve heard of before and some we haven’t, against detailed created sets and the beautifully lush countryside of New Zealand. Some of the characters are more interesting than others – warriors who recognize that there’s evil lurking in the shadow, even if they can’t see it; wise elders who counsel patience; young ones who long to explore what could be versus what they’ve been told is all there is. It’s classic Tolkien, told by modern storytellers.
And yet – the heart of Tolkien’s works remains the battle between good and evil, and the individual’s opportunity to choose. Like Gandalf’s words to Frodo, ““All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us,” each of these newly-depicted characters has a journey with divergent paths. Some will choose well; others will not. But in the prehistory of the world, free will is the greatest gift – lifted straight from the pages of the Old Testament for our consideration, transposed to the world of Tolkien’s Middle Earth.
With just a few episodes considered, I’ll offer this final caveat. I’ve been a fan of both Tolkien and George R.R. Martin, of their written work and the cinematic interpretations. In a span of just a few weeks, watching prequels from each world with HBO’s Game of Thrones prequel hot off of the press as well, I found myself lagging in zeal for one, and eager to see what happens next in the other. Maybe it’s true – there is one ring to rule them all.