To Spoil, Or Not To Spoil? – A Star Wars Social Experiment – Part 1

Ok, so I made a decision a little while ago (around the time the second trailer for the Force Awakens came out): I will not learn anything about Star Wars: The Force Awakens that wasn’t shown in the two official trailers until I see the film. It has been remarkably difficult, and as the film draws closer it is getting more so.

A good friend of mine, Albert of tweedygamer.com, has chosen the polar opposite plan of action: He basically knows the entire story of the film, and all the characters and all the production information and so on. Obviously, this has been interesting to deal with as we are good friends who both love Star Wars, so Episode 7 is a natural and commonly occurring topic of conversation. I am very excited, as this differing of opinions arose very organically and without planning, and has now turned into a sort of social experiment between the two of us: Will we experience the film the same way? Will we leave the cinema feeling the same sense of awe and amazement, despite our different angle of approach? Does knowing about a film’s twists, turns and ending really make a huge difference when it comes down to sitting in the cinema, watching it properly for the first time?

We are going to find out. I want to chronicle the experience, so the first chapter of that journey starts now, and then I’ll write part two once we’ve seen the movie. For the record, we are both going to the same screening together, so we will be side by side when the experiment is concluded. We’ll be going to the midnight screening at IMAX in Darling Harbour, Sydney (if we can get tickets), because we live fairly close but mostly because it is the largest cinema screen in the world.


Firstly, I’m going to explain why I’m choosing to stay in the dark:

1): I hate spoilers.

I really do. I want to see a movie and not know anything about what’s coming. Most of the time, if I’m interested enough to see a movie but not so emotionally invested that I’m obsessing over it, I’ll gladly speculate and may even look into some production information and leaked information, as I’ve been doing with the trailer rants I’ve posted here. But when it comes to Star Wars, I just can’t do it. There’s one very specific thought that has been driving my need for secrecy regarding episode 7, which brings me to my next point:

2): I want to know what it was like to see Empire Strikes Back in the cinema in 1980.

Those people had seen a Star Wars movie before, had been blown away, and had 3 years to stew in that awesomeness before another one came out. Then, with absolutely no knowledge of the story and what to expect, they went to the cinema and experienced a whole new level of Star Wars. That is exactly what I want. I want to know what it’s like to view a brand new Star Wars story for the first time and be absolutely blown away. I mean, sure, I saw the prequels at the movies, and I loved them, but that’s because I was 10 years old when Phantom Menace came out. I was blown away by literally everything when I was 10 years old.

But now, I’ve grown a lot and have seen an incredible amount of movies, and have learnt a lot about storytelling and Star Wars and a bunch of other stuff. Now, when I get blown away it’s because something is actually awesome, not because it’s super colourful and fun and things explode (although that’s still pretty cool, especially when it’s done really well)

3): There hasn’t been a real, genuine Star Wars movie since before I was born.

The prequels are an interesting phenomenon. Everyone hates them, but most people don’t actually give any logical, clearly defined reason for their hate. As soon as the prequels are mentioned, even in passing, certain people will react as though you have bitch-slapped their genitals with a canoe paddle. It’s a knee-jerk reaction for these people, in that they don’t even really stop to think about it anymore, they just hear the words “Star Wars Prequels” and they temporarily lose their minds. It makes talking about Star Wars a murky minefield of potential social awkwardness among an already stereotypically socially awkward subculture. Now, I personally feel that the prequels get way more hate than they deserve, but that’s a topic for a different article. The point that they don’t fit in with the original trilogy, however, is definitely valid; regardless of how you feel about the prequels, you have to admit that they are somewhat lacking when compared to the originals. So, even though I don’t mind the prequels, I still feel that it’s justified to state that a REAL Star Wars movie has not been seen since 1980 (Return of the Jedi, according to a lot of Star Wars fans, is when things started going downhill). That’s 35 years with no satisfying Star Wars movie experience. I’m younger than 35, so I haven’t had to wait that long, but it’s still a long time to wait for a good Star Wars movie.

4): I trust the team and JJ Abrams.

