Unsullied: The (Utterly) Spoiler-Free The Force Awakens Experience


Dedicated readers of this site may be familiar with my friend Pearlann Porter, the “casual Star Wars fan”. She never really got into the Expanded Universe, but we’ve had no shortage of long conversations about the background details of the films, which ultimately led to the ETE series The Expanded Universe Explains.

Having once felt strongly as George Lucas did—that The Story ended with Return of the Jedi and nothing was worth getting into beyond that, she nevertheless decided to give The Force Awakens a go. Since she’d been so tuned out to current Star Wars output for so long (I dragged her to The Clone Wars in theaters and she’s never forgiven me), she made the decision early on to completely ignore all news relating to Episode VII; not just serious spoilers, but even who the cast was. No posters, no trailers, not a single luxury—and with almost no exceptions, she stayed that way right up until December 18th.

As rare an experience as hers was going to be, I knew I wanted to document it here. As we sat in the theater moments before the movie started, I asked her a few questions about her feelings thus far, and then a few weeks later she answered a few more looking back on the whole ordeal. She’s also working on a full review that I hope to publish here in the near future, but for now, enjoy our discussions. If you note a different feel between the two halves of the interview, that’s because the first really was conducted in the theater, and transcribed later—while the second batch was via email.

B  E  F  O  R  E

Right now, what’s the thing you’re most afraid of?

Well, the thing I was most afraid of was that it was gonna be a toy commercial. But then you said it wasn’t gonna be a toy commercial. That was my biggest fear. My second biggest fear is that it’s gonna be so large on characters that are completely unrelated…it’s gonna feel like “Star Wars in name”, and it’s gonna have so much brand-new stuff that it’s not gonna have any bearing on the old movies whatsoever. I want to see a logical transition. I don’t want it to be totally new, and then just these side things that we’re familiar with as a security blanket. I want to see that it stitches together.

Is there any one plot point, like a death or something like that, that no matter what you would be upset about it? Like, there’s no way they could do it well?

No. No…I think anything is possible. I think it would be lame if they wiped out all the old characters. Like, literally just cleaning the slate and wiping the table off. That would be lame. If some of them die, that’s fine, but then it just seems like ‘oh, we’ve got to kill off the pearl-quote1old and start new again.’ I want to make sure that there’s not such an emphasis on just totally brand-new, completely separate—that it doesn’t feel like the old things are being swept under the carpet.

Do you think no matter what you’ll continue watching all the other ones, or if for some reason you don’t like this one, you’ll just say forget it?

No, because I feel like the original ones are a complete story. I don’t think anything they’re gonna do in this one is going to change that.

I mean, is there a scenario where you don’t want to watch VIII and IX because you don’t like…?

Oh…no, I think I’ll watch them anyway. I’ve been watching South Park long after it’s lost its charm, so I don’t care. But I don’t think there’s anything they can do…I guess I could say that I saw Episode I and I was like, ‘eugh’, you know, but I saw II and III and I liked that, so there’s a possibility.

Is there anything that you’ve accidentally learned that you wish you didn’t know?

Uh…no. I like the fact that I know the original three are in it. That’s cool. So I expect the Falcon and Chewie to be in it. So seeing those shots online, that’s fine. But, I mean, I know nothing. I can’t stress the fact enough. I’ve not seen a single frame, other than three shots…one of a ball droid, one of a stormtrooper, and one of Han and Chewie in the cockpit. Oh, no, I did see older Leia. I did see that. But that was…like, I knew she was in it.

But I’ve not seen anything of Luke…I know no one has. I know, so…I wish I didn’t even know that! Damn it.

So the one thing you wish you didn’t know is that Luke is a secret?

Yeah. Well, I mean, that’s fun though. No, that’s obscure, to say ‘I wish I didn’t know that no one knows’! That’s going too far. I have to pull the plug at some point.

A  F  T  E  R

How do you feel about the prospects of the sequel trilogy as a whole? Are you more anxious now for Episode VIII than you expected to be?

I was “cautiously optimistically skeptical”. I was worried that it would have the underlying intention of creating a way to “print money”, in the way many of the Marvel movies feel like to me sometimes; capitalizing on the devoted fan base and the popular cultural significance that Star Wars will always have. I was concerned it would have that feel of being an endless “sequel machine”, and that bothered me. While I didn’t think every moment of I-VI was perfect, I never felt that Lucas was endlessly making movies just to make movies/money (even though he totally could have). Lucas’ I-VI felt true to telling a story and telling that story. Done. I was worried that Disney didn’t have that original intention and could easily lose/not have that (very important) intention (for me), in the same way the books felt “endless”.

I felt that Episode VII was honest. Really. I felt there are legitimate stories to be told without “irrelevant-izing” the base story. The characters don’t seem at all like props for a sequel, and I feel there has been a lot of care to not make an empty sequel. In fact, it doesn’t really feel like a sequel at all, but more to be told about that universe/galaxy.

