Spoiler Alert – The Perils of Great Expectations

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Due to the incompetence of my internet service provider, which entirely failed to live up its name this week, I have only just been able to watch the Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer. I kept hearing about how amazing it was, but was unable to see for myself. I could have watched on my phone, I suppose, but when I watched it, I wanted it to be on a big screen.

I still had access to all my usual social media streams, and, across all of them, it was big news. News I didn’t want to hear. I was desperate to avoid spoilers, even on 2 minutes of promotional video. But it was unavoidable. Images were everywhere. Even my wife sent me a copy of an article entitled, “Is Finn a Jedi?” An intriguing question for any Star Wars fan, but one that has increased significance in our family. My middle son is called Finn. That there’s a Finn in the new film is big news. If he is a Jedi, I’ll probably have the most excited seven-year-old in existence.

I thought about how thrilled he would be when I told him, but then I wondered whether to tell him at all. Surely his excitement would be even greater if he found out, as he watched the film, in the theater? Would I, by telling him in advance, be spoiling something? This led on to a more encompassing thought; do we, by poring over the details, spoil things for ourselves?

Screen Shot 2015-04-16 at 2.52.59 PM
Well, is he?

You can’t move, on the Internet, for breakdowns of the trailer, analyzing every frame. There’s an excellent one here on GeekDad. It’s good fun to predict what might happen. It’s exciting to imagine what the full film might bring, but does it propel our expectations to heights that can never be matched by reality? I often find with books I’m desperate to read that I come away disappointed. The experience can never live up to what I hope it will be. In my mind, I envisage the perfect novel. Reality is rarely going to live up to that billing.

For Star Wars it’s worse. Reading is a singular experience. I might have heard good things about a book, but usually nothing about the story. With Star Wars, the collective fan base builds a story from the barest bits of information. From the teaser trailer, whole story arcs are speculated. These are then honed and polished by the hive mind into glorious unbeatable narratives. Is Finn a Jedi? I have no idea, but now there’s going to be countless fans potentially disappointed if he isn’t.

In the age where information is always available, we demand more of it all the time, whether or not we’d be better without it. The Star Wars Celebration event revealed costumes, vehicles, and even the new lightsaber from the film. They were great to see, but wouldn’t it have been better to see them for the first time on the screen? Trailers, scripts, and episodes of much-loved entertainment shows leak all the time. We can’t help ourselves. It’s like stealing into your parents’ bedroom to find your Christmas presents. Sure, it’s fun on December 9th, but it does rather spoil the excitement of December 25th.

In just about every franchise going, there is an obsession with who is going to play which role. I concede it would be impossible to keep it a secret, but imagine the excitement of wondering whether you are going to see Han, Luke, and Leia in the film, if you hadn’t known two years in advance. Last year the BBC ran an interminable reveal show for the next incarnation of Doctor Who. They tried to make it interesting, but (to my mind at least) failed miserably. Nothing could have compared to the regeneration light fading and the face of the new Doctor slowing pulling into focus to reveal … a total surprise.

As the release date approaches, we will chase information about The Force Awakens harder and harder, setting ourselves up for a fall. The collective mind is hard to appease. It claims ownership of the films, even though all it has ever done is watch them. If he messes up, J.J. Abrams will have ruined “our” films, spoiled “our” experience. The collective demands perfection without conceding that no such thing exists. We forget that we watched the films as children, with almost no preconceptions, and with greatly reduced critical faculties. The innocence of children is very forgiving. They won’t notice the imperfections; they will take the film for what it is and not what they wanted it to be. We should try to do the same.

The Star Wars trilogy was front and center of most of our childhoods. Most of the readers and writers of GeekDad are passionate about it. For us, as parents and as geeks, the best thing the new film can do is foster a similar passion in our children. There is one thing The Force Awakens affords us that the original three films didn’t: the opportunity to share it with our children. To be able to watch their excitement. See their wide eyes in the cinema, enjoy them flying, arms outstretched like X-Wings and make “Shuuuuum” noises as they battle one another with lightsabers. They will do all of this without agonizing over the trailers, without expectation and without spoilers. Perhaps on this they can teach us something.

