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To Spoil Or Not To Spoil?

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In 1996, I started this site. The “Special Editions” were just gearing up and everything in the Star Wars Universe was fun and nostalgic. Then the Prequels were announced and everything went crazy. News started to leak out in all directions and Lucasfilm went bananas trying to plug all the holes, quite often just denying stuff and calling the Internet rumors “crazy.” Well, they weren’t so crazy and while a bunch were quite ridiculous, a LOT of them were on the money.

In my case, I didn’t quite expect to be in the “spoiler” game. It sort of just fell into my lap. There were many sites posting information on Episode I before it came out but there were only 3-5 reputable ones and without sounding too smug, I think this site was perhaps one of them. It’s up for debate but I did receive a LOT of information. I was sent tons of material and in the end almost all of it proved to be legit. In fact, just the other day I was going through some old boxes and found all my old printed materials and notes. The stuff I had was surprisingly accurate and was in my hands over a year before the film was released, if not earlier. I had shooting schedules, artwork, character descriptions, scene-by-scene summaries, and lots more. At the time, I couldn’t really be 100% sure what was real but when things started coming in from multiple and unrelated sources, it became easier to draw conclusions.

In any case, the site became wildly popular and the more popular it became, the more sources sent stuff to me and/or other sites. It was hard to not just blanket-post stuff. Lucasfilm was pretty tough and they were threatening the site here and there. They almost took my domain name once. They asked for things to be removed on a regular basis. We got past it all and the film came out and did amazingly well. So their worries that spoilers would kill ticket sales were unfounded. I always maintained that (spoilers or not) the fan sites did nothing but drum up even more anticipation for a film and gave the studio TONS of free promotion/advertisement.  If things leaked, it was really their fault, not mine. Don’t blame me for posting it. Go after the leak.

For Episode II, things changed a little. I moved the site around a bit. I was associated with sites like Fandom.com (now gone) and Cinescape magazine and things got a little more complicated. Sources were still keen to come to me (many were the same ones so it was easy to trust them) but the site was under a different banner and if I posted anything crazy or too “over the line” for Lucasfilm, the Lucas lawyers went right to the top of the food chain. Many times my posts were removed before I even knew what happened.

So after a while I went back to my own server and had some more freedom but after all the Episode I spoilers (most of which I was under the radar for) they knew who I was and were watching even closer now.  Cease and Desist e-mails were a regular thing.  I still got away with posting a lot of textual stuff (rearranging spoilerish material in my own words), plus lots of sketches and images, many of which had to be removed before I was shut down.

Again, the film came out and did well, but not as well as Episode I. However, I don’t attribute that to the fan sites. I attribute that to the horrible backlash that Episode I received. Some would argue that Jar Jar Binks alone was to blame. You can make that call.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t think I’d even be in the game for Episode III. I thought that all the sources had moved on and nothing much would come my way. I was very wrong. While the amount of stuff wasn’t as large in total, the stuff I was sent was VERY revealing. I remember one incident where I broke the news that Lucas himself was doing a cameo in the film. I had the name of his character (Baron Papanoida) AND a photo of him in costume. I posted this on the site and a bunch of other sites picked up on it. Within hours I was forced to remove it and got lots of nasty e-mails. Someone on the inside told me I was very close to being sued (not sure if that’s true) and shut down (probably true). I was told that Lucas himself found out about it and got pissed which was why it was such a big deal. Can you imagine the internal e-mails flying around Lucasfilm? Remember, no one knew about this cameo yet. Anyway, just about everything else I had was solid and with a few little hiccups turned out to be legit.

So I had a good run for the prequels and the site was VERY popular around that time. I was pretty happy but I’m guessing that Lucasfilm wasn’t too happy with me because when it came time for them to start including fan sites at their press junkets and so on, they never once asked me which was kind of cool in a way. Wear it like a badge and all that. Ironically, years before, I was one of the first ones out there saying that Lucasfilm should have included fan sites from the start instead of demonizing them. But that’s all over now. I don’t have any regrets and it was a fun ride. History is judging the prequels as lackluster in comparison to the originals and that has absolutely nothing to do with fan sites posting spoilers on the Internet.

So the next question is: What happens with this new trilogy?

Once again, I’m at an impasse. I really don’t think any of my old sources are still “in the game.” I have no expectations. I don’t think I’ll be receiving anything spoilerific about these new films.

But what if I do?

It’s a tough call. I’d want to share it but I also want to see if Lucasfilm is going to make good on a recent promise made by Kathleen Kennedy about the fans to “…recognize they’re important to the process and acknowledge there are things you’re gonna want to make sure they get to know. So I think that’s something we’re going to monitor, pay attention to and think differently about.”

She’s obviously referring to Internet leaks here which is something this site has been known for in the past. Am I still relevant enough to be included in their list of trusted fan sites? Are they just going to stick with the top dogs who play ball that they can easily control? Will they include fan sites at all in their marketing and press efforts?  Lucasfilm was always a little behind the curve on that. They ignored most fan sites right up until the end when they realized they couldn’t all be ignored.

