Can You Watch The Many Saints Of Newark If You've Never Seen The Sopranos?

Next week, "The Many Saints of Newark" arrives in both theaters and on HBO Max. The feature film is a prequel to "The Sopranos," the groundbreaking HBO series that ushered in the era of peak TV. Younger versions of several characters from the show appear here, as do numerous locations. With all that in mind, you might be wondering: "Can I see this movie if I've never watched 'The Sopranos'?" Well, first of all, if you are asking that question, let me just say: you should really watch "The Sopranos." The hype is real – the show is as good as you've heard, if not better. Even if you don't like mafia-themed entertainment, the series goes beyond that – it's a deconstruction of that sort of story, while also serving as a commentary on toxic masculinity in America. That said, if you're hoping to catch this movie when it arrives next weekend, you're probably not going to be able to binge through all six seasons (86 episodes total) of "The Sopranos" by then. Luckily, I've seen the film – my review is right here – so I can tell you, dear reader, how well-versed in "Sopranos" lore you need to be beforehand. Potential spoiler follow.

The Many Saints of Newark Story

First, here's what "The Many Saints of Newark" is about, according to the official synopsis. 

Young Anthony Soprano is growing up in one of the most tumultuous eras in Newark's history, becoming a man just as rival gangsters begin to rise up and challenge the all-powerful DiMeo crime family's hold over the increasingly race-torn city. Caught up in the changing times is the uncle he idolizes, Dickie Moltisanti, who struggles to manage both his professional and personal responsibilities—and whose influence over his nephew will help make the impressionable teenager into the all-powerful mob boss we'll later come to know: Tony Soprano.

There's a lot of talk about young Tony Soprano in that synopsis, but I want to point out that the film really isn't about him. Instead, "The Many Saints of Newark" is primarily focused on Dickie Moltisanti, who serves as a mentor to Tony. Dickie is the father of Christopher Moltisanti, one of Tony's underlings on "The Sopranos." And, in true full-circle fashion, Tony became a mentor of sorts to Christopher just the way Christopher's father was a mentor to him. (Tony also killed Christopher, of course, so that mentorship only went so far). In "The Sopranos" timeline, Dickie is long dead, and Christopher – who was a baby when Dickie died – has no real memory of his dad. 

Do You Need To Watch The Sopranos To Understand This Movie?

And now, back to the question at hand: can you watch this movie without having seen "The Sopranos"? The answer is yes. The movie takes great care to fill its audience in on what they need to know to follow the story. Right at the start of the film, we're told (via narration) about Dickie, Christopher, Tony, and their various connections. So if you're completely unaware of this stuff, "The Many Saints of Newark" will give you all the clues, much like the infamous serial killer The Snowman

However, there are a lot of "Sopranos" references peppered throughout the film. So much so that it actually started to bug me, even though I'm a huge fan of the series. It starts to border on easter egg territory at times, with complete lines of dialogue from the show repurposed here. Still, you don't have to be aware of these things to enjoy and follow the film. Everything you need to know is right up there on the screen. But I will add that having watched "The Sopranos" beforehand does make "The Many Saints of Newark" a richer experience, simply because those who watched the series will be aware of how things eventually turn out for all of these characters. And that knowledge adds a certain weight to nearly everything that unfolds. 

The bottom line: you don't need to watch "The Sopranos" to understand "The Many Saints of Newark." But you probably should.