Why the new Percy Jackson adaptation is important

Ellie Petrick, Editor

“Look, I didn’t want to be a halfblood,” wrote Rick Riordan on page 1 of The Lightning Thief, published in 2005. This book was originally written as a bedtime story for his son, as Riordan details on his personal blog, and yet this one sentence of one book would invite millions of readers to enter a new universe. Riordan would go on to write a five-book series about Percy Jackson. Then, he would continue writing new series, bringing in new mythologies and characters to populate his universe. 

As of May 2022, “Riordan’s Percy Jackson books have sold more than 180 million copies worldwide,” as written in NPR’s article on the newest adaptation of these books. Popular book series such as this are ripe for adaptation. However, Percy Jackson has had a unique history of adaptations, culminating in a Disney+ original series set to release 19 years after the book was first published. 

Percy Jackson adaptations don’t start with the series, but rather with a movie adaptation made by 20th Century Fox, directed by Thor Freudenthal and Chris Columbus. With money to back the project and a director, Chris Columbus, who had directed the first two Harry Potter movies, both widely successful in their adaptation of the books. However, both the first and second Percy Jackson movies were met with great backlash following their release. How did this happen?

In November 2018, author Rick Riordan released information about his role in the movies, as well as several emails he had sent to the staff of it. “The author may or may not be consulted, but the movie folks have final say on everything.” He had minimal influence on the movie, allowing those actually working on it to make decisions that he did not agree with. One of which was the decision to age the characters up to 17 rather than 12. “[Fans] are looking for one thing: How faithful was the movie to the book? Make Percy seventeen, and that battle is lost before filming even begins.” 

Even past changes in the story, Riordan greatly criticized the script itself, saying that he was “plunged into despair” upon first reading it. “The plot has been chopped up so thoroughly that it no longer holds together.” According to Riordan, the scriptwriters had changed the story so much that it was no longer a quality story, let alone a quality adaptation. 

The movie was a disappointment for fans of the books who had been wanting to see the story and characters they love properly represented. However, 2017 brought an entirely new adaptation: a musical. Composer Rob Rokicki and playwright Joe Tracz were committed to creating a faithful adaptation of the books. 

“We know the pressure is on us to get the tone right, and to keep the big, beating heart [of the series,]” Rokicki said in an interview with Olivia Clement of Playbill. Conscious of the lingering disappointment of the movies, both Rokicki and Tracz knew fans would be watching them closely. Keeping the storyline book accurate was a task of the utmost importance. “We’re always going back to the book for lines [or references,]” said Tracz in the same interview. 

More than just keeping things accurate, the duo had committed to making the musical good. It wasn’t a movie, but it was gladly received by fans. The musical would soar to such popularity that it would have its own, rather limited, Broadway run from October 2019 to January 2020. 

The musical was a great gift to book fans. Still, as fate would have it, Percy Jackson was destined to have another adaptation. In 2019, Disney bought 20th Century Fox, giving them the rights to an on-screen adaptation of Percy Jackson. Rather than make more movies, it was decided that Percy Jackson would be adapted into a Disney+ original series, with Rick Riordan and his wife, Becky, as executive producers. 

With the series still in production, it’s impossible to say how good or how accurate of an adaptation it will be. Despite this, Riordan exudes confidence in his project and actors. Walker Scobell was casted as Percy Jackson himself, with only praises from Riordan. “…[Casting Scobell] was a magical moment that made me feel for the first time: ‘Okay, this is real. This is worth all the waiting and the hard work. This project is going to be amazing,’” he said on his personal blog.

The series is estimated by Riordan to be released in 2024. Joining Scobell will be Aryan Simhadri as Grover Underwood, and Leah Sava Jeffries as Annabeth Chase. After the disappointment that was the movie, this series has a lot riding on it. Expectations are high for this show, and we can only hope that it will deliver.