Let’s be honest here for a minute. People (fans and otherwise) are not at all beaming about the Prequel trilogy, box office numbers aside. The general consensus seems to be that it’s a lackluster effort with wooden acting, horrible dialogue and was a bit of a missed opportunity to really go back and explain a few things. I have always maintained that Episode II should have been Episode I and Episode III should have been split out into II and III. Lucas wanted you to see little innocent Anakin  and his mommy but in the end, people weren’t interested in THAT much back story, much of which could have been done in flashbacks or something. But it’s not our baby – it’s George’s. Well… now it’s Disney’s but you know what I mean.

So while Lucasfilm will probably deny this for all time, Star Wars took a pretty big hit. Sure, they tried to over-saturate with cartoons and other stuff but as for the films themselves, people might have “liked” them but they’re not going to go down as timeless classics like the first three seem to have. No one’s going to be saying, “Oh that Jar Jar… so funny!” thirty years from now.

So yes, even with something like Star Wars, there’s a lot riding on these new films and a lot to potentially lose here. This new trilogy has to be up to snuff. If the first one doesn’t really blow people away, people are going to just move on and the brand will suffer. I think Lucasfilm should really reach out to the fans and fan sites and come up with a good marketing strategy that keeps the sites happy and less inclined to just reflexively post anything and everything that comes into our hands.

Here’s an example which will probably never happen, but should provide a little perspective. If Lucasfilm came to me today and said they wanted to include me in their marketing strategy for promoting the film by sending me some weekly updates, maybe a once-a-month super cool exclusive that no one else would get, and perhaps some way to get other access like an interview now and then or something, I might be willing to go that route for the duration and not just blanket post things sent to me that are probably spoiler -laden and would most definitely result in me being removed from any and all contact inside Lucasfilm, thereby blowing my good standing with them (which I don’t have anyway, based on prior history, I assume.)

Alternatively, I could just ignore all that and post whatever I wanted hoping to not be shut down or sued or whatever.

Will they do it? Will they extend the olive branch to some of the popular sites? I’m sure they’re going to work with a few of the bigger ones. Those are the sites that have full working staffs and LLC statuses. But what about the smaller guys who might not get 19,000,000,000 hits a day but have been pretty successful in the past and have a decent following? I guess we’ll see what they decide soon.

The film’s being written. The director’s on board. I’m sure casting has begun. Things are going to start leaking very soon.

Get ready!

 

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What do you think? Leave some comments and let’s talk.

8 thoughts on “To Spoil Or Not To Spoil?

  1. I can’t say that I’m an overly huge fan of the way fandom has evolved in the late 90’s through the 2000’s, but that could just be me getting old.

    I’ve always considered it such a shame that Lucasfilm has never really recognised the Site as one of the leaders of the internet. Nor have they ever seem to really understand the fan equation. I believe the site has always been a becon for the best of Star Wars fandom. Leading the way with wonderful articles, well written news & good taste, never lashing out or ugly slander pieces, bikering or ultra-blogging, with little form, but always taking the classy and upliffting route, pathing the road for Online fandom, instead of just being a symptom of it and that’s very, very rare today. You better believe it.

  2. I’ve been visiting the site since ’98 and definitely appreciate what T-Bone did through the prequel era by posting news, rumors, and leaks at a time when Lucasfilm was overly secretive about such things. It definitely didn’t affect my enjoyment of the Prequels, and if anything, the Spoiler Game only helped to fuel my Star Wars frenzy.

    If Lucasfilm were to continue to operate the way it did during the prequel era or to adopt JJ Abram’s “mystery box” method of marketing, then I would hope that there would someone like T-Bone who would be willing to post what they know and give the fans what they wanted.

    But I’m in agreement that if Kennedy is telling the truth, and they are going to include fan sites and be more open, then I’d kind of like to see how that plays out. And I’d hope Lucasfilm could let bygones be bygones and somehow acknowledge the role that T-Bone’s Star Wars Universe has played in fandom.

  3. Hi T-Bone,
    Interesting read. Back in ’77, many people who saw the film had already read the novel – and the comics? – and heard lots about it, but they still loved the experience. Not just because it was new and effects-laden but because it was a well-told, well-paced story [but simple] and it was in a different medium.
    I’d be curious to know if it really ‘spoiled’ many people’s experiences of it.
    John

  4. True – spoilers did exist. The internet, though, did not. I think that’s the thing I miss about fandom in the old days. It was VERY local. The global aspect is really cool too but I sort of miss “discovering” local fans.
    But I digress… Yeah, I’m not a spoiler hater or anything. I think it’s up to the individual to avoid spoilers, should they choose.

  5. I have not been here in YEARS but TB’s site was always fun to go to. Along with CK, Roderick and others. The battle of the internet sites was also quite amusing. I can’t believe it was 15 years ago and more.

    Whatever the case, I hope your site continues blazing away…best wishes.

    jom

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