Yeah, this is going to be another meditation on The Mystery Box. Deal with it or click away.
The latest eruption of Star Wars 'news' comes in people noting that Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford are all in London, where JJ Abrams is finalizing prep on Star Wars Episode VII. Here's a Slashfilm article that sums up all the tweets and pictures and rumors that place the three in Old Blighty.
This is the Mystery Box in action. Many - including Abrams - claim that the wonder of the Mystery Box is that it keeps the movie experience fresh for those who wish to not to be spoiled in advance, but that is frankly bullshit. The Mystery Box is just marketing through withholding. It's the parenting dynamic that creates adults with daddy issues, and it's doing the same to fandom.
Human beings are curious. That's why we're great, because throughout our history we saw things and wanted to take them apart and understand how they work. We didn't get to the Moon by falling back on the idea that mystery is cooler than knowing, and the curiosity that drove us there is an inherent part of who we are as a species. That manifests in big, great ways - like curing polio! - to the small, like really wanting to figure out what your Christmas gifts are. Most people, when confronted with a mystery or with information being withheld, don't just say 'Okay, I guess that's unknowable.' They begin digging. If you hold an object behind your back everybody's going to try and look over your shoulder to see what it is.
It's a great truth, and it's what is happening with Star Wars. As the start of production approaches Abrams has resolutely kept all details within his Mystery Box; he's even hidden stuff like the return of the original trilogy heroes, which is something everybody already knows is happening. But beyond that with just two weeks until the movie starts shooting the only cast member we know will officially, definitely be in the movie is R2D2. That withholding has led to people jumping on the slightest clues, like Hamill losing weight and traveling to London. This has become something of a major news story in the last couple of days, even being covered by very mainstream publications like Entertainment Weekly and Yahoo!.
And it's not by accident. Abrams' Mystery Box is engineered not to keep you unspoiled but to drive you crazy trying to figure out what's inside. It's working here; expect speculation and 'scoops' to heat up to a fever pitch in advance of May 4th, the dumb Star Wars 'holiday' on which it's expected that the cast will be officially announced. I don't believe this is an accident - it's totally calculated, and there's no way that Abrams didn't know that withholding information would whip fandom into a frenzy. He was counting on it.
The Mystery Box is designed to create thousand-post-long message board discussions and hundreds of empty speculative blog posts. It's intended to get you retweeting someone's vague sighting of a celebrity in a location that might be tied into Star Wars. It's designed to make the press ask every single actor in Hollywood whether they'd like to be in the new Star Wars movie. The Mystery Box isn't intended to give you a fresh experience, it's intended to make the whole thing as ominpresent and impossible to escape as possible. It uses one simple piece of psychology - the way most humans react when confronted with a mystery - to keep us talking. Normal casting announcements would act as steam vents, allowing the anticipation to regulate itself.
So the next time you're irritated that your favorite blog is running a Star Wars speculation piece or that your friends on Facebook won't shut up about it, remember this is the desired effect. This is what JJ Abrams wants to happen. This is the intended purpose of the Mystery Box.
Anybody know if Billy Dee Williams has booked a flight anyplace? We could get a lot of hits with a post about his Kayak.com itinerary.