This is a big one for me, and was one of the things that originally made me think I should steer clear of spoilers. I did actually indulge in a lot of speculating when the movie was announced, and when the first trailer came out, and even a little after that. I looked into who had been cast, and a few other things. I didn’t find out anything of substance which I’m very glad about. But as soon as I’d had a good understanding of who was involved, and how they felt about Star Wars, I felt comfortable stepping aside and enjoying the ignorance of not knowing anything further about the film itself. JJ Abrams has been an avid Star Wars fan since he was a child. He saw the original trilogy at the movies at the same age I saw the prequels at the movies, and he has been in love with the universe ever since. He is also a very talented director and has a proven history of successfully rebooting an old beloved sci-fi franchise. John Williams is returning for the music, whom hopefully all of you will recognise as the most musically talented man in the history of mankind. Lawrence Kasdan (who wrote Empire fucking Strikes Back) has written the screenplay, along with Michael Arndt (who wrote Toy Story 3, one of the only genuinely amazing sequels ever made). Most of the visual design is heavily inspired by original Star Wars concept art from Ralph McQuarrie (the guy who designed every beloved Star Wars character ever). Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, Peter Mayhew, Anthony Daniels, and Kenny Baker are in the film; I shouldn’t need to tell you but they played Luke Skywalker, Leia Organa, Han Solo, Chewbacca, C-3PO, and R2-D2 respectively. The film is mostly being shot using practical effects instead of relying on CGI, which was one of the biggest criticisms the prequels received; and one of the best things about the originals was the use of practical effects and real built sets.

Everything is pointing to this film being amazing, and I’m happy to let the team surprise me because of that fact and how much faith I have in them.


Now we’ll get into the reasons Albert chose to learn information about the movie before seeing it:

Hi Everyone, Albert here. As Brendan has outlined in his segments, I chose very early on to fully and completely immerse myself in every available piece of information regarding not only The Force Awakens, but every other in-progress Star Wars project, be it film, television, novel or game. The reason for this is simple, and before I break it down into my own four segments, I figured I would say it loud and proud: I believe Star Wars is forever. It is timeless and its stories resonate with the human experience itself, in a proven-to-be-real phenomenon which relates to Joseph Campbell (a prime influence on Lucas) and his teachings about The Hero’s Journey – the patterns of the journey of life, from the outset, the trials and obstacles along the way, the gaining of wisdom and finding one’s place in the world – these themes are so ingrained into us ALREADY that on a fundamental level, those stories are Infinitely and unquestionably going to be ever-fresh and ever-relevant to our lives. In short, my decision to fully ‘spoil’ (again, how can it be truly spoiling something when the subject in question is something so inherently within every person, ALREADY known to them, on a primal, human level?) Star Wars for me is a testament to how un-tarnishable its stories are. Star Wars is one of the few mythologies, not just films or pop culture stories, that people have been able to enjoy over and over again for over 30 YEARS. It’s a mark of its infinite, transcendent power! So while I completely respect Brendan’s approach and don’t on ANY level consider my own to somehow indicate I have more ‘faith in Star Wars’ ability to renewably impact an audience just as effectively, over and over’ than him, I have personally cleared my conscience about knowing – and I mean this – almost EVERYTHING about the new direction of Star Wars. It’s all out there, thanks to drones, smartphones and the like. And yet Star Wars, I feel it in my heart of hearts, remains completely untouched; Untarnished. And I’m just enjoying every minute of experiencing this Phenomenon of its own – how despite each and every new reveal, I don’t feel my future enjoyment of such perennial, intrinsically human and mythic stories to be reduced at all. In fact, it’s the ultimate CONFIRMATION to me that the rules that apply to other, come-and-go type stories, do not apply to the eternal, peerlessly powerful Star Wars.

1): Star Wars is known to you ALREADY. Inside You.

As I touched on in my big summary answer, there is – in my sole opinion, to which everyone is allowed their own and deserves to have respected equally – no significant point to holding oneself back from finding out the mere shape and form (names of characters, planets) and the sequencing of events (flow of narrative) of a Star Wars movie, because their patterns are firmly, by the very definition of what constitutes Star Wars itself, rooted in Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth, which is not only ‘already spoiled’ as far as its presence in every extant and extinct culture goes, but also in terms of the human experience, the arc of characters in such mythic tales, these are so firmly a part of our development, our cultures, that its actually something to CELEBRATE – the fact that Star Wars is already a part of you,  and that while the cinematic experience may vary between those who know what’s coming and those who have chosen not to, the substance, rather than the spectacle alone or the precise ways it’s going to take shape ‘this time’ (infinite re-tellings of forever-exciting, forever-intriguing and effective tales, remember?), is what is most enduring, most IMPORTANT, about Star Wars. It’s phenomenal, truly, that in familiarising myself so closely with The Force Awakens, I haven’t felt so much robbed of what Star Wars is, but profoundly reminded of it, reaffirmed of its presence inside me already, and renews my faith each and every time in the folks whose hands Star Wars is in now – the people who grew up with it.

2): Star Wars is BETTER when you treat it as exempt to ‘normal’ spoiler rules.

You are honouring how Star Wars is DIFFERENT by diving head on into spoilers – it’s like discovering that in this ONE instance, you don’t drown. Your feet don’t get burned by the coals. You can breathe underwater, you can walk on coals, it’s the magic of Star Wars at work – in a way that it’s proving itself to be, far more than being reliant on any level on initial impact of the tale’s telling.

3): Star Wars is the ONE thing we should give more and more web traffic to.

