How spoiler culture may have just ruined Star Wars Episode VII

Earlier this week, a huge spoiler for Star Wars Episode VII surfaced online. We all know that the web has been swamped with all kinds of rumors, innuendos and plain falsehoods about the movie, but if this one is true -- and we've heard that it could well be -- it's massive. The comparison that people have been using is the "I am your father" reveal from The Empire Strikes Back.

First things first: I'm not going to post the spoiler here, or link to it. We've run spoilers before (with plenty of warning), but if this one is in fact accurate, it's too much to give away, in my opinion. Movie and sci-fi news sites seem split on the issue, with some running the rumor and some not, so if you want to know what it is, you should be able to find it easily enough. It's your choice.

Unfortunately, our jobs here sort of require us to vet this stuff: Editor-in-Chief Adam Swiderski and I have both read it, and were both bummed out a bit that we had to. I'm disappointed because, if it's true, I now know a huge turning point in the story -- one that will have tremendous ramifications for the rest of the series -- but I'm also disappointed because I'm not sure if I even like it, and what it means for Star Wars.

That's, however, a discussion for another time. What's worrisome is that this leak could potentially be the tipping point for what has become what we can call spoiler culture: The incessant, unending hunger for any and all information about every major movie in production, and in particular the details of plots that filmmakers and studios would prefer to keep under wraps. Spoiler culture has become insidious, and filmmakers more and more paranoid, to the point where there is anecdotal evidence that some of them actually leak incorrect info on purpose just to throw people off.

Strangely, there was a time when you could walk into a bookstore, pick up the novelization of The Empire Strikes Back and read the "I am your father" line a full month or two before the movie opened (I know this because it's how I spoiled the movie for myself). But where could you go with that info back then? Can you imagine if that same surprise got out into the world now? It would take mere seconds to let everyone know just who Anakin Skywalker really was -- and, more importantly, it would ruin arguably one of the greatest and most dramatic moments in all of sci-fi cinema.

Whose fault is this? Well, the Sarlacc-like maw of the Internet is to blame, to some degree. We're all conditioned for instant gratification at any time when it comes to being online. And yes, we're to blame, too, for encouraging this kind of behavior. We've all done it, we've all peeked at spoilers and bootlegged trailers and, in some cases, bootlegged movies. We want to know and yet we don't, so we perpetuate this behavior online. Web sites looking to put up numbers, online scoopers (not always journalists) looking to make a name for themselves, our own curiosity and a pervasive culture of instant satisfaction have all contributed to this.

The filmmakers themselves are also to blame. Episode VII director J.J. Abrams is so secretive -- not even releasing character names or a hint of the plot -- that it only makes the info hounds of the Web dig that much deeper until they come up with real paydirt. Abrams should take a hint from the Marvel folks, who release just enough information to satiate fans while keeping the real surprises safely out of reach. Yes, we knew that the Mandarin was in Iron Man 3but we never saw that character's twist coming. Abrams, on the other hand, lied or obfuscated about Khan being in Star Trek Into Darkness so much that it created open hostility among fans -- and they found out the truth anyway.

It's probably unreasonable to expect everyone to lay down their arms, but it might be just reasonable enough to suggest that we all, in our own way, show some restraint. I've possibly ruined Episode VII for myself, but I choose not to do the same for everyone reading this. And if you do need to know the ending of Episode VII, maybe you can refrain from posting it below. Some things should remain unspoiled.

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