Spoilers, Anyone?

April 17, 2005
A thought by James Berardinelli

There is a certain kind of movie viewer who wants to know the entire plot of a film before it opens. Such a person delights in uncovering clues and finding out things first. For him or her, movie-going is the culmination of a long treasure hunt. This is the kind of person who scours the Internet looking for spoilers, who knows the secret sites where the scripts of unreleased movies can be found, and who keeps Harry Knowles' "Ain't It Cool News" bookmarked. This is also the kind of person who has already purchased the book adaptation of Revenge of the Sith.

Not being such a person, I can't tell you what's between those two covers, although my wife can. She argues that it isn't a sign of emotional immaturity to avoid delaying grafitication, and that her perusal of the book has only enhanced her desire to see the movie. I'm sure that will warm George Lucas' wallet, if not his heart. Yet if the Star Wars magnate is concerned about keeping the film's "secrets" silent, why has he let the cat and its litter pan out of the bag so early?

It's all about marketing and making money. The book will sell more copies by being released now, and it's unlikely that ticket sales will be reduced. People who buy the adaptation are going to see the movie. Some who might not buy the book if it came out day-and-date with the film are shelling out their money 40 days in advance. Whatever else Star Wars may be about, it's about money. And it always has been. Those who idealize the motives surrounding the original movie have apparently forgotten the action figures, trading cards, bed sheets, comic books, towels, tee-shirts, bathing suits, etc. Lucas owned the marketing rights, and he milked them. His empire is built on the hard-earned dollars of kids from the late '70s and early '80s.

When The Empire Strikes Back was released in 1980, the book arrived in stores before the film reached theaters. At age 12, I was notoriously impatient, so I bought the book. By the time I queued up to see the film, I knew Luke's dark secret. I didn't reveal it to anyone else in line. Did it take away from the experience? No, although it altered it. I felt the shock and awe while sitting on my parents' living room couch. The revelation in the theater wasn't mind-blowing, but it still had an impact.

It's almost impossible to have a "virgin" movie-going experience. Spoilers are everywhere - in publicity articles, in trailers, and in movie reviews. (Note to my readers: while I studiously avoid "big" spoilers, if you're concerned about plot details being revealed, don't read the review until after you have seen the movie.) I don't seek out Sith spoilers, but I nevertheless know quite a few of them. I have picked them up randomly along the way. My wife, as a result of a systematic skimming of the novel, knows a lot more.

Many times, spoilers are overrated. Movies are more than the assemblage of a plot. I went into Return of the King knowing the entire story. Did that detract from the experience? Not at all. Peter Jackson used Tolkien's text as a detailed outline, but filled in the blanks on his own. Those who have read the Revenge of the Sith novel may experience something similar. (Although I don't mean to compare the literary merits of the two products.)

Bottom line: I'd rather have a "spoiled" good movie than an "unspoiled" disappointing one. Except in rare cases, quality trumps the value of surprise.