I have spent a good chunk of the weekend avoiding spoilers for The Last Jedi. The Star Wars films are one of the few that will actually get me into the theater instead of just waiting until I can watch it at home. That is largely for nostalgic reasons, as loathe as I am to admit it. But I had a busy weekend, and didn’t have a solid three or four hour chunk of time to drive to the theater and watch the whole movie.
Last year, for The Force Awakens, I saw the movie, I believe, the Sunday of opening weekend, thinking (correctly) that there would be some significant moment that would spoil my enjoyment of the movie. That is, by knowing about the event in advance, it remove some of the dramatic tension that was written into the narrative. At this point, I don’t know if an equally dramatic moment occurs in The Last Jedi, but I find myself skipping over anything online that seems remotely Star Wars related so I won’t find out.
My intent here is to see the movie, and have the narrative unfold as the story tellers intended. The craft character and story beats in such a way that we, as the audience, experience things in a specific way. There’s an intent on our part to experience the film in it’s “true” form.
There are some problems with that, however. First and foremost, you can only experience that once. After you’ve seen A Force Awakens once, you know exactly how the story unfolds and much of the dramatic tension is reduced accordingly. After all, you know how the characters get hurt and when, and which ones survive and how.
Second, even if you haven’t viewed it yourself, it at some point becomes commonly known enough that most people assume everybody else knows the same thing and, since you’re probably not on your guard for every movie, TV show, book, etc. all the time, it’s not hard to stumble across some of those significant story moments. Darth Vader revealing himself to be Luke’s father in The Empire Strikes Back was a huge plot twist back in 1980, but it’s so commonly known now over three decades later, most people can (mis)quote that line and rest assured that everyone will know what they’re referring to. Is everyone expected to keep that quiet indefinitely so everyone has the opportunity to see that moment with fresh eyes?
But some studies have suggested that spoilers don’t impact a person’s enjoyment of a movie and, in some cases, it can even improve it. And how long is long enough to reasonably expect to be conscious of others’ movie expectations? I think we can all agree the first 24 hours is too soon and 30+ years later is plenty long enough, but that’s a lot of room to wiggle in there.
Also, would it make sense to apply the same standards for movies to books? Or to comics? or to video games? I don’t know that I’ve heard anyone suggest a timeframe that would seem reasonable to everyone. As our culture is heading towards an ever-closer-to-omnipresent internet, it might be time to address these types of questions before we find ourselves overwhelmed with more spoilers than movies.