Spoiler Alert: Do not read this if you have never seen “The Empire Strikes Back.” Or “The Sixth Sense.” Or “Jaws.”
As a critic, the question of “spoilers,” and what constitutes them, is an ever-present concern. And it has equally consumed media companies and creative personnel, particularly as more of their product goes digital, introducing points of entry for piracy and theft by those who would leak scripts or footage.
Still, the building frenzy for the new “Star Wars” sequel offers a personal reminder of why this point rather acutely strikes home, having been a victim of multiple spoilers in the past, including what might constitute the mother (or really, father) of them all.
“The Empire Strikes Back” came out in 1980, and, naturally, those of us who spent the summer of 1977 making repeated multiplex pilgrimages to watch “Star Wars” could hardly wait. As it happened, my high school self had a big test the day after the movie opened, so I made plans to see it the following night with my brother.
That morning, a kid who shall remain nameless — even though his is infamously etched into my memory — swung by. We weren’t close, but he knew I was a sci-fi/comics geek, at a time when that label was considerably less fashionable.
“You knew, right?” he asked.
“That Darth Vader is Luke’s father.”
Frankly, my immediate reaction, this many years removed, is something of a blur. But watching the movie that night, I began to fully realize its significance during the light-saber duel between Vader and Luke Skywalker, and began slowly losing my mind when the former said, “Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father … ”
|“Watching the movie that night, I began slowly losing my mind when Darth Vader said to Luke, ‘Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father …’ ”|
The revelation was such an “OMG” moment — long before “Scandal” turned them into hashtags, or even before the term “hashtag” was fraught with meaning — that my brother whispered, “Wow! Did you see that coming?”
“Someone told me,” I mumbled.
“What idiot would tell you that?” he almost shouted, to the point where I had to admonish him to shut up until after the movie.
That would be an amusing anecdote, frankly, if it weren’t one of several times people spoiled major plot twists through the years. Granted, part of that had to do with my other brother, 10 years my senior, who could never quite contain himself when discussing old movies that he really liked — and occasionally shared details about something like, say, “Jaws,” hoping that knowing about the head falling out of the boat or Quint’s death would somehow spare me from being traumatized.
Years later, the spoiler parade included “The Sixth Sense,” which compelled a former colleague to observe — again, before I had seen it — that the movie didn’t merit all the fuss. “It’s just a big ‘Twilight Zone’ episode,” he said. “ ‘You’re already dead.’ ”
The question of spoilers has grown infinitely more complicated in the intervening years, given the variety of ways to consume — and delay — viewing. But a good critical rule of thumb, ultimately, is to err on the side of caution, not giving away anything that you wouldn’t want to know in advance, even if that sometimes means being handcuffed in framing one’s observations.
Incidentally, by the time “Return of the Jedi” came out in 1983, I had become co-editor of the entertainment section for UCLA’s newspaper, the Daily Bruin. Having been burned before, I naturally assigned myself the movie, and banged out a conspicuously spoiler-free review.
Busting with pride, I asked one of my then-roommates what he thought of it. “I haven’t read it,” he said. “I don’t want to risk spoiling anything.”