40 years ago, NPR had to apologize for airing 'Return of the Jedi' spoilers
Forty years ago this week, the third hugely anticipated Star Wars movie, Return of the Jedi, hit the big screen. Back then, in 1983, All Things Considered host Susan Stamberg asked a young boy to give us a sneak preview of the movie. And be warned, you are about to read some spoilers for a 40-year-old movie that, let's be honest, you should have seen by now.
This was part of the boy's review:
Han Solo and Luke Skywalker are about to go in the pit. And just as he was about to walk the plank, R2D2 fired a laser gun from his head, and Han catched it. And he blew up the whole ship. And the big guy — the boss of the monsters — well, he got choked and died.
In fact, his review wasn't quite right. It was a lightsaber that R2D2 fired out, which Luke Skywalker caught.
At the time, though, these plot details really rankled NPR listeners. So much so that, the next day, Stamberg issued an on-air apology. Well, sort of. Here's what she said:
Well, the comic book was a goof, but we certainly goofed last night. We goofed so badly that we changed our program before rebroadcasting it to the West Coast, which means that you West Coast listeners won't know what I'm talking about. But enough of you on the East Coast called to complain that we want to apologize publicly to everybody.
Calls — there were more phone calls on this one than we ever got in the middle of the hottest Middle East disputes. Calls — there were more phone calls than Richard Gere would get if he listed his number.
And all because last night on All Things Considered, we permitted a six-and-a-half-year-old boy to tell us everything — and I mean everything — about Return Of The Jedi. "You gave the plot away," you said. "I've been waiting for that movie for three years, and now you have ruined it for me. How could you do a thing like that?"
Well, we are sorry. We're contrite, and we're fascinated. Usually you get angry when we get our facts wrong. This time we got them right, and you got angry.
It's the difference between fact and fiction, of course, and the power of fantasy in our lives — the need for mystery, for wonderful stories that spill themselves out for us. Of course, if they are wonderful enough — this may be an excuse, but I doubt it — if they're wonderful enough, they will come to us new, even though we've seen them a hundred times.
That's why people keep going back to see Romeo And Juliet over and over again or The Wizard Of Oz. We know how they end but find great pleasure and nourishment watching them proceed to that ending. Two years from now, that's how we'll feel about the Return Of The Jedi. For now, though, our apologies — we will not do that again. But listen, I have just seen the new Superman III, and Superman and Lois Lane...
Forty years later, of course, Stamberg was right. We are still watching Return Of The Jedi and still loving it.
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