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40 years ago, NPR had to apologize for airing 'Return of the Jedi' spoilers

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Forty years ago today, the third hugely anticipated "Star Wars" movie hit the big screen. It was called "Return Of The Jedi."

(SOUNDBITE OF JOHN WILLIAMS' "STAR WARS: MAIN TITLE")

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

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 hear some spoilers for a 40-year-old movie that, let's be honest, you should have seen by now.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

ZENO BACCHUS: 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 (ph) it. And he blew up the whole ship. And the big guy - the - all - the boss of the monsters, well, he got choked and died.

SUMMERS: At the time, though, all of those plot details, they really rankled our listeners. So much so that the next day Susan Stamberg issued an on-air apology. Well, sort of - let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

SUSAN STAMBERG: 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 6 1/2-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...

(SOUNDBITE OF JOHN WILLIAMS' "SUPERMAN: MAIN TITLE MARCH")

SHAPIRO: Forty years later, of course, Susan was right. We are still watching "Return Of The Jedi" and still loving it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Tinbete Ermyas
Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.