The kickoff to “Star Wars” weekend actually started a long time ago, in a social media galaxy far, far away.
In 1977, when “Episode IV: A New Hope” was released, I was 6 years old. I didn’t see it until several months later. By that time, the hype had hit fever pitch.
Of course, fever pitch meant that traditional media were abuzz with news about the movie.
And of course, in 1977, social media did not exist.
Our version of “social media” was watching the movie in the theater, followed by reenactments of favorite scenes which almost always included lightsaber duels.
Every kid at school talked about Princess Leia, Han Solo and Luke Skywalker, imitating the whirling and tweeting of R2D2, breathing like Darth Vadar.
I wanted to be Luke Skywalker.
Fast-forward almost 40 years, and I’m more Chewbacca than Luke. But in many ways, I’m still that 6-year-old kid.
So are many of my friends, now in their 40s and 50s.
Sharing the magic of “Star Wars” with our kids has become a right of passage. Over the last few months, my kids and I have gone to social media to watch the movie trailers, to watch clips from the earlier movies, all in anticipation of this weekend.
Like many of you, the lead up to “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” (that’s Episode VII to my fellow Jedi Knights and Sith Lords) has been building for a long time.
For some fans, the social media kickoff to the “Star Wars” hype began with the launch of the first trailer over a year ago (November 2014). According to Lucasfilm, that first trailer was watched more than 112 million times in the first 24 hours.
We’ve gone to social media to share our love of all things “Star Wars,” with images, links to cool merchandise, and more. My favorite came last week when Facebook provided a filter for adding a lightsaber to my profile image.
Some went to the “dark side” over the last few days, sharing plot spoilers before the official release of the film. Privileged fans viewed it last Monday in Hollywood in what will go down as the largest, most extravagant premiere ever (at least, until Episode VIII).
After the premiere, several major plot points have appeared on Facebook and other major platforms. This prompted major backlash among social media users who had yet to see the film.
For example, social media news-sharing site Reddit promised to ban all users who posted spoilers. Chrome, Google’s free Web browser, offered fans a “Force Blocker” extension designed to block all “Star Wars” spoilers.
The best prevention for spoilers likely came from a fear of public shaming. No one wants to be “that fan,” unfriended, unfollowed, unliked, unloved by the millions of “Star Wars” fans on social media.
Regardless of when or if you see it, may the force be with you while you connect and celebrate with “Star Wars” fans around the world.
Dr. Adam C. Earnheardt is associate professor and chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, USA. He researches and writes about social media and technology, sports and fans.