The Sopranos will receive a prequel movie in the ‘70s-set gangster drama The Many Saints of Newark, and it’s already clear the movie will need at least one more sequel to fully flesh out the world of David Chase’s iconic series. The Sopranos debuted in 1999 and ran for six seasons. In that time, the HBO family drama reshaped the television landscape with its ambitious, tragic story of the surprisingly sympathetic mafia head Tony Soprano.
Immortalized by the late James Gandolfini, Tony was a complex protagonist who failed to fit the narrow archetype expected from fictional gangsters. Neither as stoic as The Godfather’s antiheroes nor as erratic and unhinged as the criminals of later mob movies like Scarface or Scorsese’s oeuvre, Tony was instead a layered, morally ambiguous figure. Up until (and including) its daring series finale, The Sopranos offered viewers no easy answers, and Tony’s complicated character – as well as his ever-shifting relationship with family and colleagues – created a blueprint for series like Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and even the sprawling crime epic The Wire to follow in the years after the show aired.
Now, over a decade after the series reached its close, a feature-length movie prequel The Many Saints of Newark will return to the world of The Sopranos. Starring James Gandolfini’s son Michael as a young Tony, The Many Saints of Newark promises to illustrate the early life of the show’s antihero as a small-time hoodlum growing up in the titular city during the ‘70s. Beginning after the famous Newark riots of the late ‘60s, the prequel will also bring franchise newcomers such as Ray Liotta into The Sopranos franchise. Directed by Alan Taylor – who helmed some of the show’s most acclaimed episodes – The Many Saints of Newark promises to recapture the tone and aesthetic of Chase’s seminal show despite its period setting. However, it is already clear that the film deserves a sequel for numerous reasons, even though the prequel has not been released yet. Luckily, Taylor recently teased that the movie may not be the last viewers see of The Sopranos, which is good news given how many stories a sequel could tell.
Judging by the movie’s title (the name “Moltisanti” literally translated means “many saints”) and plot synopsis, it seems likely The Many Saints of Newark will focus on the role that Christopher’s father Dickie Moltisanti played in Tony’s burgeoning mob career. The Sopranos has long made it clear that Dickie’s influence cast a long shadow over the adult Tony Soprano’s quick-thinking acumen as a mob boss, making Tony’s relationship with Christopher all the more emotionally resonant. However, picking up Tony’s story from his teens and illustrating Dickie’s role in his start of darkness only accounts for some of Tony’s life as a criminal, and the character deserves a more immersive biopic.
Much of what made the storytelling of The Sopranos so innovative was the decision to eschew the streamlined narrative familiar from many earlier mob stories. Tony did not have a dramatic rise and fall but rather a sometimes-humdrum, sometimes-enthralling career as a mafia boss, and the patient, thoughtful storytelling of the series reflected the ebb and flow of a real personal and professional life. Between his early mob career, the birth of his children and their childhoods and his early years with his eventual wife Carmela, there is simply too much of Tony’s story to potentially explore than one movie could cover. Focusing on the intersection between Dickie and Tony’s lives and its effect on the antihero’s future is a clever start for The Many Saints of Newark, but it is not the full breadth of the character’s backstory.
The popularity of sprawling cinematic universes, the preponderance of television reboots and the sheer number of re-imaginings/belated sequels currently in production make it clear audiences want to return to familiar settings and see more from characters they love. This is particularly true with The Sopranos, a franchise that made the canny decision to wait over a decade between the end of the HBO series and the arrival of The Many Saints of Newark. Director Alan Taylor earned poor reviews for his Terminator franchise outing Genisys, but unlike that critically-derided series, The Sopranos has not offered viewers a deluge of revisions or sequels before the arrival of this long-awaited prequel. This means the series has been able to build up hype among its patient fanbase, as opposed to flooding the market with Soprano’s content and cheapening the fond memories of the original series for viewers.
The Sopranos featured an immersive fictional universe wherein rival families produced believable villains like Johnny Sacramoni while Tony’s own brood offered monstrous figures like his uncle Junior, both of whom were richly realized figures who could maintain a spin-off story of their own. If the next sequel pushed further into the past – as The Godfather series did with Part II – it could continue the franchise’s rich traditions of complicated female characters by focusing on Tony’s mother Livia. A frustrating, occasionally truly cold-hearted character, Livia is a sympathetic dementia patient by the end of her time on the series, but early seasons make it clear she was as ruthless as her mafia counterparts in earlier years. She is the sort of fascinating figure The Sopranos often touched on but left in the background, and a prequel explaining her backstory could offer a new perspective on Livia.
The Many Saints of Newark takes place between the ‘60s and ‘70s, with the movie using the 1967 Newark riots to illustrate the racial tensions of the setting. Not only could a subsequent sequel depict the rise of one of Tony’s later rivals, but a follow-up could also show a more diverse side of The Sopranos universe. The series always featured non-white characters but the focus on the titular family meant they were typically playing supporting roles, whereas a sequel to The Many Saints of Newark would not necessarily need to center Tony and company. Instead, the sequel could focus on the lives of Newark’s non-white residents and focus on the racial tensions of the era from their perspective.
The Many Saints of Newark already promises to feature some broader perspectives, with recent Oscar nominee Leslie Odom Jr playing a pivotal supporting role. However, the impressive supporting cast is mostly actors who have a long history of playing criminals and crooks such as Jon Bernthal and Ray Liotta, and a sequel to The Many Saints of Newark could potentially look at a more diverse cross-section of the city’s characters. Filling in the supporting stars of Tony’s young adulthood is a perfect starting point for the first feature film in the fictional universe of The Sopranos, but the lack of diversity in the cast of The Many Saints of Newark proves there are still many other stories for The Sopranos creators to explore beyond Tony himself.