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6 thoughts on “Spoiler Alert – The Perils of Great Expectations

  1. As a teenager I remember closing my eyes and plugging my ears whenever a commercial came on for Star Wars. I didn’t want to have anything given away by the trailers. And I was rewarded with a movie that I saw 14 more times in the theater.

    I try not to get too excited about movies since it’s so disappointing when they don’t live up to expectations. However, with The Force Awakens, to bar is set pretty low. The prequels were a mess so this one has to be better. Hopefully J.J. Abrams can resist the urge to ruin the movie with lens flare.

  2. Further example of the “Spoiler Alert” culture – Trending on Facebook is the reveal of Doctor Doom in the trailer for the new Fantastic Four movie.

    I started writing a spoiler trailer for Empire Strikes Back, but I just can’t bring myself to do it. It would be easy to just drop the “I am your father” line, but that would be horrid to do in a trailer. I ended up writing the below.

    While the iconic music plays, begin with a quick clip of a swamp, a little green man with his eyes closed, hand outstretched. Cut to a futuristic city, shrouded in clouds. Back to the swamp, an X-Wing rises out of the muck. Back to the city, the clouds drift away, and the city is, my God, FLYING. Switch to red lightsaber extending while Vader’s breathing is heard. Luke: “You killed my father!”. Quick flurry of saber fight. Screen goes dark, logo for Empire Strikes Back fades in. Vader: “No.”

    Similar to the trailer for the new movie, it would get people hyped, and questioning this info about Luke’s father. Doubts would fly, because Obi Wan was only ever talking about Anakin in the past tense, etc. Theories would arise, theories would crumble, and the whole movie would be overshadowed by this vast nothingness surrounding Luke’s father’s status, which is only part of the last 15 minutes of the film. Anyone who got excited about this little bit of news that was the focus of the trailer would not enjoy the movie as much, because the trailer made it seem like that was the whole point of the movie.

    I say, watch the trailers, but try not to get worked up about them. When it comes time to watch the movie, just sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.

    1. Beautifully put Kurt! Love your modern trailer for Empire. I think they might do it that way now…

  3. The Doctor Who “Next Doctor” reveal was born out of necessity. BBC knew the info would leak soon, so they decided that if it was going to be announced prior to regeneration, they should at least own it and make some money off of it. That’s the problem with spoilers these days — social media enables too many leaks, so you either have to try and own it or muddy it with misinformation (another Doctor Who/Steven Moffat tactic).

    As for this trailer and expectations…as a child of the 80s who enjoyed the EU and prequels and LOVES The Clone Wars, I have to admit, I got pretty emotional when I heard Luke and saw Han and Chewie. But now that I’ve had some time to digest this, I’ve realized that this trailer was designed to hit the nostalgia notes. The jury is still out as to whether or not JJ Abrams will have created a true step forward for the entire Star Wars universe or simply a fanboy sequel to ROTJ. If it’s the former, I will be satisfied despite the jettisoning of much of the EU. If it’s the latter, then I think any “victory lap” feelings will implode under tighter scrutiny.

    1. You’re right Mike, that’s what I was saying really. We’re obsessed with having the information. That’s more important than enjoying the product itself. Totally different genre, but you can buy magazines in the UK, that summarise upcoming events in soap operas. They tell you everything, obviating the need to watch them at all. Some might consider this a public service, but really, what’s the point of watching something like that, if you already know what is going to happen.

      Also, as a Brit, with an upcoming general election pervading the news, I wondered why you were enjoying the European Union! Eventually, I worked it out. I must confess, I don’t know that much of the Star Wars Universe beyond the films and Clone Wars series. I’m hoping for an entertaining film, that stands in it’s own right and is logically consistent. Also some call X-Wing, Tie Fighter dogfights. I’d also hope a less is more approach would be taken for lightsaber battles.

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