By: Jay Carlson
The Star Wars fan community is up in arms over nothing. Some people are furious with Jason Ward of the news site Making Star Wars for posting a shocking theory regarding the plot of Episode VII. Others are livid with JJ Abrams, Disney and Lucasfilm due to this theory, fearing that the film will take their childhood heroes in directions which they don’t want to see. Still others are defending both choices, bothered by Abrams’ infamous penchant for secrecy or in the belief that the proposed narrative is the only way to raise the stakes high enough for the Star Wars saga.
At this point, Ward’s theory is just a theory. If you don’t want to know what it is, please don’t read any further. Below, I’m going to tell you why I think he’s way off and chime in on the morality of writing for an entertainment news site.
Making Star Wars has proven itself one of the few sources of authentic information regarding the highly anticipated sequel trilogy. They’ve posted exclusive news and described many pieces of concept art from the film. It’s very important, however, to distinguish between what they present as news and what is posted as speculation. At the beginning of his piece, Ward acknowledges that “there are pieces of this puzzle missing. There are things I don’t understand.” He goes on to say “this is all informed speculation. This could all be wrong.”
Ward’s theory, based on the information that he’s seen is that the cyborg villain we revealed here over the summer is actually Luke Skywalker. He speculates that the big reveal in Episode VII is that Luke Skywalker is the film’s antagonist. We disagree:
- Not everything in production art makes it into films. To divine plot points from sketches based on the myriad of directions the production might go in is nearly impossible.
- Mark Hamill’s got a beard, and it’s real. He’s been growing it since before the production began, and he’s still wearing it. To point to a beard getting longer over time as proof that it might be fake is an odd choice, but that leap has been made in order to prop up this theory. The villain, by contrast, has a bare upper lip and a metal jaw. You have to twist the known real-world facts to fit them to the speculation. If Hamill is this bad guy, he has a makeup crew trailing him around the world applying false beards of varying lengths with irritating spirit gum in order to keep this secret. They apply the disguise when he gets up in the morning and leaves his hotel. They glue on a beard when he hits conventions and before he goes out to dinner. It’d be an unkind and unnecessary chore to ask of the 63-year-old icon. They’d need to be preparing for a leak of the villain whom they don’t want him mistaken for, and further yet for the idea that people might assume that was Hamill under the mask were he not bearded. Can we all agree that this beard ruse would be an absurd request from the director who publicly lamented trying to tell the world that Benedict Cumberbatch was not playing Kahn in the last Star-based sequel he worked on? Besides, it’s not the only difference between the actor and our villain. It’s not even the biggest one.
- Wondering what’s beneath the villain’s face in a pre-production drawing is one thing, but on set it’d be impossible to mistake the villain for Hamill. This guy is tall and slender. The first word I got of him on stage was that he might be a woman – perhaps Lupita N’yong’o’s mystery role (it’s been confirmed since that it is indeed a male character, and that bare upper lip in the production art is white). Hamill is 5’9″ and despite losing a few pounds for Episode VII his body type is not a match for the actor playing our villain on set. Mark Hamill’s been at the shoot in Ireland; he’s tweeted images from the studio in England; he’s described working with JJ Abrams and the new actors. If he’s not playing his own character, the poor man is being dragged around the globe wearing a fake beard and being made to lie about the work in a bizarre effort to throw a minority of the moviegoing public off a very thin scent.
- This is Mark Hamill playing Luke Skywalker! That’s huge. Why would you bring back the original actor to play one of the most beloved characters in film history just to make him completely unrecognizable? From a marketing standpoint, it’d make no sense at all. From a storytelling standpoint it would make even less. If you want to bring a little dark side to Luke Skywalker, I can see that bearing dramatic fruit. A few characters have been rumored to be sith artifact collectors including Adam Driver and this cybernetic villain (who certainly does have an interest in Vader’s helmet) and I could see Luke trying to find something important before they do. These rumors are reminiscent of Harry Potter and Dumbledore hunting for Horcruxes, and those endeavors usually require a bit of understanding of your enemy. That said, it’d be much more dramatic to see Luke’s face than the cyborg’s if and when a flash of the dark side is revealed.
- Disney/Lucasfilm are desperate to reconnect the franchise with the classic trilogy of films. Even merchandising has returned to featuring the original characters, ships and settings over the prequels. Everything we’ve seen from the new film has been reminiscent of or even a nod to the original trilogy. I find it hard to believe that with the first new film they would set out to rob the movies they’re trying so hard to respect of their emotional weight. At the end of Return of the Jedi, Luke faces the same temptation that destroyed his father and succeeds where Anakin failed. He throws his lightsaber aside and affirms his position on the light side of the force. I get chills just thinking about it: “Never. I’ll never turn to the dark side. You’ve failed, your highness. I am a Jedi, like my father before me.” I bet that bit gives JJ Abrams chills, too. Perhaps when the film opens, we’ll find that the years have not treated Luke kindly. I would be floored to find that in the past 30 years something worse than the Emperor managed to turn Luke Skywalker off screen. Not floored because it’s an “I am your father” kind of moment, but because it’d be a bizarre waste of dramatic material.
