It's natural to be curious about studio tentpoles yet to be released, particularly when they're as big as Star Wars: The Force Awakens. In point of fact, this film may be most hounded by interlopers keen on catching a glimpse from behind the scenes, as evinced by the numerous set photos that have trickled out of Pinewood Studios' backlot and Abu Dhabi. People want a piece, and they want it today.
So it's just as natural for Disney to try and plug up those leaks. If you're just trying to make it to the holidays without having too much of Star Wars: The Force Awakens spoiled for you, that's good news for you; if you're trying to sneak peeks of the film onto the web, on the other hand, well, that's less good, because Disney has started taking significant legal measures to take those kinds of images offline.
More specifically, Disney (via its Lucasfilm division) has turned to the California federal judiciary for issuance of a subpoena. According to THR, the subpoena is intended to identify people who have infringed on Star Wars: The Force Awakens' copyright; it's aimed primarily at the hosting site ImageShack, which currently boasts a shot of an alleged Sith lord from the movie.
The subpoena is, of course, just a first step in the process of figuring out who uploaded the image and how they got it, but it's a pretty strong step all told. It's not unheard of either; back in November, Marvel took a subpoena out on Google regarding concerns over a potential leak on The Avengers: Age of Ultron. Note that Marvel is itself a Disney company, though, and you'll start to get a pretty clear picture of what happens when you mess with the Mouse House's bread and butter.
What, exactly, the Star Wars: The Force Awakens image in question means to the film is another story entirely. Descriptions of the screenshot will sound awfully familiar to anyone (meaning everyone) who bothered to catch the teaser released on Thanksgiving day; it shows a hooded, masked figure brandishing a red lightsaber with a crossguard. Could be that they're one and the same, and maybe that's a big potential reveal for folks who have been diligently playing detective with this film since day one.
Or maybe it's nothing. That seems unlikely; subpoenas don't tend to get tossed around over "nothing", after all, but just reading about the details makes the image sound almost innocuous. Remember, though, that Disney is a giant multi-entity business with more subsidiaries than the average human being has fingers. Their goal is to protect their interests. Even if the image is inconsequential, even if it doesn't give away anything at a glance, they're going to want to keep it under wraps.
Disney is clearly set on excising this image from the Internet and making a statement to anybody who feels the urge to leak their materials onto the Internet. Big or small, important or trivial; it doesn't really matter. This is Star Wars: The Force Awakens we're talking about, a movie with enormous amounts of money at stake. Disney's going to try to insulate even the most insignificant details from the film as much as they can.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens opens in theaters on December 18th, 2015.
"Episode VII Stormtroopers" Artwork by juan7fernandez@DeviantArt