Prequels can be an iffy proposition. The dramatic stakes can be low, given we have a fair handle on who dies, who lives, and where they end up. There’s also an argument to be made that some gaps in the backstory are better left unfilled; the allusions and mystery are more entertaining than any solid answers could ever be (looking at you, literally 80% of Star Wars). As stories, prequels tend to be a little inert.
But there is the odd exception that proves the rule—The Godfather Part II, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly… and now Mystery Road: Origin, which puts us in the as-yet-unscuffed cowboy boots of Indigenous detective Jay Swan (formerly the great Aaron Pedersen, now the equally great Mark Coles Smith) in his formative years.
It’s 1999 and freshly-minted cop Jay Swan returns to his hometown, the desert mining outpost of Jardine, to take up his post under local top cop Sergeant Peter Lovric (Steve Bisley). Lovric is something of a mentor figure to Jay, having steered him out of trouble and into the Force previously. Jay is in need of one, too; his relationship with his father, former rodeo star Jack (Kelton Pell, clearly relishing a meaty, complex role) and older brother Sputty (a fierce Clarence Ryan) is thorny, and few of the local mob are too pleased at the idea of a Blak cop working for White interests. Lovric sees the utility of an officer who can liaise between the local mining company and Indigenous activists—whether Jay wants to or not.