This one is a no-brainer – show Google that Star Wars is where it’s at. More people becoming aware of the Saga. Also, looking up stuff is a confirmation of THE TIMES from here on out – strap yourselves in folks. Get used to having Star Wars on the brain 24/7. One. Film. Every. Year. For essentially the next 10 years and beyond. There was a massive void created by Lucas’ ‘benevolent dictatorship’ of Star Wars, never quite letting those who cherish it most truly live there, be there. It is time.

4): It makes EVERYTHING that’s up ahead so much more exciting/worth anticipating.

Continuing from my previous point, seriously, ENJOY this. CELEBRATE this amazing influx of information, of new things happening. This has been A LONG TIME COMING. And yet, to confirm Brendan’s point, nothing – not even knowing what I believe is essentially everything – will be able to actually prepare me. And it never ever will!


Now, I want to talk about what our experiences may be like based on our differing approaches. I think that we will both love the film, but obviously there are good things and bad things about both approaches. So I want to discuss the pros and cons now. I’ll do two pros and two cons for each approach.

I’ll start with Albert, who has chosen to learn as much as he can about the film before seeing it…

Cons

*Expectations

Firstly, when you know how a story will play out, you may start to imagine what it will actually look like, or you may fill in some gaps in your knowledge with imagination. While speculation is fun and can be a really good conversation topic, it can also lead to specific expectations which may not be met by the finished film.

*Lack of Tension

Secondly, When you know too much about a story, there can be a lack of emotional weight to the experience as while you are watching, you will already know where the scene will end and what the happen to the characters. While the old adage “it’s not the destination, but the journey that counts” is quite appropriate, it can’t be denied that a journey, once travelled too many times, starts to lose its excitement.

Pros

*The Journey

As mentioned just above, “it’s the journey that counts”, and I think that if your expectations are managed, you can still greatly enjoy a story when you know how it goes. If that weren’t the case, no one would ever watch a movie more than once. I’ve watched each Star Wars film more times than I can even remember, and I still love them to bits. There’s a great Psychological Science article about how spoilers can actually improve the experience of movies, and I feel like that’s a very appropriate read when linked with this article.

*knowledge vs Experience

There’s also a huge difference between knowing what will happen and actually seeing it go down, so I feel that even if you’ve seen some leaked script or something, seeing the action on the big screen is a whole other ball game. Especially when that ball game is Star Wars related (I don’t know sports metaphors).


Then there’s my approach, so here are the pros and cons for me:

Cons

*Expectations

So with this one, it can go either way. When you know nothing about a story, it’s very easy to start thinking about what may happen. Especially when it comes to Star Wars, as there’s already a wealth of lore and expanded stories that came before Episode 7, which if taken into consideration could prove to provide expectation for the film itself. I was aware of this at the time I made the decision to go dark, and so I’ve taken great pains to avoid speculation since then. I am endeavouring to keep my mind completely blank on the subject of The Force Awakens, and while it’s difficult, I feel like I’m still pulling it off. I honestly have no idea where the story will go and I have actively avoided thinking about it. I don’t expect anything specific from the film, although I do maintain a vague optimism that it will be a great movie.

*Staying Spoiler-Free

At the time of writing this, it is still a couple months till the movie comes out. I am still completely spoiler-free. But one huge disadvantage to trying to remain so is that the closer it gets to release, the more information will be available about the movie and the more coverage said information will get. There are a lot of spoilers at this point, and social media is a horrendously prolific cause of spoilers and leaked information. I have been exposed to a lot of spoilers about Game of Thrones, Dexter, Hannibal, and several others through Facebook statuses and tweets; so at this point I’ll list the very act of attempting to stay spoiler-free as a con in itself due to how difficult it will get from here on.

Pros

*”No… I am your father!”

Yeah. If there are any huge moments in this film, if there is anything that happens that was designed as a surprise, I will be completely and utterly gob-smacked. Also just generally finding out about the characters and places, events and vehicles, all of these things will be brand new and completely unexpected for me.

* “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…”

Just imagine how it’ll feel when those words show up on screen. The excitement before the film is going to be insane. Now, I absolutely know that Albert will feel the same level of excitement as me even though he knows what to expect, but I honestly think that if I knew about the film too much before showing up to see it I wouldn’t feel the same way. I just know that because I have no idea what is coming, my excitement will be off the charts. I honestly don’t think I’ll be capable of normal human speech once I’m lined up for this movie, all the way up until probably a day or two after I’ve seen it.

So we’ve got my reasons for choosing to stay in the dark, Albert’s reasons for delving into production info; we have the potential pros and cons for both spoiler and non-spoiler approaches… Now it’s just a matter of waiting until December, when Star Wars will be changed forever and when I will release part 2 of this article…

I’m So Keen For It!

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