Back to the origins

***Warning*** Spoilers galore!

Most of you know I'm a writer, and on many of my writing loops, we've been dealing with the issue of backstory. What is backstory? It's everything that happens to shape your characters and the story before your story actually begins.
Strange then how it seems to me I'm finding issues pertaining to backstory almost everywhere I look lately, none less in movies and TV stuff.

The first one that got me noticing the trend is all the hype around X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Like the name itself says, it's pretty much about the origins of the X-men and the story of Wolverine/Logan. Now for those who, like me, have watched the X-Men trilogy (X-Men, X2, X-Men: The Last Stand), we all know the character of Logan stumbles back into Professor Xavier's school for the mutants as a somewhat broken, cynical man who is on the quest for his memory and his own life story. Answers are found along the way, if I'm not mistaken, in X2, where Logan learns that it is Stryker who coated his skeleton with Adamantium, thus making him the steel-clawed mutant, in the aim of making Wolverine a weapon/killer for his own purposes.

Allright, fine, we know all this. And if you watch X-men Origins: Wolverine, that's basically the story you will get. You also learn how Logan lost his memory, you discover the torn man he is at the end of the movie when he doesn't even recall the woman he has loved.

But all this we already know, don't we? X-Men Origins: Wolverine is all about Logan's backstory.
Why then are we driven to watch with unblinking eyes throughout the movie?

Another one that falls into the same boat is Underworld: Rise of the Lycans. Having watched the first 2 movies (Underworld, Underworld Evolution), I was curious to see how they'd go back to the origins, to show us how the war started between the lycans and the vampires. But hey, we already know how it starts - In Underworld, towards the end, Lucian, the were leader, confesses to Selene, the rogue vampire, that he had mated with a vampire and that Victor, the vampire lord, had had her killed, along with their unborn child. We also learn this vampire was Victor's own daughter, Sonja. We also 'see' how she dies, in a flashback moment.

So Underworld: Rise of the Lycans is the story of Lucian and Sonja. We know theirs is an impossible love story and they were about to bring into the world the first vampire-were hybrid, when Victor had Sonja killed. All that we know! So why is then we remain scotched to the screen while the movie plays out? Why is it our heart breaks for this couple when Sonja is killed and Lucian is torn apart inside when he watches his mate and his unborn child dying?

My point is, we know all that! It's all backstory, isn't it? That's where the true power of good backstory comes into play - it's a riveting plot in itself! In these two movies, we see how things we already know are twisted and flipped to present us something that appears new. In X-Men Origins: Wolverine, we get to see how the X-Men came to exist, when at the end, telepath Professor Xavier leads the mutant children to the plane which will take them away from the island. We see Logan's decisive role in the whole story. In the X-Men trilogy, Professor Xavier knows all about Logan, but he send him out on this quest to find out who is is by himself.

In Underworld, we learn that Victor killed Selene's family but he didn't have the heart to kill her, because she looked so much like Sonja, the daughter he killed but whom he also loved with all he had. Selene then becomes his surrogate daughter in a sense, and the backstory stregthens this line of plot. Take a look even at the actresses who play the parts - they even found women who resembled each other immensely. Rhona Mitra on the left, playing Sonja, and Kate Beckinsale on the right, playing Selene.

The new take on the backstory also forces us, the audience, to question our stand. When Underworld starts, you see Selene, and she, and the vampires, are the 'good' side. Lycans are to be hated, annihilated. Watch all 3 movies in the trilogy and then go back to the start of Underworld (little quip here - the third movie ends on that first scene of the first movie, Selene on a high ledge giving the prologue of the story). In the third movie, you see how the lycans were enslaved by the vampires, and your heart goes out to them. Lucian the villain becomes the hero you root for. The story takes you through a near 180-degrees flip.

This change of heart happened on TV as well. I recently watched Season 1 of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles on DVD. I admit it was DVDs my husband wanted to get, and I was like, okay we need to spend time together, so let's watch it (it would've been my compromise to get him to sit beside me when I watch the DVD of one of my chick flicks). Nevertheless, I have never seen the Terminator movies. All I know is that there are robots battling robots in there. Not exactly my cup of tea. But, lo and behold, watching the series, which goes not exactly into backstory but on a tangent of the whole plot - John Connor will lead the human resistance against Skynet and armed with this knowledge, his mother Sarah sets out to protect her son and annihilate Skynet before it is even conceived. I admit for much of the DVD, I was like, who is Kyle Reese? And why are they attacking this guy? And how did this happen? So much so that hubby paused the thing and gave me the story behind the Terminator movies.

