“No! Oh this is horrible! The last page is missing!” a shout that cut right through icy cold air that surrounded this miserable and drabbest of places. These bored souls sitting on splintered benches, each reading their own torn sections from a paper bound miracle that was delivered to their camp just the day before. A novel delivered via Army Post to a Surgeon of a Mobile Surgical Army Hospital or M*A*S*H. A place so miserable that exacerbates the two extremes of the human spirit, where one minute you are fighting to save lives and in the other, bored beyond belief watching rat races in the cesspool.
Boredom is part and parcel of war and for these war weary and freezing cold people in uniform, the mystery novel “The Rooster Crowed At Midnight” was a godsend. That was until Captain B.J. Hunnicutt realizes the last page is missing. The page that was to announce the murderer who was responsible for the demise of twelve souls in this riveting who dunnit. In that moment a ember began to glow which will ignite into a conflagration of excitement, critical thinking, deductive reasoning and good old fashioned debate as the staff of the 4077th M*A*S*H, dive in to figure out the killer. Individuals from all ranks throw in their own conclusions, theories and speculation, from Reverend Butterworth to Lady Penelope. Their fever to find the murder is so overwhelming that they decide to place a call to the ninety year old Author of the book in Australia. Not an easy to call to make in the 1950’s in worn torn Korea.
Of course these people aren’t soldiers and they certainly are not in the freezing cold in Korea. They are some of the finest actors in the episode “The Light that Failed” of the hit series M*A*S*H 4077 that aired October 25, 1977, just several months after the debut of Star Wars IV A New Hope.
Just like those cold desperate soldiers, I have swam into the warm fun waters of mystery solving for Star Wars: The Force Awakens this past year. Nothing was more fun doing the backstroke in an ocean of leaked concept art, toy packaging, quotes from interviews and just about anything and everything in regards to the highly anticipated film. This fun was sent to the stratosphere when it was shared with the fine debaters, thinkers and friends from the Jedi Council Forums on TheForce.Net. This was our pond where we analyzed every crumb and debated speculation endlessly.
This isn’t the first time I submerged myself into a group to solve a great who dunnit. I cut my teeth long ago on two very popular LOST forums during their six season run. Another delightful experience that also had us combing over every nook and cranny and even to the extremes for some. If the charismatic character Sawyer read a book on the show, hundreds of other spoiler mystery hounds did the same immediately after. There is some incredible fun when dealing with spoilers. Figuring out what the talented and professional writers have come up with and what they have provided us with delicately placed Easter eggs. A practice that J.J. Abrams has mastered unlike any other. The spoiler game is just another way of celebrating the run up to the Force Awakens in long lasting fun way. The game incorporates Star Wars into your daily life where the latest clue spurs on theories and ideas that you cannot wait to share and debate with like minded friends. The Force Awakens however is a completely different ball game. Here was a mystery with little to no information to go on. With only a cast of Actors and a movie title to go on we had a large mountain to climb. A far cry from the staff at the 4077th figuring out the conclusion of a missing page, we had to figure out the entire story. In this game there would be very limited information from Lucasfilm and the only saving grace we had, the wild cards that are the spoilers. That is what makes the spoiler game fun. On one side are the gatekeepers that make certain very little get out and on the other is those random out of the blue spoilers that can change the game overnight. This surprise release of information that sheds more insight into this incredible long lasting fun, figuring out The Force Awakens.
As in any game there are rules, even if they are not written down. Many of us spoiler hounds want to know much of the film but certainly not all of it. It varies from hound to hound, but I believe many of us just want the overall plot, the basic beats and that’s pretty much it. If someone dared to toss the actual script into the ring they would be booed to the rafters! What’s the fun in that? Those minor spoilers, the concept art, toy packaging and a drone photograph or two, satisfies our craving and gives us endless points to debate, discuss and theorize. It spurs us to write well and convince our audiences who are happy to willfully destroy what you have come up with. Sitting down, biting the nail and proving your point, as outlandish and more often than not will turn up completely wrong. For example my theory on how Luke was guarding a crypt of an Evil Sith Lord and Kylo’s broad saber was used to open the lock of his tomb. The hilariously wrong figure can be seen below.
