This article about “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” spoilers contains no spoilers for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” Promise.
If you had December 2015 in the betting pool for when anti-spoiler paranoia would reach its pinnacle, congratulations: Collect your winnings at the door. As the first reactions to “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” filtered out early this week, social media began to flood with anxiety about what details of its carefully guarded plot might be revealed in advance, coupled with the suggestion, sometimes helpful, sometimes not, that the only way to make it to the first public screenings unspoiled was to stay off the Internet entirely. (Also quit your job, shut off your phone, and hide in the basement. Simple!)
There are, to be sure, things in “The Force Awakens” that can be spoiled, although it’s worth keeping in mind, that as is usually case with J.J. Abrams, the contents of his “mystery box” end up being just about what you’d guess them to be. And there are people — sad, small-hearted people — who are actively seeking out people fretting about “Star Wars” spoilers and springing them on them. (Plug “Kylo Ren father” into Twitter’s search box, but don’t say you weren’t warned.) They won’t ruin the movie, any more than knowing Darth Vader is Luke’s father ruins “The Empire Strikes Back,” but if you’ve got the option to go into “The Force Awakens” not knowing them, you might as well avail yourself of it.
But the spoilerphobia doesn’t stop there. Even though most advance reviews of “The Force Awakens” proclaimed themselves “spoiler-free,” anyone daring to reveal so much as the identity of the film’s protagonist was beset by complaints that the critic had crossed some imaginary line in the Jakku sand. Some objected to reviews that divulged the film’s opening line, spoken to a secondary character by an even-less-central one and containing not a shred of plot, or mentioned a plot point laid out in the first four words of the opening crawl. There were even some who contended that merely expressing an opinion about the new movie constituted a spoiler, or at the very least an impermissible blemish on the film’s perfectly blank slate.
The Internet Is The Worst, cont’d: pic.twitter.com/mUGgn5wbZW
— Kyle Ryan (@Kyle_Ryan) December 16, 2015
One reader wrote Indiewire to take issue — politely, it’s only fair to note — with Facebook posts titled “‘The Force Awakens’ Is ‘Star Wars’ for ‘Star Wars’ Fans — i.e. Everyone.” “I understand there are no spoilers per se in these post titles so without opening we are safe,” he wrote, “but even just the suggestions of what reviewers thought of the movie is not welcome as far as I’m concerned until after seeing the movie.”
As the Irish Times’ Donald Clarke pointed out in “The Spoiler Police Are Off the Leash” — an article that, Spoiler Alert, approvingly quotes something I wrote on Twitter — the definition of a spoiler has, at least in some of the web’s more extreme corners, become so all-encompassing that it’s impossible to discuss a movie in any but the most generic of terms without running afoul of some self-appointed enforcer. One fellow who took particular umbrage at Clarke’s original review had already seen the film, which opened in much of Europe yesterday, but was nonetheless moved to take offense on behalf of the untold masses who had yet to formulate complaints of their own. You’re welcome, untold masses.
There are aspects of “The Force Awakens” it will only be proper to discuss in print once at least the most avid fans have had a chance to see the film opening weekend, and the fluid nature of online criticism will allow many writers to do just that. But that doesn’t include everything about it, and it can’t if critics are to do more than offer a vaguely supported thumbs-up or thumbs-down. In whose interest is the spoiler alert?” the New York Times’ Manohla Dargis asked the Columbia Journalism Review. “The fans have their own agendas. And I don’t want to be dictated by their agendas because I’m writing for… a much more general audience.”
Hollywood’s need to generate ever-greater levels of advance hype has led to even minor advance reveals being treated as world-beating exclusives: Get your first look at the new Batmobile! Black Panther’s costume, revealed! The first “official” photo of the new Ghostbusters, not to be confused with the on-set photo tweeted by the film’s director months ago! If J.J. Abrams hadn’t made a (slightly tongue-in-cheek) big deal about revealing the first word in “The Force Awakens,” it’s likely no one would have objected to others completing the sentence. But once the hype machine leaves you hanging, finding out what comes after “This…” starts to seem like it might actually mean something.
For those who really want to know nothing in advance — a perfectly reasonable point of view, and one I cleave to myself whenever I can — the simple solution is to read nothing, or at the very least to be careful where you click. I spent the better part of nearly every working day reading about movies on the Internet, and I still managed to make into “The Force Awakens” without knowing the name of Andy Serkis’s motion-captured baddie. You can, too! And by the way, we really need to have a serious talk about Serkis’s character. Meet you back here next week?