- There is no confirmation of this plot development yet. Please understand that when entertainment blogs “confirm” something with their “sources,” they’re not talking about Kathleen Kennedy or JJ Abrams. The production is a much tighter ship than it may seem at times due to sites like ours or our colleagues posting bits from it. The leaks are few and far between, and they come from compartmentalized employees who do not know the whole story and who are themselves often given false character and location names. Keep in mind that if Dave Prowse himself had told a newspaper what the big reveal of the Empire Strikes Back would be in 1980, we’d all have gone into the theater expecting to learn that Obi Wan had killed Anakin Skywalker – and that’d have been from the mouth of Darth Vader himself. These sources are just not terribly reliable for this kind of news. Many times they’re even a few steps removed from false information. We all know how stories are twisted when they spread – one person’s theory becomes another’s “what I heard” which becomes fact when told to the next. Because the production IS in fact a tight ship, the leak circles are small and everyone in our business is talking to the same people. We share many of the same contacts, and this is something that no one was talking about before Jason’s theory was shared.
Ward’s story opened up a heated debate regarding spoilers. What should be allowed out there? Which ones should be kept from the masses? Every site has a different standard of what they’ll write or share, and several of his competitors have come out with pitchforks claiming that Making Star Wars crossed a line.
I think it’s important to keep in mind that it was only a theory of the author’s being presented. He’s got a bigger platform to broadcast from, but this is ultimately not much different from any fan speculating about what we might see in theaters next Christmas. This film is still in production and we honestly don’t know what’s in store. Very, very few people do. This theory isn’t a spoiler – I’m nearly positive it isn’t even accurate.
I think it’s even more important to keep in mind that writers at entertainment sites like the one you’re reading now are just fans with too much time on their hands, because it’s something that seems to be forgotten all too often on this side of the fence. It’s silly for us to debate the grey ethics of movie spoilers like self-appointed gatekeepers. If outsiders want to criticize any of these sites for disseminating information which the production would like to control, that’s a valid discussion to have. I would have a hard time criticizing anyone sharing information about Star Wars: Episode VII though, and I would hope that Jason’s other competitors would feel the same. They’re leaking confidential information about the movie as well; the sort of news or images which they sit on out of fear for reprisal or journalistic ethics or a feeling of fan superiority is irrelevant. Ward’s detractors tease and hint at revelations of this scope constantly. It’s not their movie either, and no one should be scrambling to claim the moral high ground here.
No matter how big it is, if a spoiler is labeled clearly then people know what to expect going in. I don’t want Jason Ward to be a second mother, deciding what’s appropriate for other fans to see or hear. I don’t need someone telling me how much information I can handle. Fans can make their own decisions on spoilers, and I’d wager that nearly everyone visiting Making Star Wars decided to read on. Please appreciate how small the die-hard fan population is in the scheme of things – most people you know are barely aware that they’re filming new Star Wars movies. I’m sure at Christmas parties this year we’ll all be inundated with relatives telling us that they “heard Harrison Ford is going to be in it!”
Is the Mystery Box really in danger? At this point everyone has heard about the production art in which Chewbacca has a cybernetic hand from his elbow down. Yet right next to him on the very same page is another version in which he has both arms intact and covered with fur. That’s a tiny example of the way a movie of this progresses through pre-production. They flesh every possibility out visually – we’re talking about thousands and thousands of iterations based on possible approaches and plot points. Ward’s theory is heavily based on that kind of production art, and while it’s interesting speculation it ultimately doesn’t reconcile terribly well with other things we’ve seen. The sites which have “confirmed” his theory as fact have reversed course or gotten things wrong plenty in the past.
JJ Abrams and company have wisely decided to stay above the fray. They know that they can’t keep everything Star Wars under wraps, and as far as we know no one has received any kind of cease & desist or DMCA letter related to Episode VII. The narrative that makes the most sense here is that they had a plan to keep the most important information compartmentalized and that everything is going according to their plan. They’ll let us have our crumbs – and we’re very happy to devour them – but none of us are quite tall enough to see the tabletop and know what sort of plates they fell from.
Let’s not be so quick to send Luke Skywalker off to the Dark Side.