Watch sequels and they often feel inferior to the original because they’re not complete stories. If you never saw the original, the beginning of most sequels assumes you already know the main characters, so there’s little understanding what the characters want. Even worse, many sequels simply end without completing the story. Think of “The Empire Strikes Back” that leaves Hans Solo trapped. If “The Empire Strikes Back” didn’t already have a huge following, the ending wouldn’t make sense and would leave audiences disappointed and empty.
If “The Empire Strikes Back” was the first Star Wars movie people saw, would anyone be clamoring for a sequel or a prequel? Probably not, which helps measure whether a story is complete or not.
To see the effect of leaving audiences confused at the end with no sense of completion, watch “The Maze Runner.” Initially, the story begins with a bunch of boys trapped in a giant maze that they’ve been mapping. Gradually we learn that the hero is special somehow and knew a girl who helped create this maze. However, we never understand completely who the villains really are until the end, which makes for an unsatisfying story.
Imagine “Star Wars” without Darth Vader and the Death Star appearing early in the story to constantly threaten the heroes. If Darth Vader and the Death Star suddenly popped up only at the end, the story would feel incomplete, and that’s the major flaw of “The Maze Runner.”
“The Maze Runner” also fails to answer two main questions. First, it’s hinted that the hero and a girl were part of designing the maze experiment. Second, it’s hinted that the giant maze has a purpose. However at the end, we never learn what part the hero played in designing the maze nor what purpose the maze really has. Thus the story poses questions it never answers, which makes the story incomplete.
(The book “The Maze Runner” isn’t any better. You have to read the entire trilogy to finally understand the purpose of the maze, but we still never learn why the hero helped create the maze or why he became part of the experiment in the first place.)
“Catching Fire,” the second movie in “The Hunger Games” series is another incomplete movie. In all stories, the villains have to be defeated. Imagine if “Die Hard” ended with some of the terrorists escaping with their lives. It would feel incomplete. In “Star Wars,” Darth Vader escapes with his life, but his Death Star gets blown up and he fails in shooting down Luke.
In “The Hunger Games,” all the villains get defeated. The President looks bad because the nation is starting to rebel because of Katniss and the game keeper gets defeated because his failure in controlling the game forces him to commit suicide.
In “Catching Fire,” a cruel commander takes over District 12 and whips one of the main characters. Yet by the end of “Catching Fire,” this bad guy never gets defeated. This isn’t just a fault of the movie but of the book as well, which makes “Catching Fire” an incomplete story and inferior to the original.
“The Hunger Games” is a complete story. “The Maze Runner” is not and you can see the results of both movies. When you provide a complete story, you leave the audience satisfied. When you provide an incomplete story, you leave the audience hanging, and that loose end creates a weaker story experience.
So make sure all your bad guys get defeated and make sure any questions you pose eventually get answered. You might still succeed with incomplete stories like “The Maze Runner,” but you’ll be far better off writing complete stories whether as screenplays or novels.