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'Star Wars: Episode VII': JJ Abrams' Millennium Falcon tweet and the Mystery Box

File: Executive Producer J.J. Abrams speaks onstage at the
File: Executive Producer J.J. Abrams speaks onstage at the "Revolution" panel session during the NBCUniversal portion of the 2013 Winter TCA Tour- Day 3 at the Langham Hotel on Jan. 6, 2013 in Pasadena.
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

J.J. Abrams, the director of next year’s “Star Wars” sequel/reboot/update, is so famously secretive about his film work you'd almost think he’d be happy to never show his movies to audiences, lest they finally talk about what actually happens in them. The habit — developed on projects from his "Alias" TV shows to "Cloverfield" right up to his most recent film, "Star Trek Into Darkness" — even has a nickname: The Mystery Box (watch Abrams' TED talk on the concept below).

All of which makes Abrams' entreaty Wednesday about leaked photos from the set of his upcoming Jedi movie — assuming there will still be Jedis in “Star Wars: Episode VII” — all the more fascinating.

Over the last few days, several websites, but most prominently the Hollywood gossip blog TMZ — best known these days for leaking the Donald Sterling tape that cost the Clippers owner his NBA team — have been posting purloined images from the Tunisian set of the new "Star Wars" film.

Unlike many blurry, long-lens pirate shots from heavily guarded movie sets, the “Star Wars” images are of surprisingly high quality. They show sets, costumes, extras, creatures — and perhaps a famous space vehicle.

Abrams took to Twitter to talk about the leaks, writing a note saying, “I wish people would stop leaking photos from Episode VII. And making ridiculous claims that the Millennium Falcon is in the movie.”

JJ Abrams' tweet

In a clever twist, Abrams posted his remarks through a photo of a handwritten missive, which is resting on a “Star Wars” holographic chess board — the same item seen onboard the Millennium Falcon in the original film (see the video below).

The prop sparked a debate among hard-core fans who tried to interpret its significance, speculating over tiny clues the way Mark Harmon might consider a crime scene in “NCIS.”

Given that his “Star Wars” movie will likely employ more than 500 people, and that sites like TMZ pay cash for exclusives, Abrams is probably delusional about keeping everything under wraps until the movie comes out next December. Yet that really shouldn’t be his concern. 

Unlike Abrams’ last  “Star Trek” movie (the fact he hated becoming public: Benedict Cumberbatch playing Khan, which was the worst kept secret in Hollywood), “Star Wars” lives in a different fanboy universe. Nature may abhor a vacuum on Earth, but on Tatooine, the lack of information could be deadly if "Star Wars" aficionados are wholly locked out of Abrams’ creative process and thinking, there’s a good chance they'll start their own galactic rebellion against the film.

Peter Jackson knows that danger. When he was beginning work on his “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, Jackson wisely decided to let fans know how he was approaching his adaptation of J. R. R. Tolkien’s classic fantasy books. Jackson clearly wasn’t letting the fans call the shots, but he wasn’t freezing them out, either.

Like shareholders invited to a corporation’s annual meeting, the “Lord of the Rings” followers came to feel like investors in the making of the movies, because they somehow felt they were not on the outside peeking in. Jackson is following the same model as he completes his “Hobbit” trilogy, also based on Tolkien’s writings, posting regular video production diaries.

Peter Jackson production video

Abrams, in other words, might want to reconsider how he and his team try to protect their “Star Wars” secrets. It's also going to be hard to hold onto secrets as other directors start directing their own "Star Wars" spinoffs. They'd already announced "Godzilla" director Gareth Edwards was attached to one, and "Chronicle" director Josh Trank was announced as doing another Wednesday — both of which are top secret enough that no title or plot has been announced.

Earlier this year, Abrams told a reporter from the Daily Telegraph in the middle of a phone interview, “I’m working on the ‘Star Wars’ script today, and the people in my office have covered up all my windows with black paper. I guess they wanted to make sure no one could see what I was doing. … It seems rather extreme."

Extreme, yes. A wise policy? That’s debatable.