You said before that the thing you were most afraid of was too much emphasis on the new characters and not enough on the old ones—but except for Han and Chewie, there’s barely any of the old cast in this. Luke doesn’t even speak. Was this enough of the Big Three for you, or is it more that the new characters were strong enough that you ended up not minding?

Yes, because even though they didn’t have tons of screen time, they were still very relevant and integral to the story. It wouldn’t have seemed right to me if they just brushed them off and left them basically a forgotten past that “happened a long time ago and now let’s make room for the younger cast”, but I didn’t feel that way at all. It felt continuous, even the “presence”/relevance of Darth Vader, which was surprising. If it was going to be a sequential Episode, I wanted it to make sense with Episode VI and I felt it did. It also (surprisingly) felt appropriate for thirty years later, which I think was a tricky thing to pull off right.

One thing that’s been relatively controversial about the movie is how little effort it puts into explaining the political context; stuff that in the prequels might have been senate scenes. Do you think that’s a valid criticism? I know you had a lot of questions for me later, but did you experience confusion during the movie to the point that it affected your enjoyment? Or was it just stuff that occurred to you later on?

There wasn’t exactly a lot of political explaining in IV-VI and nobody bitched about that. I’m okay with the information/lack of information given, as long as it feels like it has 1) intent, 2) relevance, and 3) doesn’t hold the rest of the plot hostage, which it didn’t. I’m kinda glad we didn’t get bogged down with an Episode I-style movie heavy on politics and bureaucracy. It leaves questions, of course, but that’s pearl-quote2what makes a good Star Wars movie anyway, which I think is what the prequels really lacked; too much spelling out of detail, nothing left for the imagination. If you look back at Episode IV, there is basically no explained information. We’re just supposed to be okay with mentions of “the Clone Wars”, “the Force”, etc. without any real explanation at all. But it left the imagination to wonder, which is what Episode VII really does again, I feel!

What was the biggest surprise for you, considering you had utterly no idea what to expect?

Hmm, besides all of it (really) I was surprised how much I cared about Poe, Finn, Rey and Ben. They felt new, but related, and in the way I immediately cared about Luke, Leia and Han, I care about them and worry for their future just as much!

Before going in, I had a (bad) feeling that Han would die (purely based on what Harrison Ford has been saying for thirty years) but I didn’t expect how emotional I felt seeing a character I basically grew up knowing finally lose his life. I know more about Han than I do most of my family members. I froze his action figure in a Dixie cup of water and thawed him out with a hairdryer when I was a kid. It all felt very real to me to watch his death.

And I was (pleasantly?) surprised that Luke was only in the last moment. It made his presence so important, more so I think than had he actually been on screen throughout the movie. It would have been difficult to give attention/care to Rey had Luke Skywalker been there the whole damn time, and for it to basically be about him without him, that was unexpectedly cool.

But most of all, I was surprised to see the magic back, as corny as that might come across. Even the opening crawl had mystery and unknown all over it in a way the prequels didn’t. And while I spent most of my life wondering and speculating about “what happened before A New Hope“, I have spent zero time wondering what went on after Jedi. I was comfortable with the story being done. I tried delving into a few books, but I felt satisfied leaving it be at VI.

I was proven wrong.

I think you’ve said before that you have no regrets about being so spoiler-free, but you’ve also said you’re willing to follow the marketing like normal from now on. What’s different now? You were going to see VIII and IX no matter what, so what made it more important to do this one so completely unspoiled?

Because I had absolutely no idea where it would go. None. No trailers, no commercials, no looking at the poster, no articles or even magazine covers. For all I knew, everyone could have stayed on Endor after Return of the Jedi and made a go of it with the Ewoks. It was as fresh as it would have been first seeing Episode IV in the theater (which I did not do), but now after seeing what direction they are taking, I’m cool with knowing and being on board with the other movies as info is released to the public. But it was worth every (colossal) bit of effort to be completely blown-away-surprised in every single scene in VII. I’ve never experienced a Star Wars movie like that before and I likely will never get the chance again. Absolutely no regrets.

Have you gone back and watched all the trailers yet, and if so, how do you feel in retrospect about the amount of information they reveal? Speaking for myself, I watched and analyzed all of it at the time, but going into the movie I don’t feel like I had that much more information than even you did as far as the actual plot.

It’s more glad the imagery or the characters weren’t spoiled for me. Just seeing the Star Destroyer crashed in the sand took my breath away. I had no idea Rey existed. I caught an (accidental) glimpse of Kylo’s lightsaber, an older Leia, and “some black stormtrooper” but literally that was it. Seeing the Falcon again was amazing. I love BB-8, and seeing the melted Vader totally helmet blew me away. I’m so glad I didn’t know those things were going to be in the movie! Not knowing the plot is one thing, but not having any idea what I was going to see is another.

If you could reach back in time and deliver a message to yourself before seeing the movie, what would it be?

Hmmm. No regrets. I don’t think I would have done anything differently. Except perhaps not looked at the casting announcements. It would have been pretty cool to not even know that Han, Luke, or Leia were in it at all.

I think if anything, I would tell myself it’s going to be totally worth it, but I think I already knew that.