In an interview published in the November issue of Wired -- located by a friend, graciously sifted through for quotes by my fiancée -- Abrams sheds the skin of TED Talk J.J. "There’s a positive side to keeping quiet," he said. "You can protect the audience from spoilers or certain moments that, in a way, obviate the movie experience. But on the other hand, you risk being seen as coy or as a withholding shithead." According to Abrams, it was he who chose to release a teaser a year out. "It felt like, as a fan of Star Wars, if I could see even the littlest thing I’d be psyched a year out." He's also aware of the glut of Star Wars merch and tie-ins. If kids were going to dress up as [Force Awakens character name] and [Force Awakens villain name] for Halloween -- and they did, I think, though I was too busy covering my face to know for sure -- Abrams wanted to know it was part of the vision. "What does that character say as a toy in that particular line of action figures, as opposed to that one? We want to preserve some of the rarefied air of the actual experience and not open all the windows so it all just gets depleted."
This let a little air out of my experiment -- I wasn't even missing that much, it seemed. Abrams atoned; maybe lying to Star Trek fans about his Star Trek movies didn't make sense, and maybe it made sense to show the spectrum of Star Wars fans -- those who mount Empire Strikes Back posters on their walls, those who've read every Timothy Zahn Expanded Universe novel, those who subscribe to "Jedi" as a religion -- a sign of understanding that Star Wars is shared. All accounts suggest Abrams stuck to his word. Classic iconography did most of the talking. Obligatory press stops were cryptic and, let's be real, pointless. Those who went looking could piece together most of the plot; the rest were fine with Han Solo's few lines turning them to jelly. Hype was in the air -- even my culture-abstaining parents were in the Force Awakens loop -- but this was a middle ground. The mystery box could hang partly open.
In nearly three years of avoidance, only one spoiler stung. Earlier this month, in the home stretch of Star Wars celibacy, I made the poor decision to watch a colleague’s "year in movies" video. The montage was fantastic, but between snippets of indies and Best Picture hopefuls, the Millennium Falcon barrel-rolled through the sky. This was the first time I had seen The Force Awakens in motion. I had come across (and had x’ed out of with Wyatt Earp–gunslinging speed) still frames of Attack the Block’s John Boyega and Actress-Whose-Name-I-Can’t-Really-Remember-but-Looks-a-Lot-Like-Natalie-Portman (OK, I looked it up: Daisy Ridley!). This was different. Seeing the Falcon in flight zapped a bolt through my body. That was cool -- fleetingly cool. I had an immediate urge to rewind and tap that nostalgic, kinetic energy a second time. But there was defeat there, too. This was a moment for a dark theater, on a big screen, with a packed room quietly gasping as it played out in full. Instead, here was a moment isolated, primed for commercials and never-ending GIF loops. I got sucked in.
Abrams called mystery the catalyst for imagination. After two years of defensive action, I learned there's only one true spoiler: motion. Let the people talk; grafting a spoiler warning -- not hints of twists and turns, but spoiler alerts -- on a vibrant work of pop art reduces it to a set of Cliff Notes. We become plot-obsessed when no amount of third-act reveals or freeze framed imagery can taint pure, cinematic performance, be it the acting nuance or a CGI spaceship.
The beauty of Star Wars '77 was basic narrative working in tandem with what George Lucas really cared about: speed, color, sound, and design. We yelp "holy shit!" at Obi-Wan's reveal because we've been free-falling through the visual manifestation of crazy for 20 minutes and, finally, something makes sense. A moving image can be spoiled, but only voluntarily. Read everything on The Avengers and you won't be prepared for the Hulk punching Thor in the face. Overanalyze the productions of Mad Max: Fury Road and the Fantastic Four reboot and you'll still only know which one's a disaster after you see them. The word spoiler comes from the Latin "spolium," or the skin stripped away from a hunted-down animal. This remains applicable; shaving down a beast like Star Wars is part of the experience. Just don't cut the meat, the velocity, the timbre, and the humanity that only motion pictures can capture.
And The Force Awakens had plenty to show.