All these spoilers just don’t fall from the sky or onto a rebellious post on Reddit. Many of the spoilers from the Force Awakens has come primarily from Star Wars Community Fan sites. Sites like MakingStarWars.net, StarWars7News.com, StarWarsUnderworld.com, etc. etc. These sites with their sources delivered a somewhat steady diet on all those wild cards that we enjoyed. From the major beats of the film to a thermos with C-3P0 and his red arm, in a Walmart somewhere in Mexico. They have delivered concept art, promotional portraits and shooting scene information in what many us believe is the overall framework for The Force Awakens. During these releases the sites did a very commendable job insisting that people do not share this information on social media and with those who did not wish to be spoiled. In the modern age of lightning fast social media, many of things we believe are true in The Force Awakens could very well ruin the experience for those who do not wish to know. In this Author’s opinion, the work done by these sites and of the spoiler community to keep this out of the mainstream has been truly remarkable. In fact I believe it’s something that has never been seen in mass media communications before.
For the first time, Star Wars fan sites, not the Hollywood trades or even the mid tier spoiler outfits were the one’s delving out information. Moreover not only were these Star Wars Fan sites holding all the cards, they delivered the information in a completely new way not ever seen before. Many of the known Hollywood outfits and mid teirs would just get the information and dump it on the net with little to no regard of the fall out of their actions. That is the profession they are in and that is their craft. They score a scoop and dump it with little to no care about respecting the filmmaker and the entire cast of talented people that create the motion pictures we love. This time however, things are different. For example, when Jason Ward of MakingStarWars.net had access to some concept art from a source, he never published the artwork. Instead he would describe what it looked like on his blog to the best of his ability. Something that takes a lot of guts in the world of spoilers, because you are asking your readers to put faith in what you are telling them with no evidence. Something that isn’t just plain unheard of, it was a magnet for abuse. Jason and other spoiler fan sites continually acted in this manner of describing more and showing less, because they truly cared about the information that is presented to the community. MakingStarWars and others did this day in and day out for many months on their respective sites and podcasts, until of course when the official information was released. In this case the first trailer and Topps trading cards. In that moment after a year of describing to fans what they have seen, but never releasing the actual media they were vilified and established credit with their readers. They put their real names on the line and they were right. Not the Trades, not the Hollywood Spoiler sites but Star Wars Fan Sites.
This was incredibly remarkable thing to witness this past year. Here are the underdogs, the fan sites, the ones who truly care about Star Wars and its success holding all the spoiler cards and delivering them with a care that would be nonexistent with the old guard. A care and love of Star Wars that helped fill the gaps of information draught and allowed us spoiler hounds something to feast on. These sites did this selfless work for little to no monetary compensation, all the while worried day in and day out that Federal enforcement officers would barge through their front doors. Many of them staying up in the wee hours of the morning to speak with a source overseas or simply to type up a post, about how a mug with C-3P0 was found in a Walmart somewhere in Mexico. After running The Star Wars Post for the past three months, I can attest to you all that it is an incredible amount of time and work to deliver Star Wars news and information, and we don’t even deal with spoiler exclusives. Sites like MakingStarWars.net, StarWarsUnderworld.com, and dozens of Star Wars news sites and podcasts deserve some immense credit for the selfless work, the care and positivity they promote about Star Wars on the internet and on social media.
That is only half the equation however as Lucasfilm and Disney deserve an even larger share of the credit and success for finding that balance between spoilers and knowledge of the film. For whatever we think we know about The Force Awakens, there cannot be any doubt, that the secrecy put in place by JJ Abrams, Lucasfilm and Disney has been a complete and measurable success. The Mystery Box has worked. Sure we may know some beats of the film and maybe one major spoiler or two, but we still at this very moment have no idea of the very plot of the film. I find that extraordinary with the level of anticipation of this motion picture which is ready to debut in just four short months. That is incredible and a testament to everyone involved. From Lucasfilm to the spoiler hounds that make sure what we think we know, stays out of social media. That is truly outstanding and something I believe has never ever happened before. It came down to two things, leakers putting their faith in Star Wars Fan sites and Lucasfilm allowing a level of it and securing the rest. A successful happy balance I believe was achieved for all involved. Something that could be the template for all the films moving forward. There were some bumps along that road and perhaps some things that should have not been released, but overall it has worked to an acceptable outcome. That was until last Friday. Please be aware that there are spoilers ahead.
