animate-mush asked on Tumblr:
How does existing with in a prequel, where certain outcomes are known going in, interfave with the construction of appropriate stakes? I remember being bored silly during the Legolas Bolg fight because I knew that neither of these characters could possibly kill the other, rendering the whole exercise pointless
It’s pretty much the same issue, though your options are a bit narrower; if it’s a prequel and I know such-and-such a character – Legolas in this case – will survive the battle, that’s similar to cases like Yugioh – the stakes are too high and I know the author is bluffing – and Scarlet Pimpernel – huge flashing character shield. It makes “Will Legolas die?” an inappropriate question to base the stakes around, so an alternative is needed.
The Hobbit movies actually had some good options set up for themselves with Legolas, because they could base the stakes around his relationships with Tauriel and Thranduil without affecting what had already been established in Lord of the Rings. The appropriate stakes for Legolas in the Hobbit movies were “Will he get the girl” and “Will he and his father heal this emotional rift”/”Will he break from his oppressive father” (that conflict was so badly-written, for real). We knew he’d live, but we didn’t know whether or not he had a girlfriend or wife waiting back home during Lord of the Rings.
Of course, the same points extend to if we know other outcomes – if Legolas had mentioned his wife Tauriel and their three kids in Lord of the Rings, we would know he was going to get the girl, so you’d need something else to add spice to the story (“how does he get the girl?” is still a story, but it can’t be the whole thing).
All that means that, yeah, the Legolas-Bolg fight was completely pointless as framed, because it was independent of everything else and the only thing at stake was Legolas’ life. If it had been framed as him fighting to protect Thranduil or something, it could have been a demonstration of how much he really does love his father or something and then they could have bonded or something and it could have had stakes (added to the fact that technically they could have got away with killing Thranduil, which adds some stakes there, though that is on no level what I would recommend), but not when the only stake was the life of a character we knew would live.
This is also a great demonstration of the problem of not having any stakes and how boring things can get without them!