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Do Spoilers Really Ruin Movies?

Illustration for article titled Do Spoilers Really Ruin Movies?

My name is lightninglouie, and I have an addiction.

I love Star Wars spoilers.

Now, this is weird, because I'm not really the world's biggest Star Wars fan. I liked the original trilogy, and as you may recall, I enjoyed some of the prequels. But beyond the movies, I haven't really followed the various spinoffs, like the EU books or Clone Wars. I don't collect any action figures or other tchotchkes, and it's been over a decade since I bought a new Star Wars-based video game. I put the Blu-Rays on once every year or so, and often don't make it past Empire. (The new Marvel comics are pretty sweet, though.)


Yet, despite this, I'm addicted to Star Wars spoilers, and every couple of days I trawl through the web looking for the latest tidbit of information about The Force Awakens. And oddly enough, this is about the only franchise I really care about, spoiler-wise — as much as I like Marvel-based movies, I'm perfectly content to be in the dark about the big plot revelations for Age of Ultron, the new Spider-Man movie, Age of Apocalypse, et al.

This isn't a new development. Back in the '90s, at the dawn of the modern Internet, I frequented sites like Coming Attractions and Dark Horizons for intel about what would eventually be known as The Phantom Menace. About six weeks before the movie's release, I found a detailed plot summary on a number of sites, including Harry Knowles' Aint It Cool News, that ended up being completely accurate, so I knew the story going in without having to peek at the track listings on the back of the soundtrack CD.


But that wasn't even the first time I knew the story for a Star Wars movie going into the theater. When I was a kid, I snagged the Return of the Jedi novelization a week before the movie arrived in theaters. And three years before that, I managed to get my hands on the storybook for Empire Strikes Back mere days before its release, thus revealing the biggest secret in the saga, and possibly the greatest non-sled-related spoiler in movie history. (I did manage to keep that one to myself.) So I have a history.

But do spoilers really "spoil" movies? Do they really affect a movie's overall entertainment value?


That really depends on how you see a movie. Filmmakers may insist that narrative is everything, but for big special effects films like Star Wars, the story is only really a small part of the overall moviegoing experience. Reading RotJ adapter James Kahn's purplish prose back in May 1983, I had a general conception of what was going to happen in the movie, but no specifics. I knew there would be a knock-down, drag-out fight on Jabba's Sail Barge, but I had no idea what the choreography would look like. I knew there would be an epic space battle between the Rebel and Imperial fleets, but beyond some vague details I couldn't envision the full cinematic spectacle — the various new spaceship designs, the composition and camera movements, Ben Burtt's sound design, John Williams' score. (There were also some red herrings, including a couple of scenes cut from the finished film, as well as scenes Kahn had written to pad out the length of the novelization, such as Leia's heartfelt soliloquy to the Ewoks to "do it for the trees," which inspired Wicket the Ewok's stirring oratory to his fellow forest dwellers.) Prose is really good at evoking images and concepts, but visual media can show you stuff with brutal, inhuman efficiency.


(And even in the case of Phantom Menace, the plot of which I knew in great detail, there were certain elements that eluded me. Without being able to see the actors, I assumed that Palpatine and Darth Sidious really were separate characters — and found myself wondering how exactly the erstwhile Senator from Naboo was going to usurp the Sith Lord on his way to becoming Emperor. Which, admittedly, might have made for a more interesting story.)

So going into Jedi, I knew what was going to happen, just as I had three years earlier with Empire, and just as I would sixteen years later with Phantom Menace. I just didn't know how it was going to happen. In all three instances, I had a good time, and didn't feel the least bit cheated by the advance knowledge I'd gleaned from external sources, official or otherwise. And given my track record, it's entirely possible that ten months from now, when I step into a showing of The Force Awakens, I'll know most or all of the plot... in fact, I may already know a lot of the plot from poking around numerous fan sites of varying reliability.


May, of course, is the operating term here. That brings up another point about the inoffensiveness of spoilers: Most of them are total bullshit. That doesn't mean they aren't fun to read. Even an erroneous or deliberately false spoiler is entertaining, because it illuminates some essential quality about fandom's hopes, dreams, and expectations. Even if spoilers don't reveal valuable plot information, they reveal what the fans think is valuable about the franchise, what they think it should be about, as opposed to the interests of the creatives making the movies or the studio that owns the intellectual property.

And that, for me, is the real beauty of spoilers, fake or real. I went through a period in my teens and twenties where I was incredibly jaded about the power of movies to really affect people; the obsessiveness with which viewers argue about spoilers suggests that movies really can still connect with people on a deep, emotional level — even if they're about completely inaccurate or fraudulent plot developments. Unlike the finished movies, spoilers hint at a realm of infinite possibilities — more ambitious or ridiculous or complex or satisfying than the real thing. As generations of fans begin to take over beloved franchises — whether it's Abrams and Johnson on Star Wars, or Whedon and Gunn at Marvel — the spoiler, bullshit or otherwise, begins to reflect filmmaking reality, albeit in a distorted fashion.

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