Unless you’re a farm boy living on your uncle’s moisture farm on a planet lightyears from the bright center of the universe, you’ve probably heard by now that 71 year-old actor Harrison Ford was injured on the London set of Star Wars: Episode VII. Unless you’re a steely-eyed veteran of the Rumor Wars that always accompany big movie projects (or a former reporter like me), you may be on the verge of panic that the production of Episode VII may be delayed or even put off altogether.
Well, If so, I say that you don’t have any reason to worry because almost everything you think you know about the incident is based on rumor and hearsay.
We know that on June 12, it was confirmed that Ford had suffered an ankle injury on-set, but rumors of a more serious injury began circulating almost immediately. On July 19, fan’s fears were realized when it was confirmed by Ford’s publicist that he had, in fact, broken his left leg during the incident, which was rumored to be a “crushing” injury inflicted by a door. That door was rumored to be part of the full-scale Millennium Falcon set that was built for the film. We also know, courtesy of his publicist, that Ford underwent surgery to repair the injury and is eager to get back to work. Additionally, a statement from Disney indicated that filming would continue while the actor recovered.
That’s pretty much all that we know about the incident, or at least that we’re pretty sure is verifiable and factual information. From here, we’re in the land of rumors, of what-if’s, and maybes, and do-you-thinks, frequently purported to have come from “inside sources” who cannot be named.
Shortly after it was confirmed that Ford was injured, an unnamed “movie source” was quoted by UK publication The Mirror as saying that he would be undergoing a course of rehabilitative treatment that would put him out of production for “six to eight weeks”. Within hours, the “six to eight weeks” line was popping up all over the internet, typically without any kind of accompanying caveat that the second-hand information was unverified and came from an anonymous source.
In the last few days, another rumor has emerged, and this one considerably more alarming: Ford’s recovery may actually take six months, not weeks, and that J.J. Abrams and team are in crisis management mode. This rumor, in turn, has sparked even more worrisome rumors: that the film’s release might be pushed back to 2016, or even be put on hiatus for an indefinite period of time; that Han Solo might not appear in the film at all: or that a new character might be written in to cover for Solo’s absence; that this or some other major character might even be played by Tom Cruise.
Despite its semi-ubiquitous presence online, the “six months” rumor has only one source: Jedi News: a UK Star Wars fan site. It might not have gotten so much traction online except that the Jedi News team published their story as a blog entry for The Metro, a free, London-based UK weekly. The Jedi News team wrote the Metro story themselves, but the story links back to Jedi News as a source for the rumors of Ford’s lengthier recovery time. It would be very easy for a careless reader to see the professional-looking Metro news site, read the story, and not actually realize that its authors and the people reporting the injury rumors are the same people, and that they published the rumor on their fan site and then wrote and published the piece for the Metro page on the very same day. And once more, we’ve got unnamed “sources” supplying this terrible news.
I’m not saying that the guys at Jedi News don’t have good sources, or that they’re wrong, and I’m definitely not saying that they’re trying to spread false information or pull anything over on Star Wars fans. I’m assuming that they’re just trying to get the news out there that they deem credible in the best way that they can.
Unfortunately, now that AintItCoolNews and several other big fan and entertainment sites have picked up the Jedi News story, it’s going to spread like wildfire and make it even harder to discern rumor from fact. One site will run the news, and credit it to another site, which in turn will link to another site, which linked to this story and three or four other rumors, and – well – you get the picture. That’s how rumors work, whether they’re spread in schoolyards, workplaces, or even in the entertainment biz.
It’s frustrating, but we’re all going to have to become more skeptical about what we’re reading, lest we end up like that one gullible relative we all have in our lives who bombs our inboxes with forwarded chain mails full of outrageous claims that could be debunked in about half a minute.
The same rules apply when reading forwarded chain mail or news online: Always consider where you’re getting your information, and if at all possible, try to verify the source’s information yourself. Cross-check what you’re reading with what other sources are saying, and always be suspicious of information that claims to be from an anonymous individual. Sometimes, it’s a matter of taking your chances and going on your gut feelings about a story, but it’s always best to remember that unverifiable info from a single source is by its very nature worth of your suspicion. Hunches sometimes work out for Jedi, but the rest of us are better off taking our rumors with a grain of salt.