After traveling from Northern Virginia to Newark New Jersey for a family wedding with my lovely wife and two adorable toddlers with my in-laws, I sat down briefly at the bar of the hotel for a brief respite, checking Twitter for the latest and greatest for stories I would soon have to write for The Star Wars Post. There it was, with blue letters to a white background, words that horrified me and made me angry, A Picture of Luke Skywalker In The Force Awakens. For many of us spoiler hounds we believe we know the extent of Mark Hamill’s role in the Force Awakens and how his reveal is the ultimate beautiful ending in the film with the appearance of Luke Skywalker. The buildup, the let down and rise that will take us to Skellig Michael for a vision of a long lost friend. With the release of this image, the success that Star Wars Fan sites, Lucasfilm and spoiler hounds found was just threatened in a nasty way. So much so that for the first time ever, Lucasfilm immediately sprang into action sending very strongly worded cease and desist letters to have the image removed immediately. The site in question did so after the image had been up, less than an hour. Other sites that carried the story did so as well. I can understand and have no problem with my fellow news sites carrying the story and the image. It’s part of telling the news and some of them sometimes feel forced to do so.
I decided at that bar within seconds that I will not carry the story. I had just begun writing this blog the day before about how this spoiler containment had been won by all involved and then this happens. “I won’t carry it, no way, no how” I told myself to the confused look of patrons who wondered what this six foot four monster of a man was ranting about. “If Lucasfilm has a line in the sand, this site just shat all over it”, I tweeted in that moment.
The act of putting Luke’s image online knowing the importance of it in the film was something I expect TMZ, HeroicHollywood or possibly even a Hollywood Trade would do. Not a Star Wars Community Fan site. “What good does it serve?” I remember telling my wife as she rolled her eyes at me. It’s not like they are going to get a mass parade of hits because the image was only up for an hour. It’s not like they were some unknown and needed to pick up all these new readers. So if not for the hits or increased visibility then what? What possible good can come from taking this step by showing the image? They could have described it as they have done in the past with their earned credibility amongst their readers. Why disrupt this delicate balance that I believe found success after these long months? Was it for bragging rights? To show off? I cannot answer this question as only that site can.
I dislike using absolutes but in regards to spoilers, you are either a Star Wars Community Fan site that respects the filmmakers or you are a spoiler outfit that scoops and dumps with no regards to the fallout it creates. I never liked being in the business of pointing fingers and I always assumed that any words we would have would always be positive, as we have done many times in our short three month existence here at the Post. We are the smallest fish in this sea of great community fan sites. We don’t have the numbers or visibility, we won’t ever do spoilers exclusives and we will always be at a disadvantage, but we believe in the power of words to set things right. What that community site did was wrong and should not be repeated. To do so would risk the existence of not only them but all the Star Wars community fan sites that carry the news. Sites that have for years maintained the brand and increased its presence on the internet and social media. There is a big difference between some concept art or a Lego package compared to a photo Luke Skywalker sitting in a 3D photo rig. It is this Authors hope that this incident doesn’t change the unspoken, unwritten borders of our sandbox that we have played in this last year. I am disappointed in that community fan site but I believe that people sometime make mistakes. I am sure we will make many of them here at the Post. This blog itself may never really reach any sort of real audience and may risk a close professional relationship with that community fan site, however an event like this must spur a dialogue in the community of Star Wars Fan sites. It’s our hope that Fan site will take these words as a friend would. We write because we care, the last thing anyone needs is to get in trouble legally over such a fun and wonderful thing as Star Wars. We only wish the very best for all involved and to keep the positivity train rolling along. Just like those cold and war weary soldiers in the drab boredom of Korea, we are inspired by solving a mystery. We hope that will continue into the future. If any party wishes to convey an official response we will happily publish it on the Post.