It’s become a yearly tradition in the build up to the release of a new Star Wars movie that leaked snippets and set images will find their way online for fans to analyse, pick apart and otherwise salivate over. As we inch closer to Episode IX – and in lieu of any real tangible information – fans are all too eager to digest these leaks.
If not part of the modern cinematic experience, then leaks have certainly become part of what it means to be a fan in this current entertainment epoch. It’s hardly a modern phenomenon, with zines and early internet message boards awash with leaks and rumour. As media reports are wont to remind us, the internet is now an echo chamber, information is everywhere at the tap of a fingertip and it’s getting ever harder not to participate. It’s a curious state of affairs that avoiding leaked images or descriptions is often harder than seeking them out.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot over the last few weeks as grainy images of Ep IX make their way online. Listening to arguments on both sides of the divide has been fascinating. One of the strongest arguments I’ve seen is that if Disney and Lucasfilm are going to starve fans of official images and information, then it’s only right – nay, expected – that fans should gravitate towards more questionably obtained info. And, yeah, there’s some merit to that attitude. Aside from closing the Skywalker saga, we currently know next to nothing about this final chapter.
Attitudes also reveal insight into an individual’s experience, or rather what sort of experience they’re after. There’s a strange dichotomy in fandom with people so in love with a franchise that they seek out any scrap of information of ephemera. But with this comes expectation, assumptions on how exactly a film, show or book – in this case Ep IX – will go. This, of course, plays into crafting theories which, while a fun part of the fan experience, can’t be held up as gospel. The reaction from some quarters after The Last Jedi focussed instead on telling a smaller character driven story can be seen as a cautionary tale.
On a more basic level, leaks can deflate the wonderment and enjoyment of experiencing a movie in real-time. And that’s where my own thoughts on the subject have settled. I’ll use Solo as the most recent example. Admittedly, the lacklustre marketing campaign didn’t exactly give us much to work with, but aside from a few trailer breakdowns, I tried to withhold myself from too much analysis and steered clear of any leaks. For that, I’ll always be grateful. “Jaw-dropping” is a phrase that gets bandied around in reviews, but when I realised it was Maul on screen, my jaw literally dropped. My mouth was agape. My hairs stood on end. I could not believe what I was seeing.
To ensure Ep IX has the same effect on me, I won’t be actively chasing leaks. I know that they’ll inevitably pop up on my social media feeds and while I’ll want to know everything, I know that when I’m sitting in the cinema in December, I’ll be glad I resisted temptation. But that’s just me, and some folks say leaks enhance their experience and enjoyment and that’s fine. For me, Star Wars still needs the unexpected, that little bit of magic, like an out of body moment that makes me feel simultaneously like a child again and an older wiser fan.