— 20th Century Fox

The Alien franchise has taken many forms. The original, Alien, was a relatively straightforward sci-fi horror movie. Aliens doubled down, flashing forward 57 years but still retaining badass protagonist Ellen Ripley. From then on, the franchise tried every sequel technique. There were immediate sequels (Alien 3) distant sequels (Alien: Resurrection), prequels (Prometheus), and even crossovers (Alien vs. Predator.)

Now, the xenomorphs are coming back once again, and the franchise is using the last remaining tool in their toolbox — and going back to what made the movies great in the first place.

Cailee Spaeny, star of the upcoming Alien movie Alien: Romulus, revealed to Variety where it falls within the continuity of the series: right in between Alien and Aliens, in the 57 years when Ripley was in stasis.

This makes Romulus a “midquel” (sometimes called an “interquel”) — a film that is set in between two existing chapters of a franchise. For example, Saw X is set in between Saw and Saw II, while Black Widow is set in between the events of Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War. Midquels allow for standalone stories to build the world of a franchise between two other works, retroactively deepening settings and characters, even if there isn’t much crossover.

This is the perfect approach for a new Alien movie. The franchise is now huge (there’s even a TV series in active development) and the story of all eight films spans centuries and includes all kinds of new characters. By distilling the action down to just being in between those two movies, the plot can revisit the golden age of Alien while also avoiding the inevitable question of where Ripley is: she’s in stasis!

It may be the last remaining surprise that Alien has left, but it’s still going to add all sorts of elements to the sci-fi worldbuilding that could build on the already close-to-perfect double feature of Alien and Aliens. When there’s nowhere left to go in the future and the past, it’s always smart to go back and fill in the gaps.

Alien: Romulus premieres in theaters August 16, 2024.

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