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CNN  — 

When “The Empire Strikes Back” premiered in 1980 (yes, I am that old), I made plans to see it on the second night it was out. That morning, a classmate with a passion for such things rushed up to me and asked, “Did you guess that Darth Vader was Luke’s father?”

My personal relationship with spoilers, in other words, predates Twitter, social media and Internet trolls. And it has informed the realization that each time critics write about a much-anticipated movie or TV show, they put their relationship with readers, and whatever trust they have earned, at risk.

The challenge is that people are in essence conflicted when it comes to movies like “Avengers: Endgame,” or the upcoming “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.” They want to know as much as they can, but also understandably hope to preserve the sense of discovery that comes from knowing nothing at all.

Preserving the experience has inspired filmmakers to provide their own gentle reminders, such as the letter issued by “Avengers: Endgame” directors Joe and Anthony Russo, reminding the audience to “please don’t spoil it for others, the same way you wouldn’t want it spoiled for you.”

The same principle for fans also applies to journalists, some of whom, it’s worth noting, wouldn’t be lining up to see such blockbusters if it wasn’t part of the job.

The balancing act has inspired a few simple but helpful guidelines – best practices when writing about movies and TV shows that evoke the kind of passion that makes people a little bit crazy, and a whole lot conflicted.

Clearly state an opinion

Readers want to know if you liked the movie or show. The “why” is where the danger lies. So be clear and direct about whether the project delivers, disappoints or falls somewhere in the middle.

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Provide context, not detail

The question is how to support one’s opinion without the benefit of fully explaining the reasons. The best substitute for recounting the whole plot is comparing the movie or show to others in the same universe, or close to it. Did “The Last Jedi” match “The Force Awakens?” Is “Endgame” a satisfying follow-up to “Infinity War?” That provides a way to characterize the merits generally, minus specifics.

Err on the side of caution

Because this isn’t an exact science, everyone will have their own sense of what might be a spoiler. If you’re wrestling with whether something gives too much away, think seriously about excising or at least softening it.

Use the “reasonable minds” approach

Journalists can never please everyone – especially those who only embrace criticism that reinforces their views. For some, the only satisfactory observations are “I love it!” and “It’s in color!” Consider what might reasonably qualify as a spoiler if the shoe were on the other foot.

Accept the limitations

Expressing an opinion without being able to delineate one’s argument is frustrating – like fighting (or writing) with one hand behind your back, and many critics chafe against those constraints. If it’s any consolation, relatively few projects merit such extra care, but with those, welcome to the new normal.

Fight another day

This is a relatively recent wrinkle, but a significant one. Because media outlets are driven by web traffic – in a way newspapers once weren’t – they’ll be obsessing over “Avengers: Endgame” for weeks.

That creates additional opportunities to weigh in more thoroughly once people have seen the movie. Reviews are thus no longer the last word, but rather the start of a conversation, albeit with an easily riled, demanding cohort.

To be clear, these guidelines don’t mean journalists should giddily behave like die-hard fans or studio cheerleaders. But at a time when consumers are awash in sources of information, it would be equally foolish to ignore them.