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Remembering 'Firestarter: Rekindled,' the unlikely Stephen King sequel you may have forgotten

The Firestarter  follow-up is streaming now on Peacock if you need a spark.

Firestarter Rekindled

Stephen King has written his fair share of sequels. The horror master has never been especially shy about returning to characters who live on in his head, and over the years has penned follow-ups to everything from The Shining to The Talisman, as well as interconnected novels that share characters and locations like Needful ThingsThe Dead ZoneCujo, and much more. 

But Stephen King isn't the only person who can write Stephen King sequels, at least not in the film and TV world. Beginning with Return to Salem's Lot in 1987 (which is its own very weird story for another day), producers began imagining their own follow-ups to some of King's most popular stories. It's a tradition that's given us everything from The Rage: Carrie 2 to a seemingly endless outpouring of Children of the Corn sequels. It also, 20 years ago this spring, gave us Firestarter: Rekindled

Firestarter, both King's original 1980 novel and the 1984 film adaptation it inspired (a fresh take on Firestarter hits theaters and Peacock on May 13), offers a rather open-ended conclusion to the story of pryokinetic girl Charlie McGee. By the end of the story she's lost her family, but she's seemingly found an avenue to a new home, and even a way to tell her story to the world, but that's where we leave her. We don't know how Charlie managed to grow up, or if she managed to grow up, let alone how she dealt with her deadly abilities in a hostile world where dark government forces might still be on her trailer. 

Rekindled, released as a Sci-fi Channel (SYFY's former name) miniseries in March of 2002 and now streaming on Peacock, aimed to explore those questions. Directed by Robert Iscove from a script by Philip Eisner, the miniseries picks up with Charlie (Marguerite Moreau) in early adulthood, living under an alias and using her job at a library to research her own powers. It's a relatively quiet life by her standards, at least until she's tracked down by a researcher who claims to be part of a class action lawsuit tied to the government experiment her parents were part of back in the 1970s, the experiments that gave her pyrokinesis in the first place. 

Of course, it turns out that the lawsuit is actually a front for John Rainbird (Malcolm McDowell), the government fixer from the first film who Charlie thought she'd killed. In turns out Rainbird's still alive, still obsessed with Charlie, and still very interested in turning gifted young people into unwitting weapons for the government. If she's going to survive this time, Charlie's going to have to take every ounce of wisdom she's gained in the years since her last Rainbird encounter and pour it into a new fight, and she's going to need a little help along the way. 

Firestarter: Rekindled Wide Shot

Though King's original novel definitely leaned hard into science fiction and even flirted with superhero elements, Firestarter is still a horror story at its core, particularly when viewed through the eyes of a little girl who doesn't fully understand the forces at work both around and within her. Rekindled definitely retains some of those horror elements, but leans quite a bit harder into the superpowers angle of it all, complete with a series of new characters who flesh out the mythology of The Shop and its creations. We meet a man who can tell the future (played by the great Dennis Hopper), as well as a group of superpowered kids brainwashed by Rainbird, and see how each of those things interacts with Charlie's own story. It's not necessarily in keeping with the intimate nature of King's original story, but it's at the very least a surprising series of developments. 

Charlie's own maturation is also interesting, at least in the limited way Rekindled is interested in exploring it. The open-ended nature of the original novel gives Eisner the chance to ask some really intriguing questions about what puberty and adulthood have done to Charlie's gifts, how she controls it now, and what happens when she turns it all loose. These sequences are often just an excuse for some pyrotechnics, but they also ask some fascinating questions about what happens when King turns his eye away from the narrative.

While it definitely feels dated now, and suffers from the budgetary and structural limitations of its time, Firestarter: Rekindled remains an interesting pop culture artifact within the overall Stephen King milieu, and an amusing companion to both the original film and the novel. 

You can watch both the 1984 Firestarter film and Firestarter: Rekindled on Peacock now. And look out for the new adaptation of Firestarter from Blumhouse Productions, hitting theaters and Peacock on May 13. 

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