Spoiler warnings are serious business, even if it’s harder and harder to avoid finding out things in this 24-7 endlessly scrolling world we live in without seriously muting your social media diet. But decades ago, one of the biggest movies of my lifetime got seriously spoiled by… a storybook.
Nearly 40 years on, I’m still a little annoyed about how Return Of The Jedi worked out for me.
The year 1983 was a long time before the idea of “spoiler culture” developed. Culture was typically more rooted in time. You saw a TV show when it aired, or you didn’t. You saw a movie like everyone else did during the few weeks it ran, or you didn’t and waited years for it to air on TV. If someone told you who shot JR, you just nodded. We didn’t really worry about spoilers so much then, or ponder the damage they could do.
But I’ll never forgive the Return of the Jedi Storybook which, mystifyingly, spoiled George Lucas’ sequel and quite possibly the biggest cliffhanger ending in recorded history for me weeks before the movie came out.
Let me tell you, there were few bigger dramas in the life of 12-year-old Nik and his friends than imagining for years what might have happened next after the incredibly downbeat, traumatising final scenes of Empire Strikes Back in 1980. Luke’s hand cut off! Vader his father? Han Solo locked in a block of whatever the heck carbonite was, hauled off to Jabba the Hutt?
Kids today can literally not imagine how stressful this all was. It made Avengers: Endgame seem like a cool sea breeze by comparison.
I remember watching the first trailer for Return of the Jedi with a fanboy’s anticipation. But when it came time to actually see the movie itself, I already knew what was going to happen.
I got the storybook as part of one of those nifty “school book clubs” that were all the rage back in the day, and I was kind of astonished to see that this Return of the Jedi Storybook wasn’t some fanboy collection of images and interviews, but the ENTIRE STORY of the movie, weeks before it opened. Why did I get it so early? Why did they reveal the whole story? These days, there would be media blackouts and embargoes galore, but in 1983, I guess a kid’s tie-in book wasn’t seen as a state secret.
(According to the “Wookiepedia,” which has to be authoritative with a name like that, the Jedi storybook was published May 12, 1983, about two weeks before Jedi hit theatres around May 25. In my hazy pre-teen memories, it felt like it came out months before Jedi.)
In my memory I flipped through the pages, astonished to see pictures of Luke Skywalker in stark black clothing, Jabba the Hutt, the Emperor, Leia in a fetishy slave outfit that awakened all young Nik’s carnal rumblings, and more, and the plot of the entire movie laid out in simplified easy-reader prose. The storybook was meant as a flimsy souvenir for young padawan like myself, to re-read and savour… after seeing the damned movie! I do remember feeling vaguely let down… was this the story I had hoped for the past three years? Or was I just not really enjoying seeing it in pantomime storybook form? The merits of Jedi have been argued for the past 39 years, but wherever you stand I’d argue it’s best to have actually seen the movie instead of just reading about it first.
I can’t recall clearly now if I shared the Jedi plot revelations with my friends at the time, but I probably did. I was the kind of kid who ate too much at Halloween, who sometimes snuck looks at Christmas presents. If older me had been there to Marley’s ghost himself, I’d have warned about the perils of giving in to temptation. I should have put the book in a locked safe once I realised what it was. It would’ve been a lot cooler to be surprised by the twists and turns of Return of the Jedi. It would’ve been nice.
Hell, I wouldn’t have minded being surprised by an Ewok, even.