Note: This post includes spoilers for the films Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, Star Wars Episode VI: The Return of the Jedi. Even though the films are over 30 years old, I figured I would give you fair warning.
It sounds odd to think as it is only June, but summer movie season is now well underway. superheroes, to sci-fi studios start rolling out their big budget block-buster extravaganzas to the public . Fan boys come out in droves to see the characters they grew up with on the big screen, and analysts begin predicting which film will be the biggest. For fun, analysts will even try and determine the total economic costs of the disasters depicted in some of these films.
However during this time there is something else that comes up: the dreaded “Spoiler”This is basically where someone gives away a key point of a plot for a movie. Once upon a time it was much easier to remain surprised for a movie. It used to be the only way a movie could be spoiled was some loud mouth walking out of the theater bellowing at the top of his lungs the startling revelation Darth Vader had just revealed to Luke Skywalker.
The merchandise also wouldn’t come out until the film was in theaters, meaning you didn’t see any new characters from the movie until the film showed up. Occasionally there could be a special promotion, like what there was with Star Wars toys in 1978 that offered sneak-previews figures of Boba Fett, and later in 1998 before the Phantom Menace of Mace Windu. However, those toys were only mail in offers, and not available in stores, allowing for there to still be an element of surprise about the upcoming movie.
My dad always had a policy when it came to the comic book adaptations of movies. I could not read it until I had seen the movie. Sure a minor detail could be different but much of the story would still be revealed. He had always enjoyed going to movies like the original Planet of the Apes, Star Wars, and E.T. and part of the fun for him was the surprise.
My first spoiler came in 1994, just when I first got interested in the Star Wars saga. I had only seen the original film, and The Empire Strikes Back, and would not see Return of the Jedi until I gave it to my dad for Christmas. There was no internet at this point, and the Star Wars Expanded Universe was much smaller, and Star Wars toys were hard to come by I look back at it, and realize in a way, it was the best time to be a Star Wars fan, as there was still so much of that universe unexplored.
However, a friend of my dad’s had lent me a Star Wars novel called Heir to the Empire, which was set after the film The Return of the Jedi. I was so excited to read the further adventures of my favorite characters that I couldn’t wait to read the book. I had barely made it through the first couple chapters when it revealed some key spoilers that were in Return of the Jedi. Now I knew for certain that Vader was not pulling Luke’s leg when he told him that he was his father, and I also knew that Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia were brother and sister. In some ways this lessened the impact of finding these things out when I saw the movie.
When The Phantom Menace came out toys were in stores only two weeks before the film’s release. The biggest spoiler for the film came in the form of a track title on the soundtrack to Phantom Menace named “Qui-Gon’s Death”. Contrast this with today. Now, merchandise hits the store shelves almost three months before the movie releases and a full synopsis of the plot is available in Wikipedia the day after the World Premier. You almost have to live under a rock if you want to avoid spoilers for a major blockbuster.
An hour or so after the trailer for the second Hobbit movie went live, fans were complaining about seeing too little of the dragon Smaug. At the same time, those same people would complain if they saw too much of him. There is no easy way to decide how much, or how little of a film or story should be revealed to satisfy audiences or readers.
There is much debate among writers, filmmakers, film-goers and entertainment journalists as to whether to not spoilers are a good thing. Some have said it doesn’t matter as the most important part of the story is that journey you go on. Some even say that it can prepare you for a big shock, like the finale of the battle between Superman and General Zod in the film The Man of Steel. Some say Darth Vader’s revelation isn’t as important as the overarching arc of the Star Wars saga, or that it doesn’t matter if you know if Benedict Cumberbatch’s character in Star Trek: Into Darkness is a classic villain going into the film as you should just enjoy his interpretation of the character.
It’s certainly a valid claim, but it’s not entirely true. If it weren’t the case that the spoiler didn’t matter, then why, when filming Empire Strikes Back, did George Lucas swear all those who filmed the infamous battle between Luke and Darth Vader to secrecy? Today, filmmakers like Peter Jackson, Christopher Nolan, Joss Whedon, and JJ Abrams go to great lengths to keep their movies as secret as possible, even having media embargoes on how long it can be until they post anything. They worked hard to tell their stories and want the audiences to experience it for themselves.
Some film makers are at a disadvantage. Peter Jackson, for example has adapted Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings films and countless directors took the task of bringing Harry Potter to life. However. since these films are based off popular books, they tend to have a built in fan basis. The surprise here is more to see how the filmmaker will adapt the story to screen and if it will live up to any extraordinary expectations the fans have set in place.
The same is true for a book. Writers, especially those who write a series, will do what they can to keep as little information as possible from getting to the public. In interviews they often come across as coy or playful as they won’t give the key interviewer any answers to major plot points form the book. After all, if the writer tells everyone what to expect in the story, what’s the point of reading it? Unless you are in an English class were you are reading and studying a classic work of fiction that has been established for over 20 years, it’s kind of fun to not know what is going to happen in the story.
This is part of the reason that when I do review fictional books for the website NarniaFans, I tend to write them 100% spoiler free. Now if it’s one of the Narnia books, I’m going to assume if you are on a website devoted to CS Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, you have read all the books at least once and there will be plot spoilers. However, if the book is brand new, or one of Lewis’ other works of fiction, then the review will be spoiler free.
I follow a similar rule when telling a friend or relative about a movie I just saw that they may be interested in seeing as well. Before I say a word I ask them how “Spoiler Free” they wish to be. It comes from a place of respect as I know how frustrating it can be to have the ending of a movie or a book spoiled.
I have a great deal of respect for my fellow authors, and for filmmakers, and know the great lengths they go to maintain secrecy. I know how much their work means to them and how much time and effort goes into telling a story like they do. Why should some blogger from Minnesota spoil their stories? This is why, I personally; try to remain spoiler free for a movie or a book as much as possible.
Sometimes it’s tricky. I’ll admit the Left Behind books ruined me for literature as the series already told you in the first book that only one out of four characters you came to love will die by the end of the series. This left me paging to the end to find out who lived and who died. Now, I fight that urge to page forward like a plague, and that is because I know that the story is worth it.
There are so many twists and turns and surprises to discover when we encounter a story, be it in a book or a film. By being spoiler free you can be surprised, amazed, outraged, excited or whatever emotion the story tellers were hoping for. The story tellers are the ones taking us on the journey. We owe it to them to be spoiler free.