Why I Go To Star Wars Movies Knowing Nothing—A Psychologist’s Take on Spoilers
For the last three or so months I’ve put a more annoying strain on my relationships than when I was deep in the throes of graduate school or burying my head in EPPP preparation. “NO, NO SPOILERS! I DON’T KNOW ANYTHING!” is my irritating rallying cry anytime anyone brings up the new Star Wars movie around me. In fact, over the weekend that I wrote this, I had to say it to two different people.
It’s no secret that I love Star Wars (*pushes up glasses*). It also is not a secret to anyone who has to spend more than five minutes with me that I have been actively avoiding any and all spoilers for the new movie, including the plot, characters, art and set design, trailers, and even the movie’s poster…and I’ve been doing pretty well! I feel like I know nothing, and that’s (I think) a cool way to go in to a packed theater on opening weekend.
I got the idea from a 2005 movie called Star Wait, a documentary following a pack of geeks camping outside the Chinese Theater in Los Angeles to see who would be the first inside for Attack of the Clones. One of the guys in the documentary explains the idea that some fans at the camp were all for spoilers (like, had read the script or novelization of the movie) and others were totally spoiler free. I had heard of people ruining movies for others but this was the first time I had ever heard the concept of the “spoiler.”
I thought “Wow, that takes some dedication, I wish I had thought of that,” and thought nothing of it because I didn’t think there would ever be another Star Wars movie I could try it on.
I went into 2015’s The Force Awakens almost completely blind.
The only thing I knew about it at all was that some of the original cast would be in it (this surprise spoiled by the news that Harrison Ford had been injured during filming, which apparently could have killed him?) and that stormtroopers took their helmets off sometimes and weren’t all clones. I had no clue that the protagonist was a female, no idea that the bad guys weren’t “The Empire,” and I didn’t know if the entire cast would make it until the credits, nothing.
That was an incredible way to see the movie—everything was new and a surprise.
It’s getting increasingly difficult to go spoiler free for movies and television. The Internet has given us instant access to every phase of the movie-making process, from drafts of scripts being turned into studios, to casting choices, on-set reports, reshoots, and all the way to the red carpet premiere. And then there’s all the buzz of fans—apparently people on the Internet love to trade information about about their favorite entertainment (or complain if you’re still watching The Walking Dead).
In my quest to see the next Star Wars free of any information, some things have been easy to avoid.
Most articles on the Internet prior to release are all speculation anyway so I can pretty much ignore them all. I made it as long as I could avoiding the title of the movie (and then made it two seconds after that avoiding what the title implies). Occasionally a client will spoil a little information about a vehicle he built with Legos but so no big deal. Even Star Wars Battlefront II has been relatively benign leading up to the movie.
There has been research to support that unexpected outcomes, good or bad, have a greater emotional impact on us than expected outcomes.
Trailers have not been easy to avoid, especially on television. One of the biggest trailer releases was during Monday Night Football, and I was definitely watching…I had to run out of the room with my hands over my ears like a small child. Even the writer and director of The Last Jedi, Rian Johnson, warned fans trying to avoid too much information not to watch. However, I did go back and watch this awesome video of Monday Night Football’s Sean McDonough desperately trying to pretend to be interested. “Happy holidays” to you too, man.
Apparently, some people really love spoilers.
I guess if you’re really impatient you *could* just skip right to the end…I used to be a “this book is boring, I wonder what happens on the last page” kind of person, so I get that. But this is Star Wars! If you know too much then what’s the point of even watching? The Star Wars movies are all about the journey—learning the force, overcoming a setback, and finding your strengths over time. Skipping right to “and then the galaxy lived happily ever after” negates the whole point they make these things (aside from the money part, of course).
Knowing what’s coming, even small details about the droids or ships really takes me out of the moment.
If I were to know one of the major plot points I’d really just be waiting to get there and not invested at all. In fact, knowing the plot is what actually makes me impatient—kind of the opposite of when people say they “need” to know what’s coming to stay engaged. A lot of people give me a hard time for even avoiding small details that aren’t even “spoilers,” like costumes, props, or character names. “So what? It’s not like I’m telling you the ending.”
2016’s Rogue One is a perfect example of why that was still important, at least to me.
You only have to be vaguely familiar with Star Wars knew exactly how that movie was going to end, but what I was trying to avoid was the journey. I wasn’t as hardcore for this one but still avoided the trailers and cast interviews…and I hadn’t seen any of the characters, ships, droids, or filming locations until I watched it in the theater. If I’m invested in the story I want to learn about things at the same time as the characters do, not when some dork on the interwebs hacks into a movie studio’s server and leaks the rough cut or script.
In searching for reasons why I avoid spoilers like the plague the construct of surprise likely plays a big role. Surprise can be defined as a combination of our cognitive evaluation of an event’s outcome as well as an emotional experience that enhances the way we feel other emotions. There has been research to support that unexpected outcomes, good or bad, have a greater emotional impact on us than expected outcomes.
This may play a role in how you view the idea of spoilers.
When some people seek out spoilers they may be avoiding the possibility of a negative surprise (that they just wasted their time on a stupid movie). When I avoid Star Wars spoilers and seek surprise, I increase the chances that the events on screen will have a greater emotional impact if, of course, the movie is good, which it will be, but don’t tell me.
Because it’s so tough to avoid everything, I take it as a personal challenge to do just that to see if I can…and yes, it can be done! If you too want to be a crazy person that weirds out (and sometimes annoys) your friends by avoiding every single thing as long as you can, I would recommend installing a filter on your social media feed like this for Twitter or this for Facebook.
Avert your eyes during commercials and don’t read any entertainment magazines. Be disciplined during your Internet time. Screen your podcasts. And tell your friends. All of them. Multiple times. They’ll love that. However, Darth Vader reminds us that “you cannot hide forever.” Be aware of spoiler statutes of limitations and see the movie as soon as you can!
Only a few more days, and then I won’t be able to STOP talking about it.
May the Force be with you and the spoilers avoid you!