So now I wanna watch The Terminator, because who knew it was also about the love story of Kyle Reese, sent from the future to protect John Connor's mother, Sarah, and how they had a child - John- together? And I also want to see the other 2 movies, Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. Coincidentally, another Terminator has just come out, Terminator Salvation.

Another one that also tickled me was the animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars that my boys watch on Cartoon Network. The story is set between Episode 2 and 3 of the prequels, and while watching Anakin, I keep thinking, How could this fellow any woman could easily fall in love with have turned into the biggest and baddest villain of all time? I haven't watched Star Wars and I'm no big fan of it, but having heard about it so much, I almost feel like I know the story. I know it's something in Anakin's past that makes him turn to the dark side, and now I want to watch it all just to see how it happens.

The power of backstory - not something any one of us should discount. A good writer knows this, and also knows how to make backstory work for him/her. Here's a cheer to the much-maligned backstory - thanks for captivating us.

I'd love to hear your take on backstory, and also about going back to origins in movies and TV.

Aasiyah Qamar - Cultural romantic fiction, with a twist
With stories set amidst the rainbow nation of Mauritius, a multicultural island in the Southern Indian Ocean, author Aasiyah Qamar brings you tales of today's young women battling life on all fronts and finding love where they least expect it. Indo-Mauritian culture wants to stifle them in traditions, customs and antiquated morals while the world is opening its arms of modernity and globalisation. Where do these women belong? And more importantly, with whom?Find out more about her first release, The Other Side, here.


  1. Z,

    What a great post on back-story. I never knew why I liked it so much until I read this post. Back-story gives an explanation for the behavior of the characters involved. You may not always agree with them, but you'll understand and relate to them.


  2. Hey Zaynah,

    Ironically, much of my favorite sci-fi/fantasy novels delve wholeheartedly into backstory without a qualm. When a whole world is created, one does need to get a grasp of it before diving in!

    I did enjoy "Batman Begins" which delved into his early years. And of course, the first Daniel Craig Bond film, Casino Royale, was a step back into 007's past. A new beginning.

    Great post, Zaynah!


  3. Hey Sandy and Chiron

    Thanks for droping by. Lol, I also wanted to go into Batman Begins and Casino Royale, and how they 'started' again a new 'genre' for those characters we seem to already know all about. But, unfortunately, that would've ended in a thesis on the whole topic!

    I also love the 'get-to-know-you' part about backstory, but like I said, it is much maligned and this is sad indeed, for good backstory has the potential to captivate your audience as much as the story itself.

    Thanks for the comments!



  4. Very well put. I understand the power of a good backstory, mainly because I like character profiles.

    The one trilogy that has always stood out in my mind - the first three movies of Star Wars. It was really hard to hear people didn't like how Darth Vader was born when they pretty much knew the tale of Vader.

  5. Great post, Z. I agree with Sandy, backstory's important to understanding the motivations of a character. The idea of learning how Kirk and Spock started out seemed brilliant. I haven't seen the Wolverine movie yet but can't wait for that either.

  6. T.J.

    Thanks for dropping by. I think Darth vader is one of the most fascinating characters created, because there's so much depth in there. It's like peeling an onion and then finding another layer, and another, and another.

    Cate - Glad you liked the post. I'm eager to go see the new Star Trek too, just to get to the origins since I'm not so familiar with Star Trek and want to see how it all started.



  7. Love this post! I think origin stories are completely compelling to those of us who love character over plot. If your big thing is to 'see what happens next', then an origins story will not have the same draw - because you already know what happens.

    But if you're into character development, then how the character became the one we know and love is too much of a draw. That's certainly the way it is with me. I can't get enough of origin stories.

    You can see a post I wrote about Wolverine's backstory here.

  8. Hey Julia

    Thanks for the post. Sorry i didn't reply you earlier, I was in exams all day yesterday.

    I love how you put it - character over plot. I too don't mind knowing how it ends, I want to see the journey to the end, how the characters are shaped and how they play into the story. Backstory is a wonderful tool to strengthen that, and what better than origin movies/stories to figure this out?

    Off to check your post on Wolverine!




Post a Comment

We would love to hear from you but hope you are a real person and not a spammer. :)

Popular Posts