Not long ago, a Star Wars fan asked Rian Johnson, director of the franchise’s next entry, if he thought that avoiding the movie’s forthcoming promotional barrage would enhance the experience of seeing the movie when it finally releases on December 14.
Johnson was predictably ambivalent, but he said that if fans really wanted to go in clean, they should avoid anything that would reveal potentially important plot or character details, including trailers, posters, and (presumably) LEGO sets, cereal boxes, and other human beings who might themselves have seen any of these things..
As of this writing, it’s been about 16 hours since the (final?) trailer for Star Wars: The Last Jedi dropped during halftime of Monday Night Football, and I have, as of yet, not seen a second of it. I am attempting to “go in clean,” as Rian Johnson put it. Please understand that I’m not casting this decision as the “correct” way to experience Star Wars fandom. Hell, I’m not even sure that I won’t have watched the trailer two dozen times by the time this publishes on Thursday morning. There’s no moral high ground here; there’s only the vague hope of experiencing something I love in as uncluttered a way as possible. Whether or not that’s a goal worth having, who’s to say?
Like Johnson, I’m ambivalent about which approach will yield the most enjoyable Star Wars experience. It’s a simple question, really: to watch, or not to watch.
So let’s answer it, shall we?
The Case for Watching
Enjoying a movie that you’re really looking forward to is always about more that just the two hours or whatever that you spend in the theater with your eyes glued to the screen. As with any fun or cool or in any way pleasurable experience, anticipation is a huge part of enjoyment. Christmas morning is great, but that’s at least partly because we get to spend the weeks and months (or, in my case, the 300 or so days) prior to it thinking about the gifts we’ll be giving and receiving. Movies, especially Star Wars movies, are no different.
But imagine that Christmas still happened as normal, only you weren’t allowed to participate in any of the pre-Christmas traditions that get people in the holiday spirit. No Macy’s parade, no Christmas music, no tree decoration, no searching for the perfect gifts for your friends and family, no Elf or How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Nothing. It just gets colder and colder, and everyone you know is drinking eggnog and posting photos of lavishly decorated trees, and all the while you’re forced to turn your head every time anything even faintly reminiscent of the holiday pops into your line of sight. You could, in theory, still enjoy Christmas morning when it actually arrived, but there’s no doubt that the overall experience would suffer in comparison to a year when you got the chance to fully immerse yourself in all the best parts of Christmas, not just the final act on December 25th.
I’m sure you see where this is headed. Remaining entirely spoiler-free until The Last Jedi opens in mid-December would produce one very specific, very desired effect. I would see the film without the weight of expectation, aside from what was naturally generated by The Force Awakens, and would be free to experience it with relatively clear eyes. It’s probably the only way to be entirely fair to the director, actors, and writers of the movie. Every shot and plot development would land fresh, unsullied by the prepping and shaping and even potential misdirection that naturally takes place as part of any movie’s marketing campaign.
Star Wars isn’t just a movie, it’s a fandom, and part of being a fan is all the gloriously nerdy theorizing and hoping and celebrating that we do in the lead up to a new release. And intentionally cutting myself off from every piece of The Last Jedi promotional material also means cutting myself off from so much of what makes Star Wars so much fun in the first place. Letting myself really get caught up in the anticipation has the potential to backfire, sure, but it also creates the potential for a much richer, deeper fan experience, and if I’m gonna be a Star Wars nerd, shouldn’t I leave the door open to reach the truest possible heights of that nerdiness?
The Case for Avoiding
It’s probably pretty clear what the main supporting point for this side of the argument is going to be, since I more or less laid it out in the last section, but I want to expand on it here.
If I am somehow able to duck every The Last Jedi trailer, TV spot, and magazine article from now until mid-December, I will certainly miss out on a certain (important, potentially awesome) part of the fan experience. The pre-movie part of my fanhood will likely be less enjoyable.
(Imagine Steven A. Smith has just burst into the room.)
There is almost no question that the actual two-ish hours of The Last Jedi will almost certainly be better. Because once that music comes in and the opening crawl starts, any fan-theorizing I’ve done or assumptions I’ve made based on the marketing campaign won’t just disappear. They’ll be there, hovering in the back of my mind, informing and altering my appreciation of the movie I’m watching on a minute-by-minute basis. Every scene will be stacked against those assumptions, and the preferences I’ve subconsciously developed in response to them. If I lean into all the fun pre-movie stuff, I run the risk of cluttering my mind to such a degree that my initial viewing experience suffers irreparably. You only get one first viewing, and those early impressions make a huge difference in how you end up thinking about the movie.
And, of course, when you add in the potential to encounter a truly disastrous spoiler (avoiding social media is another irritating but necessary part of going in clean), it’s clear that indulging the pre-movie hype machine is taking your (nerdy movie-going) life into your own hands.
So What to Do?
For now, I’m gonna avoid. I’m sure the trailer is awesome. And I’m sure Disney would sooner burn the studio to the ground than let slip a truly meaningful spoiler (remember the misdirection of Finn wielding a lightsaber in the trailer for The Force Awakens?). But still. I want to see The Last Jedi with as few preconceptions as possible. I’m not at all sure that it will make the experience better in the end, but I want to give it the chance to truly blow me away, so going in clean is the least I can do.